Day Trip of Infamy

I grew up near a bit of World War II history. In 1942, a Japanese submarine surfaced and shelled an oil facility about 15 miles from Santa Barbara. There was some damage but no casualties. The jubilant sub commander radioed back “West coast in flames!” before fleeing.

Good for him. In the hell of war, playful hijinks like this should be encouraged. Alas, the event gets little, if any, mention in most history books. When I visited the site of the attack, there wasn’t so much as a commemorative plaque. This was the first Axis attack on the US mainland but because of its ineffectiveness, it registered nary a blip on the infamy meter and Pearl Harbor’s star billing went unchallenged.

So when I was in Hawaii, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. I got on the bus that went from Waikiki to the memorial. It was a fairly long ride so I amused myself by staring out the window or reading the sign reminding passengers that defecation and urination are forbidden on all transit vehicles. Who knew?

With a potential terrorist threat existing pretty much everywhere these days, I had to check my backpack prior to admission. There was a two-hour wait before I could get to the Arizona so I went on a tour of the USS Bowfin, a WWII submarine.

Launched on the one-year anniversary of the attack and touted as the “Pearl Harbor Avenger,” the Bowfin lived up to its promise. It sank over a dozen enemy vessels during the war. Unfortunately, one of these happened to be passenger ship full of schoolchildren. To be fair though, the kids were being evacuated to Nagasaki so it’s not like they were destined for longevity anyway.

The tour itself was quite edifying. Actually being inside the sub gave me a feel for how cramped it must have been for the sailors and thanks to the abundance of other tourists, also how crowded. As I moved through the interior of the vessel, the audio-tour filled my ears with informative commentary from Bowfin veterans and enough “owooga” dive sirens to give the presentation that extra pizazz.

After touring the submarine and its adjacent museum, it was time to head back to the Arizona. Before heading out the memorial proper, we were herded into a theater to watch a short introductory film. The movie was pretty good. It described the history of the USS Arizona, it crew, and how it was sunk. It also told of the situation in the Pacific before the attack and why the Japanese did what they did.

For those of you who are wondering, it wasn’t because they “hated our freedom (and comparative lack of overbite).” It was largely because of oil. We wouldn’t give them any of ours because we thought they were acting like assholes, which they were. The Japanese figured that if they crippled our Pacific fleet, they would be able to secure their empire, including petroleum fields in Indonesia, unmolested. A bloody-nosed America wouldn’t be up for engaging them in a long-term war. We all know how well that line of reasoning worked for them.

After the film, we loaded a boat crewed by two naval petty officers and rode out to the memorial, which sits perpendicular astride the Arizona’s sunken hull. It is a solemn place and visitors are expected to behave accordingly. Comments like “The should have called it the USS Vasectomy Cock because it’s full of dead seamen” do not go over well.

On the far wall of the structure are the names of the 1,177 who perished. Staring at the list, I found myself curious about who they were, what they doing before the war, and what they would have done with their lives if they had not been killed. I didn’t think about the infamy, only the dead sailors.

Thinking about the loss of life brought on by war almost made a pacifist of me, but knowing what I do of human nature kept such a silly notion from taking hold. Lay down your swords at your peril, for there will never be a shortage of people and nations willing to take what they want by force. At least that’s what the hawkish side of myself was saying.

Truth be told, I don’t know if the Arizona is meant to impart any wisdom to visitors other than “they served, they died, shut up and appreciate that.”

Tropic of Skin Cancer

I’ve been back in San Francisco for a week now. Last Friday’s entry on the topic was a rush job, barely scratching the surface of what I wanted to talk about. If you care to know more, read on.

If you’re look for the natural splendor of Hawaii, Waikiki is not the place. Other than a thin strip of beach and the endless expanse of ocean to the south, high-rise hotels, restaurants, and retail stores fill this corner of Honolulu.

It is a safe haven for mainland tourists who yearn for a tropical getaway but don’t want to endure the sort of third-world dysfunction one associates with such climes. Shopping, dining, and baking in the sun can be achieved without incident.

Locals are by and large pretty laid-back, rarely getting their panties into bunch about anything, but still manage to get the job done. Service is prompt and courteous despite the leisurely pace. It is a foreign world for those of us who use stress to battle inertia, but it seems to work for them.

Since I traveled alone, I spent the bulk of my time just wandering around. It took me a while to get comfortable with the fact that I wasn’t actually required to do anything. Of course that’s the very idea of being on vacation, but I spent the days leading up to the trip convincing myself that I was destined for the kind of excess and degredation of which legends are made.

In the end, I found that I had neither the inclination nor budget for such behavior. My social interactions were blissfully limited and even my booze intake was moderate. I was perfectly content to neither chat up nor throw up on anybody.

I suppose I could have indulged some sordid island fantasy with the help of an escort service. Many of the women I saw were nothing short of breathtaking, and those were just the amateurs. However, all my budget had already been slated for airfare, hotel, food, and drink. The only illicit dalliances I could afford would have come from the bargain basement of whoredom, likely a septuagenarian Molokai transplant known as “Leper Belle.” I decided to give that a miss.

One thing I did manage to accomplish was hiking to the top of Diamond Head. OK, we’re not talking an ascent of Everest here. The summit is is only about 900 feet and reached by a clearly marked and often paved trail. Still, it was worth doing.

I remembered The Diamond Head Game show from the 70’s, where contestants stood in an Adolf Eichmann-esque glass booth and frantically grabbed cash blown around by air jets in the floor. Even though there were no paper-cut fatalities during its on-season run, the program left a lasting impression. Could mere nature live up to the magic of television? I doubted it but wanted to see for myself.

After breakfast at the Wailana Coffee Shop near my hotel, I set out on my journey. I walked to the far end of Waikiki, past the zoo, and across a lovely beach park with shady trees overhead and the refreshing absence of crowds. From there, it was a long uphill schlep along a shoreline boulevard with ritzy homes on either side.

I was glad I decided to go on foot. I needed the scenery and solitude. Every so often, a cloud from the north would dump rain on me, but it quickly dried. It took almost two hours to get to the entrance of Diamond Head Park and my feet hurt, but I was happy.

Diamond Head is not actually a mountain but rather the highest point of a ridge surrounding a long-dormant volcano crater. To get to the top, you start on a cement path that turns into a dirt trail with switchbacks.

There is also a long, poorly lit tunnel, which I thought would give me some relief from the tropical sun. I was wrong. There is next to no ventilation and most of the oxygen inside has already been breathed by the throng of people who preceded me.

The summit was once used as a place for human sacrifice by indigenous folk and later as a lookout bunker by the US military. Now it is encrusted with wheezing, sweating tourists enjoying the splendid view.

Fortunately, there is no real risk of collapsing and dying up there. A rescue helicopter runs regular sorties between the base of the crater and a landing pad near the top. Those requiring emergency assistance are administered first aid, choppered back to their hotels, and deposited poolside with a mai tai drip.

I spent about a half hour up there taking it all in. To the east, small towns dotted the lush hillsides. Straight ahead was the Pacific, huge and awe inspiring. And to the west, miles away, lay Waikiki and the rest of Honolulu, an urban sprawl of hundreds of thousands of people who made a little slice of paradise their home. Seeing that made me realize something very important.

I realized that there was no way in hell I was going to walk back all that way. I took a cab instead.

Back on the Clock

My daily routine has resumed, whether I like it or not. The alarm goes of at seven. I putter around the apartment for a while, shower, and then head off to work.

On the job, I try to stay diligent enough to get my projects done on time and not make any boneheaded mistakes. The latter is especially important since any major screw ups with what I’ve been working on lately will lose the company a lot of money and earn me a stern talking to.

At the end of the day, usually a little after six, I head over to the Argus. I spend the next couple of hours drinking whiskey and enjoying the company of other alcoholics. When I figured I’ve had enough (drunk enough to dull today’s pain but not enough to cause any tomorrow), I go home. There I log into a chatroom and subject others to bad puns and puerile innuendo until it is time to go to bed.

Every day, it’s pretty much the same story. This is the rut I escaped when I went on vacation and the one I returned to when I got back.

Well, things aren’t exactly the same. There are memories from Hawaii bouncing around in my head, some of them worth sharing. For my blog entries tomorrow and Friday, that’s exactly what I intend to do.

For now, I need to get back to work, drink, and stupidity. Carpe diem indeed.

Green Mountin’

Whirlpool of Thunder

By Warren Caryl

190 pp.

© 1961

Publisher: Newsstand Library

Series: Magenta Books U174

I used to think of Vermont as a quaint little state, a land of sap tapping, Patrick Leahy, and Phish fans. Other than the cold winters, there just didn’t seem to be anything menacing about the place.

Whirlpool of Thunder disabused me of this notion. Vermont is chock full of wickedness.

Gerry has arrived here by way of New York and Florida, one step ahead of the law. He is a small-time grifter, whose specialty is pimping non-existent women to the horny and gullible, then buggering off with the cash deposit. He also dabbles in blackmail, but turns tail and runs whenever his intended victim threatens bodily harm in lieu of payment.

So it is odd that he targets a local farmer named Calvin Garfield. He is told that the man is penniless, psychotic, and prone to violent outbursts. You may ask yourself why Gerry would bother with such a loose cannon where there is no profit incentive.

Evidently, the author started asking himself the same questions after he had already written the first four fifths of the novel. Plot contrivances started popping up toward the end of the book. We learn that Calvin just happens to have 100 acres of prime real estate and ten grand from an insurance settlement just sitting in the bank. I guess plausibility as an afterthought is better than no plausibility at all.

We do however learn early on that Calvin something to hide. Years ago, he killed a young woman and buried her in a swamp. Don’t be too hard on Calvin though. Things just got out of hand and he felt real bad about it afterward. Our heart goes out to him as muttering about God’s wrath and beating his wife senseless becomes part of his healing process.

So Gerry, that despicable non-murderer, wants to get the goods on Calvin. He really has no idea how to go about this but figures that having sex with the man’s wife and daughter might work.

Lilac, the wife, is a sultry sexpot who seduces any man who comes near since Calvin only beds her on those rare occasions when he gets drunk enough to forget that women are evil. Daughter Jennifer, not yet 16 and not to be outdone, throws herself at Gerry when her advances on her own father are rebuffed.

OK, we’ve got murder, spousal abuse, adultery, statutory rape, but no incest. Nor a cohesive plot, for that matter. The novel muddles along until the suicide-by-cop finale where both Calvin and the story are put out of their misery.

That said, the book was a fun read. There is nothing quite so entertaining as unintentional farce.

In Lei Man’s Terms

It is the afternoon of Thanksgiving day. I am on my flight back to San Francisco, somewhere over the Pacific. If you are reading this online, I arrived safely. If you are reading a hand-written page hastily stuffed into a mini-bottle of scotch and found bobbing around in the ocean, I did not.

Overall, it has been a fine trip. I didn’t find the sleaze I thought I would, but perhaps that’s all for the best. There is no shortage of that at home.

When I first arrived, I thought I would be made to feel self conscious about my whiskey gut and pale white legs. I needn’t have worried. For one thing, the locals don’t seem to give a shit. Even if they did, there were far more laughable visitors than myself. Waikiki is awash in human dumplings visiting from the mainland.

I did the usual tourist things: hiking up Diamond Head, partying with the fallen at the USS Arizona Memorial, ogling surfer chicks. I also bought three Hawaiian shirts. A blue and white one, which I call the “Hawkeye Pierce,” and a green one and one festooned with beer bottles dubbed “Saigon Press Corps” and “Frat Boy Retard” respectively.

As for my goal of discovering my inner Jack Lord, I’m sorry to say it didn’t happen. I am no Steve McGarrett. Heck, I’m not even a Thomas Magnum. Now Higgins, there’s an attainable goal. On my next trip, I’ll be sure to bring an ascot and a fake British accent.

Just an FYI. Since Meatmarket has left, pulp reviews have been moved to Monday. Mark your calendars, write your congressman, and put the word on the street. Mahalo.

The Dip ‘n’ Chip (Patent Pending)

A man fell into a wood chipper in southern California last week. According to the news story, another worker noticed that he was missing. That’s it, missing. No blood-curdling screams. No human limbs dancing around in the maw of the machine like a fork in a garbage disposal. The man was simply gone. The chipper was apparently very quick, not to mention very hungry.

I really shouldn’t make light of this tragedy. The victim was probably a decent, hard-working guy who could only be faulted for losing his balance at the worst possible moment. He surely did not deserve this fate. If only the same could be said for all of humanity.

This is not an endorsement for capital punishment. Far too often, we kill the guy who we think has committed the crime rather than the one who actually did. This bothers me far more than whether a particular method of execution is humane. When you think about it, there really is no nice way to take someone’s life.

If we as a society are going to sentence people to death, we should resign ourselves to the fact that whatever method we use will be both cruel (judging from the low morale of the condemned) and unusual (we’re not killing everybody). Execution is a nasty business, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.

That’s where the Dip ‘n’ Chip™ comes in. Easily assembled by placing a carnival dunking booth over a large wood chipper, this innovation in capital-punishment technology will leave the competition exhausting their appeals. The red mist billowing into the exercise yard from the death house provides an even more effective deterrent to other inmates than those dimming lights from the bygone days of Ol’ Sparky. Victims’ families, long relegated to the role of spectators, can now be active participants as they are handed softballs to throw and encouraged to “win one for the chipper.”

The End of the World As We Know It

In the company of movie buffs, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting some geek-chic windbag talking about how Invasion of the Body Snatchers was an allegory for McCarthyism. The polite thing to do under these circumstances is to keep your mouth shut and nod in agreement.

It is considered rude to point out that is sage observation is merely a regurgitation of what has been printed in countless film publications. Under no circumstances should you ask any pointed questions like “Was the paranoia drawing parallels to the witch hunts of the era or did the pod people represent the soulless existence under communist rule?” No matter what the filmmakers intended to say, the allegory was powerful and that should be good enough.

Powerful can also be passé. Most people haven’t gotten their panties in a bunch about communism since the Soviet Union imploded. Sure, China may label branches of their government “The People’s” this or that, but it’s mostly for show. They made the ideological shift from revolutionary Marxism to a large Singapore with nukes years ago.

This is not to say that 1950’s science fiction is devoid of wisdom pertinent to the here and now. One shining example of unnerving prescience is The Blob, released in 1958.

Think about it. The monster itself is the embodiment of consumerism run amok. Whenever the blob devours somebody, it doesn’t feel full and in need of a nap. It grows larger and more ravenous. Engulfing and devouring everything it touches, the blob has no place in the delicate balance of nature.

So metaphorically speaking, we’re talking about a creature that is equal parts gas-guzzling SUV, fat guy at a buffet table, and Wal-Mart. To make matters worse, the blob cannot be killed. In the movie, bullets, fire, and high voltage were met with a gelatinous shrug.

Though the monster cannot be killed, it can be stopped. While battling the obese juggernaut, svelte Steve McQueen discovers that cold will make it go dormant. He enlists his hotrod buddies to grab fire extinguishers and treat the blob to a freezing blast of CO2. The plan works and arrangements are made to transport the creature to the North Pole. Innovation and perseverance save humanity, at least for a while.

These were the last two lines of the film:

Lieutenant Dave: At least we’ve got it stopped.
Steve Andrews: Yeah, as long as the Arctic stays cold.

Swell. Thanks to global warming, the polar icecaps are melting. Almost fifty years later, the message of this film rings loud and clear. The blob is us.

Not-So-Gentle Ben

Shame Mates

By Andrew Shaw

190 pp.

© 1964

Publisher: Corinth Publications

Series: Evening Reader ER 719

Finals can be a tense time for any college student. Most deal with the situation by hitting the books and studying long into the night. Others might temper their cramming with the occasional night on the town. And then there is Ben Wellington, who copes with the stress by raping his professor’s wife.

To be fair, doesn’t really want to rape her. If she greeted him crawling through her bedroom window with open arms, he would be OK with that. In fact, she does seem to come around and even expresses some enthusiasm the third time he forces himself on her.

I’ve found that in books of this caliber, consent is something one earns through persistence.

After finals are over, Ben goes home to New York to see his adopted father Jerome and the new Mrs. Wellington, Laura (the previous one having died some years ago). Laura is an attractive redhead in her thirties who loves Jerome for both his money and his heart condition.

Her plan to inherit everything involves more than just waiting for Jerome to keel over. There are two other heirs to contend with, Ben and another adopted child, Carol. The two have sibling-rivalry issues (Ben tried raping Carol, Carol killed three of Ben’s dogs) so Laura decides to work this to her advantage.

She starts by seducing Ben and then proceeds to seal Carol’s fate with the help of Sheila Holt, a female Jabba the Hut who runs a Greenwich Village brothel and eats peyote buttons like bonbons. After a memorable party, Carol ends up addicted to smack and turning tricks for the enterprising Ms. Holt.

Ben, of course, is a willing participant in the shenanigans but unaware that Laura plans to take him out of the equation as soon as she gets a chance. That chance never comes for her though as she gets brutally raped by an acquaintance of Carol’s and then dumped at the doorstep of a defrocked doctor whose bedside manner involves a lot of stink finger.

Daddy Jerome dies from a massive heart attack while Ben watches and eats a sandwich. It would appear as though the young man has prevailed, but appearances can be deceiving. Professor Addison, the husband of the woman Ben assaulted in college, has come to New York vowing revenge.

After reading this book, one is tempted to feel nothing but disdain for the young Ben Wellington. But try to put yourself in his shoes. He had to endure the first twelve years of his life in an orphanage where he was molested by a housemother who wasn’t even all that hot. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m crying a river.

Errand Behavior

It’s funny how life falls apart when you only pay attention to matters that are immediately pressing. I get up, shower and go to work. I pay my bills and buy toilet paper before I have to use pages from the phone book. I seldom forget to breathe.

Outside of these essentials, I eschew the trappings of having a real life. Most of my free hours are spent drinking, blogging, or hanging out with perverts in a bondage chatroom.

It’s not a bad existence, all things considered, but the infrastructure has started to crumble. My boots are beginning to fall apart. Most of my clothes look like they’ve been chewed by a dog and my eyeglasses have fallen or been knocked from my face so many times, the frames are now held together with twist ties where the little screws used to be.

What I should do is clean up my act but I’ll settle for a makeover. New shoes, clothes, and glasses will put that much-needed spackle where the plaster has fallen away.

So it looks like I’ll be doing some shopping this weekend. This will be a challenge. I usually pencil in Saturday and Sunday for the level of sloth I can’t get away with during the work week.

I’d like to get this all wrapped up before I go to Hawaii. It’ll be a big vacation, my first in three years, and I’d like to step off the plane looking as stylish as Jack Lord. As a goodwill ambassador from the mainland, I feel that is my duty.

Sam Hain Pain

Written at the Argus Lounge, 10/31/07 about 8 pm:

Halloween means different things to different people. To those of us who couldn’t be bothered to buy candy for trick or treaters, it means hanging out in a bar until the little bastards, or more likely their parents, decide it’s time to give up and go home.

This is a big year for Halloween exiles, at least in San Francisco. The party in the Castro has been officially canceled. Last year, some asshole with a gun shot nine people so the powers that be decided that enough was enough. For the overwhelming majority of revelers who who didn’t shoot anybody, well too bad for them.

I imagine there will be some sort of partying going on in the Castro, sanctioned or not. Traditions die hard and the city has not gone so far as to put the neighborhood under curfew. Instead, officials are taking subtler measures to put a damper on the festivities.

The nearest BART station (16th and Mission) is scheduled to be closed at eight. This will dissuade some from coming but will leave others with no choice but to arrive by car and drive home drunk. Also, many watering holes in the Castro will be closed for the evening. My guess is that the city officials made an appeal to the proprietors’ civic responsibility and had the greatest success with those whose liquor license are up for renewal.

As for me, I’m not setting foot in the Castro tonight. The police barricades are up and I doubt the cops are in a tolerant mood.

11/1 update: According to the news, very few people braved the Castro last night.I hope people at least had some fun somewhere.