"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Saturday, March 20, 2004
ma-nip-u-late Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): -lat·ed; -lat·ing
Etymology: back-formation from manipulation, from French, from manipuler to handle an apparatus in chemistry, ultimately from Latin manipulus
1 : to treat or operate with the hands or by mechanical means especially in a skillful manner
2 a : to manage or utilize skillfully b : to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one's own advantage
3 : to change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one's purpose : DOCTOR
4 : messing with someone's mind
It was late June, 1980, a sultry Washington DC Saturday night and I ain't got nobody.
Or no money either for that matter, since my bank account was far too new to cash a check on at most places.
I found myself in Georgetown, a very swanky district of DC. I mentioned in an earlier post that you could tell a lot about a neighborhood by looking at the people that got on and off at their Metro stop. Georgetown did not want a Metro stop. They did not have one and that's the way they liked it.
Keeps the riffraff out, ya know.
I ended up nursing a seven and seven in a discotech right at the heart of things. The music was pounding....new wave music was just coming in and the air was full of the B-52's and the Pretenders' Brass in Pocket. Next to me at the bar were a couple of musicians and we had been talking. They were waiting on some big name record producer guy to come meet with them.
When the guy showed up, I just about gagged on my drink. He was a tall African American dressed in a leopard print shirt, skin tight zebra stripe pants, glitter belt, and I think he might have had some sort of a hat.
But the real kicker was his horrible fake British accent.
I mean, he really needed to go home and tape himself before he tried that in public. I'm from the southern United States and I could have done better! Combine all of him together and it screamed SHAM.
This guy intended to take these two musicians for all they were worth. When he went to the bathroom (probably to do a fashionable line of coke or two) I tried warning the two musician guys. One seemed to agree with me, the other was undecided. Feeling that I had done all I could, I finished my drink, checked one last time for available females (none worth chasing, or at least none possible to catch) and headed out to the street.
I opened my wallet. Uh oh, I had not been careful enough. I did not have enough cash to make it till Monday when the bank opened. I needed somewhere to cash a check.
I already had tried that earlier at a small store, who immediately refused when he found out where I was living (which is another story.) I'm milling around in this tide of humanity trying to figure things out when I am approached by a rather clean cut guy who is offering information about his "church." Quotes intentional. Since he is being so helpful, I ask him if his folks can cash a small check. "Sure, if you buy something," he says. He suggests a course for $15. I say sure. He then takes me to a building at 1812 Ninetenth Street, a site that will raise hackles on some who read this.
For those not in the know, that's the address not only of the Washington DC Church of Scientology, but pretty much Scientology Central.
Naive me, I get my change and schedule the course.
The first day I show up, and there are two students, counting myself, and one instructor. Us students are referred to as "preclears" because we are not "cleared" of our mental impurities.
Well, how hard can this be?
The instructor places two chairs facing each other, and has us sit in them. Then he hands me a card and tells me to ask the other student the first two questions on the card. They are, if I remember, "Name something that makes you happy" and "name something that makes you sad."
He quickly answers. Then I am told to ask the questions again.
You can see where this is going I am sure. We go back and forth asking questions to each other until we are baffled and the answers are incredibly hard to come up with. At this point, I think the brain does a kind of flip flop, because it feels like you have just had this cathartic breakthrough of some sort, as if some door has opened in your soul and let some serious sunlight in.
Tears are the order of the day at this point. They feel like tears of revelation, but maybe they were just tears of relief for not having to think of any more things that make me happy.
On the way out, I pick up a copy of "Dianetics" (a book the Scientologists heavily promote) and a copy of their course list.
Once I am home and a bit calmer, I study the course list. Oh my goodness, now it is really clear (no pun intended) what is going on here. My course was $15. The next course was $25. Then $35, $45, and on upwards. Eventually, you were classified as a "clear" and you could buy a clear plastic bracelet signifying that for, I think, about $500.
And that's just the beginning. I understand that things are quite different in the Church of Scientology today. One of the major differences is that now the complete development from novice to the top costs well over a quarter of a million dollars USD!
I called to cancel my second part of my first course. As I was working in the House of Representatives, I felt that it was not safe to call from our offices, so I used a pay phone. My boss had enough problems without a staffer that was a cult member!
Washington is the only place where sound travels faster than light.
C. V. R. Thompson
neo-phyte Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Late Latin neophytus, from Greek neophytos, from neophytos newly planted, newly converted, from ne- + phyein to bring forth -- more at BE
1 : a new convert : PROSELYTE
2 : NOVICE
3 : TYRO, BEGINNER
4 : Me when I first went to DC
It was late June of 1980. I was about to stand on the heartbeat of the entire country, and had no idea how bumpy a ride it would be.
Heck, I didn't even have a stethescope.
I was in Washington, DC working for Congressman John Jenrette. I was "officially" the assistant press secretary, but was also working on putting together a bill for him to introduce that would have seriously limited the collusion that we suspected between major oil companies. We had examined their boards of directors, and the same few people were running all of the companies that were supposedly competing with each other. Prices had risen, and for no obvious reason, so the Congressman figured this might be a home run.
And he really badly needed a home run. He had just been indicted in the Abscam scandal. I'll write more on that another time.
I had settled into my apartment in Alexandria with two roommates that worked at the Pentagon as drones. Quickly I had discovered that driving to work was impossible in DC, so I had scouted out a Metro stop where I could park cheap, and took the Metro to work at the House of Representatives each day.
Perhaps one of the best ways to learn a town is by using its mass transit systems. You could see what the neighborhoods were like by watching who got on and off at the stops. For example, Foggy Bottom was where all the cute legal secretaries got off in the morning and on again in the evening. I used to try to make sure I had a vacant seat next to me every afternoon when we got to that stop, that way I could chat up one of the girls on the way home.
Never had any "results" though, but it wasn't from lack of effort.
Capitol South was where us tussled congressional aides slinked off. It was small potatoes compared to some of the other stations, but occasionally some real movers and shakers walked through there.
My first day to work, I was going up the escalator, dressed in my best suit, sharp as a tack and excited to be there. I was wired...this was THE big city! I mean, you can HAVE New York, all it has going for it is the size, but here, you could just tell you were right where all the power lines for the largest and most powerful country on Earth converged.
Since it was so crowded on the escalator, I held my briefcase off to the side. That gave more room, there were at least two people on every step.
All of a sudden my briefcase was pulled forcefully from my grip. Too late I saw that perpendicularly in the two foot space between the up and down escalator, there were plexiglass barriers. These were probably to prevent people sliding down. In my case one of them neatly captured my briefcase and sent it careening towards the bottom of the packed escalator as I rode helplessly upwards.
KaThud! KaThud! KaThud! Swishhhhhh. Bump. Now it rested against the bottom barrier. As I rode out into the sunshine I saw a fellow traveler grab hold of it and start upwards.
He got to the top and handed my briefcase to me. I smiled and thanked him, wondering feverishly how to somehow make it look like I did that on purpose. "Yes, we're conducting tests today on courtesy..." or "Actually, I had realized that I needed to reboard the metro and did not feel like carrying it back down..." or "Gosh, this briefcase sure is hard to throw away!"
Uh, no. None of that worked. So I settled for sheepishly standing there like it hadn't happened and waiting for everyone to walk off before I moved a muscle.
Hey, the last thing I needed was to have people whispering about me in the hallway. "You'll never believe what THAT guy did just outside..."
Yeah, like THEY had not ever thrown THEIR briefcase three stories down an escalator! Harrumph.
So I walked into the Canon House Office Building, one of several that housed the House of Representatives, and then had to submit to a guard search.
Of course, he opened my briefcase and went through it.
He didn't even snicker at the fresh dents on it.
First days at work are always intense experiences that are difficult to remember details about. I guess it has something to do with the fact that our first impressions are so often wrong, and we quickly replace them with the right ones, thus uprooting the base our first impression rested on. There, I said that in a circle.If you read it twice it makes sense.
Anyway, I only remember a few things about that day.
Number one, when I walked into the office, I discovered that the receptionist was one of the most charming and beautiful women I had ever seen in my life. She was a general's daughter and had a very wealthy (and older, I think) steady boyfriend. Leave it to me to find that out first thing.
Number two, Washington Congressional office staffers are very, very different from the ones in the regional and district offices. These are the pros, the ones that play for the big money. They are lifetime dedicated and hop from position to position as the political wind changes, but they are animals that thrive on the power charge in DC. They could survive nowhere else.
So, Warren, the Press Secretary that I will work with, takes me on the "tour." We start at the usual place.
That's downstairs, so we have to take an elevator. The elevators in the House buildings have elevator operators. No, they are not the old cage kind, they have regular buttons, but there is an operator on each one.
As we walked up, I found out why. A bell rang signalling that there was a vote in session on the House floor. As soon as that happens, the operators reserve elevators for House members use only. That way the congressman who was in his office instead of on the floor can run to the elevator, dart to the Capitol building, and vote without all the tedious waiting on elevator stuff that might make him miss it, not to mention the even more tedious listening-to-speeches stuff that would keep him out of his office.
We headed over to the Capitol building. In that area, DC is a warren of tunnels. Each important building is connected to every other one underground. We're talking huge tunnels too, large enough to drive in although no one does. We crossed over in no time from the office building to the Capitol, and headed up to the House floor observation deck.
Which is where I got a real education in American politics.
I expected a room full of congressmen. I had been watching C-Span in the Congresssman's office (which at that time was not available anywhere but in Washington) and they always showed packed seats. But when I stood in the observation gallery, what I saw were a few congressmen idly sitting in a small circle in the camera field of view while one congressman gave a speech which involved reading something from a piece of paper and no one was really listening at all.
What a let down. And as I watched, some congressmen had things "inserted" into the Federal Register. This means that they get their speech placed in the record of the proceedings of the day, but don't actually have to MAKE the speech. No one will ever know about it unless they read the register that day, but boy is it good for reelection stuff.
It would not be long until I was jaded, and in a bit of danger too, but that's a different post. In any event, I held onto my briefcase from then on.
Everybody knows if you are too careful you are so occupied in being careful that you are sure to stumble over something.
Gertrude Stein (1874 - 1946), Everybody's Autobiography, 1937
OK...I have posted this entry once and it somehow got replaced by a draft version. If you read the earlier version, my apologies.
This week's Blogger Idol topic is "Dear Celebrity." My entry follows; its a bit risky and a bit creepy, but hey, what's life without risk :) This entry includes the letter, the news article, and the song lyric at the end. I'll follow this with a more light hearted entry shortly.
ir-rev-o-ca-ble Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin irrevocabilis, from in- + revocabilis revocable
1 : not possible to revoke : UNALTERABLE [an irrevocable decision]
2 : suicide
(Note: This letter is addressed to Steve Plunder, the late guitarist of the Australian rock group "The Whitlams." I am writing this letter from the viewpoint of Andy Lewis, a former member of the band. The details I could find about this event were sketchy at best, so I have taken considerable artistic license. However, the event described here did in fact occur.)
February 12, 2000
You know, we never really got over it.
It seems like only yesterday, but it was four years ago in 1996 when you killed yourself. I can still remember just sitting with you on a summer's day in December, idly playing on my bass and the piano as you filled the twilight air with the sounds of your guitar, playing your deep, deep melodies that always spoke to everyone so well.
It was a shame, Steve, that you could not speak as well yourself. We might have helped, you know. You always played from the heart, and yet we never really saw inside deep enough, did we?
Sometimes, you would go through staggering amounts of beer and liquor, chain smoking like a smokestack hooked to a wildfire. Now I know that you did that because it just hurt so badly, you were doing anything you could to numb it.
Did you know I left the band not long after you left a big hole in the world? Yeah, I did. I got together with the Moriarty brothers, Phil and Mick, and we started playing gigs as "The Gadflies." We even got picked up as the house band on a TV show!
But, you know mate, every dream awakens one day. I'm awake now, and this world is really a dark place. So dark it hurts.
My finances, well, they have never been worse. Sometimes, I feel like there is no f****** hope.
My life's kinda hit the s***'s too.
The wife, the kids, its all a mess, Steve.
After you did it, we all asked "why?" We couldn't understand. They said it was because you were trying to stop drinking and smoking all at once. But now I know that wasn't it, that wasn't it at all.
Now I know, I know why.
I got a gun, Steve.
Its so dark here. So dark.
See you soon.
February 14, 2000
Andy Lewis, of the Gadflys and formerly of The Whitlams, committed suicide on Saturday amidst personal and financial problems. This occurred as the Gadflys were due to finish their 5th album. He is survived by his wife and three children.
CHARLIE No. 3
He'll need some time to get over this
But a moment is all he can spare
His buddies out there in the city lights
And he is trying to care
See him offering himself to the world
Staring down from the fifty-sixth floor
I'll be happy just to catch him again
We go out we don't always come back
The night pressing in on his weary mind
There's a half-eaten moon in the sky
Nothing is calling him back to bed
And no-one is saying goodbye
See him offering himself to the world
Staring down from the fifty-sixth floor
Yeah I'll be happy just to catch him again
We go out because we go back
And back and back
Words & Music: Tim Freedman, Greta Gertler, from Eternal Nightcap, The Whitlams