Wednesday, August 27, 2008

By By B.B.

I noticed that renown blues stylist Riley B. King is playing fast and loose with life these days. Most notably the master of the modern blues has allowed
T-Bone Burnett, the fellow who got bluegrass all screwed up in that film "Oh Brother..." to produce his latest album "One kind favor". Well as anyone with any knowledge of country blues should know, that "one kind favor" is "to see that my grave is kept clean." It is possible that Riley aka B.B. King has been in the big band business a little too long and has forgotten that white people have a disastrous effect on blues musicians; Notice in the above photo where a "white woman" has put the "mojo" on King and is taking his guitar while he is helplessly entranced. I truly fear that with Burnett involved and the album getting such good reviews, King is liable to end up where a white guy musicologist feels an 82 year old Black Bluesman belongs; dead. I need to try and get in touch with Mr. King and key him in. Me not being 100% white I might have a chance to talk with him without him passing out like he does around other white folks.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Building chopper, a recipe for foolish fun and changing the world!

Now isn't that sweet? A fellow and his bluebird out for a spin back in 65 and stopping for a beer and a snapshot. Girls took it and had a poster made. They thought I was handsome. I had forgotten about the picture of me on the bobber until I got a call several years ago from the sister of a woman whom I used to date. The woman had died and the original picture was in her stuff. Her sister said there were also lots of my poems from Vietnam and maybe I should come up to NC and get them some time while her husband was off flying his airliner and maybe I should bring some pills if I had any. I asked her to please send the picture. Oh well.

Let me tell you about that bike. It was a 1954 Harley Davidson that was chopped in the Bobtail style. That's where the term chopper comes from. It was a dead man's bike from The DC impound lot It started life as a motorcycle that had a side car/box for delivering auto parts and stuff. Because of that setup you had a clutch on the left floor board and the gear shift on the tank. The back brake was a big pedal on the right board and the front brake was on the handlebar like most motorcycles. Now if you look at this motorcycle, you will note that it has no front brake lever. Why? Well at the time the folks who rode "chopped scooters" found the front brake assemblage to be déclassé and were inclined to replace it with a machined hub called a spoolie. I should mention that a lot of your original bikers worked in machine shops. Now the Bobber in the picture is black and orange. The orange is on the tank and the black lines were made with black tape. Orange and Black are the Harley Davidson colors. The seat on the bike was made from a one-way street sign covered in Naugahyde. It was not "tuck and roll" but something similar and very well done. This bob job was sort of a club project and it was an unspoken understanding that the dead person who had started the project was a black man. The seat was the first thing that we had made and we had big plans to work on the paint job too.

The Bobber had two parts on it called "suicide." The clutch and the shifter. Lets talk about the clutch. Most bikes keep the clutch up on the handlebar and here's why. Bike's got two wheels, so when you stop, down go your feet and you squeeze the clutch. Let it go by accident or because you are high and the bike stalls. Now the bob's got the clutch on your left foot. You roll to a stop put the clutch in, push on the brake forget to put your foot down and you will fall right over. The shifter? Well no one wants that big lever on their custom tank, so you take all that off and attach a ratchet fitting to the gear shaft just like a regular motorcycle has. Trouble is on a bike like the bobber the gear shaft is in back of the motor, so you must weld something to your ratchet top, like a wrench or something else shiny, and reach behind you and down just to shift gears. This is often called a Jockey Shift as well as a suicide shift. The whole deal with making a "chopper" is the bikes had rigid frames with no suspension, so you could get a springer front end and extend it out a bit and hang a 21" spoolie wheel on that then put high bars (ape hangers) on and a big fat rear tire and you were ready to terrorize the white man. Thing is you had to be a bit of a master cyclist to even get the full blown old school chopper to leave the scene of one crime and head for the next. Today's 50k+ bike that you see them build on TV is built to be ridden by, lets say, the 2008 version of Texino assuming he had just a little experience. It's a different world today, a place filled with a numbing sameness that people are happy to believe is something else. Well, I'm sorry but its not the same and I don't mean it in an "in my day we ate squirrel pie and liked it" sort of way. Back in my 1965 I was happy and free and going places where I was not wanted just to make the "Man" feel uncomfortable. Later on whole generations tried that. Didn't work because there was money to be made by then. Punk Rock? The Sex Pistols sold records. Grunge? Nirvana sold records. It's not that you cant be hip these days, you just have to be quick on your feet. Having a technical skill like welding
or programming a computer can really come in handy. Here is a hint. All the binary numbers that computers really like, such as 1,2 ,4,8,16,32,64,128,256,512 and so on are made from 1 and then some zeros. Other numbers are made from 1s and zeros mixed together but computers just recognize two commands, "yes" and "no" or "on" and "off" so when someone writes a program they use a language which can be expressed as strings of numbers which are then compiled into binary numbers which is what the computer reads. That's why it is called a digital computer. Now, I don't think your average Chopper rider of today knows that unless he or she happens to have more that a passing interest in math. I don't mean to brag but I know quite a lot about fluid dynamics and how to compensate for pressure lost within a pipe due to its diameter and how far the fluid has to travel. (its a friction thing) What I really want to say here is that even if you are worthless in the eyes of society for being a certain way, you should
never stop learning stuff. Like it is impossible to do anything with physics without running into people such as Gold, Boyle and Bernoulli. Well these genii came up with some super theories like if you heat up a gas it gets bigger and if you create negative pressure positive pressure will try to fill it. (Nature abhors a vacuum) and other stuff which we take for common sense today.
Well were people less smart 100 years ago? No, but society tends toward conservatism. So in aid of that, I have promised that I will never become conservative and I will look a hard problems in hope of finding a simple answer to a complex issue. I mean doesn't it just make perfect sense that if you have a sealed container of some kind of gas and you heat it up, somethings going to happen? Well, not to over simplify, but what's to stop someone like you or me from figuring out something just as important? Nothing except becoming a grumpy conservative as far as I can tell. Thats it for now.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


It occurs that I have not been telling many lies on the blog. I don't like to lie because I used to tell lies on every subject you can think of and now that I have finally reached the end of adolescence at the age of 60 and 11/12 I feel very ashamed about being such a liar. I think I had some sort of mental condition. Why? Well, when I was in Vietnam, I had a very interesting and important job but because it had to do with winning the hearts and minds of the civilian population of that country, I was not supposed to talk about it, so I started writing these letters to my dad about these battles I was in and how we were killing the enemy right up in the wire. Now that was BS. They didn't have too many fights like that and I certainly wasn't in them. Whats more, my father had been a big shot in the Army and he could find out what I was doing (at that time, working in a motor pool) so why would I tell him I was being John Wayne? Fucking liar is why. This has a lot to do with insecurity and now that I've reached my young adulthood, I'll probably do much better. Meanwhile, back in the jungle, I had talked my way into the Civil Affairs detachment and had lots of real adventures like people have in thrillers. Back in the States; I read recently where this army officer retires and says the "The Gadsden Project was the most successful Civil Affairs thing ever in the history of the Army and the high point of his career and what all. OK, fine General Bubble Head, but you were just the C/O of the fire base where the actual people who pulled off the mission came from and went back to when we got tipped off that Viet Cong had put a bounty on our heads of 5K. (Actual money for actual head) How did they know? We had big signs on our bumpers say "Civil Affairs" so we can go in special places in aid of winning hearts and minds and buy stuff for building things on the local economy so the Army could have deniability. But you couldn't write to the folks at home and tell them about that, so I just wrote poetry to girls back there in hope of starting some fires for my return. It didn't occur that I might get damaged and fall through a spiral of terrible rest stops; each one causing me to give up some important memory or bit of pride. That's what happened though and since I had been an insecure liar most all my life, I had very little to start over on. Well I've been pretty straight the last 25 years except for the pill addiction, but I got out of that by my self. You know life is really fucked up when you do not have close friends and you are the sort who needs them. All I wanted to do here, was tell a clever lie like "Most weathermen are left handed" or "Fuel Injected Cars have the gas filler on the driver's side." and then go on to something else. Instead, I had to write a revealing essay about what a weirdo I am which is not likely to gain me any friends. It's the truth though.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Little Help Please.

My new GF Me shortly after being struck by lightning.

Hi I have a new girlfriend. Her name is Becky Wiggins and she's crazy for helicopters. We met in the ER. where I was taken after my recent bout with lightning. This is what happened. First I was leaving a house where I had been fixing a computer. Then I was sitting on the ground in an extremely quiet rain storm and my shoes were missing. ($200) Did I mention it was very quiet? Well I couldn't hear a sound, so I was not aware of the crowd standing behind me until their voices started to leak back like poor radio reception from a foreign country that used a lot of American words. I. e. "Blah blah brain injury, blah blah think he'd cover himself" Cover himself? Well I looked down and saw my shorts were split down the front ($42.75) and I had gained what the medical staff like to call a "Priapism" (a penile erection caused by some sort of trauma) Someone handed me a towel. An ambulance arrived. Anyway, I seem to be OK now excepting for a slight glow in the dark. The priapism has gone which is OK, because it is not comfortable. Now my problem rests with Becky who seems taken with me because I have a lot of experience with helicopters and also like many younger people (she's 19) is rather frank about sex. In other words she thinks I am pretty well fixed up for doing the job because she saw me when she brought me a blanket in the ER. The reality of course is that was just to do with a powerful spasm to the spinal muscles from the lightning. In truth, I do not think I could actually "do it" even if my partner was a sweet understanding soul with an operating helicopter haircut (the blades spin) who says that she wants to" hover on me." You know, I think I know guys who would really freak if they were in my situation sex wise. Me? I just go off someplace and dream up some interesting machinery like a boat that could cross the ocean using pedal power and lots of gears so it would not be too hard on you, or a truck that runs 24 hrs a day carrying a crew like a ship. If you are going to end up trapped in your head and unable to get out much it helps to have and imagination. Anyway, if anyone sees Becky Wiggins, please tell her I got called back to the Army to fly helicopters in Iraq. I think that would be the kindest thing.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Is the truth in your dreams?

Well if it is, I am stupid. Take last night for instance. I was fooling around dreamland, where I had become a rather successful timber baron. So successful in fact that I had taken a job as a volunteer showing people the way to get to the Smithsonian Institution using the least amount of gasoline. I was happy in my job and I got to go to many places in the museums I had never been before. Like the animatronic supreme court for instance and an exhibition called "Monkey Doodles." Both of these exhibitions seemed to have generated a lot of interest but before I could investigate, I was called to a office where some curators were arguing the merits of a stringed instrument. It had four strings and they were calling it a mandolin. I said I did not think of a four string instrument as necessarily being a mandolin and they looked at me as if I had really made a shocking and uncalled for statement. The head guy said not to worry because "Tomas will be leaving us presently" and handed me a fat folder. Then he said for me to leave and I would get further instructions. Well, I kept going around doing paperwork and my folder got smaller until finally I had a letter saying to go back to the fire service and a file that looked like a supervisors schedule. I was pretty excited actually because it seemed like I was finally going to get what I had though was my deserved position. I showed up at the admin. building ready to run my shift, but my old partner Mike said that the boss just wanted him and me to schedule some new hires to go to California for new uniforms. I said, well that's cool, I need uniforms and I would like to go. He got all embarrassed and said that the deal was they had been forced to hire some retarded firemen to clean the bathrooms and stuff and they needed someone to watch after them while every one was in CA. and they figured I could probably do it without fucking it up. I took the whole mess to the boss lady and told her that it was crazy and that I was a good fireman and medic and she had no right to treat me that way, but she just kept telling me how stupid I was over and over again.
I used to enjoy my dream world and think it was funny. It's becoming a real bother now. Maybe, I'll just have to get out into the real world to some degree.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Zipper Heads and why we must have them

A friend who is an author and a Vietnam Vet wrote and asked if I knew where the term "Zipperhead" came from. It was a word used by some to refer to the Vietnamese. Here is what I said in answer.

You know the whole world of Gooks and Dinks and Slopes and Zips just runs together. No one ever talked about those guys until you were in country. Where I was it was mostly "The Dinks" and sometimes gooks. Slope and Zipper Head weren't too popular. I always assumed that zip had to do with a particular sort of Vietnamese with an exaggerated slope to the head and slant to the eyes (seen more in cartoons that in real life) that suggested you could zip his eyes closed. I can see someone coming across a peasant in a conical hat and loose black pants and a long white top and saying "hey zipper head, come here" and the name sticking. I worked very closely with all manner of people in Vietnam getting my village built and I learned to tell the Chinese from the Pure Vietnamese and the various racial mixes and stereotypical issues they had. Some were extremely difficult to think of as gooks while others fit the roll to a "G". Of course most soldiers come up with a common nick name for those they might need to kill wholesale and unfairly. We either punish them for their audacity-–"take that Mr. Master Race"–– or we condemn them for their sneaky ways––"Burn you yellow Japs!" It's only later that it occurs to us that we were all young men and needed a name for the boogie man, so we would not recognize the possibility that we were shooting our kindred spirits for the pleasure and tactical entertainment of the elders who make their profits by proving the value of their machinery from time to time. It's always been so and will continue so long as we celebrate our time at arms. The fact that I sit around in my early 60s and can define my life by 17 months spent overseas in a war that had absolutely no positive bearing on my country or the life my kids led is a pretty sad commentary for the boys who were supposed to win WW III. I think what really needs to happen now is for a bunch of vets to come home –like from Iraq– and say "Fuck this" "It was the worst most useless time of my life" "Don't give me any service medals or parades, I don't feel like a hero, I feel like a sanitation worker in a project." "Now I want a job in a national park and never want to hear any patriotic BS again," " Leave me the fuck alone and lets just forget about this war like it was just a big mistake." Just let it drop, OK? Fine. There's your hero

Sunday, August 03, 2008

perchance to dance

If you go outside of your home and, by chance, you hear some music playing,
It may be Hip Hop (another name for Rap) I like the term Hip Hop better because it implies dancing.
When music and dance go together like sleep and dreams, everything is OK.
I don't care for music fighting with my sense of rhythm; when I hear Bizet's Overture to Carmen, I want to high step like a Lippizaner Stallion, but I lack the proper count of legs. My next choice is cymbal crasher but it's damn impossible to sneak a pair of those suckers into a concert hall these days. So screw going to the symphony if the music has a beat. That's the whole funk thing; you hit the one or down beat then you can fool around popping and slapping so long as you get back to that one beat. Just think how much fun you could have at Symphony Hall if you sat on the floor. I'll bet all sorts of people would show up and march around or invent dances to, like, Beethoven's 5th. Get a big circle going and then all fall down. That is very powerful music. Black Music is just as powerful
but people had the good sense not to hold it hostage in a no dance environment. (even church) Just imagine, if you will, James Brown and The Famous Flames at Carnegie Hall with concert rules in effect. Wouldn't work. Jazz can get hot as well, but they keep it cool by giving the players CNS depressants and using strange meters and progressions. Any other tunes that go from the down beat are going to be a direct to dance tunes, so go with it what ever it is. Dancing is good for you. Do some soon. I'm not sure if you can though and here is why. When I was very young and growing up in Alexandria, Va. There was this place on my block called the Armory. It had something to do with the Army because during the Korean War, convoys of soldiers would show up at odd hours and march up and down in the street. "Hup two three four" "Ain't no use in going home, Jody's got your girl and gone" (I would meet up with Jody again, but I did not know it at the time) I have many stories about the armory too, but this one has to do with whether you can still dance in the street. For a summertime or maybe two and on Wednesday evenings around 7, men of middle and older age plus a couple of fat boys would converge on the Armory each one hauling a type of case that would without doubt produce a musical instrument with the exception of one that might have contained a full sized elephant's head. I must admit I lurked. Then one evening pretty much like any other and with neither a ruffle nor flourish, the group formed a band right in the middle of South Royal Street, struck up Anchors Aweigh and marched off. Children danced along. Not me. Too young. At least I figured out what was in the elephant case, tuba, a Sousaphone. The dance thing. I do not think you could just toss up a marching band in that neighborhood or too many others these days and march off at 7:30 on a summer's eve. and expect to return whole. Maybe where MS. Moon lives, but few other spots and that is just too bad. I have gone and put stories within stories again and not left any room for resolution. Hey I am just in it for the words