Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mill Avenue Nights, December 15th 2007

It was cold.

I took the bus.

These two sentences do not actually have a causal relationship; they just accurately frame the beginning of this Saturday’s Mill Ave visit. I am not complaining—not loudly at least—but I think that I could see my breath. The chill in the air, I’m afraid, meant that I didn’t have much of a chance to use my pen and paper to scrawl down notes so I am working primarily from my own diligent memory.

After wandering the length and breadth of my beloved Ave, I finally settled around the drum circle where a girl (whose name escapes me) was selling tie-dye shirts. “Shirts make good Christmas presents; good presents make good friends!”

After spending some time with them, I made my way down to see Lawrence at the Graffiti Shop and to meet the author of the SociallyACCEPTABLE magazine. I had picked one up at Graffiti the weekend before and read it from front to back. The entire format is highly independent press, and they were offering advertising, so I figured, what the hell.

I ended up walking him down to where the drum circle usually takes place in order to show him where it happens.

Drum circle felt extremely sparse tonight. In fact, it was extremely sparse. I didn’t see half of the people that I normally see. I did hand out a great deal of booklets, and left three at Graffiti, I also have prints of Merry Vexing Christmas to hand out, which is only proper.

This finally brings us, of course, to the street preachers.

Today I lacked Kazz. Which means that I got to stand around and observe them in their “natural” element with little disturbance – oddly, Emanuel also didn’t show. Well, perhaps this is not that odd as he’s a college student at ASU and this is the dreaded Finals week, or, for those far more lucky: time to run away, run away home. (Like the ladybug.) Instead! Tonight the arrival of two new interesting parties caught my attention. People with bullhorn!

Yes, only one bullhorn, but two people.

Which proved to be fairly interesting because the preachers use a loudspeaker and a microphone and a bullhorn provides more than enough volume to counteract the “he who speaks the loudest is correct” atmosphere that crowd address produces. The real fun didn’t actually start until the preachers finally left for the evening (about 11p.m., which is boring because it leaves me with a few hours of no entertainment… No, I’m exaggerating. I usually just go back to the drum circle and sit next to one of my friends and listen to stories at that point.)

Tonight, however, the two young men with the bullhorn remained and decided to make up their own impromptu street preacher routine. Which included interesting statements. “The Church is not for you. Go somewhere else.” “God loves women, especially lesbians.” Among other equally amusing one liners directed at passersby and generally mocking the entire purpose of standing on a street corner with a bullhorn.

The drum circle, despite being sparse, did have some interesting characters. The number of rail jumpers has increased dramatically over the past few weeks, so I’ve been listening to people discuss what trains to catch, where, and how. Fingers pointed, limbs gesticulating. You can take a train headed east out of the train jungle over there and it’ll take you to Tucson and then eventually to San Francisco! I have received some promises from stories from street rats I have yet to know well.

Also, news of Helena, who is a sprightly lass that I met last winter—rather young, but extremely cute—who listened raptly with a charismatic smile (and I’d hoped to see her again this winter.) She was a little social butterfly and, as far as I could see, an excellent influence on everyone. I suppose that I enjoy her presence in no small part because she liked me. There is always something to be said about how much simple admiration can change an impression. (“Yeah, she really talked about you a lot.”) This all makes the news about her a little bit more dreadful.

Apparently, she’s ended up in a mental institution. Way back in either Alabama or Kentucky. That’s ominous news, she didn’t seem crazy to me…and being someone who spends a great deal of time on Mill, with a little experience of psychology, crazy is a little bit obvious. Of course, she is a street rat of indeterminate age…and I had my suspicions.

Sad. I need more perky, good listeners with interesting stories to talk to.

Next week I may not be able to make it out to Mill on Saturday. If I’m lucky, I’ll be there on Friday.

As always, keep an eye out for Vexations booklets in The Graffiti Shop!

And, well, when I’m on Mill all eyes on me. And stories, more stories.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


I just came up with another tagline for Vexations, tell me what you think:

Burning rubber where angels fear to tread.

And a poem:

Through the dry desert, across the painted sky; / Past the Mogollon forest, and under Coyote's watchful eye; / to Grandmother Spider's house we go!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Mill Avenue Nights, Saturday December 8th 2007

I am becoming cheerful of Emanuel’s company on Saturday’s when Kazz and he wait out their time amongst the street preachers. He’s intelligent, charming, and reflects a humor that I’ve seen lost on many people in my life. I think that I am extremely glad that Kazz met him. Of course, this extends the circle of atheists that I keep in my midst, so I think that this will create no shortfall of adventure in discussion on religion.

This Saturday, once again, felt cold to my bones, but it wasn’t as terrible as could have been expected—rain was forecast, a rain that did not crash down on us as we stood among the crowds of Mill. Sadly, we also arrived extremely late, which cut severely into my ability to peck out my usual haunts and check on the welfare of my charges…

The drum circle populated lightly and none of the usual haunts shook out many people to see, however, I did come bearing gifts: the preview release of Vexations Volume 6: Writing on the Wall (artwork visible after link).

I did get a couple booklets handed out, including one for Lawrence at the Graffiti Shop, because he’s special to me. Although, in retrospect, I probably should have remembered to sign it for him.

Interesting measures: I have come into possession of the response-tract to Kazz’s GOD LOVES SLAVERY tract. I have added it to my folder of tracts from Mill Ave, and I am going to include a timeline so that I can track this dialogue. To further that same dialogue, Kazz has produced another tract which develops the history of Christmas and its reflections in the Christian Bible. This time, he printed it in full, blazing color with a green Christmas tree on the front, and other colorful elements.

I wonder what the reply to that shall bring.

The street preachers seem a bit strained by our presence, I’ve noticed. They have started to speak out against Kazz’s tracts—telling people directly that they shouldn’t read his writing, “he’s a devil, [Emanuel,] you wouldn’t listen to a lying devil would you?” and such things as “throw that away, it’s not the truth.” To be pointed, this was all David speaking these words. When I was showing off Vexations and the Seasons works he refused to look at them—all the better, I fear that they would insult his sensibilities, which is why I don’t often offer my work to the preachers. They’re not exactly my audience.

Tension mounts, but I have my notepad and my camera.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Mill Avenue Nights, Saturday December 1st 2007

Tonight’s little narrative will start with our arrival at the Ave, which was slowed up slightly by discovering that people had noticed our little hidey-hole of a parking structure (no, I’m not telling where.) Kazz was forced to drive his brick-red SUV up an extra level to find a space—which caused some amusement when we returned at 2a.m., the place was mostly empty, and the vehicle wasn’t to be seen in our usual parking space.

The rainfall earlier in the day left a wet scrim of puddles and moisture on the sidewalks and buildings, but the best part about tonight was the closure of Mill Ave to motor traffic. It isn’t every day that a person can safely visit the circle of bricks in the middle of 5th and Mill without being run down by a drunkenly driven bimbo-box. Today the shells of white tarp form the tents from the Art Fair. Which, I am told my the news, would not turtle itself due to the thunderstorm that rolled through that weekend.

The cold is into the mid 50s and just chilly enough to make my fingers ache as I clutch my Witch Hunter Robin messenger bag, the volumes sliding through numb fingers as I proffer them to attractive passersby.

Drum Circle

It took it a while to actually start up, to the point where the drum circle really only barely found its jive by the time we vacated the park in order avoid the baleful eye of the TPD and others. As always, it reformed out in front of the post office with the “No Loitering” sign sighing and drinking coffee bought from Starbucks across the street.

At one point during the evening Remy and a gaggle of other Mill rats stumbled past a warning on his lips, “A friend of mine – in with the cops – came and warned me that they were going to sweep through there, so be careful and don’t attract attention. Not that you usually do.”

So, of course, Kazz, Emanuel, and I went down to drum circle so that I could report on the cops “sweeping through” and catching people who attracted attention. We waited almost an hour (up until midnight exodus) and were met with a disappointing anticlimax. No cops. No sweep. Nothing so much as a peep of activity for my pen to eviscerate.

The Demographics of a Football Game Night

ASU vs. UofA? I don’t know. Football really doesn’t spin my wheels, but the people who crowd to these games do. So, after the finale of spattered fireworks lit up our eyes and deafened our ears, the Sun Devil stadium’s vomitoriums sluiced forth their spillage of humanity onto the shores of Mill Ave.

Mostly college age folks and some in their thirties take task to the Ave and wander past cheering together. Motley bunches of brightly plumed costumes (the maroon and gold prominent on sweaters) cheering and jeering their favorite team names. A fight even broke out near the preachers—the police intervened and it ended without much incident. Later on we saw a pack of TEAM leading an irate woman away from the area of Tempe City Hall (the upside-down pyramid.)

Street Preachers

An event that almost every social anthropologist watches for happened tonight with the street preachers—I discovered a cultural dialogue happening! This story starts during the previous Saturday (one that I neglected to properly blog.)

Kazz decided to take his atheist mores and approach the people talking to the street preachers with better and more defensible tracts than he did before. After poring over numerous documents he developed a quote-by-quote rendering of the King James Version Bible that directly supported the premise – and gloating title of the tract – “GOD LOVES SLAVERY.”

Once again, I let this develop on its own. Kazz and Emanuel passed out these tracts to passersby and even the preachers (one of whom, David, I believe, commented, “I want to read these lies for myself.”) This night he approached me with questions such as, “You didn’t read those did you? They’re perverting the Truth.” I have some qualms about this sort of attitude that I’ll get into later, now onto the dialogue.

One of the preachers—whose name I do not know—printed up some triple-length-fold-overhand tracts with a cute little ASCII cross and some equally ASCII art Jesus fish stating: “The Bible does condemn slavery.” In one week, these were written, produced, and printed in response to Kazz’s tracts! They are a new work. They attempt to speak to the direct KJV quotes from Kazz’s SLAVERY tracts. However, they also seem to ramble off into weird directions such as talking about Muslim slavery and then finally stagger into dark territory with the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

To document this dialogue fully I will have to get copies of both of these tracts and get them scanned in (and, I hope, permission to post them.) The real warp and weft of communities and cliques is visible where they rub up against each other, this is a brilliant example of one of those evanescent events. My next mission will be to talk to the originator of the counter-tract and get his take on the production of his reply and why he decided to go that route.

As I promised, my thoughts on “perverting the Truth.” Yes, Truth with a capital ‘T’. Why? Because when one of these people says the word they mean absolute, incontrovertible veracity in a supernatural sense Truth. And, of course, he’s referring to the dogmatic Christian Bible and the direct quotes from KJV that Kazz reflected in his SLAVERY tract. I looked at his straight and said,

“My people don’t hold up your Bible as a credible source. So, no, I don’t believe those quoted scriptures. Yes, I did read it. And, doesn’t it make you feel a little bit queasy that you have a supposed Truth that can be ‘perverted’ by directly quoting it?” This brings me distinctly, in fact, to one of my favorite dogmatic cop-outs that is designed to cover this exact eventuality (someone else using the Bible to disagree with you.

“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.”

This quote is scintillating in its sheer insidiousness; easily comparing a detractor, who, quoting directly from the same holy book as they, to the personification of all evil—that Adversary of YHVH (or more properly humanity, being that Satan is supposedly prosecuting counsel in a celestial court...) But, in all its elegance it reflects a thunderously worrisome fact: not only can the devil quote it for his own purpose, people can too! It’s one thing when a supernatural power, quintessential to the very inner-workings of morality can warp the Truth into verisimilitude (being that it’s a supernatural Truth after all) but it’s totally another when the mundane, feeble mortals who toil beneath the benevolent gaze of the Lord can do exactly the same thing.

What kind of a moral authority is this that can be so easily turned against itself without even the supernatural leverage of a super-being?

I don’t quite know the answer but it concerns me greatly. The best way to knock down this behavior, of course, still remains critically examining even this holy book, not as the Truth, but as an ancillary tradition that reflects the history of the Christian people. And by this day and age it’s an ancient history. One that updates poorly to contemporary values because when treated as a Truth (including the reprehensible commands and laws from the Old Testament) practitioners are barred from modifying—and sometimes rationally thinking about—how this affects their daily lives and the lives of others.

“Don’t stop thinking.” Kazz’s tracts end. They may be dark criticism of extremely bad attitudes promulgated by ancient bigotry enshrined forever in a holy book, but the conclusion is still the important seed to take away. It’s not his job to give you something better; it’s your job not to do or facilitate evil.

Think about it is sound advice.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Hello Cory: Fan fiction and remix culture

I don't even know how to preface this...


So, I decided to get over being timid and send in my story, Hello Cory, to Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing and he put a link to it up on his blog.

Then, today I get in from going out to Mill, and check to see if anyone has commented -- and it seems that someone has made an mp3 of it!

I am really tired and wiped out from my Mill visitation and I normally don't post this late, but my thanks goes out to Paul Parkinson for adapting the story for audio...

(Suddenly I wish that I had edited it better.)

More power to Creative Commons.

So happy.

Goodnight folks. Adieu and have wonderful dreams.