October 30, 2014 | by James McGirk
Facing fears in the Sooner State.
My ailing wife, Amy, had demanded that I take her to a Black Mass, a well-publicized one that would have meant aligning myself with Satan on local television. These people aren’t really Satanists, Amy explained. They’re blue-collar subculture types who’ve grown up and know their rights and want to thumb their noses at the judgy creeps who persecuted them growing up. Amy, who had seen more than her fair share of those creeps in her own youth, wanted to lend her support.
“Understand that this is all they’ve got,” she told me. “It may seem stupid, but after twenty years of getting shit it’s all they’ve got.”
Despite protests from the local Catholic community, the [Satanic] Church of Ahriman held a Black Mass at the Civic Center in Oklahoma City on September 22. The Catholics had also attempted to file an injunction against them, claiming they had stolen the Holy Sacrament they intended to defile in an unholy consecration. This was their fourth mass, but this time it was for real. The Satanists had won permission to build a monument to Satan on the grounds of the State Capitol, and the wild bad reverend in charge of the Church of Ahriman (also known as the Dakhma of Angra Mainyu) was new and media savvy. He basked in the attention, held interviews and press conferences, did all he could to whip his antagonists into a righteous froth. Those antagonists arrived by the busload and dug in, singing songs and passing out leaflets.
Much of the south refers to itself as the buckle of the Bible belt, but Oklahoma has a special claim to bucklehood: there’s the hard-line Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, and everywhere you turn there seems to be a crucifix; pricey little Amish general stores line the highways and tens of thousands of churches are sprinkled throughout the state, from hippieish splinter sects nestled in the foothills of the Ozarks to goliath megachurches with media teams and television studios and lobbying groups. Life in the Sooner State has a churchy feeling—the stickiness of Kool-Aid soaking through the seams of a waxed paper cup, bake sales manned from behind rickety card tables, devotional sing-alongs, gymnasium lock-ins—and there’s a creeping sense of menace for outsiders. Read More »
October 13, 2014 | by Jeff Simmermon
In 1972, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings changed the face of country music forever with the Outlaw country sound. In 1974, the Ramones did the same thing for rock ’n’ roll. In 2000, my friend Tim and I set out to do the same for both genres with a way-out sound and a more ambitious instrumentation.
We call ourselves Royal Quiet Deluxe, which is also the make and model of the typewriter I play as percussion. Tim plays the guitar and the bass, often simultaneously. We provide the backing rhythms for two live chickens that peck out abstract melodies on toy pianos.
Every rehearsal and performance is a spontaneous improvisation, and no two performances are ever the same. The chickens are named Kitty Wells and Patsy Cline. Different individual chickens come and go, but in our pretentious barnyard Menudo they are always named Kitty Wells or Patsy Cline.
The band played two shows last year in college that we felt went incredibly well. Our former housemate lives in Japan now with a boyfriend who books bands in Osaka and Tokyo. We lied to her a little about how much we’d improved since graduation, and she lied to her boyfriend a little more on top of that, and now he says that if we can get him a solid live tape, of an actual show with a cheering audience and everything, he can book us a tour in Japan.
And you just know Japanese people are crazy about this kind of shit. Read More »
September 29, 2014 | by Amie Barrodale
How not to meditate.
Martin had a long pair of navy-blue socks that he wore when it was cold. He wore them in the morning before sunrise, and usually took them off before noon.
We were doing a silent, shamatha meditation retreat in the foothills of the Himalayas. The retreat was led by a stern Zen monk from Japan. We referred to him by his honorific, Venerable. Venerable was tall. It was hard to determine his age. He might have been fifty years old, at most. He wore aviator-style glasses. He had square front teeth. His eyes tilted a bit down at the outer corners, down toward his ears, giving him a sad, warm, sexual look. He was handsome and he was stern. He told us that if we learned to sit shamatha, we would no longer have nightmares, and all our anxieties would reveal themselves as mental disturbances and nothing more. He asked us to consider, when we were feeling anxiety, if that was really bliss. Really look at it, he said, really ask yourself. Actually, I don’t think he understood our practice, but I think he’d gotten some instruction, and I was a little offended and a little uneasy that he’d come and sit here and insult us—suggest vaguely that his style of Buddhism was superior. But maybe I was imagining it.
On the first night of the retreat, Venerable told us that ego is like a vampire. Martin, whom I was secretly dating, raised his hand and asked how, if he was to think of his ego as a sneaky vampire, he was expected to relax. The phrase “sneaky vampire” got stuck in my head. The question seemed like a comeback. It made Venerable seem, all at once, ridiculous. I was afraid, while Venerable answered, that I would start laughing, so I didn’t hear his answer. The next person asked a question. I was still thinking “sneaky vampire.” Then I broke. I started laughing. Each time I got my laughing under control, it would explode again, worse, when I thought, “sneaky vampire” while looking at Venerable’s handsome face, noticing his elegant comportment. Venerable was answering an Australian paraglider’s question about light. “Ah, light,” he said, “that is a big subject. For that, come and talk to me in private.” Read More »
September 24, 2014 | by Christopher Urban
War game as money pit.
When you’re growing up, having a brother close to you in age means you’re never alone. There’s someone to share your clothes and chores, your blame and punishment, and, as was my case, your bedroom—my brother and I were together even in a state of sleepy unconsciousness. The second of my two oldest brothers predates me by a mere ten and a half months. When we were young everyone thought we were twins; even we secretly thought so for a while. A major, if less apparent, perk of our bond was that we could partake of enthusiasms we wouldn’t have wanted others to know about—not our friends, nor the girls we had crushes on, nor anyone, really.
The summer before high school we stumbled on something unbelievably uncool. If we hadn’t had each other for company, I like to think we wouldn’t have given the endeavor a second thought. We had our reputations to uphold, after all. His was being cool—he was a drummer in a punk band whose members, including a female bass player he would later start dating, were much older than he was. My brother drank a can of Mountain Dew every morning for breakfast and wanted everyone to know about it. I had considerably less to lose: I awkwardly straddled the world of jocks and skateboarders, with mixed results. But since my brother and I had each other, we found no reason to limit our interests, however obscure, unpopular, or geeky they may have appeared, and however much they might have jeopardized us in the eyes of our peers.
The pursuit I speak of is Warhammer 40,000, a dystopian, futuristic tabletop war game set in the forty-first millennium, a combination of Risk and Dungeons & Dragons with a sci-fi twist. Read More »
September 8, 2014 | by Bernard Radfar
“The Marivaudian being is, according to Poulet, a pastless futureless man, born anew at every instant. The instants are points which organize themselves into a line, but what is important is the instant, not the line. The Marivaudian being has in a sense no history. Nothing follows from what has gone before. He is constantly surprised. He cannot predict his own reaction to events. He is constantly being overtaken by events. A condition of breathlessness and dazzlement surrounds him. In consequence he exists in a certain freshness which seems, if I may so, very desirable.”
—Donald Barthelme, “Robert Kennedy Saved from Drowning”
I’ve been watching and avoiding a man who lives in the present. We go to the same café, each of us alone. He resembles a distinguished physicist, the kind invited to appear on television when a scientific worldview is needed. So I was intent on listening to him when he stood up to greet his friend, also in his golden years.
The friend asked him how he had been doing.
“Oh, I don’t know, I misplaced my laptop. I can’t remember where I put it.”
“Did you ask someone for help?”
“I think so. But you know I can’t remember anything. And so I bought an iPad, but I lost that, too.”
“Yes, I lost my car the other day.”
“I don’t know.” Read More »
August 11, 2014 | by Joe Kloc
Last call at the Blarney Cove.
For a long time, when I came to the end of something—a walk across the bridge, an absence from the city—I would find myself inside the Blarney Cove, a hallway-sized Irish bar on Fourteenth Street between Avenues A and B. The place’s gravity came from its total disregard for the passage of time. Its drywall ceiling was never finished. Its walls, wood paneled with patches of green-and-white striped wallpaper, likely hadn’t been redone since the seventies. Outside, four or five customers perpetually gathered for a cigarette, tending to the drunken chain-smoker’s belief that tomorrow will never arrive. Among this crowd, you could always spot a straggler with a folded dollar between his fingers. “Can I buy a cigarette?” he’d ask the group, waving the bill he couldn’t afford to give away. “You can just have one,” someone would say. (As the straggler knew, at the Blarney Cove, no one ever took the dollar.) Once, I asked a regular from Harlem what it was about this odd and dreary bar that made him take the trip more than one hundred blocks downtown just for a drink. He paused, as if it had never before occurred to him to consider his commute, and then said, “It feels like home.”
There was no more lonesome jukebox in the five boroughs than that of the Blarney Cove. Over the years, I watched all sorts of people haunt the bar’s four square feet of danceable floor—a grizzly man in a cowboy hat, a college girl with big hoop earrings—each gyrating in solitary defiance of the sleepy night. Some nights, after the loafers took their positions along the bar, an older woman named Kiko would walk in and ask each of the men to dance with her, one by one; slumped over in thought and beer, they’d always decline. I watched her once as she swayed her hips to Lucinda Williams’s “Drunken Angel,” alone. Read More »