Elkhart and the unsolved murder rate

I got an email from someone yesterday with regard to The Necrokonicon, specifically my reference to the unsolved murder rate thing. My quote, in the Elkhart entry, is this:

Elkhart also frequently earns the honor of having the largest unsolved murder rate in the country (although this may also be an urban legend.) Almost annually, a 17-year old girl is found naked, raped and dead in a farmer’s field, and the Elkhart Keystone Kops are too busy shaking down people cruising to do anything about it.

I frequently get asked about this, maybe more than any other thing in the glossary. Half of the people want to know the source because they think it’s very indicative of life in Elkhart, and the other half call bullshit on me because they think Elkhart is the greatest place in the world and I’m a horrible person for inventing such a legend. Now I feel a need to break this down and/or do some actual research to get people off my back about this.

(And before I begin, I should probably state for the millionth time that the Necrokonicon is not a reference book, or a citeable, peer-reviewed research journal. It’s my ramblings and observations, with the occasional fact thrown in. Almost all of it is my opinion, and my biggest regret to ever doing the project is that some dumb-ass mails me every other week saying “No, Concord mall is at 60% occupancy and you said it was less than 50%!” So take all of this with a grain of salt.)

First of all, the unsolved murder thing isn’t true. Elkhart isn’t the unsolved murder capitol and never has been. Statistically, it’s always going to be a large city like New York or LA. But when you talk about per-capita rate, it’s a different matter. Many people don’t realize that Elkhart has statistically higher crime rates per capita than places that are perceived as being much more dangerous or evil.

There are a number of crime statistic comparison calculator things on the internet, mostly for people shopping for new homes, and they all largely draw on the same FBI crime statistics. I used, which provides an index on statistics, meaning that the national average is 100, with higher than that meaning a higher crime rate, and lower meaning a below national average number. (This isn’t as compelling or interesting as an actual number-of-incident report, but if you know the population of the US, have a calculator, and passed 9th grade math, you can figure it out. Of course, if you went to an Indiana public school, statistically you probably can’t do simple math.)

In Elkhart, zip code 46516, personal crime risk is 129, and property crime risk is 190. In comparison, my neighborhood in New York city (zip=10002), personal is 214 and property is 105. What’s what? Bear with me because I’m too lazy to make a table, and the following numbers are Elkhart/NYC. Personal crime includes murder (162/141), rape (147/85), robbery(138/361), and assault(150/175). Property crime includes burglary(193/84), larceny(246/94), and motor vehicle theft(109/112).

This really pisses me off. Why? Because every born-and-died-in-Elkhart person pisses on me about how safe and happy Elkhart is, how you never need to lock your doors, how you can leave a hundred dollars on the table and come back and there’s two hundred, and then goes into the tirade about how horrible New York is, with all of the robberies and rapes and crack cocaine and hookers and guns and blah blah blah. Now look at those numbers. You are TWICE AS LIKELY to be raped in Elkhart as you are in New York. It’s more than twice as likely your house will be burglarized. Larceny, 250% higher in Elkhart. And aside from the New York comparison, EVERY SINGLE ONE of those statistics are higher than average in Elkhart; every one except murder risk is LOWER in the state of Indiana as a whole. Per capita, Elkhart is a pretty damn unsafe place to live, at least according to the FBI.

The next logical question is “how do the unsolved murders match up to the rest of the country?” And that’s where the trail ends. There are no unified cold-case statistics, and any agency that does broadcast their numbers is probably tallying them in a different way. You could speculate that if x percent of murders go unsolved, Elkhart’s per-capita unsolved murder rate is y, based on either FBI crime statistics, or actual tallies of the dead in Elkhart. But there’s no universal unsolved murder stat, and it would vary depending on the police department. In New York City, there are millions of taxpayers, which means the NYPD gets a lot more neat toys to go all CSI on murder cases. Elkhart has, what, 10 or 20,000 taxpayers? By virtue of scale, their police force isn’t going to be as equipped to deal with murders, and their rate is going to be higher. But you can only speculate on that rate. Speculation on that trend, though, is more valid.

The next thing to factor in are the known high-profile murder cases that have gone unsolved. First is Marie Kline, who was killed on Jan 1, 1988. Her murderer, Dennis Leer, was charged at the end of 2004 for the crime. This was probably a driving force for the urban legend about the unsolved murder rate, because her parents were very critical of the police about the fact that the murder never got solved. There was also some vague urban legend that the two were at a party with a bunch of people, and got in a fight, and he said something like “if you ever break up with me, I’ll kill you,” and then she broke up with him, and her body was found and he split town. That rumor sounds similar to the “so-and-so cheerleader is pregnant” thing, but it gave the legend some substance. There’s also some conflict based on the fact that Elkhart County’s lead detective was fired for pursuing a suspect even after he was told not to. The county also never pursued DNA testing, which wasn’t done until the case eventually went to the state police. The DNA testing was also a no-brainer because Leer was already in prison for a different attempted murder.

The other high profile one was Kari Nunemaker, who was killed in January of 1991. After 14 years, there was a conviction, once again because the case got bounced to the state police. And a more recent one was Jessica Zbras, who was killed in May of 1995; Terrance Evans was charged nine years later. I can’t find any cases other than that, and that doesn’t back up my once-per-year allegation, but it adds a bit of fuel to the fire.

The last thing I add to the mess is this: I heard this urban legend constantly in high school, which was before two of those murders. Everyone accepted it at face value. It mutated, as people claimed to have seen it on Geraldo or Johnny Carson (much like people in that era also claimed to have seen the president of Procter and Gamble on a talk show, confessing that he was a satanist.) I also heard people state that Elkhart had the highest per-capita income (which makes no sense whatsoever), or had the highest interracial dating percentage. And how do these legends happen? Even if they aren’t true, peoples’ fears, doubts, and prejudices cause them to happen and to gain momentum. Everyone in high school hated the Elkhart cops, because most of them were pricks. (I’m assuming they were because the pay was bad, and the only people who signed up were power-hungry control freaks who liked to put on a uniform and act like a dick.) When a legend came about that exposed the inadequacy of the police, of course everyone believed it. Even when urban legends are not true, the legends expose either the environment in which they were created, or the people that perpetuated them.

And add to all of the above the fact that the Elkhart Truth, the South Bend Tribune, the Goshen News, and Elkhart’s public records department are still in the 19th century, and it’s impossible to tear through all of their stuff with a search engine and read results. If I wanted to seriously research this more, I’d have to fly to Elkhart and spend a few weeks at a microfiche reader, which isn’t happening any time soon. It’s no wonder almost all of my google searches on this material returned my own pages at the top result. That’s fucked up.


Four days off

Ah, four days off. Bliss. And no real plans at all, except that we’re going to an Indian restaurant for lunch, and making pizza at some point. I gave up on trying to do anything more complex on Thanksgiving years ago. The first issue is the difficulty in traveling anywhere further than down the block – airlines are fucked up, ticket prices are double, and people are sleeping in airports. Get in a car and point it in any direction in or out of any city, and it’s a parking lot. There’s also the issue that I’m not a to-capacity eater, and I’m not that into turkey. A piece is fine, but I couldn’t eat a pound of it over a six-year period. So I give thanks that my last big Thanksgiving was a million years ago.

The zine is done. Makes a great holiday gift. Just putting that out there.

I haven’t thought about what’s next writing-wise, and I’ve been wasting most of my time playing Flight Simulator on my laptop. I have the 2004 version, but they just came out with Flight Simulator X, the new one. I downloaded the demo of it, and it barely ran on my computer. It likes a machine that’s twice as everything as my current one, so I won’t be upgrading soon. It’s too bad, because they have a neat ultralight to fly, and they did a ton of stuff to juice up the terrain. The stills on the MS site look incredible. Of course, they were probably done on a $15,000 machine.

My ability to fly in FS2004 is getting better. Landings are problematic, although I can usually make the landing once I get the approach, which is almost never. I’ve learned a lot more about navigation and air traffic control, though. I’ve made hops across Florida, from Oahu to Maui, from Indianapolis to South Bend, and from Chicago to Elkhart, without hitting another plane or pissing off ATC too much. I imagine this kick will grow old in another weekend or so, and I’ll be torturing myself over what I should be doing, writing-wise.

The QWERTY keyboard was invented in Milwaukee. I never knew that, but I’m looking at a bunch of newspaper articles and unopened bills on my desk, and I just read that. Weird. Christopher Sholes patented the typewriter (with two others) in 1868 and later sold the rights to Remington for $12,000.

Not a lot of reading lately. I read through a lot of the zine, then picked up a WWI book, but it turns out it’s written by a British guy, and 30 or so years ago, and it’s in microscopic print, so it’s impossible to read. Today I started the Albert Goldman bio on John Lennon, not because I’m that enamored by Lennon, but because Goldman was slagged and discredited for his bio, which showed a lot of negative shit about Lennon that people didn’t really want to hear. For whatever reason, if you’re going to write a bio and you want me to read it, that’s the thing to do.

OK, time for bed.



OK, it’s done. Go here to preview and order the new issue of Air in the Paragraph Line. 21 stories by 19 authors about the fun, atrocity, and torture of work, in a nice, 284-page, perfect-bound, glossy cover book. Yours for only $10.99 cheap (plus s/h.) There are many very good stories in here, and a couple that are absolutely great. Makes a great gift. Buy 8 for Hanukkah and light one on fire each day.

I would write more of a blurb or work on the web site, but I am blurbed out. I think I have the flu, or maybe it’s just that I need to do nothing for a couple of days, which I am about to do. It doesn’t help that I had to type all of these addresses in and send off 18 copies of the book to everyone. And I will probably end up sitting in bed, re-reading a couple of the stories, now that they are on paper.


One down, one to go

I paid off a credit card today. This is sort of my new hobby, and an expensive one, but I’m down to just one credit card that has a balance, and I’m done. (Well, except for my land mortgage, and a student loan that will probably outlive me by 50 years.)

This made me think of a really good idea that either will never get implemented, or that someone else will “think of” years from now, and I will spend a decade saying “I thought of that first!” The idea is a reverse credit card statement. Imagine that every time you buy something on your credit card, the name/date/details are put in a last-in/first-out queue. Each month, when you make a payment, your statement shows that month’s finance charge you paid off, and then shows all of the items at the top of the queue that were “removed” by this payment. So like if you had a Visa that was full of crap from the last ten years, and you were feverishly paying off the balance, you might get a statement that said something like “you paid this month’s 68.11 finance charge, plus you paid off a pair of movie tickets from 1998, and a bunch of books you bought at Barnes and Noble from back then.” (Fractional percentages would be used to remove part of something at the top of the queue if it’s greater in size than the payment. i.e. “you paid off 24% of that stereo you bought in 2000.”) I’m sure there is some way you could implement this with a combination of e-statements and online bill payer, but I think it would be interesting if card companies did this so you could really see what you were “paying off” each month, and just how long crap stays on your card.

I was thinking about this because earlier this year, I paid off (and then cut in half) my Chase card. I got the card in 1992, when I was desperately scrambling to pay for a summer session of classes. It’s actually been paid off and run up again a few times, so the classes I took that inspired stories in Summer Rain wouldn’t be on there, but I was hesitant to shred this card, because it was my oldest one, and it had the “member since” in the bottom corner. Whatever marketer thought of that, it almost worked. But since this was one of those toy credit cards with a low limit, high APR, and no features other than the ability to buy a discounted made in China clock-radio for only $19.99 by collecting a bunch of stamps, I got rid of it. I thought maybe when I called to cancel, the member since date would possibly get me some leverage in the negotiation, but it didn’t. Oh well.

Not much else is going on except I have to find a TV show to watch. I mean, I have to find a TV show that has DVDs on NetFlix. We’ve been on this kick of watching old TV serieses (seriii?) that neither of us really watched back when they were on, that might be interesting now. We started with Northern Exposure, after the Alaska trip, and we also watched the first two seasons of Nip/Tuck (actually, that may have been first.) Now we have three episodes left on Six Feet Under, and I need to find something else, since Sarah picked the last few and now it’s my turn. The concept has worked pretty good; we now watch almost no network TV, just an episode or two off of DVD, with no commercials and no need to schedule your life around a TV show. It’s cheaper than buying a set of DVDs, and it’s also good when you find out the show’s a dud a few episodes in. (We tried the Larry David show, but I couldn’t really get into it.) I should probably also state that we’re into non-genre-specific drama things. The sitcom is dead, and scifi is iffy. I have no real interest in cartoons, and archived reality shows or whatever aren’t that great. So, who knows. I’d step through the second season of Lost, if it wasn’t such a fake-cliffhangery sort of thing with every episode.

OK. Christ, I can’t believe how early it’s getting dark now. Al Gore should do a movie about that next.


On eating a triple decker

It’s largely impossible to eat a triple-decker club sandwich and work on a journal entry at the same time. Usually, it’s impossible for me to eat a triple-decker, period. But I’m trying to do both at the same time, and making a huge mess of it. It’s bachelor night, since Sarah is out of town on business, and I’m sitting here eating a triple-decker club sandwich. I guess I probably would be if she was here, except I’d be in the kitchen and talking to someone, instead of sitting at my computer and listening to iTunes and typing this. Ten years ago, I’d be eating a club sandwich and injecting Jack Daniel’s into my heart. (Okay, maybe not.)

It’s actually very weird to think that next April, this thing will be ten years old. I know I haven’t updated every single day of all ten years, but I very distinctly remember starting this journal, and I also very distinctly remember when I was ten years old, and you put those two facts together, and it’s pretty fucked up. I just thought of this because I was listening to a Pat Metheny song that reminded me of 1997 or 1998, the salad years of this thing. And also, I finished reading that second Jonathan Ames book, and it contains a lot of columns with dates on them, and when I read that sort of thing, I try to remember what I was doing then, or if eBay existed then, or whatever. If I’m reading some old Bukowski journal, I can’t do that, because the dates are like a decade before I was born. But now my Seattle years are ancient enough history that I can look back at them and have enough space to really think about things.

The other thing that came up like that was the fact that my youngest sister turns 30 next month, and I very distinctly remember when she was born. I think I vaguely remember one moment when Monica was born. My mom had to stay in the hospital for like a week, because that’s what they did back then, and at that point, I don’t really know if I’d been away from her for more than a few hours, let alone a week. When we were in front of the hospital, (my dad, my cousin/foster sister Linda, and I), my dad pointed out where my mom was in the large sea of windows that made up the side of the hospital. This hospital is probably smaller than the parking garage in my current complex, and I have no idea if my dad knew where my mom’s window would be, but it was a nice gesture. As far as my sister Angie, I remember my mom having a packed suitcase in the kitchen, ready to go for the labor trip. When it started, my mom and dad dropped me and Monica at a friend of theirs that lived a block or two away. I sat in their double-trailer, bored, until we got the call that it was a girl.

And Angie was the Polaroid child. Back before everyone had three camcorders in their back pocket and/or cell phone, about the best you could do was the Instamatic, which my parents bought right before her birth. All of her good and bad moments got captured to little square images bordered with that trademark frame of thick white cardboard. The photos stopped after a year or two (those film packs were expensive), but the images lived on in albums, until they rapidly aged into nothing but cyan and amber tones. Monica was the 135-film child, which had a delay while you dropped off the rolls at the pharmacy. But I was the film slide child, and all of my photos were locked in that unviewable format until I got a scanner and digitized them this year. Anyway, Angie’s birth seemed like a few weeks ago, and it was 30 years, and that really makes me feel old. I’m sure I’ll blink twice and it will be 50 years. What the hell happened to those three-month summer breaks that lasted forever?

Well, as much fun as I’m having in bachelor mode, I’ve got to take my vitamins and then think about going to bed soon.


Underwater slate thing shopping

I think one of the occupational hazards of only updating this thing every week or two is that I tend to forget what happened over the last however many days, and it causes me to sit down and think “well, nothing’s happening.” The same tends to happen when I update every day, though, especially because I don’t like to simply write about day-to-day crap or work politics or whatever. Sometimes I get ideas for a journal entry, but I don’t have a fixed time to write anymore, and the ideas come and go. I should be writing them down, but I never do. And most of my ideas happen in the shower, so even if I had a special pad of paper or something, it wouldn’t work in there. I think I saw an underwater slate type thing that scuba divers use, but I’d probably spend $40 on it and never use it.

The zine is done, I think. The cover and PDF are uploaded, and I ordered the proof, and if that’s OK, then it goes live, and can be ordered by all three of you that actually buy this stuff. Actually, I ordered two proofs, because I fucked up and uploaded a PDF I made from a week-old directory, and didn’t catch it until after I placed the order and got past the no-cancel point of no return. I am sure I will keep this one on the shelf as a “rarity”, just like the messed up proofs of various other books of mine. I say rarity because technically all of my books are rarities, since they sell so few copies. And I doubt there will ever be a point where I become famous and they go onto eBay for thousands of dollars. But Jack Kerouac never kept drafts of his books, and they would now be worth millions, so my impulse is to keep them.

Anyway, the zine is done, except for the part where I pony up some insane amount of money to buy a bunch of copies and then send them to each contributor. I am happy to send copies to people, especially if this makes them happy or they are impressed with seeing their words in print. I am not happy to have to order them, wait, get a bunch of envelopes, then drag a hundred pounds of books to the post office and give them a ton of money. And please don’t tell me some shipping shortcut that is supposed to save me time and money. New York post offices are all equally horrible, and are never open, and I have no car, so I can’t drive to the suburbs. I used to think the post office in Bloomington was bad, but it’s seriously like the Millenium Hotel compared to the places here. I just have no choice, and I have to suck it up and pay the price.

I don’t know how to feel about finishing an issue of the zine. It is exhilarating to get it all finished. It’s a small amount less than when I do my own books, because I always have a fear that I’ve fucked up something in someone’s story, and they will get pissed about it. It’s another half-inch of shelf space taken on the Konrath shelf of my home library (actually 1″ here, because of the dud proof) and I am always happy to get more volume there. This book is blue, a very deep cobalt blue, and it is my first blue book (black, black, red, black, black, green, grey, red) and I am happy to get something that really stands out but is also unused. I will be happy to hear from people who were contributors and write to tell me they liked the zine, or even better, liked a story by another contributor. Believe it or not, I actually pay for the costs and typically lose money, and I have people that send in stories and never write back to acknowledge that they ever got their zine, let alone that they liked it or thought that sucked. And with 18 other people in this one, at least one of them will do this, and it always pisses me off, even though it probably shouldn’t.

There are two things I don’t like about finishing the zine. One is that it will go out and become available, and nobody will buy it. It’s very hard to sell an anthology, and I never expect to get many orders, and I never do. I plan these things by trying to pick people who have their own little bit of fame, be it a book or band or blog or something, so their completist fans will buy a zine, maybe find another writer they like, and start writing to them or reading their web site or book or whatever. I don’t know if this really happens – probably not, or I’d sell many more copies. But that’s the intent, and like I said, there’s no way I could recoup my costs unless each writer got like 15 or 20 people to buy it, and I think the average is closer to 1 or 2. So all of that hanging over my head sucks.

The other big problem is that the project is done, and it’s time for me to move to something else. And I don’t know what that is at this point. I have all of these other ideas that are half-dead, and I think I need something totally new to waste my time. Who knows what, but that’s going to keep me neurotic for a while.

I’ve been reading a lot more than writing lately. I’m working on the Jonathan Ames book My Less Than Secret Life, which is pretty decent. I really liked his book What’s Not to Love?, and I really wish I could write something like this, except I don’t have that many embarrassing episodes compared to him. Scratch that – I don’t have that many that I’m willing to write about. Maybe the statute of limitations on some of the older episodes has expired. I don’t want to write about Bloomington for the sake of Bloomington, or Elkhart for the sake of an entirely complete historical whatever. (Like the Necrokonicon, which seriously has sold exactly two copies at this point.) I think there’s some inner issue I have to get through to do this, though. I can’t write funny stuff about all of the other crazy individuals in my life, because even though I can tell these stories to other people, I can’t tell them to said individual’s face, and I think you need to have that ability to proceed. If you’re going to talk about your crazy uncle Freddy, you have to be prepared for the consequences if he reads it. (And if those consequences include a lawsuit, you have to deal with that too.) The other problem is that I feel there was a great deal of stupidity and awkwardness in my life – I’ve done a lot of dumb shit, and I’ve never been able to come to terms with that. I have a horrible shame issue to deal with. And I guess if you can’t tell any of your friends about that time you shit your pants in France, you can’t write a book about it. (The pant-shitting thing is a Jonathan Ames story, not mine, btw.)

And it’s winter, which sucks. It isn’t even real winter – it’s 50 and pouring rain winter, with sundown at like 4:30. I’m back in Seattle, I guess. Except in Seattle, I had a car and there were covered garages everywhere. Now, it’s a jacket and the wind cutting through your clothes. I’ll probably like the first snow, but other than that, I’m waiting for spring. The only good thing about winter is avoiding it – sitting inside, under a blanket, reading, watching everyone freeze their balls off outside. I guess that’s okay, but I like fall much better.

Oh, and we saw the Borat movie yesterday, and it was so totally fucking funny, it was unbelievable. If you haven’t seen it, go do so.


Back from Germany

I’m back. Pictures are on flickr (although I’m liking that site less and less the more I use it.) Not everything is captioned, and yes there are a lot of pictures that are blurry and fucked up. Museums with low light, no flash allowed, glass cases, and my piece of shit camera will do that.

I enjoyed the trip and seeing new things, but I’m so glad to be back. My main two problems were food and drink. I thought I liked German food, but it turns out that I like German food made with American ingredients. There are some real differences in the quality of food in Europe. The meat is much tougher, and the pork products are cured way more, so they have this horrid taste, like if you’ve ever had shelf-stabilized bacon in a can from a camping trip or an MRE. Vegetables are all non-GMO, non-big agra, and not that incredible. I’m sure the eurotrash contingent would disagree, but I like tomatoes that are bigger than a golf ball. What was frustrating was that there are many American chain places that use German ingredients. I went to a McDonald’s hoping for the same burger and fries I’d get back home, but the meat was tough and gamey, and the potatoes in the fries didn’t have the same magical starch composition as Idaho spuds back home, making them taste odd. If I lived in Germany, I would lose 50 pounds in the first three months, because I simply wouldn’t be able to eat fast food anymore. (In fact, I lost about five pounds since we left, but I’m sure most of that is dehydration from the plane ride.)

And not all food was horrible. On our last night, we went to a more traditional German restaurant, and I had the best damn potato soup I’ve eaten in a long time. We also went to the fancy-schmancy restaurant in the hotel one night, and I got an eight-course dinner that was pretty incredible, if not a bit weird. The best dish was a cajun scampi that was lightly fried in spices, but was as tender as baby food inside, and served with a wasabi sorbet, which sounded odd, but was incredible. The main dish was three types of ox: tongue, shoulder, and breast, done up with some kind of reduction and cooked to the point where they were almost jelly. I also tried a lot of stuff I’d normally never eat, like duck liver, caviar, mackerel, and a few others. It was a strange meal, but very memorable.

Oh, the drink part – I think Germans don’t consume as much liquid as Americans. That eight glasses of water a day thing didn’t make it over there. I can understand the lack of fascination with large soda sizes; I went to a Burger King and got a super maxi size, and the soda was like 16 ounces, which is the child-size at an American fast food place. It’s hard to even find a 12-ounce Coke, let alone the 16 or 20-ounce big plastic bottles. The most popular size was a .2 liter or .33 liter. And that’s fine, but the water sizes are even more scant. Go to an American Safeway or Kroger, and you will find a million bottles of water that are a liter, if not more. (“Sport” sized.) I never, ever saw that. They don’t serve water with meals, they don’t have drinking fountains, and the water they do have is some kind of carbonated mineral water. No Dasani, no Evian, just the stuff that tastes like it will give you lead poisoning. And I drink like ten glasses of water a day, plus three or four American-sized Cokes. After a day or two of begging and pleading at restaurants to get a second four-ounce glass of water, things got old fast.

Nice things: the mass transit. There are two types of subway (S-bahn and U-bahn), plus streetcars, busses, light rail, longer rail, and the Eurail. The subway was a bit daunting at first, but it was also odd because there are no turnstiles to stop you from entering any station. There are just little paper tickets – you buy one, then stamp it in a validator machine to show you’re riding the train now. If you get caught without a validated ticket, there’s a fine, but nobody ever checked ours. If they did this in New York, there would be 40,000 people living in each station in a matter of seconds. The stations were clean, maybe as clean as a PATH train, so not sterile, but decent. Each station has digital signs telling you where the trains are going, and when the next train will arrive. (Same with bus stops.) Let me repeat that: THERE ARE SIGNS THAT TELL YOU WHEN THE NEXT TRAIN IS ARRIVING! Not “eventually,” not “at some point”, but “in two minutes.” They could never, ever, fucking ever do this in New York. And before you ask, yes the times were accurate. Trains regularly showed up a minute before the time. I never saw one run late. Another odd thing is that subway doors don’t open or close at each stop – you press a green button on the inside or the outside to open the door, and they close automatically as the train leaves. What’s weird is you can open a door as the train is slowing down for a stop. In New York, that feature would kill about 9 people a day. The trains were very nice; the S-bahn is more long-haul, above-ground stuff, while the U-bahn is underground, but more transfers to get from point to point than a NY train. But figure in that New York City hasn’t been divided and reunited and leveled by bombs over the course of the last 50 years, so their routes can be a bit more static.

In general, people in Berlin seem to be more trusting and self-policing than what I’m used to in New York. There were many times when I saw something and wondered “why doesn’t someone just steal that shit?” Like eating at a buffet restaurant, the German approach might be “just take some food, then tell us what you ate and pay for it,” where the New York version would be “Pay for the shit before you even touch it, then go through the metal detector, pick up the food, and get the fuck out of here because we’re not running a hotel.” There were many coin-op public toilets on the street (like the kind that clean themselves between uses) and it made me wonder if they could ever do that in NYC, or if people would just put in the 75 cents and move into the bathroom and never leave.

People were largely nice, and I never got called out for being an American, and didn’t have to pretend to be a Canadian or whatever. Not everyone speaks English well, but a lot do. The main problem is that we both look German enough that people assumed we were German and would start babbling away rapid-fire into conversations with us. The other problem is that German is alien enough to me that I can’t tell if a person talking in my peripheral vision is talking to a friend, talking on a cell phone, trying to get my attention, or frantically trying to tell me to stop what I’m doing because I’m about to massively fuck something up. I can tell people are talking, but I can’t tell if they are talking to me, or what the tone is. I don’t understand much Spanish, but I know enough that I can figure that out when I’m here. But it really started to make me paranoid, because I was always worried there was some small social thing that I was fucking up, like if I didn’t take off my jacket when I sat at a table, I was disgracing the owner of the restaurant and he would have to challenge me to a duel. Or whatever.

The big thing about Berlin is the wall, even though it’s largely gone. Every gift shop sells little pieces of the wall, which are probably just cinderblocks smashed up into little pieces, just like the Mt. St. Helens ashes you used to be able to buy in Washington. A lot of the former lines of the wall are now outlined by twin brick lines embedded in pavement and sidewalks. Most people envision a single, long wall, like a castle wall, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. The wall zig-zagged all over the place, and it was actually two walls: a taller one on the east side, a smaller one on the West, and a DMZ between the two. We went to the Checkpoint Charlie site, which is now a Disneyland for hucksters selling cheap shit to tourists. Want a picture with a fake army guard at the checkpoint? A bath towel? Snow globe with a piece of the wall in it? Former commie t-shirts and hats? Come on down, bring your Euros. We went to the museum there, and it was the most tacky and ghetto (no pun intended) museum I’ve seen since me and Larry went to that John Dillenger museum in Brown County a decade or so ago. So yeah, the wall is a big cottage industry. And I bought a fridge magnet, so I guess I’m just contributing to it.

I can’t even begin to describe the museums we went to, although I took some photos. The German historical museum was my favorite, and did a good job of describing German history from before christ up to present. The up-to-WWI collection was an excellent primer on the early days of Romans and Huns and Emporers and Napoleon and everything else. The 20th century part was Nazi central, with a lot more than I’d expected. They had a lot of original third reich stuff, which was interesting for a bit, but after a few rows of it, it was like watching the History Channel’s WW2 marathon on repeat for days on end. It was odd that the Treaty of Versailles was called the “treaty of shame” in all of the exhibits. It was also eerie to see a display of an engine from a British bomber that was shot down over Berlin. I’m desensitized to seeing these “spoils of war” displays in museums; it was weird to see one from the other side.

We also went to a couple of art museums, which were interesting. I don’t know a lot about art or modern art, so when I see something I think is neat, I’m not thinking “wow, what does this represent?” but rather “wow, how did he do that?” I’m more interested in large-scale modern art from the welding/carpentry/stoneworking point of view than the actual art, so maybe that doesn’t make me the best critic. But the museums were great. I saw a lot of Andy Warhol at one, Picasso at the other, and Felix Gonzales-Torres had a huge showcase at one place. I also saw a Damien Hirst in there, “The Void,” the one with all the pills. That museum also had a huge display of video-based pieces, all of them incredibly odd and interesting. Like one guy was showing the movie Psycho over a 24-hour period. Maybe I should get a video projector and start filling out grant forms.

Oh, I also saw the world’s largest model train layout. There are a bunch of blurry pictures of that in there, too.

I am sure there’s more to talk about, but I need to either take a nap or try to get started on the day…