Posts Tagged ‘Oklahoma’
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 »
April 24, 2013 | by James McGirk
Assuming my issue of EYE SPY, a British glossy devoted to “The Covert World of Espionage,” can be trusted, between 1973 and 1995 the United States government (and its Chinese and Soviet rivals) spent millions hiring teams of personnel to scry photographs of enemy installations and describe their heretofore unknowable innards. A final report on the Stargate Project, a remote viewing project conducted during these years (preceded by Sunstreak, Dragon Absorb, Centerline, Grill Flame and Gondola Wish), acknowledged a “statistically observable effect,” albeit one producing information too “vague and ambiguous … to yield actionable intelligence.”
A contemporary remote viewing conducted by Jeff Martin, fiction editor of This Land Press and (with C. Max Magee) The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books, yielded far better results. Imaginary Oklahoma is an anthology of forty-six writers’ attempts to envision Oklahoma without ever having visited America’s forty-sixth state. Martin, in his introduction to the book, describes his inspiration for the project. He gives nods to Lydia Davis’s collection of super-short stories, with their ability to create “worlds in mere sentences” and “beautiful questions” from “simple narrative,” and Ed Ruscha’s 1990 painting No Man’s Land, which Martin describes as “The ghostly outline of the pan-shaped land. The shadowy question mark stretched across the canvas, almost menacing.” It was an excellent pairing of prompts. Imaginary Oklahoma manages to raise the stakes of the short-prose form. Read More »
January 17, 2013 | by Brandon Hobson
Black Crow Road
A week before the tornado outbreak in May of 1999, I attended my first Native American sweat with my friend A. J., a security guard and blackjack dealer at a Cheyenne-Arapaho casino located in the town of Concho. I’d known A. J. since eighth grade, when we used to smoke cigarettes and catch crawdads in the creek behind his grandfather’s house. His grandfather sat in a recliner and smoked a pipe and spent whole afternoons staring out the window. He talked to us about luck. Good luck, bad luck. He once told us to pay attention to wind and smoke. If wind drifted the smoke east, that meant good luck. But only east. Crows are good luck, he told us, because they fly high and carry prayers to the spirits, whereas owls are considered bad luck. Rain is good luck, but only when the sun is shining. Strong winds are good luck because they are personified as divine spiritual messengers. Even ridiculously high winds that bring down power lines and trees are still considered good luck, regardless of their destruction: the overall speed of wind is unimportant because many tribes look at the path of winds as the soul of a spirit sweeping across the land. I’ve never been much into superstitions, but listening to A. J.’s grandfather talk about all this when I was a kid made me realize this was some serious shit.
January 3, 2012 | by Aaron Gilbreath
If someone had asked my granddad where he got the chaps in this photo, he might have replied, “At the gettin’ place.” His speech was rich with colorful phrases. To him, a convincing salesman was someone who “could sell eggs to a chicken,” the relationship between a person’s actions and character best summarized with “Whatever’s in the well comes up in the bucket.” And when dismissing someone unsavory, he preferred the placid “Let ’em peck shit with the crows” to a crass “Fuck them.” So many of his sayings reflected elements of the hardscrabble, rural world that shaped him.
The gettin’ place in this picture is a roadside stand in Apache Junction, Arizona. Largely known nowadays for its scenery and suburbs, back in 1947, Apache Junction was a fringe outpost east of Phoenix with a few cafés and tourist traps along the highway. Signs announced: Postcards! Indian jewelry! Pan for gold! Read More »
August 15, 2011 | by Chris Flynn
Most dust jackets list only literary accomplishments, but I’ve always been a fan of offbeat author bios. So I asked some of my favorite writers to describe their early jobs.
Jessica Anthony: I was a singing-telegram cowgirl in upstate New York in the early nineties. I wore the dress, boots, hat, and fringe. I went to various places of business and sang, “I’m just a girl who can’t say no” from Oklahoma! to human beings who desperately had no interest in it.
Jonathan Lethem: I once had a job as the assistant of a family friend, a very talented artist and theatrical designer who had, in the parlance of the time, “gone mad.” My tasks included helping him move a discarded chrome car bumper from the street to his tiny Upper West Side studio-apartment bedroom; helping him weld the bumper to a sculpture that also included sardine tins still covered in oil and shreds of fish; and walking his poodle to the liquor store to buy him bottles of gin. But there were problems: the unfortunate, confused dog had a giant clot of bright red paint covering approximately a third of its white curls, so that it appeared to have been attacked by an ax murderer. Also, I was only thirteen. Even in 1977, a liquor store on the Upper West Side wouldn’t sell a tall bottle of gin to a teenager leashed to a zombie poodle.
Adam Levin: I used to hand out Winston cigarettes at bars for a Chicago “guerrilla marketing” firm. I was required to carry around a duffel full of cigarette cartons. We had some discretion over how many packs to give out to each person—usually between one and four. I also carried a box in which an old digital camera was mounted. If you wanted free cigarettes, you had to let me photograph your driver’s license, and you’d nearly always let me, because you were drunk, which is why I picked you to begin with. So maybe it was more like I used to collect personal information at bars in Chicago for a “guerrilla marketing” firm employed by Winston.
Peter Carey: Never, in all my life, have I been employed in a job as absurd and peculiar as the one I have right now. Commuting between 1854 and 2011 is killing me.
September 8, 2010 | by Jesse Moss
DAY ONE, Solomon Islands
I’m on a flight from Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, to Brisbane, going home after a week long shoot for the World Health Organization. I’m finishing James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, which my mother gave me just before I left. It’s a surprisingly good companion, and I return to it every night in my hotel room. On the nightstand next to me is an industrial sized can of Raid bug-spray that comes complimentary with every room in the hotel. They’ve just had elections here, and downstairs by the hotel pool, local pols are as plentiful as the bugs, drinking SolBeer and plotting the political future of the country.
A storm came through the night before, and when I stepped out on my balcony in the morning, I could see, for the first time, an island in the distance. It’s Tulaghi. And the body of water that separates us is called Iron Bottom Sound. It’s the gravesite of a huge number of American and Japanese warships. My wife’s grandfather was in the First Marine Division when they fought here, on Guadalcanal, in 1943. So I feel a strange and distant personal connection to the place.
Filming in the jungle, I see a man with a machete on a forty-foot pole. Jesus Christ. He’s cutting Betel Nut, and chewing it. He smiles at me, a mouthful of stained red teeth. I’m reminded of Michener’s Bloody Mary. I stand under the tree with my camera and pray a betel nut doesn’t fall on my head.
Michener’s book was the basis for the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, which I’ve never seen. I ask my colleague Elsie, a native islander, where Bali H’ai is and she gives me a blank look. I feel like a fool for asking. I stare at the map of the island chain in her office, hoping it will materialize magically, like Tulaghi, while a mechanic tries to repair our rental car. Later, while photographing the boat harbor in Honiara, I suppress a strong urge to book one-way passage on a local freighter to the remote islands of the Western Province. Read More »