Tag: Americana

Psst, Consumer, Wanna Buy Your AlieNation?

 

Like many Americans right of center, the ads I see online feature plenty of vaguely patriotic products. Some of the stuff’s campaign gear. Some of it’s randomly tacti-cool. (Already got a tactical pen? Have you tried our tactical toothbrush yet? Got the toothbrush already, have you? What about a tactical toothpick?) Perhaps because my browsing habits are eclectic, the ads “targeting” me are eclectic, too. According to my ads, I’m a Trump-voting, militantly pro-life charismatic sedevacantist Catholic wiccan secular humanist who’s also militantly pro-choice and pining for the deceased Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I’m deaf, too. Because of earwax. But at least I’m not alone in that: judging by consumer ad complaints, the main symptom of Covid-19 is massive earwax buildup.

People who say they know about these things say that Covid’s virtual earwax buildup is a symptom of declining click-throughs on online ads. The more time we spend online without clicking through on ads, the more “bottom feeder” ads we see. Maybe I am who I am to online marketers because I don’t click through. Therefore I must “want”, in no particular order, Osteen Cubes, <insert name of Biblical woman here> Anointings, conversational Medieval Latin kits, “homeopathic” essential-oil blends consecrated to Jesus or my choice of goddess. Little lapel pins featuring lab flasks bubbling vacuities like “Science is real!” or light-splitting prisms spelling out “I’m gay for science!” in rainbow writing.

Rapid-fire lapel pin advertising directed my way, whether from right or left, never hits its target, since even if I saw a pin I liked, I wouldn’t buy it. If I saw an ad for a lapel pin featuring the smexxxiest anthropomorphized doped garnet laser — adorned with real synthetic garnet chips reading “She blinded me with science!” — well, I’d chuckle. But I wouldn’t click.

Member Post

 

Only 64. Apparently, he died suddenly at his desk. The Long Ryders and REM were my gateway to music miles from the charts in the early ‘80s. Tom and his mob did a reunion album in 2019 that cements his status as the George Harrison of the band. I interviewed him a couple of times. […]

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Recently, I have seen four movies about artificial intelligence. Ex Machina, the Machine, Automata and Her. I liked all four, but I could only recommend two because there is only so much time in the day. I think that this kind of selective elimination will become ever more present in our lives for two simple […]

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Suckers for Jesus! Or, Holy Kitsch!

 

I can’t call it “only in America,” because kitschy and silly, though harmless, religious trinkets seem to be a universal phenomenon. Still, there is something endearingly American about this online Christian storefront, selling Testamints, crucifix-shaped lollies, gourmet Scripture suckers, chocolate tulips (must be for the Calvinists), and little gummy Jesus “footsteps”: show that you walk in His footsteps by eating His feet!

“Take and eat… do this in remembrance of me.” In a religion based on the Eucharist, I suppose it’s not exactly blasphemous to consume Jesus in gummy form, though I doubt my grandmother would have agreed: she would have seen candy shaped like all or any part of Jesus as blasphemously irreverent, even if abstract religious symbols were commonplace in eats where she came from. Part of the wider Christian culture in America is to downplay aesthetic differences: high church or low, contemporary or old-fashioned, why argue adiaphora, huh? At the same time, aesthetics go to the heart of worship: whatever we think “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” means, it only seems fitting to give of our best (whatever that is) in acts of reverence. Religious kitsch occupies a funny place, not just strange, but amusing — and not just amusing to snobs who wish to disdain the rubes. The Babylon Bee, a favorite site of many of us here, often pokes fun at Christian kitsch, and it could hardly be said to disdain American Christians: it pokes fun at the kitsch because it’s run by American Christians.

What even counts as kitsch depends on your background. My grandmother, raised very Lutheran, had pretty exacting standards for what wasn’t kitschy. Were the sanctuary and music too contemporary and informal? Kitschy. Were they too ornate? Kitschy. Most religious statuary and paintings? Also kitschy. That she was Lutheran may have had less to do with her severe standards than the kind of Lutheran she was: she came from a place where Lutherans and “Papists” (Catholics) didn’t quite get along, and when she arrived in America, she was (mostly) eager to assimilate. More eager, she thought, than her Italian neighbors, who might plant a bathtub Madonna in the midst of their front lawn.

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One of my favorite things to do in Denver while visiting with my in-laws is hop in the car on a Friday or Saturday morning and hit garage sales. These events are fundamentally conservative and American, and happen to be great fun. Yes, you haul home good stuff you bought for a song, but these […]

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On Slack today, @exjon observed, “Condemning Nazis is the easiest political move in history. It costs Trump nothing.” I disagreed. There are a lot of ordinary people who fear that “Nazi”, at least these days, is chiefly a stick that elitists use to beat the proles. This fear, as many Trump voters like to put is, […]

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Dreamland – A Review

 

Billed as “the true tale of America’s Opiate epidemic,” Sam Quinones’s Dreamland is a pretty quick read considering it’s about 350 pages. The blurbs on the back promise “expert storytelling,” and I suppose it is. The storytelling is good enough to make me wonder how heavily Quinones selected for stuff that would make a good story, while other stuff, equally true and relevant, but less dramatic, got discarded along the way. Quinones focuses on the marketing of OxyContin as a safe prescription drug, its subsequent abuse, the spread of a new means of dealing black tar heroin, and the connection between these, telling the tale of several colorful characters along the way.

To Quinones, the spread of opiate use to white America – not just to impoverished “rust belt” regions, but also to the offspring of the wealthy, managerial class – is fraught with moral meaning, though perhaps contradictory moral meaning. Heroin tempts us when we’re too wealthy, when we’re too poor, because we feel entitled to pain relief, because we don’t feel entitled to stop when it hurts but instead succumb to pressure to tough it out by any means necessary; it tempts us when we’re underwhelmed by life, it tempts us when we’re overwhelmed… Opiates are both the new party drug and the new drug of social isolation… Addiction is simultaneously a moral indictment of American consumerist excess during the pre-crash boom, a testament to post-crash misery, and an illness which deserves less moral stigma than it gets. Forgive me for suspecting at times that, to Quinones, opiates serve mostly as a random moral generator.

Which isn’t to say Dreamland is a bad book. There seems to be plenty of impressive journalism in here, crime journalism especially, although the science journalism falls rather short: there are multiple errors in describing how drugs are metabolized; in describing the drugs derived from the opium poppy (in particular, using “the morphine molecule” as shorthand for all of them); and sometimes there’s just illiterate wording, like calling what’s not statistical mechanics “statistical mechanics” or calling a lumbar sprain “a sprained lumbar” (a sprained lumbar… what?). Still, for someone like me – someone who uses opioids conservatively as part of a pain-management regimen, considering them a not-very-fun occasional treatment reserved for pain that inhibits productivity even more than being doped up would – Dreamland is a tour of a world Quinones, if his story is to be believed, claims I could easily have become a part of, yet haven’t.

Waitress

 

She works in a diner called the Desert Rose which sits along the northwestern edge of Colorado, near the Utah border. It’s a small and undistinguished affair, worn and weathered but always brightly lit and burning like a little beacon in that high American wasteland. Triangles of cherry pie sit bleeding in the pie case, and strips of honey-yellow flypaper spiral down from the low stucco ceiling.

She was born and raised in a tiny mountain town one-hundred miles southeast. She grew up uncommonly good-looking, self-reliant, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes with all the other small-town girls and boys. She began working when she was in the eleventh grade, and she’s not stopped working since. Waiting tables is what she’s done for most of her life. She graduated high school but never went to college. After school, she drifted awhile, developed a taste for books, black coffee, practical knowledge.

By age thirty-five, she’d already buried two husbands, both miners, one killed in a car crash, the other dead by disease. She has two teenage children who love her. Now, no longer young but not yet old, she is beautiful still, and single. She plays jazz records and reads in her rented apartment that’s too small for three.

The Strip

 

If there is a quiet space, they will pipe in music to fill it.  Where the pipes don’t reach, the street performers swarm, busking for dollars (or $5.00 if you want to take your picture with them).  The smell is unmistakable: a combination of cigarette smoke, booze, competing cherry and vanilla air fresheners, salted foods, body odor, perfumes, and waffle cones.

The people are dressed to the nines, barely dressed at all (sometimes both at once), slovenly and uncouth, or just tidy and unremarkable, and all intermixed at once.  You cannot drive anywhere, but then people don’t drive except to show off their rides, so you walk and walk up and down the bright streets, over the elevated walkways, and through the gaming floors with their miasma of smoke and hammering noise.

Member Post

 

You were a pure shooter, a long shot. You were a star.  Another nobody black boy raised in a fractured home in middle America: a drunk father who worked twenty-five years for Clayton County, and a mother who loved you but was always too passive, it seemed, to truly care. Preview Open

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The Hard Rock Miner

 

The hard rock miner died last night, a thin man, a strong man, with the soft-sad eyes of a thoughtful child.

His name was Neil. He’d been a miner most of his life. He chewed Copenhagen and played guitar (he loved hard rock). In Vietnam he’d been awarded the Silver Star for an act of great courage.

After the war, at twenty-five, he went to work in a uranium mine outside Moab called The Gentleman Sloan. Two years later, he moved into the coal-mining country of east-central Wyoming. Then, at age thirty-one, he drove into the spiky mountains of southwestern Colorado and began working in a gold mine called The Equity, and this is where he remained for the rest of his life.

The Truck Driver

 

The trucker who lives next door is seldom home.

He’s a long-haul trucker, he’s over-the-road. He earns good money and does not spend. There’s something ascetic about him. He’s forty-five. His hair is long. He wears jeans and combat boots. Sallow and haggard, his face is handsome nevertheless. His willowy wife does not ride with him but stays at home. They have no children. The wife is solitary, long-legged and tan. She has a ponytail of sandy-brown. She smokes Marlboros. They do not rent but own. The wife spends hours in her garden, or she reads in her backyard. Her eyes are pensive. She waves to us but rarely speaks.

The trucker who lives next door arrives at unexpected hours, on unexpected days. Emerging from his rig, he has the leanness of a desert prophet about him. I imagine him eating very little while he’s out on the road. He transports the goods from north-to-south. He hauls the freight from coast-to-coast. He kisses his wife in the driveway. They hold hands and enter their tidy cottage together. They shut the door behind.

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Mr. Tom Wolfe accompanied his first novel, The bonfire of the vanities, with a manifesto, Stalking the billion-footed beast. (Available in pdf here.) This is an unusual thing to do in a novelist, inasmuch as he wishes people to read the work rather than consider it as part of the social life of the country. […]

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Folks, I said the other day that Animal house is just un-American. I’m not going to link to it–just look on the popular feed, my post about the director, a Mr. John Landis got that big a reaction! I’m not sure I’m now famous or just infamous, but I’ll risk it all over again with a new recommendation. My […]

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Celebrating This Amazing Country

 
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Photo Credit: Flickr user Wally Gobetz.

What a remarkable country we have! It is filled with sites of natural beauty, monuments to heroes, paintings, sculptures, museums to honor our past, and institutions that are a tribute to our heritage and unique experiment in government.

Each of us has our favorites, those encounters that have touched us profoundly, changed our outlooks, and expanded our knowledge and appreciation of this country. One place that comes to my mind is the Korean War Veterans Memorial, pictured above (close-ups from the same photographer here and here). Out of all the war memorials in Washington, DC, it’s penetrated my soul with the tragedy of warfare and death like no other. Its grittiness still fills me with sadness and reminds me how fragile life can be.

Member Post

 

Recently, a member shared photographs of a unique bookstore that he often passed. So I thought this would be a good time to post a picture that I’ve had on my computer for years now.  This innovation is parked on a main street, and it always gets me thinking: Why not?  For minimal expense plus a bit […]

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Death of the Flockfather

 

Union-Products-Flamingos-960x691Donald Featherstone, father of the plastic lawn flamingo, died Monday. He spent his final days in a room with pink sheets and a pair of his long-necked, spindly-legged creations flanking the fireplace. His wake is tomorrow, and his funeral mass will be held this Saturday. Millions of his pink children, the tribe of Phoenicopteris ruber plasticus, will survive him.

My family taught me to sneer at the plastic flamingo. To look down my nose at it. Lowbrow. Trailer-trash kitsch. The problem with a flamingo, though, is you can’t really win a sneering contest with that hooked beak. Flamingos spend their lives looking down their noses at everything. Even the plastic ones, whose facial features are subtly altered to give them a cuteness few live flamingos truly possess. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, how often in the staring contest between good taste and simple happiness, happiness ultimately wins. As their creator would put it, “I loved what I did. It’s all happy things… They have been called very tacky, but more than not, they’ve been called fun.” His wife of 40 years would add, “Donald always said, ‘You don’t take yourself too seriously because you’re not getting out alive anyway.’”

Featherstone was a classically trained painter as well as a sculptor, who in his free time filled his own home with paintings that “looked like they were done by a master from the Renaissance”. But he filled his backyard with plastic flamingos. 57 of them, to be exact, in honor of the year they were first manufactured. Humble and good-humored, he happily attended flamingo-themed events, keeping his highbrow side quite private. “He decided it would destroy the illusion and pleasure for people who knew him for the flamingo.”

Firecrackers!

 

tankAre fireworks allowed in your area? If so, which did you enjoy this New Year’s? Which were disappointments that you wish you’d burned before you payed for them?

What fireworks of yesteryear earned their places in Valhalla? Have you forgiven your parents yet for black snakes? Is your closet full of poppers and candy cigarettes?

Speak now or forever hold your powder!