The River

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Factotum: n., an employee or assistant with a wide range of duties; man of many jobs

Factotum: 1975 Charles Bukowski novel, published by Black Sparrow Press

Factotum: 2005 film staring Matt Dillon

I was running late and missed the first five minutes of the latest Bukowski flick, "Factotum." I half jogged the block from the back parking lot to the ancient, street-front theater. Peachtree Street. Buckhead. The attendant had left the ticket window, but he saw me coming and hustled over. “Has it started?” yeah, just a few minutes ago. I paid and went in.

There were five or six other patrons. I settled in. Chinaski was looking for a job. The movie is all about Chinaksi, Charles Bukowski’s alter ego in his stories and poems. I read later that I had missed the scene with our anti-hero leaving a delivery truck parked outside a bar in order to shirk for while. The bar is where his boss found him and fired him.

In the novel Factotum, Charles Bukowski chronicles his experience as a young man who rejects society – WWII, wage slavery, house in the suburbs – in favor of getting drunk as often as possible. And writing short stories and poetry. As he tells one employer: "All I want to do is get my check and get drunk. Now, that may not sound noble, but it's my choice."

I don’t know that I really felt the character’s desperation, his drunkenness or his squalid existence. Nor does one really feel it in Buk’s work. It’s too pulpy for that. Or not pulpy enough, perhaps. One merely gets a nice, safe rejectionist buzz. To my mind, that’s a good thing. Good drugs are hard to find. Or is it hard drugs are good to find? I can’t ever remember.

The movie stumbles, not drunkenly, unfortunately, when it turns to Chinaski’s horse racing habit. In one scene, the race is much too short, no doubt cut by the filmmaker for fear of boring the audience with a longer scene. But what you get is a shorthand version of what should be a full minute of drama personified – a thoroughbred horse race. So the scene becomes one, for me, that tells me that Chinaski and friend bet on a race and won, but doesn’t convey the reality of it. Same goes for the rest of the movie.

As a sometimes racetrack railbird, maybe I’m ruined for movies with horse racing scenes. I felt the same way about “Seabiscuit.” Too pretty, too pat, too much fantasy, not enough reality.

Yet “Factotum” works as a stylized working man’s blues. Like “Seabiscuit,” the photography is saturated with rich color, yet this time it doesn’t register quite so hallmark empty. Rather, it’s more of a dignified look to fit with Dillon’s tidy, unhurried drunk.

Matt Dillon establishes Chinaski as someone who understands that the battle is for an inch of ground, an original philosophy, an intact soul. He does so in the accretion of detail, a tour de force of show, don’t’ tell that surpasses Mickey Rourke’s more elaborate portrayal. Dillon’s is no less stylized, yet the deliberate movements, the fearless, unblinking countenance, the slouch, the mannerisms, the way he carries himself – there is no doubt that Dillon has read his share of Bukowski, and that his performance reflects the literature moreso than the man, even though the two are inseparable. It’s also a safe bet that Dillon watched the recent Bukowski documentary, “Born into This.”

To its immense credit, this movie isn’t just a biopic, a la “Ray” or “Walk the Line,” where the main reason to care about the world presented is that a tragically gifted figure walked through it.

The movie instead attempts to create a world as extension of the main character – it’s a blue, blue collar world in which our protagonist confronts the absurdity of wage slavery.

The film subtly contrasts the gleaming office towers of downtown with the gritty neighborhoods. The people Chinaski encounters, the managers and bosses he must convince to hire him, the unemployment clerks, have a slick, comfortable look. They aren’t the rich executives in the office towers, but they have found their way to positions above the factotums, the workers.

The camera is confident without being flashy, although there is one shot that is a standout: Chinaski leaning on a window sill, smoking a cigarette on an upper floor of an auto parts factory, the camera moving from inside to a close shot from outside, pulling back until Chinaski becomes a solitary figure in urban landscape, framed by a window, itself isolated in a massive brick wall.

The factotum has his ace in the hole. He’s found a tool, words, that he uses to hold fast to an inviolable center. Dillon plays Chinaski as if that center, which is finally a refusal to relinquish dignity, is a precious, even fragile, weight.

Dillon is at an interesting stage of his career, and he’s had his share. From the bully in “My Bodyguard” to the heroin addict in “Drugstore Cowboy” to the sadistic yet recognizably human police officer in “Crash,” Dillon has consistently worked the independent margins to startling effect.

The most startling thing here, though, is that someone with Dillon’s looks would even attempt Chinaski. Although I respect his talent, I was surprised at how well he pulled it off. His performance simply states, “this what I was feeling, this is how I lived. It may not look noble to you, but it’s my choice.”

Sunday, October 22, 2006

If you're not reading Adored by Hordes, you should be

Will and Ariel Durant observed that successful civilizations start with getting pastoral and agricultural practices right, so probably the smartest thing for a late-phase wealthy democracy to do is encourage a broad-based return to agriculture. I don't see our leaders doing that anytime soon, so check out your local tilth and urban horticulture organizations, and farmer's markets. They are most likely the bones a new civilization will form sinews, muscles, and synapses around.


I was just talking to someone who was saying the same thing. Agrarian revolutions are the only truly successful ones. The U.S., for instance.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Driving into work this morning, I was listening to Bruce Springsteen's latest CD, "We Shall Overcome." Just lettin it flow over me as the sun came up and the cars moved along the proscribed track.

I was enjoying CD's live sound, the traditional music performed by a talented, tight band obviously enjoying themselves. I was also having, you know, "deep thoughts" about how nobody really likes working for big business. We learn to pretend to like it though, because it provides the comfortable life. In exchange for your submission, you will receive a fat paycheck. Until such time, that is, that you start having independent thoughts. Soon we forget that we've been bought off, that we accepted the fitting for a straightjacket.

So the sky was getting lighter, an orange glow was spreading behind me. I'm almost at my exit, when the title track comes on. In that instant, I look up, over my right shoulder, at the sky, and see a rainbow. In seconds, my countenance moves from agape to grinning.

The other day, someone asked me if I believe in God. An answer I thought of later was, "it's the only way I know how to explain music."

I parked in my usual spot as the first track succeeded the last. I went on in.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Wealth Bondage -- The Aftermath

(We join the denizens of newly upended Wealth Bondage corporation as they gather in the employee lounge, trying to make sense of their impending dissolution.)

Smokey Joe: So Phil’s leavin, huh? I never liked him anyway. He was a slave driver. Nothing we did was ever good enough. Fuck, I put in 23 of every 24 hours in service of the corporation. We were fucking winning. We had surveillance of the opposition, we had lawsuits and the threat of lawsuits, we had no-bid, cost-plus contracts for our clients, we even had fucking Gitmo! What else were we supposed to do?

Dick Minim: You’re new Joe. So it’s no surprise you’ve totally misread the dynamics. It’s my fault. There was trouble in the PR charnel house, and Tutor just egged it on. I couldn’t control him. And it was getting so I couldn’t control myself either. I just couldn’t sell it anymore. My mind would wonder even as I was licking Candie’s boots. I could see that Phil was disgusted with me. Tutor just laughed. If there’s one thing both of them hate, it’s lack of commitment. You either sell it, or get out.

Joe: So instead of firing your ass, he just left the company?

Dick: He could see a systemic breakdown on the horizon. That’s what I think. The man was conflicted. He wanted commitment to the company, but he also despised the company. So the more I lost faith and the more I was ordered to lick it back up off of Candie’s boots, the more delighted Phil became, until these feelings overruled his professionalism. I think he had no choice, really. Postmodernism wasn’t the sop it once was, is how he put it to me late one night when the killing floor was all but deserted.

And Candie never noticed. She had no clue to what was going on. But she considered even Phil beneath her.

Joe: Heh, and maybe he was.

Dick: I thought you were her stable boy.

Joe: I tried. I worked harder for her than I did for my Harvard MBA and Law degrees. I licked those boots til my tongue nearly fell out.

Chastity Powers: (walks in breakroom, does a quick turn on her heels): Do you think I should wear this red dress to my Fox News interview?


What is the matter with everybody? Bush says losing your job is a good thing! You just have to pray and always wear low-cut.

Dick: There’s more to this unfortunate situation than meets the eye. Some of us have never felt the sting of failure.

Chastity: This isn’t failure, silly. It’s an opportunity. And if you love it here so much, Candidia said the company would keep running on a volunteer basis as long as we wanted it to. I didn’t want to leave either. I tried to get Phil to stay. I flashed my boobs and smiled real big. He said he’d already been to Disneyland and he found it fake. I never could figure out anything he said.

Dick: Oh *really*?

Chastity: Besides, Candidia set up a one-day job seminar with a free lunch! What more do you want?

Captain Blowtorch (appearing abruptly in the doorway); I just want you all to know, that we’re all counting on you. This is no time for doubt. This is no time for dissension. Desperate times call for bold actions! We must strike, or face elimination. Who’s with me?

(Silence, perplexed looks. Blowtorch backs out.)

Joe: Hey, where is Candie anyway? Have you seen her since Phil left?

Dick: I knew it! He’s keeping her. She’s a fucking winner on top of her game. I know Phil. He can’t resist that power, that strength.

Joe: But Candie was over him.

Dick: Was she? I could never tell. There was an air sometimes, when I saw them together, a wary respect, like two cats in a territory dispute. I could never tell if they were about to fight or fuck.

The Happy Tutor (appearing in the breakroom doorway): Phil had the velvet touch with her. She was a pussycat in his hands. She wanted what he had, but he kept it, he kept it.

Joe: Kept what? A good heart? (snort) what sentimental bullshit! Guys, our bonds are inextricable. Give it up. It. Is. Over.

Dr. Chadwallah (sitting crosslegged in the corner, eyes closed): Yes, Joe is right. We will go on serving our master. For although Phil and Candidia are gone, the master lives on.

Tutor (slouched at the table now, talking quietly with coffee cup between both hands. Tie loosened. Suit jacket crumpled, hundred-yard stare): Yeah, Phil left not in a high-minded huff, but with love and regret for all who trafficked here in the bordello. He said our bonds were illusory but no less powerful. His compassion was real. No one understood him, really. No one knew him. I was the closest, but running off with Candie? I can’t believe that.

Dick: She was the one person HE understood.

Tutor: Maybe. But I doubt he’s told her what he told me just before he left: It’s wealth, he said. Wealth is all wrong. But if we must have the filthy lucre and its imperative to violence, at least our actions can still wash away the blood and help to heal the wounds. Wealth he said, pointing to his chest, is in here. It always was and it always will be.

Joe: Yeah, then he slipped behind the wheel of his Cadillac Escalade.

(they all crack up)

Tutor (stands): I dunno. I feel better. Maybe this is the best thing that ever happened to us. I have no idea what to do next. I guess I’ll go back to my diss, try to finally get it published. But I’m gonna keep an eye on Phil. He’s got some good work to do now. Stop snickering, Joe. He might actually find some answers. Lord knows he and I raised enough questions here.

Joe: C’mon guys. Let’s get out of here. It’s happy hour. First round’s on me. And Tutor, I want to talk to you about a business venture. How do you feel about foreign travel? Ever been to the Middle East?

Dick: Nooo! Stay away from him, Tutor.

Joe (collaring Dick): Ah, Dickie Boy, I’m harmless. And Tutor’s a big boy. But we all gotta eat, right?

Tutor: Well, I am awfully thirsty. So scheme on my friend. I’m all ears.

Dick (whispering as they file out): You gonna keep Phil informed on this nut, or should I?

Tutor: Don’t worry. I’m still on the case.


Repost from March, 2004. See also Wealth Bondage hires a speech writer

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Good post on NK Nukes from Xymphora.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heart-ache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, to discover what is already there."

-- Henry Miller

Stolen from Les, who apparently found the help he needed for his blogging addiction.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Rolling Stones play Missoula

Tucked in a corner of Western Montana, Missoula is an anomaly -- a progressive university town in the middle of a deep red state. It's probably the last place you'd expect to find a sort of hippies' last stand, but the following from Wikipedia clues us in to just how out there (in a very good way) Missoula is: "in the 2000 presidential election, it had one of the highest percentages of votes in the country for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. NORML's state office is in Missoula and it holds a yearly Hemp Festival." And the tradition continues on into the present day, as an organic gardener, Jon Tester, attempts to oust Republican toady Conrad Burns.

Still, I was shocked when I heard that the Rolling Stones had recently played there. The biggest name that came through when I lived there in the early 90s was Warren Zevon. That was one of my later evenings on the town during my three-year tenure. I was there with the woman who eventually became my wife. She got a masters in creative writing. I got a masters in camping, microbrews, and low-ambition living, plus my first pair of Birkenstocks.

Some of the friends we made are still there, including Penny and Mike. We get their holiday newsletter every year and feel foolish all over again for leaving paradise. Recently, Penny e-mailed her...

Top 10 reasons why listening to the Rolling Stones' Missoula concert was better from my deck than from anywhere in Washington Grizzly Stadium:

10. Traffic? What traffic?
9. Shirts and shoes not required.
8. No 50'x49' screens to distract you from the tiny figures on the stage.
7. Can't see Mick Jagger's wrinkles.
6. The whole back yard is your private dance floor.
5. No silly prohibitions against alcohol.
4. Spotlights make a groovy light show on the clouds.
3. Neighborhood dogs sing better than 20,000 Missoulians.
2. No lines for the ladies' restroom.
1. Parking: $0, Tickets: $0, Hearing the Rolling Stones live while sitting in your hot tub: Priceless

Only in Missoula.


Mick and Keef at Washington Grizzly Stadium, Missoula, MT

From The Missoulian article on the concert:

All were performed with perfect technical precision and, besides Jagger's unwillingness to carry some of the higher vocal parts, without any signs of declining skills. Ron Wood's slide guitar has never sounded better, even when chomping on a banana and smoking at the same time.

If there's a weakness to the evening, it's that everything seemed so well-rehearsed, so choreographed and laid out in sequence, that there was an element of soul missing. Every Jagger move was carefully chosen for full effect, even when he stuffed a microphone down his pants. The fact that the show was performed under what looked like a spaceship sponsored by RadioShack didn't help in that regard.

One of the authentic moments - you might even call it tender - was Keith Richards' personal hello to Missoula. While Jagger thanked the people for coming from as far away as Great Falls and “Spo-CAIN,” Richards' greeting seemed genuinely warm, even a little sad.

“This is new territory for me, and I've been around a lot,” said a man showing his age to a crowd that knew he was talking from the heart. “You've got beautiful country here. I'm thinking about moving in.”

Don't take my word for it about Missoula -- Keith Richards could _live_ there. Now that's coolness.

Bonus points to the first reader who spots the humorous grammatical mistake in the article excerpt.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Free Hugs

Jeneane Sessum turned me on to this. Thanks Jeneane!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The River Year 3: Year of the sludge

The river has slowed. There seems to be something gumming up the works, starts with B, ends with T. That's right, BuShit. After more than four years of blogging (here and elsewhere), and six years of NeoConvict America, it’s getting sludgelike out there.

In the old days, the water, though high, still flowed. Now, democratic bloggers seem more like democratic hacks, and democracy is suffering. Still, despite experiencing yet another crass Christmas season, I had faith in people and concluded that, collectively, we were not such a bad little tree.

That was before I began reading more closely between the lies, and came to the sad realization that news media, like many things mainstream cultural, was a fallacy.

I retreated, frankly, to the marginalized but still vital products of our independent filmmakers. In these margins, appearing as a ghost world to the corralled consciousness of the everyday Murkans, documenting America’s armed farces was just one of many valuable communiqués.

Beyond that, I had my share of proud parent moments. Blogged about some of them, too.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Telling it like it is



And if there is no excuse now for such deluded horseshit, there never was any excuse. To imagine, to fantasise that the people who calculatedly and maliciously imposed the genocidal sanctions regime on Iraq, a wilful and wicked assault on Iraq's civilian population - to dream that such people are likely to want to 'liberate' Iraqis, except from their mortal coils, is a profound and shocking abdication from the duty to analyse and think through a situation. To then on the basis of this preposterous illusion go on and publicly, clamorously, boisterously demand invasion and occupation is to advertise a kind of collective insanity. And the hide n seek game, so beloved of the 'humanitarian interventionists', won't do either - "we found some Kurdish leaders who agreed with us, so we must be right." Of course the Kurdish leaders agreed with you - they, as the single Iraqi group most imbricated with the US, had the least to lose from it and the most to gain (at least in the short term). What happened to thinking for oneself? What happened to thinking?

"Liberation" - the canard of every bullshitter and hypocrite in the world, and yet another example of a cynosure of radical discourse being enclosed on behalf of imperialist tyranny.


US propaganda on Iran fooling experts, not public

Noam Chomsky's well-known refrain that the intellectual class (very loosely defined) is more susceptible to propaganda than the population at large seems borne out over the recent polling on Iran. Via, the latest polls show that 70% of Americans oppose an invasion of Iran, and only 9% favour selective air strikes. On the other hand, the US press is packed with 'experts' who believe that Iran has already declared war on the United States, by supporting the resistance in Iraq.


Imperial majesty

A fantasia of superhuman carnage underwrites neoconservative prescriptions for the 'war on terror'.