In Elkhart

I’m in a Perkins in Elkhart, and I’ve barely seen anything here, but it’s all very weird. Let me see how much I can explain before my food arrives.

I left Elkhart, or at least stopped calling it my home, when? 1989, when I graduated and went to college? 1991-ish, when I returned the second time and vowed to never come back? 1995, when I moved to Seattle? I don’t know. But I guess the 1991 date is when I stopped spending any regular amount of time here. And I haven’t set foot in Indiana since 2004, partly by coincidence, and partly by design. So it’s been long enough to make it seem like an alien experience when I return.

I got into O’Hare and got my rental car by about midnight last night, then pointed it east and headed toward the toll road, hoping I could still figure out my way around Chicago and to Indiana with no major incident. The toll road was eerie, driving with nobody around, counting the exits and wishing I could go to bed.

Right after the University Park Mall zipped past, I exited on 331, and took the route home I’d normally take from the UP mall, on Cleveland road. The second I pulled up to a railroad crossing, the gates went down and a 200-car train inched by. I joked about this in Summer Rain, but it really happens to me every time I get here.

I drove down this stretch of road with only farmland on either side, and remarkably it was still farm. I used to max out my car here late at night, because there are no intersections for miles. Then my friend Peter got killed there in 1991, so I stopped. The old drive-in movie theater – a gas station, and what looks like a Super Target or a Wal-Mart going in. The Pleasureland Museum – still there, but I couldn’t tell if it was closed or not.

Nothing really changes in Elkhart. A lot of the same businesses had the same signs that they did in 1985, the same displays, the same paintjobs. They build new subdivisions of prefab houses in the outlying areas: Goshen, Napanee, Granger, Simoton Lake. But they’re the same subdivisions they built in Dunlap in the 70s, just different trim and formica and sunroom options. And when they build a newer and more expensive and further out subdivision, it means the old ones won’t get updated and won’t get redone and essentially get trapped in time, to wear their 1970s aluminum siding forever.

Some stores go under. The old Templin’s music, where I bought many a pair of guitar strings in the day, is now a Mexican furniture store. The Taco Bell where I worked is now a crack Chinese place. I used to spend a lot of time at this Perkins, but back in 1989, it was a few blocks south, and the last-gen design of Perkins buildings. The new one is nice, but it isn’t the old one. (This one is currently filled with a gaggle of high school girls basketball players, which might be enticing to jailbait enthusiasts. As for myself, it sort of freaks me out that they were born after the last time I was in that other Perkins.)

I thought Denver was a bit conservative, but this place makes it look like a hippy ashram chanting in a drum circle. Two out of three cars have this Jesus license plate that you can tell was designed in spite when the JFreaks here lost that ACLU case about the ten commandments. There are are churches everywhere. The Concord Mall now has a sign that says “Great Deals, Family Values.” (Does that mean you can’t sodomize the girls working at Pretzel Time anymore?) This is the one place in the country where I feel Nicole Ritchie thin. When I walked out of the hotel, there were about two dozen people chain-smoking like you’d suck on a bottle of oxygen if your spacesuit exploded and you hadn’t breathed in five minutes. Lots of magnetic ribbons, and I haven’t seen a single Kerry/Edwards or anti-Bush sticker yet.

I saw both “de-malled” malls, Pierre Moran and Scottsdale. Back in the old days, they turned strip malls into malls by enclosing them. For whatever random reason (*cough*Wal-Mart) malls have gone into the toilet, so someone got the wise idea to break apart the interior spaces, and turn them into a huge parking lot with a bunch of freestanding big-box stores. This makes it much easier to shop, because you have to either move your car six times, or carry a lot of stuff in the rain and snow. Both malls look even more deserted, but it’s obviously some liberal conspiracy and we all need to pray to Jesus to make sure the local Panera and Dress Barn keep in the black. (Wait, I mean they are making money, not that we want african-americans shopping there.)

The biggest change I see is that all of the trees have doubled and tripled in size. When I drive by an old dentist or insurance agent and see a giant oak stretching way into the sky, I remember when it used to be as tall as me. Driving past houses and streets, it seems like I have the angles and distances and setbacks burned into my brain. When I cross Prarie on Mishawaka, I know in my head exactly how far it is to the u-pick strawberry place, even if it was plowed under and turned into a medical clinic. The occasional bodega where a video store used to be throws me off but it’s usually in the same building, just a different sign.

I spent the day with my sister, nephew, and niece. It was the first time I’ve ever seen Belle, and she is already mobile and stealing her brother’s toys at any possible chance. I always think the kids are cute, until a few hours later when Wesley runs down a row of toy trucks in Target and presses the sound button on every single one two dozen times, producing this cacophony of sirens and explosions and jackhammers, and I realize there’s no way I could do it for five days, let alone 18 years.

Not making much progress on this food – I better shut down and go back to my little Holiday Inn Express and see if the TV channels are just as bad as they were 30 years ago.

P.S. The waitress handed me my check and it said, in giant, curvy, girly cursive, “God Bless!” at the bottom. I still gave her a tip.

P.P.S. Re my previous entry about thunderstorms – I am back at my hotel, and just saw the most monumental t-storm I’ve seen in a while. Very close strikes, loud as hell booms, and the kind of bolts that arc from sky to ground (okay, vice-versa) in such a way that make them look like scratches etched into a tinted window. There was even a five-second power outage that really reminded me I was in Indiana.

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Cubsalosea

So we saw two of the four Cubs-Rockies games this weekend: on Thursday, the Cubs won, and on Sunday, the Rockies. We had tickets to go to Saturday’s game. but after Thursday, we didn’t think we could stomach being in a section with 100 Cubs fans at a thing called “Cubsapalooza”. It turned out, however, to be “Cubsalosea”, with a wildly lopsided victory, and Jamie Carroll’s first grand slam. Anyway, I have nothing against Cubs fans, except that I really wanted to like the Cubs as a kid, and they repeatedly broke my heart. They play much better now, but it’s always hard to go back.

Speaking of going back, I am scheduled to make a trip to Indiana tomorrow. I say scheduled because I have no idea if we’re going to make it or not due to Sarah’s client at work completely flaking out. There are various scenarios that might play out: the trip goes as scheduled; I go tomorrow, Sarah meets me on Friday; we both come out on Friday; we reschedule a few weeks later; we move to Pakistan and leave no forwarding address. And I haven’t mentioned this trip here for various political reasons, one being that I will be in Elkhart for three or four days and I already have like 17 days of meetings requested and/or scheduled, and none of that includes seeing friends or doing something that’s actually vacation-like. (Not that there’s anything vacation-like in Elkhart. There is the Elkhart drinking game, where you drive around town, and every time you see a business you remember from childhood that has gone bankrupt and turned into a Mexican grocery store, you take a shot, and in about 15 minutes you die of alcohol poisoning.)

Believe it or not though, I do have some kind of sick fascination with Elkhart, because it’s really a fly trapped in amber. Every time I go back, I find I can still drive everywhere without even thinking of it. And there’s never anyone there when I drive around during the day. It’s like visiting the ruins of a city that was knocked out by a Neutron bomb. And I guess some of the fascination is that I have not been there for three years, and after an hour of driving around, I will be bored out of my fucking mind. But I also realize that I have almost no pictures of Elkhart, and I’d really like to drive around with my new (as of 2005) camera and get some good shots of the desolation. I always liked elkhartsucks.com, but it is dead and gone, so maybe I need to create my own version. (And I will turn on comments on pages so Larry has something to do at work.)

And I guess I think a lot of the summer between high school and college, and how it was 18 years ago, which is half of my lifetime now. Having a car now, and having an iPod that has all of my old music on it sometimes reminds me of that period. And almost all of it was in Elkhart, and it brings back thoughts of that time. And to be truthful, I did a lot of stupid shit back then, and probably the stupidest thing was getting involved with the girl that I dated right before I left for school, and the ensuing breakup. But with some distance, those thoughts are interesting. I always thought about writing a fictionalized book of that era of my life, and I made a couple of false starts, but I now realize I can’t write stuff like that anymore. The second you finish writing a book about someone that fucked you over in life, their lawyer contacts you. (See also Augustin Burroughs, although maybe you need to make a hundred million dollars for this rule to come into play.)

Christ, it’s almost eleven and I haven’t even started writing yet.

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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 http://www.homefair.com/calc/citysnap.html, 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.

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Little Axl

I probably mentioned a few times a while ago that I was working on a book called Six Year Plan, that was a bunch of short essays and whatnot about my time in Bloomington – sort of an extension of what I did in Summer Rain. Well, that never went so well, and I’m sitting on about 100,000 words of shit, some of it good, a lot of it not so good. In mucking around, I’ve decided to pull a few pieces and put them here. These are not stories. They aren’t essays. They are just pieces. And they’re rough. Let’s start with one that I call “Little Axl.”

In the summer of ’91, I needed a real job, pronto. My parents were on my ass about bringing in a solid 40 hours a week at a good rate, and my computer job dried up during the summer session. I checked the classifieds and noticed the major triumphant victory in the 17-minute-long Iraq war pushed the economy into a short-term upswing. Everybody in the rich states wanted a new house or a new RV, so every factory in our shit city had a want ad in the paper. Everyone was paying at least twice as much as I made changing laser printer toner cartridges, and some were already running mandatory overtime at time and a half.

The only problem with a factory gig would be going in as a student. Most blue-collar shops didn’t like to hire young peckerwoods who were into the book learnin’, because they’d question the wise ways of those who earned union wages drilling holes in plywood 800 times a day every day. And just when the school boys started to nice and indoctrinated, they’d pick up and leave for campus in August. Most employers preferred someone local, married, with a kid or ten, and a mortgage or two. They could break in a lifer and keep them in the gallows for 20 or 30 years. A few, however, liked to bring in a crop of college kids to enslave for three months, especially if they could do it to skirt some kind of union regulation.

I ended up lucking into a job at a brass plant in Elkhart, on second shift. I worked for the same company at a different factory the year before, with my dad. The brass plant meant no commute, no early morning alarm clock, and no dad. I also somehow managed to take a morning class each summer session at IUSB. And I dated Lauren, this girl in Bloomington, and made the trip down there every other weekend. Basically, the entire summer was a long run of little sleep, lots of trucker speed, and a swimming pool or two of caffeinated beverages.

Most of the people at the plant were typical factory workers, divorced, remarried, with a couple of kids, and never questioned the life laid out in front of them. There were a couple of students my age, also in for the three-month haul between college semesters, and I hung out with them at the lunch table. But one of the best guys I worked with wasn’t a regular friend, just a forklift driver I talked to here and there. I don’t even remember his real name. But in my head I called him Little Axl.

Little Axl had a mane of longish red hair that made him vaguely resemble the lead singer of Guns N’ Roses, and his raspy three-packs-of-Marlboro-Red-a-day voice sounded spot-on like he was going to jump down off of his lift truck, bust into “Sweet Child of Mine” at any moment and do that stupid snakey dance . Actually, maybe he completely wouldn’t remind you of Mr. Rose, but this was 1991, and the band was ramping up to hit ubiquitousity in a few months with the _Use Your Illusion_ albums. The guy did complete his work wardrobe with a few cut-up t-shirts of various metal bands, a red bandana, and ripped-up jeans, so I’m sure he would have appreciated the association if I ever would have told him.

Little Axl was always doing dumb shit, and the other lifers at the job were constantly harping on him about it. He was sort of like the hype man for a rap group, except he wasn’t acting like a dumbass to make Chuck D look more butch or anything; he was just legitimately off-kilter in the head. For example, one day he suddenly decided to quit smoking. A noble gesture, yes, but the main reason he quit is not because of cost (cigs were dirt cheap back then) or health (everyone in Indiana smoked, and didn’t worry much about cancer), but because he used to be on the track team back in high school, and in some Al Bundy-fueled nostalgia fit, he wanted to be able to run the mile in under six minutes or whatever the fuck he ran it a half-dozen years before. Part of his non-smoking regimen was that during lunch and at breaks, he’d run laps around the parking lot in his work clothes and steel-toed boots, trying to magically regenerate all of the lung cells he’d tarred up over the last decade. Calling this “running laps” was slightly misleading, though, because he’d manage to run about 20 yards before he’d double over and hyperventilate for a moment or two, trying to catch his breath for another quick dash, while the rest of us sat at the picnic table next to the front entrance and laughed at him. Within two days, the pack of Reds were rolled back in his shirt sleeve, and the smoking ban was long forgotten.

Here’s another story about Little Axl, although it’s also mostly about me. I was dating Lauren back in Bloomington, after hooking up with her over a Memorial Day visit. And because I racked up a $277 long distance bill one month, my parents disconnected our phone to all but local calls, which made the long distance relationship a bit more difficult. But I could get on the computer via a local dialup and send mail and chat with her when she also got online. I didn’t have a computer back then, but she loaned me her old Mac Plus and 2400 BPS external modem. I’d rush home after my shift ended at midnight, and she’d go to one of the 24-hour labs on campus, and we’d “meet” and type across the 250-mile void through the magic of primitive chat programs like bitnet and VAXPhone.

One Friday night, I ran home after work to got ready for my big VAX session, but when I pulled into the driveway, I noticed the house was dark. I walked inside, and found there was a blackout in the whole neighborhood. I suddenly realized that Lauren was probably in a computer lab, wondering where the fuck I was, and if I didn’t log in soon, she was going to get all pissed off and it would all be my fault. I couldn’t call her in the lab (no long distance, this was before the day of cell phones), and I couldn’t drive to school and sit at a computer, since the IUSB campus was 45 minutes away, and probably all locked up. Then it hit me: go back to work with the computer. I piled up the cords and keyboard in a bag, grabbed the Mac Plus by the carrying handle, and drove back to the brass plant.

I don’t know how the fuck I figured this would work, but I assumed that a place like a factory had to have some RJ-45 stapled to a baseboard somewhere with a live signal. I checked the lunch room with no luck, and then found a phone jack and a set of power cords in the long hallway that ran from the front door to the guard station and time clock. It wasn’t exactly the most ergo place in the world, but I plopped down all of my stuff on the concrete floor, ran my wires, and within a few minutes, I had dialtone, then a carrier, and I was trying to explain all of this to Lauren over a 2400 BPS connection.

The weird this is, aside from the security guard dude working at the front desk, my buddy Little Axl was also pacing back and forth by the time clock. Why? It turns out a cop was hiding in the bushes right outside of the parking lot, sniping off cars with a radar detector and hoping to peel off a DUI or two. Now that’s pretty much business as usual with the shithole Elkhart cops, but the problem was that Little Axl drove this fucked up truck that was lifted about nine inches, had no exhaust, no front grill, one headlight missing, another headlight pointed 89 degrees into the air, and probably had expired plates and insurance, not to mention that Little Axl had like 27 points on his license, two DUIs, and maybe a warrant or two. So he was freaking out, waiting for the cop to leave, and trying to get someone else to drive out there to see if the coast was clear. ]

Meanwhile, he found me on the floor, typing away, and was completely astounded at my piece of shit Mac Plus running Red Ryder. I don’t think he’d ever seen a computer before, and he stared at me as if I’d set up a Star Trek teleporter room on the floor and was beaming in long-dead celebrities of the 17th century for a polo game. He looked over my shoulder at my bitnet conversation, wondering what video game I was playing, mesmerized not only that someone could run a computer, but that they could also type words into it. I don’t know if he was more astounded that a person with such scientific prestidigitation skills could work at the same factory as him packing boxes, or if I was more amazed that a person who was about my age could know so little about technology. Either way, it was a strange evening.

It’s also worth mentioning that Little Axl also went to the big Guns N’ Roses and Metallica show in Indianapolis that summer to see his namesake, and I think he vaguely invited me down there if I wanted to catch a ride too, but it seemed too weird and I probably was going down to Bloomington that weekend anyway. In retrospect, I wish I would have scraped up the $40 for tickets and went with him, since it would have been a completely fucked up story culminating with him shooting a syringe of Jim Beam into his neck and then beating his trucker-looking girlfriend with the bottle. And this was also like one or two shows before the real Axl started a riot in St. Louis.

When he came back from the show, Little Axl would not shut up about the greatness of the Guns set, and how they played so many new songs. He also got a shirt that he wore to work the next day, but it said something like GUNS AND FUCKING ROSES WILL FUCK YOU UP on the back, and one of the old guys at work got upset and told him he had to turn it inside out or get another shirt because it had the f-word on it, and this was a family factory. He had it inside out for an hour or two, then he had it back, and I wondered if the ACLU had stepped in that quickly or what, until I saw that he cleverly covered the aforementioned f-bomb with a piece of electrical tape. Sneaky.

Little Axl was one of the most interesting people I worked with, although there were others. I worked at a QA bench for a few weeks with a woman that was my parents’ age who worked with my dad at the other plant and was a recovering alcoholic. She told me all of the usual stories recovering addicts tell you, about taking a bunch of drugs, driving through traffic at 110 while fucked up, almost jumping out of windows, being pronounced dead and then coming back, and all of the others. It made the summer go by a little faster, but it still took way too long to get it done, especially since I’d be back in Bloomington in the fall.

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Going to Indiana

I’m leaving in a couple of hours for a week in Indiana. It should be pretty sedate. People have been batshit insane here in New York over the elections, so it will be nice to not be around a bunch of people who suddenly think they are experts on national tax law. And if Bush does win, I won’t be at ground zero of the rioting in the solidly red state.

I really don’t care that much who wins, because I’m not tightly wrapped up in either of the candidates. People on both sides of the fence think if their candidate wins, all the problems will be solved, and if the other guy gets the vote, the world will suddenly end. People need to wake the fuck up and realize that campaign promises are never met, both sides have to cater to their rich friends and corporations that gave them the hundreds of millions of dollars to get into office, and no matter what happens, life goes on. It’s not going to be like people will be rounded up into camps. And before you start that Guantanamo shit, you should know that as far as civil rights violations, Bush isn’t even in the top three. Lincoln skirted due process on about 38,000 people, mostly draft dodgers and traitors up North; FDR started up camps for the Japanese; Wilson’s sedition act threw thousands in jail with no trial. Before you accuse a president of being the worst ever on an issue, you should actually go back and make sure they are. I hate when people who flunked high school history and can’t even name five states other than New York and California are suddenly certified experts on presidential history.

Half of me wants Bush to win so I can laugh at all the people who thought this election would be a cakewalk and assumed he’d be easily defeated because all of their friends who read The Nation and the New Yorker agree with them about it. But half of me wants Kerry to win because no matter what he preaches, Iraq will continue to be a disaster and health care will continue to suck and all of the people who think it will suddenly start raining jobs when Bush is out of office will realize it’s just same shit, different Yale graduate.

In other election-related news, ABC seems to have found/bought/made a tape of a terrorist giving a shout out to his homies in Mecca, and some think it’s Adam Gadahn. While that’s up in the air, I got another reporter call last night, and talked to someone for a bit about it. I’ve been answering my phone more religiously than usual, partially because I’m planning this trip and getting calls from the family, and I’m also half-expecting to get a pollster calling me, since I was part of the Nielsen family this year and maybe they buy lists from the same place. Anyway, that means I got stuck talking to a reporter, and also talking to the idiots at Chase who are always trying to get me to buy that credit insurance bullshit. Anyway, I fear coming home next week to find 78 messages from reporters, but what can you do.

I have been working on a new book that is a lot like Rumored to Exist. Not really a sequel, and I don’t entirely know what the structure will be, but I am writing chunks of stuff for it. And I am taking off between xmas and new years to just write. I am sort of not sure the direction I am going with it, since I don’t really have anyone to check out new stuff. I used to read stuff to Ray over the phone as a litmus test to see if it was good or not, but now he has a satellite TV and watches like 80 hours a week, so anytime I call and start reading stuff, I can tell he’s watching TV and not paying attention. And I’m not even going to go into the frustration of emailing shit to people and then either not having them respond, or reply with “yeah, it’s nice.” Or “it’s ok, but I liked that other stuff, which I’m now not going to specifically mention so you have to look at the million words you’ve written in the last ten years and decide what’s good and what isn’t”. Or something.

Anyway, it’s 1:15 and the car gets here at 2 and I haven’t packed or eaten lunch, so I better get off this damn thing. See you next week.

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Back when riding a 20″ BMX bike was not ironic

I remember riding my bike in my subdivision as a kid, maybe 11 or 12 years old, the age before you start to worry about girls and money and looks, but around the time you realize your parents are idiots and there’s more to life than sitting in front of a TV playing with legos. I won this BMX bike from Honeycomb cereal, one of the best injections of luck in my life, since before that I had a stupid bananna seat bike that I probably would’ve had until I got my first car.

We rode the subdivision roads – me and Manges and Wonko and Tom. There were also undeveloped pieces of land with dirt trails and forests and abandoned runways and empty fields. Summertimes were spent exploring these wastelands, looking for hidden roads, old junk, or lost Hustler magazines.

One spring day, I rode into this huge undeveloped piece of land by Wonko’s house. It had a higher piece of land that sat on the same level and behind a road of houses in the subdivision. A piece of land about as big as a baseball field cut down one side by a dirt road, it dropped down a steep hill into some thick trees and later into a lower and larger area near the Elkhart river. I pedaled the red Huffy over the crest of the hill, and started leaning into the downhill pull when I saw something that made me lay down the bike and gaze in horror. The Elkhart river, flooded with melting snow from the long winter, turned the entire back half into a lake. Where a larger-than-football sized field sat with bike trails, hidden forts, trees, and abandoned junk was now a giant sea, almost to the horizon. And I almost biked right into it.

I don’t know why I thought about this, except that I’ve been trying to think of a time in my life when I wasn’t depressed or upset, and when I had a solid network of friends without condition or distance. I think my closest experiences were when I was a kid, in the 6th or 7th grade, maybe going into 8th. My first thought on this is that I wasn’t as concerned about my place in life during those years, and kids aren’t as competetive or cliqueish in those years (at least at my school – I’m sure that little John-Benet Ramseys get their first boob job at the age of 10 now). But after reading more about it, I’ve realized that my depression probably started around then. At the very beginning of 9th grade, I had a huge growth spurt which probably did something to my brain. It sounds far-fetched, but I’ve read in a bunch of psychology books that manic-depression usually hits like that.

The different pieces of my life don’t come into question until I start thinking of book ideas and plots. I’d love to knock some story out of my childhood or teenage years and come up with a book about it. Writers like Hemmingway, Orwell, Henry Miller, and Bukowski seemed to be masters at that. But my life has been pretty boring. Case in point – my first book, Summer Rain. I put a lot of time into it, and loved the idea as I was writing it. But after a year or writing, I held a largely boring and rambling story about my life one summer. With enough bullshit, the basic plot almost made sense, but it never grabbed you. And then I took it to a writing conference and talked to some GenX hipster/shyster that told me I had to change 1000 different things about the plot. His ideas were like taking The Grapes of Wrath and turning it into Microserfs, a plot change at a time. It’s been eating at my ever since, whether or not I should rewrite that book. It was based on a short story originally, and a lot of people liked it, including me. Maybe at some time, I’ll chop at the existing manuscript and make it into a series of short stories, and then clean up each one as I go along. Who knows.

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