Camelot Descending

He tried to tell me a story,
About what he learned as a boy,
How the men rode off to capture the horizon,
And left perfectly respectable homes.

I rose, yet a tired grip upon my wrist,
Enfeebled and gnarled by time and toil,
Made me think, "Would I lose a chance to fortune's evasion,
Should I take the time to sit with him?"

He said, "Hear me son.

"Because you will not listen,
I have to tell you what my old man once said to me,
With hope someday it may calm your mind,
When in yearning's grasp you mire in confusion.

"Within the country your grandfather called home,
Lived peace hard won through battles waged,
And proved ideals through virtue's strength,
Yet in contentment's prison the curious raged.

"For there were in those days sacred pacts,
And the faithful prayed to the lights in the sky,
While strong men girded themselves for battle,
The women forged passion like steel in fire.

"There was not one who in peace could wait,
For the world's rotation in our heavenly gyre,
They left no alternative to striking out,
To returning victorious or upon their shields.

"And the wise men wondered on the floor of the senate,
Aloud in the historic halls of university forums,
In print, on screen, and in whispers on pillows,
Must we always become the stories we've told?"

I left him there beside his bed,
In a hospital ward he would not escape,
And as he expected, forgot until now,
My father's final warning, his blessing, his prayer.

For he was old enough to have seen ever after,
He knew Camelot as a citizen and chased happily to his grave.
Inevitably, cried as Arthur had when he found his greatest loves conspired,
And watched everything he treasured sink beneath the waves.


People give me books without provocation.

They say, "You're a writer, so I bought you this book. I love it. You should read it." I love them for it. But it also makes me hate them.

Beside my bed is a stack of books that reaches to my mid-thigh, and I'm no small guy. So it's a lot of books. They have been given to me by people, and I think some of them I'm supposed to return. But I don't remember which ones.

There's an implicit committment people are seeking in me that by giving me a book I'll spend the time to read it. They went through the trouble to buy it or find it in their book pile, and so the least I can do is to read the damn things and provide a book report. They are wanting I should say, I expect, "I loved it."

I can't think of a single reason people would give me a book and want me to say, "What a crashing bore. What an unmitigated consumer of valuable life span. Never before have I spent my days in a less useful pursuit than scanning the pages of the abysmal tome with which you cursed my existence. Had I decided to vandalize an art museum, slashed the tires of station wagons in the grocery store parking lot, or urinated on the lawn of the state capitol, I would stand here now and feel I had better committed my time as a human being than in perousing the pages you so generously graced me with last month. "

Unlike a lot of guys trying to make it as a writer, I try not to read a lot of stuff in the same genre as I'm trying to write. I worry about "bleed through". I don't want to find myself reading Kurt Vonnegut's voice in my own words. Or Richard Brautigan's. Or Stephen King's. So when I'm trying to write something, I don't read something like what I'm trying to write.

But people say, "OH I KNOW WHAT YOU"RE WRITING ABOUT," and then with true friendly passion, produce a volume of material by a famous writer that has the unintended consequence of causing me to stop dead in my literary tracks. My lord, dear God in heaven thouest suffer unto me my well-meaning friends. For I love them with all my heart as you demand, and bless each knife they thrust errantly into my chest, each missing the ventricles of that true heart by millimeters.

One day they'll kill me, dead on, my dear ones.

"Oh, you'll love this book," one of my well-meaning friends will say, and I know with the dread of one awaiting a root-canal appointment that within days I will find the volume on my desk or chair with a note, "Let me know how you liked it." Lots of times, these books are 500 pages or more. And almost always, I cannot bring forth from my own loins the same furvor with which my friends lust for life after consuming the richness of the poems or prose within.

Also, I'm a fucking slow reader. Lots of people I know can sit down and finish a 350 page novel in ninety minutes. For me, that's a week-long commitment. It would take me a year or more to read all the books people have given me. And by then, they'd give me more.

In my book stack are novels. Books about UFOs and some about angels. Books about people channelling ancient Egyptian kings. There are books of poetry. Books I read as a kid and didn't like the first time, that someone has insisted I read again as an adult, because I'll see it all differently.

And there are books I want to read and feel guilty getting to, because if I mention to someone who has given me a book that I've read another, they give me that, "When are you going to read 'My Life as a Former NASCAR Groupie's Uncle?'" look.

Sometimes people give me book suggestions and I go out immediately and buy the book. I get eight pages into it and realize I'm in trouble. I bought the book, "American Gods", and made myself get 60 pages into it before I could stand it no longer. It's beside my bed with a VTA Bus schedule wedged in it as a book mark. I never take the bus. I'm just out of bookmarks.

Anything flat or skinny is liable to become a bookmark in my house. Coins. Toilet paper. Dried plants. Thread from sweaters. Shoelaces. Post-it notes. Those little blow-in business reply cards that fall out of magazines are best.

There are at least 50 books in my house sporting little white tags that say, "Usual...For just $1...and that's not..." Most of them are cards requesting a subscription to Smithsonian magazine. For reasons I can't understand, I have never actually subscribed to Smithsonian, nor have I read an article in it straight through, yet shows up at my house each month like an uninvited guest who insists on staying for dinner, an HBO movie, and a glimpse at me brushing my teeth. Some member of my family gives me a subscription to it every year. Monthly, it provides me with at least five of those cards that say "YES I WANT a subscription to Smithsonian for only $12 (that $213.23 off the regular newsstand price)" that I use as bookmarks for all the books I can't read. And I use them all up and have to go for slivers of newspaper or toothpicks. Yes, toothpicks can be formidable bookmarks.

I'm reading a book now by Charles Bukowski called Post Office. It seems like a good book. It's about a guy who's a postman, who goes to work with a perpetual hangover, gets bit by dogs, marries and divorces a rich girl, and has sex with bored women on his route every week. Nobody recommended it to me. I'd never even heard of Charles Bukowski except for the single-line allusion to him in the movie, Sideways which I was taken to by friends who adored it more than I ever could. I didn't even know Bukowski's first name was Charles, and were it not for the fact there are no other writers named Bukowski who sold 20+ novels between the 1940's and death in 1994, I'd never even know his first name was Charles.

Now why didn't anyone ever recommend him to me?

Maybe I just don't like what other people like. Maybe people want me to be like them and like what they like, because that's how they "connect".

I liked the movie "Fight Club". Nobody recommended it to me nor did anyone suggest I read the book, which I also liked a lot. It's a story about what kind of men boys become when they're jettisoned by their fathers. I wasn't abandoned by my father, but I thought it was a great story, anyway. And funny, too.

I wish someone would have said to me, "Hey, check out Palaniuk," instead of giving me an impenetrable book about Gurdjeiff. (That same person did send me "A Confereracy of Dunces" which I eventually read and laughed at. So sometimes it works ok.)

Not one person recommended it to me. Instead, I have a book called, "A Brother's Journey" sitting beside my bed that I can't bring myself to open. It's about the brother of a guy who was abused as a child. Not the abused kid, for whom lots of books have already been written, but his brother. Because that hadn't been written about yet.

My wife is reading it now, and for me, that's the kiss of death. What she likes, I know I must burn. My wife is entranced by Dean Koontz and Barbara Landover. I tried reading a Dean Koontz book once, but I was distracted by the sound of water leaking from a faucet in our kitchen, and even though it's now fixed, I can't see that book without hearing the dripping water in my mind.

On the other hand, I left the tea kettle on last night and all the water boiled out of it and the metal got so hot the paint bubbled while I was reading about this postman fucking randy women he met on his route and getting the mail truck stuck in a big puddle during a thunderstorm.

Maybe that's why my writing goes nowhere. I don't like what people like. I'm not a regular book kind of person.

And no, I have no idea where your copy of "Hey: Isn't That My Underwear?" is.


I don't know what that poem has to do with my grumpy note about all the books I haven't read.

They were two thoughts juxtaposed in my mind that had to come out. That's why it's a daylog.

And not something more coherent.

Yes, I'm still writing, Dad. Still making the same mistakes.

The distance apples travel hasn't changed much over the course of human history, sorry to say.

I wonder what plays upon people’s fears? Is it the fear of the unknown or fear of the inevitable?

I guess with the fear of the unknown, there’s nothing you can really do to try and control it. It must be a sort of helpless feeling, not knowing what lurks behind the next corner but still, you’ve know you’ve got to turn it.

The fear of the inevitable must be different. You know just what is lurking behind the next corner but no matter how hard you try, you’re somehow destined to meet it face to face. You have no choice.

Each day the feet are planted
From out beneath the bed
The alarm clock sings its mourning song
Is it something that you dread?

The daily ritual begins
Another day takes on its form
Breakfast is served and it’s out the door
Nothing different from the norm

Then the face that looked so familiar
You’d know it in your dreams
Has undergone some changes
And is different now it seems

You knew it was bound to happen
The only thing was when
One side of it turned ugly
It’ll probably happen again

It’s the fear of the inevitable
It’s the fear of the unknown
It’s the burning and churning of the world around
Into which you have been thrown.

For a friend…

Korea - Japan relations = strained, see also: mutual hatred.

I was recently surprised to find that many Koreans severly despise the Japanese, although I shouldn't be surprised. Japan did sort of... well.. occupy Korea under Iron Fist. Call it my American upbringing, I just never knew enough about history to realize.

So I began asking Koreans I work with what they thought about the Japanese. Here's some responses:

The only people that like the Japanese are the Japanese.
All Asia dislikes the Japanese.
Or I probe, "What do you think about the Japanese." (shakes head)

I suppose I was more surprised that this animosity still exists, and more so to see some of the Japanese comments online:

The Koreans are slaves of Japan.
Or something like equating Koreans to dogs: see cehgoggi

I'm a Jewish American, and I don't hold anything against the people of Germany. However, one thing I've come to realize is that political correctness seems to be purely a Western Ideal.

Note: I was indeed talking to "younger" Koreans, soldiers in compulsory service.

Yesterday's assassination of the husband and mother of Federal Judge Joan Lefkow had me doing a bit of reading into the dark side. Lefkow served as judge at a trial where white supremacist Matthew Hale's group lost the right to use the name World Church of the Creator. Hale was soon to be sentenced for plotting against Judge Lefkow's life. Today I visited the web sites of the National Alliance, their magazine the National Vanguard, and a few other places where the sun don't shine.

What strikes me about these people is how goddamned normal they seem. So much of their propaganda is about pride, and they really seem to feel they're under threat. They act as if people think being white, male and Christian is a bad thing. Which is really funny because white, Christian males dominate world politics and world business. We rule the world, so it seems utterly silly that these people should find reason to complain.

The problem for them is that while white male Christians are powerful and accepted, white male racists are not. They have a point in pointing out we often excuse a bit of bigotry from the members of persecuted minorities. Hatred is wrong no matter who is doing it. But anger does make a lot more sense coming from those who had to fight tooth and nail for basic dignity-- just maybe something pissed them off along the road to equality. No point in condemning an idea just because the messenger is flawed.

The question is what pissed the "white power" set off? Did they expect that being white would guarantee them a $60K job, and SUV, a place in the suburbs and blowjobs from strippers? Did they think black people would happily remain maids and busboys? Not enough lawn jockeys for them? How can they actually think that being Jewish automatically makes a person anti-Gentile? Granted, if someone had killed off six-million Irish/english mutts like myself I might hold a bit of a grudge. As ye sow . . . .

I once knew a man named Claude Budd, a retired minister in the United Church of Christ. During World War II Claude served as a pyschologist under General George S. Patton. Late in the war, when Germany's defeat was certain Third Army turned east into Czechoslovakia. There Third Army troops were the first to overrun some of the concentration camps where Jews were sent to labor and die. When the soldiers discoveries were reported, Claude was sent forward to help out both the victims of the holocaust, incuding American soldiers who had seen something more vicious than their wildest nightmares.

More than fifty years after the end of World War II Claude Budd would not talk about those days. He told me that if he talked about those days, thought about them, or saw a film about it he'd have nightmares for weeks. It was a part of his life he could not bear, even though his role in it had been as a giver of comfort.

And so these latter day Nazis work so hard to pretend normality, to appear calm and reasonable people, who are merely persecuted by a world dead set against them. To them it isn't about hatred but pride.

But I've looked into the eyes of Claude Budd. I know better. And I know why they try so hard to deny their ultimate crime ever occured. For Auschwitz is not the black sheep of hatred, but its logical extension. The Nazis really didn't do anything that dozens of KKK lynch mobs, or medieval rioters had not except to systematize the process, to massacre in cold rather than hot blood. Todays right wing bigots can protest all they want but what they really want is blood.

The end of combat ops is like a singularity: the closer we approach, the more time itself seems to dilate, every minute feels like a year, every day an eternity.

This mission was only supposed to take a couple of days. "No longer than 48 hours" were the words our CO used. So we packed accordingly. I brought only a change of socks, some ramen and some Easy Mac, a couple packs of smokes. We would supposedly be pretty busy, so I didn't even bother with my sleeping bag.

That first night, when we raided a section of the town of Haklania while two other LAR platoons, a provisional rifle platoon from 1/23 Headquarters and Service Company (read: POGs), and a platoon of Combat Engineers took down some adjacent neighborhoods, was when I just started to feel really shitty. My throat was sore, I couldn't stop coughing, and I was completely drained of energy. It was all I could do to keep up with my scout squad as we cleared building after building, took detainees, and set up a patrol base.

That first 72 hours (after the promised 48 hour mark came and went) remains a blurry haze of being absolutely exhausted and sick, standing constant post on a bridge, running security patrols throughout our section, never getting more than a couple hours of sleep at a stretch. Up to that point I had managed not to eat an MRE since Al-Qaim, several months, but after running out of noodles and macaroni and candy bars, I almost wept as I gave in and choked down as much of an MRE as I could stomach. I didn't smoke for those first several days, but my abs were tender and my throat was sore from coughing.

A few things stick out in my mind from Haklania. At one point we received a report over the radio that there was a man across the bridge whose mother had been shot and needed help. Our scout team crossed the bridge to meet him, and when we got there he was waving a white flag and hysterical.

Struggling with my limited Arabic, I managed to ask him where she was, and told him to bring her to us. He ran home and about twenty minutes later he drove up with someone sprawled across the back seat.

It turned out to be his brother, not his mother, and when we got him out of the car, our Corpsman got a handful of brain and we realized how badly the guy had been wounded.

He'd been shot in the back of the head, with the exit wound exposing a large patch of brain and skull and his right eye was missing.

He looked pretty dead to me, but Doc found a weak pulse, so we loaded him onto the poleless litter and ran him across the bridge, where our medevac vehicle was waiting.

He didn't last long.

We never found out who shot him. The thing that disturbed me the most was how undisturbed I was about the whole thing, how undisturbed we all were.

Without my sleeping bag, I shivered through each night, two hours at a time, through chills that would hit me periodically, taking two tylenol and two sudafed every four hours, and downing a Red Bull when I needed the boost. The night before we left, I probably shouldn't have stayed up until 0300 playing Poker. The $300 I won that night did nothing to warm me.

After the first horrible 72 hours, instead of going back to the Dam, we entered the city of Haditha and repeated the process. Though I was tired, hungry, dirty, smelly, and sore, it seemed I was through the worst of my sickness and I was feeling a thousand times better.

Starting at around 0400, our scout squad began entering and searching houses for weapons and asking about any local insurgent activity. We did this for the next few hours. Most of the houses had one AK-47, which the owners told us were for protection, but we were under orders to confiscate them if they didn't have permits. A few protested, but most handed them over with sighs of resignation.

Though we were waking them up at a retarded hour and rifling through their belongings, the local residents have been generally cooperative, even friendly. They don't hesitate to open locks, and several offer us tea.

After around five hours of this, exhausted, we enter a house and search it, and tell the head of the household that we have to confiscate his AK. He asks us why, and I tell him he needs a permit.

"It is for protection," he insists.

"You must have a permit," I reply.

"Where can I get a permit?"

"I don't know," I tell him as I realize I have no idea.

But we have our orders and I tell him as much, and after a period of back and forth he reluctantly gives up.

"Salaam," I tell him as we leave. It means: 'peace,' a sort of all-purpose greeting, but I don't think he believes me. Patrolling to the next house, I consider the loaded rifle I hold ready, the helmet and body armor I wear, and suddenly I don't believe it either.

In the next house we search, it seems we have interrupted breakfast, but the head of the household is extremely friendly and shows us around the house, shows us his rifle, introduces his whole family. He insists we sit down with him, insists that we eat, and when we politely decline, he begins breaking off pieces of khubus flatbread and fried egg and shoving them into our hands, all but hand-feeding us.

So we sit, and eat, and drink tea, while the man tells us he is a teacher, has been for forty years. He tells us this is a good neighborhood, and no Ali-Babas (bad men or thieves) live in the area. I ask about any Mujahedeen activity, and he tells us there is none in the area, and that this is a very close neighborhood, that they all take care of each other, and protect each other so no Muj can really operate in the area.

When it comes time to leave, we tell him we have to confiscate his rifle and he asks us why. I look around at the family, the children whose breakfast I've just eaten, and all the dirty, smelly Marines, armed and threatening, and I am suddenly more tired than ever.

I glance at Sgt. W_____, our scout squad leader, and I can tell he's thinking the same thing I am.

"This is fucked up, Sergeant," I say. "We want these people to help us stop the insurgency and we're taking away their only means of self-protection because they don't have permits that we can't tell them how to get."

"Yeah," he agrees, and sighs. I watch furtively as he thinks about it and the room goes quiet for a few tense minutes.

"Fuck it," he decides finally, and relief and elation wash over me. We let him keep the rifle, thank him for the chow, try to offer him payment, and leave, and as we return a few of the other AKs, I feel good, extremely good, for the first time like I've made a difference. I feel like I've done something really good, like I've shielded the little guy from the bullshit that trickles down from above, from some asshole in an armchair with a heavy collar, who has no idea what's going on down on the ground. I feel like maybe we've made a friend and an ally, and left him armed against a common enemy.

I've lost track of how long we've been here now, I changed into my only extra pair of socks a couple of days ago, and my junk is approaching maxiumum funkiness. I just smoked my last cigarette, so I'm burning some incense we found in the school we're using as a patrol base, and at night I sleep under some blankets I scrounged up in same. During the day, the Dam comes into view, but they're telling us we'll be moving to another area within the city and we'll be there for 48 more hours.

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