Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Good News, Bad News

by Pasckie Pascua, from his column, “Like a Rolling Stone”
FIRST PUBLISHED IN The Indie; Loved by the Buffalo Publications. 2006 (Asheville, North Carolina). Edited August 2010.

“WHEN A dog bites a man, that is not news... but when a man bites a dog, that is news.” My Journalism 101 professor of three decades ago declared, pushing her eyeglasses up snug the bridge of her ridiculously humongous nose, like she’d just concluded a malevolent oration of “The Gettysburg Address.” Then, as she tried to repeat it, making sure that we, clueless little souls, may not forget, “When a dog bites a man, that is not news... but when a man...” I interrupted, “Madam!” She eyed me with piercing suspicion that burns the flesh like coal, a-la Judge Judy, “What, Mr Pascua?” I cleared my throat and, with a super-confident girth that is only, usually attributed to either Beavis or Butthead, I asked, “What if a man eats a dog, is that news, Madam?” (Well, what do I expect, I got kicked out of the classroom again... what else’s new?)

     But, hey, that was the good ole days when NEWS meant Watergate and “Nine Dead in Ohio!” or “One small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind.” The days before supermarket tabloid juice becomes front page banner, before a trio of macho losers fighting over millions that could be squeezed out of the corpse of one Anna Nicole Smith becomes the most “important” news of the month, before countdown of wartime body bags becomes a most numbing prozac pill against a sorry generation of utter disconnect, before news got swallowed and devoured by reality-tv escapism.News... until now, many years since I kind of hanged up my gloves (or newsroom typewriter?), the mystery behind that insatiable thirst for a story that’s unique, uncommon, weird, shocking, revolting — remains dark and cold, unexplainable and distant. Or, in the context of the present times, ridiculously strange. 
LIKE AN obedient soldier who gallantly went to war in pursuit of something that I can’t really define or physicalize, I headed out onto life and living’s open range littered with volatile substances such as society, government, politics, and pop culture – endlessly, tirelessly looking for my almighty scoop. But why? What’s up, what’s behind the story? “Damnit! You don’t justify your story. Just state the facts, that’s it!” My editor would roar from across the hallway as he mercilessly tossed my piece straight down into the dead-cold trashbin. Rejected again, I bit my lips like an orphan urchin who just lost his slice of leftover bread...
     “When a man bites a dog...” I kept on repeating—day in, day out—so I may not forget. It evolved to be my little life’s “battle mantra.”
     Until one summer’s weekend, in a tribal village up north of Manila, called Ifugao, I found my “man bites dog” story. I covered animist rituals of warriors and hunters who frantically sucked fresh blood oozing from wild canines’ bloody skulls as cure for respiratory ailments. In a way, I wondered out loud, that could pass as a “men biting dogs” story—true to my little hack reporter’s mission’s quest... Alas, though—the most that I could bargain for at the City Desk was page 16 of the Provincial Section, in tiny 8 almost unreadable font types. Ah!Then one day, during a campaign trail by a wealthy society matron who was running for Governorship of a southern province, I got my front page story. But, ironically, it was a “dog bites man” story—but since it went with a bizarre twist, I thought, it could probably be a “good” piece of news. The “scoop”? A tiny, malnourished dog bit the magnificent butt of a bejeweled prima donna as she strode by a half-flooded barrio, wooing votes like a sequined vulture pecking ice cream icings amidst a mosquito-infested swampland. Her awestruck coterie of umbrella-hoisting alilas (nannies) and armalite-wielding alalays (bodyguards) didn’t see the coming of the irate dog as it lunged at the politica’s massive behind.
     NEWS! Dog bites (wo)man. Front page.
     And so it became clearer and clearer to me what “news” was all about... Three decades hence, the story remains the same.
THERE IS another angle to the “news” story though...
     The surreal contradictions of news-gathering. The hunger for blood—splattered all over creasy note pads... echoes of tormented souls’ voices imprisoned in stacks and stacks of cassette tapes. Without the hellish stench and the gruesome ruin, news was bland... a reporter’s “day in the life.” We wanted more dark, more cold—without these, we were failures, like soldiers ready for war but there were no enemies at all. Boring.Then somewhere, sometime—I covered the monstrous aftermath of a landslide that killed close to 5,000 villagers in the coastal city of Ormoc in the Philippines in 1991. Dead human flesh, rotting cavaders have caked with mud and rocks... words were insufficient to describe the horror. I had to gulp in two bottles of gin, threw up for almost two hours, before I could muster the energy and courage to file my story. Forget the “drama,” I just had to file a story.
     Five thousand impoverished human beings got wasted. Illegal logging was the obvious culprit, hence illegal loggers—but the Governor of the province rejected that “theory.” That “fact” wasn’t going to get to newsroom. That wasn’t news enough to get the newspaper to live longer... That subtle deduction pierced like bullet to the head. “Men can always bite dogs”—but, this time out, we weren’t allowed to report, “Why.” Somehow, within and around the miserable journey of a journalist—a willing witness to life’s doom and dirt—I wanted to be a “superhero” and save humanity from further negotiating life’s road to ruin with just the quiet glory of a newspaper’s weekend edition. I had to fight to deliver that “news” that says “why”? By knowing “why dogs bite men,” we could probably fix the situation and live happily ever after.
     Alas, life is no fairytale. I had/have to live with the dark side. Take it or leave it, do it or die.
TWO WEEKS before deadline, a chartered bus bound for Atlanta crashed, killing several high school baseball players from Boston. The aggrieved, tormented faces of the young survivors were flashed on national TV, for several minutes—over and over and over again. But we never get details of the story, “Why? What really happened? Why did the driver take that deadly turn?” We may never know, maybe we know, maybe the reporters knew—it’s just that the network gods don’t see any point in having us know why. Advertising sponsors want three hours more of Anna Nicole Smith’s soap opera... That “news” is sure to save more network hours, more advertising sponsorships—hence the news station lives longer.
There are times when we simply get so tired by what we hear. But then we can’t close our eyes—we live in this world, this is our life’s residential address, there’s no subway ride or American Airlines flight to Uranus or Jupiter yet.
    There are people who don’t want to have TV, avoid media, and so they stay up in the perch of their “peaceful world,” musing “What do I see on TV, anyway? It’s all lies, it’s all bad news, it’s all bullshit. I’d like to protect myself from the evils of this world...” So they hide up there or down there and change their names to Starlight Dancer or Ocean Blue and then they utter “peace” and “love” to the wind and the rain, and then declare themselves The Immaculate Souls of Humanity.
     But is that what life’s all about? It’s sad that the world is so bad sometimes, but this is our earth and we are living in it—with all its trials and tribulations, lies and stuff. Living a life is our gig, so it follows that we gotta know what’s going on with our little piece of existence to be able to breathe and carry on.
     Watching the news is part of my role as a writer, as a human being—I can’t close my eyes and choose my reading materials, I can’t go out there and choose my company and then say, “I gotta write something, this is what I choose to write, only this!” What is there to write? The things that I don’t see or touch, or the spirits that inhabit my tortured soul? Who cares. The world at-large, wounded and wounding (not the “world inside my crude lump of brain tissues”) is the diesel and fire, hurricane and sunshine that make me get up, write, and rock `n roll. With that, I am alive as love and hate, joy and pain.

THE DAILY circulation of the Soviet newspaper Trud exceeded 21,500,000 in 1990, while the Soviet weekly Argumenty i fakty boasted the circulation of 33,500,000 in 1991. Meantime, Japan’s three daily papers —the Asahi Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun and Yomiuri Shimbun— have circulations well above 4 million. Germany’s Bild, with a circulation of 4.5 million, was the only other paper in that category. In the UK, The Sun is the top seller, with around 3.2 million copies distributed daily (late-2004).
     In India, The Times of India is the largest English newspaper, with 2.14 million copies daily. According to the 2006 National Readership Study, the Dainik Jagran is the most-read, local-language (Hindi) newspaper, with 21.2 million readers. In the U.S., USA Today has a daily circulation of approximately 2 million, making it the most widely distributed paper in America.
     Imagine all these volumes and volumes of paper that we writers consume to write our news. Does it matter whether the news is written via the internet or delivered by way of New York Times? If Internet is better, more environmentally-sensitive/politically-correct, then we can start counting the barrels and barrels of oil that we consume so we can have electric power to keep our Dells and IMacs “alive” 24 hours a day... Whatever we do, whatever we use to physicalize whatever we do, we consume them.I digress...
     The internet technology is a body of electronic bits and pieces that should offer a credible, truthful, and honest sets of information—in the same way do newspapers. Web-based publishing vs. traditional publishing, does it really matter?Everybody seems to be more concerned with profit than news these days. In the past, newspapers have often been owned by so-called press barons, and were used either as a rich man’s toy, or a political tool. More recently in the United States, a greater number of newspapers (and all of the largest ones) are being run by large media corporations such as Gannett (the largest in the United States), The McClatchy Company, Cox, LandMark, Morris Corp., The Tribune Company, etc. Many industry watchers have “concerns” that the growing need for profit growth natural to corporations will have a negative impact on the overall quality of journalism. “Concerns”?
     Let’s face it, despite these conjectures, news has become more entertainment, fodder to a numbed human psyche, nothing significant. We still chase the “man bites dog” story but after we’ve splashed that eerie rage in man’s fang burying deep down a “dog’s neck”... it’s all over. We don’t care. It’s entertainment. It’s better than Vicodin or bourbon, at least.
A LONG TIME ago, I dreamed about an Ernest Hemingway who covered the war as journalist and took home shrapnel wounds and morphine needles deep inside his mind, I amused myself with a Hunter S. Thompson who juggled BS and reportage like a stoned sorcerer... I have dreamed of covering Beirut, digging in bat caves in Peru, scrounging through brushes in Myanmar, hiking foothills in Tibet. I have dreamed of invading those seemingly private or forbidden rooms of humanity’s soul—via my pen and notepad. Until the dream got exhausted, and here I am just a beaten man.
     A beaten man, still wondering why did the “man bit the dog.” What happened, really.Ah, news! It seemed simple sometimes... Simple premise, like—what’s going on inside an average family’s house in America? I think we know why funk seeps through the failing winter heating... We have spent a total of $100.60 for every $100of our take-home-pay this past six months almost. That gives us an idea about what’s going on with national debt situation while the trillion-dollar war in Iraq rages. It seemed so easy to ask ourselves why, if only to console us that, yes, there is hope that change is gonna come. At least, we know.
     At least we know that the value of annual production of marijuana in the US outclasses the country’s other cash crops. The total value of all the pot grown annually has been calculated to be just less than $36 billion—compared with $23 billion for corn, $18 billion for soybeans, and $12 billion for hay. This raw data gives us an idea how life flows and ebbs these days, these make us question, “Why? How come?” These valuable figments of truths that a grainy shot of Britney Spears’ hoohah at YouTube or Ms Smith’s boob-tube soap only blur and trivialize.
     We want to know why a news becomes news—why a bus jumps out of the wrong Exit turn, why debt-ridden youths sign up for war tour of duty, why Nike factory jobs are all flown to Indonesia, why the “dog bit the man.”
     Do you know? You tell me... Paris Hilton’s skinny butt has just been bitten by her Chihuahua? I bet, you wanna know more. Come on! That’s news?!

The New York Story of Jimmy-baby & Frieda Looks-Like-Abba

[... or money doesn’t change everything]

By Pasckie Pascua

FIRST PUBLISHED IN The Indie; Loved by the Buffalo Publications. 2005 (Asheville, North Carolina). 

WHAT’S BUGGING you, sweetheart, Jimmy-baby? What’s wrong? Are you sick again? You wanna go visit Dr Smith this weekend? Don’t worry, we’ll go take a walk later this afternoon and see if your buddy, Carlos, is also at the park, okay, honey? We’ll sit by West Central Park lagoon, at your favorite spot, and watch the swans glide by, as we wait for your pal, okay, honey babe?” Jimmy-baby was painfully silent, alarmingly morose-he was usually bubbly, cocky, jovial, even hyper. Something must be wrong with him. So, my good Swedish friend, whom I fondly call Frieda Looks-Like-Abba, took him to Dr Smith that Saturday, 7am.
     “Jimmy is suffering from what I ascertain as EMSA, otherwise known as ‘Extreme Melancholia due to severe Separation Anxiety.’ This is serious, Frieda, my dear…” Dr Smith slowly, achingly bobbed his gargoyle head like he just detected a fatal, malignant virus chewing away at Jimmy-baby’s sorrowful system. (The manner in which the tragic, deadly words spilled out of his trembling mouth, it gripped me like he’s actually the one who’s got the ailment, it terrified the hell out of me!) Frieda started sobbing, “Oh my God?! Poor, oh poor Jimmy-baby! I thought it was just a sorta seasonal case of ADDB, uhh, ‘Attention Deficit Disorder Bitchiness?’ Doctor, please, do everything, anything-I don’t care how much this’ll cost me. Jimmy-baby has to be back to his NCSC again, y’know, ‘Normal Cool Self Complex?’”
     Tearful, heart-broken, and upset, Frieda Looks-Like-Abba hugged Jimmy-baby… at the same instant, she motioned at Soledad, her loyal Peruvian nanny, to write Dr Smith the one-hour consult check, amounting to $750, I think. Then, as Frieda weakly staggered out of Dr Smith’s Upper West Side clinic, Soledad whipped out six twentys and 15 dollars (or $75) off her extra-large, tightly-brassiered breasts, and handed them to me, “Hijo, Pasquito, muchas gracias!”
     Hmmm, that’s actually $15 more than I expected. Uhhh, $75 for what, you may ask? Well, that’s my salary for walking Jimmy-baby for two hours that morning… yup, Jimmy-babe is Frieda’s dearly-beloved Saint Bernard, you know, a dog. Dr Smith earned a lot more than me, of course, for an hour’s job of incessantly, meticulously doing a painstaking monologue afront a sullen-looking, visibly bored canine that never responded, or dared bothered to bark back, at his “intelligent” queries at all.
     But, then, I understand-the Dog-Doc went to, maybe, Oxford or Princeton to master his lucrative Dr Doolittle profession-and, we all know, nobody goes to one freakin’ Ivy League hole and earn a PhD on dog-walking, right? But there’ll always be some strange dudes who’ll get rewarded with two-grand minimum for engaging a duchshund to an hour of psychoanalysis session. I mean, I can’t even understand why human beings need shrinks! Why would chronically financially-harassed people entrust some yellow pad-scrawling nerdie their lives’ deepest, most kept secrets? For $75 to a hundred bucks an hour, these expensive “experts” tell you this, “From what I could possibly deduce from here, you are suffering from what I call Krswtreaxy Defrkwxs Sydrome, and now you need to take 500 milligrams a day of Grzasstftfrrwejxw, a tablespoon every after dinner of Rweqdasehy, and then try engaging your pet iguana thirty-minutes of intellectual discourse, then see me after two weeks…” And, look here now, my friend Frieda Looks-Like-Abba budgets at least three to four-grand (or even more) a month for Saint Jimmy-baby Bernard’s shrink!?
     “Jimmy-baby was barking all night, I knew something was wrong… he never barked that way, there was a some kinda tone of bothered, distant rejection in his barking, you know…” I just attentively nodded my head and pretended to know a thing on the subject of canine behavioral patterns, or something, “Maybe, he needs a sexual partner, don’t you think? Let’s go check out Dog Day NY Chats and find Jimmy-baby a date!”
     Whatever. I can go on and on. But that is okay. I don’t think it’s entirely weird to sympathize with Frieda Looks-Like-Abba. She’s fine, she’s pretty normal human being. And you can easily judge me as anti-animal or insensitive to living things, or something to that effect. Yet it still mystifies me why we get so bothered and disturbed whenever a cat that we fondly dress in a Barbie duster starts purring and whining at the “wrong-time of the aftermidnight during Solstice,” or when the goldfish imprisoned in a velvet aquarium looks dejected and refuses to breathe bubbles, or when a pitbull that has been kept alone inside the house for eight hours straight suddenly jumps and attacks a house visitor and bites off the poor stranger’s ears. “What is wrong with my bulldog? He just ate my neighbor’s left arm, for cryin-out-loud?! My doggie must be afflicted with HLD (Hannibal Lecter Disorder).”
Or why it’s so easy to shelve away two hundred bucks to make sure “that Jimmy-baby starts jumping at my Turkish couch at 6am” (or, y’know, just to make sure that the dog is “normal”) while it’s so hard to do away extra $15 for Soledad, the nanny, so she can score a new set of bra that fits her humongous bust size, so that she won’t be commuting on a Path train every Friday night all the way to North Bergen NJ for those $7-for-a-pair-of-5 brassieres?
     When I was 5, I recall being grounded for a week - because I set free two pairs of expensive parakeets off their cage at a pet store. I reasoned out, “Birds should be allowed to fly in freedom in the open sky, not kept in a cage!” Because of that, my parents never took me to the zoo again-lest, as my sister Alicia cautioned, “He might set free the lions out of their den!”

THERE’S SO MUCH money to waste away in America, don’t you think? Once upon a time in a not-so distant past, we were already so happy just to own a transistor radio that played all the hit tunes of the year-never mind that the radio also served as our lunch box or book bag. These days, we aren’t contented anymore with Walkmans and boomboxes-we need an iPod. We aren’t happy anymore to own an Underwood typewriter with the coolest pica typefont-we demand a wi-fi enhanced, DVD-equipped, CD-burning iMac. Most surreal and weird of all, while we unstoppably, voraciously feed our insatiable desires with all possible techno-consumerist, material-world baubles and gizmos… we never actually stopped whining, moping, complaining that, oh my, life is soooo hard!
     Look at this picture - the US government’s House of Representatives has just considered an additional $45 billion budget spending for Iraq and Afghanistan next year, “to defend democracies there.” This, while low-income heating aid is proposed at a slim $1.8 billion, and community development block grants budget is at a measly $3.7 billion. No wonder the City Government of Asheville charges us, tax-paying public, couple hundreds of dollars rent for use of a public park-so we can organize a free concert to the community that worries no end about health care and housing benefits. Next time, I’m afraid, they’ll be going to charge us $50 a hour for sitting by a roadside bench, waiting for a City Bus that never comes on time, or maybe for enjoying a good day’s sunshine, it’ll be like $15 for an hour of sun on a Saturday.
     And yet, people still have so much money to spend. There is a huge, pitiful, bizarre mis-alignment of privileges or awful wealth-distribution discrepancy in this world. While most of my mountain homeys struggle on an $8/hr, 40-hours workweek paycheck to pay their rent, these brothers from California, Ron and Roni Hyde, recently forked out $4,298.99 for two front-row center seats to a Paul McCartney show in Anaheim. And do you know that George Lucas’s annual salary is $290 million? I won’t be shocked anymore if Mr Lucas pays fifteen-grand a day for Chewbaka’s personal make-up crew.

WHAT IS WRONG with the world? Or, as I always say, what is wrong with me? Everything’s allright?
     Isn’t that sad? According to a survey, only 4 out of 10 schoolchildren, aged 3 to 12, can identify Jesus Christ’s The Eye image. But a stunning 9.7 out of 10 can easily, readily spot Ronald McDonald from a crowd, and 8 out of 10 fifteen-year-olds could mouth or recite the words of at least five hiphop/rap or rock tunes but only 2 out of ten could sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” in full. It wouldn’t be so surprising that, maybe, a few years from now, kids will be so ostracized and alienated from the very emotional confines of the family abode that they couldn’t even recognize their own workaholic Dads but could actually find real parental bonding from Darth Vader or true friendships from The Incredibles.
     There was a time when my own friends’ kids could identify me only when they go over all the Star Wars characters. “Whenever I see R2-D2, I remember you… you are so cool!” But, that’s nothing. This is the scary one — I didn’t know how to react when my niece Margaux, went, “You are like Yoda! You are so smart! You are sooooo beautiful!” I got so bothered by that, I started to stare at my ugly face on the mirror every morning… do I look like Yoda, really?
     You know what’s more bizarre? I showed a 7-year-old kid a drawing of a tuna fish, and asked the tyke to identify it. “Uhhh, what is that? I think that’s a little monster!” I said, it’s a fish, you know what a fish is? This is a fish! The kid stared at me, and then he took a bag out from the fridge, and showed me a fish fillet, and blurted, “This is a fish!” I was about to ask him if he knows what’d a chicken look like, but then, I saw a bag of Mickey Dees chicken nuggets sitting near him, so I simply shut my smart mouth…

LAST MONTH, when I was in New York, Frieda Looks-Like-Abba invited me to check out this incredibly lavish art auction at Phillips, de Pury & Company in Chelsea. How I got there with my brown Goodwill-purchased corduroy coat over an orange mickeymouse shirt, faded Lee with that unmistakable red “Vampire” patch and $15 walking boots scored at a bargain stall down St Marks, I don’t know-Frieda just whisked me in. Oh my! How I quietly amused myself as I marveled at Manhattan’s nouveau riche outbid each other for Jean-Michel Basquiat’s famous streetwise scrawl, “Catharsis.” Some filthy rich dude on the phone bought it for $1.5 million!
     I wondered if Mr Basquiat even had enough payphone money to call his girlfriend, long distance, whenever he felt so depressed before he OD’ed to death. I mean, the dude is already dead, hello? Do I sound morbid but how come only dead, beautiful souls get rich-why not when they’re still living? Who’s earning money from Vincent Van Gogh’s work, or even Jim Morrison’s estate, or what about Sylvia Plath’s? Do Delta Airlines or Cathay Pacific pay royalty to the Wright Brothers’ greatgreatgrandchildren?
     Ah, how millions of dollars worth of supernatural fame and outrageous fortune could make mortal living things like us seem so different from each other. Go jump up and down, up and down at a public park bench on West Central Park, and you’d surely get hauled off to a paddywagon like a regular loony, especially when wealthy tenants at The Dakota complain—but a Tom Cruise could, anytime, do that “embarrassing” stunt on national primetime TV, and it looks really, “Oh so sweet, so cute!”
     And, have you ever get pissed because your hard-earned 50 cents have just been eaten away by a Verizon payphone as you eagerly, nervously call your wife or girlfriend to warn her that you’ll be late for dinner? It’s frustrating, isn’t it? But what if you suddenly forgot to dial the overseas long distance number combination at about 4am while in a hotel room, and couldn’t get through? Would you grab and tear the miserable telephone off the wall and threw the poor thing at a hotel employee’s face, and say, I am sorry, I was just so frustrated, I didn’t mean it, no worry, my lawyer will take care of your broken nose. Of course, you can’t do that-unless you are Russell Crowe. You got it, mate?
     And what about this—Houston Rockets’ coach Jeff Van Gundy was fined $100,000 for saying something that irked the NBA head honcho. One hundred grand for saying something stupid, and I can’t even earn extra $250 in one week so I can organize a free concert in my home-city’s downtown-though I never ran out of beautiful words to say to all the gorgeous women and kindhearted men around my little world. Sad.
     One Saturday, I tagged along with my friend Renrick to a Filipino-American “wedding gig” in Westchester NY. Again, I was wearing my favorite brown Goodwill-purchased corduroy coat over my $10-for-5 “I Love NY” shirt and my “vampire” jeans. As I marveled at Prada, Gucci, Armani, Lhuillier dancing with these fascinating royal souls in the ballroom-as caviars, Dom Perignons etc etc etc sprawled on white, candlelit tables -I realized how poor I really am. I wondered how much did they pay this resort retreat for the wedding reception, or how much did they pay the wedding band? After all these years, I still can’t help but wonder how Filipino nurses, doctors, and engineers work 14 hours 6 days a week and then blow away thousands of dough on a single day of matrimonial show-off and then divorce after two years? Ah! But maybe they have money to throw away… or maybe they don’t throw them away? Why are marriages and divorces so expensive, anyways...

I AM NOT saying that having so much money isn’t enjoyable. It is. I wish I could easily spend $300 dental exam fee for my favorite Woodfin Place mouse. I wish I can also bankroll $1.2 million to score Jimi Hendrix’s guitar strap when it gets auctioned at Christy’s, I wish I can also pay a nanny more than $35 an hour so she can buy a new pair of Victoria’s Secret. I wish I can readily pay the Parks&Recreation $400 to $1000 in advance so we can reserve Pritchard Park for an entire summer of free “Bonfires for Peace” concerts.
     Oh okay, I guess, I gotta stop being such a bitter ass at this juncture. I don’t intend to sound really dark this time out, I am sorry. But despite all these complaints and whinings and mopings, I do enjoy my little blessings. I just get distracted a bit...
     It could have been a lot easier if I simply chuck the sentimental crap and boogie with the devil without letup like life is nothing but cheesesticks on Jose Cuervo, right? That tomorrow never happens… it’s all within a day’s partytime, you know what I mean? Why can’t we just treat life like a Friday night discotheque romp of cheap tequila fun, 30minute make-outs, and fleeting, nameless how-are-you hugs. Sometimes I feel so freakin’ corny, so clueless, so square because I’d rather ruminate and muse and dream and believe that, yes, sentimental crap works. I mean, I also get depressed like Jimmy-baby but then, all in all, life is still beautiful. Living is still a blessing. I enjoy hanging out with my wonderful buddies Frieda Looks-Like-Abba or Marta The Nicer Osborne or Lacy The Alexandria Muse or Good Mary Miss Molly, because they’re very sweet and very sensitive and very smart, and they laugh at my very silly jokes. That’s the way they are-they allow me to bitch and mope and complain about life for like three to four hours a night, but we always end up laughing, dancing, and sharing a nice, intimate dinner.
     That is why I don’t seem to understand other people-why they seem to hate life, you know. I always say, let it out then let it in, inhale-exhale-inhale-exhale, then rock n roll, baby! Enjoy!

COME ON, who says the world is a picnic? It’s all about life, it’s moving… it’s rollercoaster, but it’s such a joyride, it’s still a gift. The greatest risk in life is not taking one. Life can be stormy but it’s also full of great sun. I mean, I am sure, by now, Jimmy-baby is already out there at West Central Park enjoying the sight of swans gliding by Central Park’s lagoon… and Dr Smith might be out there perfecting how to effectively converse with bedbugs, or something, and that makes him happy. Maybe it’s not really the fat paycheck that spells his joy, but it’s that magical ability to, say, detect a cockroach’s anemia or a poodle’s acute stress that makes his life meaningful to him, who knows?
     Money doesn’t change everything, that’s for sure. Because, if money actually changes the world and the creatures in it, then we won’t be having free Bonfires concerts at the park anymore and I won’t be having free Thai massage or free accommodations in my endless Vagrant Wind trips anymore. Then, life becomes so hard. But, even though how much, how often, we all complain that life is so maddeningly difficult, it is still a lot better to be alive and well.
     I’m sorry to disappoint the ascetics and the spirituals and the transcendents—but I don’t think I’d enjoy heaven because there’s no PBRs or Doc Chey chicken curry “up” there or Joss Stone live concerts... In the after-life, I don’t think making love would be so pleasurable. More so, Asheville isn’t going to be relocated in nirvana, utopia, or wherever perfect dive there could be. My human flesh is as mortally spontaneous as a cuss word and a sincere “I love you.” My carnal reflexes are as temporary as a 2-hour sexual intimacy by a river boat under an Equinox moon, my earthly joy is as limited as a sweet song sung on an aftermidnight radio. So let’s take it easy. Believe that we are here because it is a wondrous, unexplainable gift from a wondrous, unexplainable (——) you know that I mean? That is called faith—y’know, faith. That’s true—because there are moments in my life when I feel joy, pleasure and ecstasy deep, so deep inside without really knowing why... my brain couldn’t comprehend what my “foolish” heart is saying. That is very cool. When I “waste away” hours and “throw away” dollars putting up concerts and then I see people happily dancing to whatever I came up with, I feel happy, I feel peace within—it’s just that. That’s my “heaven.”
     So, okay now, let the rich spend their huge dough on genius shrinks, let those who can afford to score all that Michael Dell and Steven Jobs could sell them (it’s better to purchase a new computer than a gun, you know), let those who earn better, fatter paychecks spend almost four-grand to see an aging Beatle… You see, we can all drive up Mt Mitchell for $5 gas money and watch and flirt at all the beetles and dragonflies and butterflies that freely commune with the greenery-it’s all fun, just the same. It’s not what we have that matters, it’s what we are that really counts.
     I repeat, money doesn’t change everything. Yes, it makes us crazier and crazier each day, but money also makes us realize that, when it’s gone-all we got is the gift of humanity-and we can’t waste that one because that’s all we got. It can’t be replenished, recreated, refunded—it’s a one-time thing, no return, no exchange. Yes, indeed, life is beautiful and the only thing in this world that money can’t buy.
     So love good, live good, and eat good. You don’t need a shrink to figure that out, or do you?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

GLENIS REDMOND's Earth, Wind and Fire

By Pasckie Pascua

THE article below first appeared in The Indie in 2006. The Indie (of Asheville) will be back on print this summer, 2013.

DO NOT READ Glenis Gale Redmond. You don’t have to. She reads to you. She is a SHOUT for all those who have heard poetry’s direct flight from mouth to ear. Listen to her with your eyes. I borrow these words, with sincere apologies, from Bob Holman, one of the founders of downtown New York City’s Nuyorican Poetry Café, as a fitting invocation to Ms Redmond’s Muse, a dragon spirit with the ethereal grace of a dove. I spent almost three weeks trying in vain to capture in written word both the exhilaration and insistence, urgency and sensation of her work’s impact on me. Long after I nailed down the last syllable in this rereading, I’m sure I’d still be mooning for the apt body of words that’ll speak of her with justice and appropriateness. It’s simply bothersome. Like an old Chinese poetry, as espoused by Li Po and Lee Young-Li (on line with Holman’s observation), there is no verb without a noun—it is contained in the character. I do agree. For, the poems that Glenis Redmond spew, pray or chant out of her body and soul are not just aesthetic recognition and exaltation of earth, wind, and fire – these poems know poetry is a contact sport. It is physical, as well as mental; emotional, as well as spiritual. On her couch, cabin, cafe, and cabaret, poetry warms the wearied spirit, shelters the wandering rebel, and celebrates the downtrodden.

     When she lets loose words out of her system, she simultaneously unleashes fire that ignites light more than it burns the glade—unwavering and powerful, at the same time, enlightening and comforting. Imbibe this ferocious grace -- “If If I die from love / this life, / I want to be recycled / as fire. / Fed by orange / brandished flame. / Spread openly / like desire / over love’s / candid plain."
     And when she emotes the human condition through language and movement, she also breathes the earth’s gifts and grime like a mother to a child—unrepentant and proud, sacrificing but volatile. Then, as she belts out her poetry like the blues that feeds off “sweet brown fat juicy raisins” of grandmother nature, you can almost feel the soulful warmth of a gospel singer’s celestial voice: “I need some fresh from the garden, ripe and ready, old fashioned, cooked in a pot three days, lip smackin’, homemade, backslappin’, sweet brown and juicy kind of love.” The rhythm is exhilarating, the vibe is jubilating—it is a prayer recited amidst the howl of conga drums. The impact stays inside long after the trajectory cut deep into you, ricocheted within and then left like a winter’s wandering wind. Her spirit is disturbing and haunting but it’s not ghostly or cold – it’s transcendent and warm.
     These are, to me, understatements below Ms Redmond’s azure sky and blue ocean. While most of the poems in her book, “Backbone,” are sparkling gems of sheer, earthly grace, mystifying pungency, and burrowing passion, the essential appreciation of her work come with the actual, live contact.
She unwittingly, yet continuously, blur the grey line that separates the sublime from the mundane, and the immaculate from the corporeal—without losing their respective lustre. In other words, for Redmond, there are no picket fences thrust between her and her audience. Whenever she delivers her message – may it be with fire or wind, stone or rose – it’s definitely got to be straight-put, bottoms-up, no chasers in between.

Ring out your song, shout it out, girl, in the midnight hour until the noonday sun.
Petition it to the left, slam it to the right with fist and head held high.
You are moist clay, they can’t break you now.
Sing your song that cloaks you in honor with each stretch on your belly,
With each wrinkle around your eye.

LIKE A SOUL and blues goddess, she possesses the uncanny ability to laugh in the midst of adversity—hence, she makes the struggle at the bottom of the social order a celebration, if not victory regained. Her poems define everyday people’s most cherished moments—when bitterness is transcended and spirits lifted to exalt existence, not to mourn them.
     That’s the magic of Redmond’s craft: Her metaphors refuse to tilt on a so-called intellectual perch, which could make her elusive, even remote. Instead, she weaves her images so deftly and flawlessly, making sure that we’re not left bewitched, bothered or bewildered by the poetic trance – but warmly let inside, and welcomed as integral part of her creative moondance.
     “Poetry has followed me all the days of my life.” Glenis Gale Redmond, a self-proclaimed native of nowhere, is telling us a very physical truth. Her poetry is her life – like a beautiful spirit that commune in harmony with earth, wind and fire. Without these gifts of existence, she ceases to be. But we all know these blessings of life, like poetry and Glenis Redmond’s Muse, are eternal...

[NOTE: Ms Redmond has moved to Greenville SC few years ago...]

PROFILE: Rosetta Star Rzany

THE article below first appeared in The Indie in 2005. The Indie (of Asheville) will be back on print this summer, 2013.


Traversing the rough-and-romantic road that leads to the kitchen door… and into the soul 

By Pasckie Pascua

LOCAL RESTAURATEUR Rosetta Star Rzany was once quoted by Asheville’s Mountain Xpress, “Rosetta’s Kitchen is an extension of my childhood home in which the door was always open and it led directly into the kitchen.” The mere mention of the word, “door,” never fails to fascinate, or mystify me… it always conjures a poignant sense of beautiful selflessness and nonchalant generosity. What Ms Rzany was trying to communicate, I felt, was that that “extension of my childhood home” was actually a community center, where “many hands came together to create a casual, friendly place to relax, visit friends and satisfy a healthy vegan or vegetarian, appetite.”

Doors, food, fun, community, spirit…
In a deteriorating synthetic, consumerist society where the physical body is voraciously fed by microwaved, chemical-enhanced so-called fastfood, Rosetta’s “opening doors” become a welcome passage to spiritual redemption. I might be dabbing too much profundity to a seemingly simple, ordinary health-conscious trade alternative—such as Rosetta’s Kitchen—but “food” has always been a trancendental ritual to me. I was born and raised and grew up in a culture where “food” and “mealtime” are considered sacred rituals parallel to Angelus, rosary beads, mantra, and homage to Gods and Goddesses via raindance. Food is linked to “casual, friendly” convergence not by virtue of societal circumstance but because it’s part of human existence… people interact with people and food is always the starting point, middle ground, and end gesture. A very effective familial pitch in Manila goes, “The family that eats together, stays together…” In whichever culture one comes from, that human dictum rings true.

A Rosetta Star Journal
It couldn’t be truer than a peek at Rosetta’s life journal.“… I am from Old Fort, a little town, 40 minutes east of Asheville. My parents, I would call them pretty darn extreme people, as loving and good as can be. We had milk goats, big gardens, apple trees, and lots of time. Mom always stayed home with my sister and I… Dad did construction job just enough to buy the very basics... We were very poor, we never even had a car, we hitch-hiked, the whole family, including our dogs. I went to public schools all the way through...”
     Rosetta’s memories—sentimental and mawkish, like creasy polaroid photographs neatly collected on a graying scrapbook… people and places stay like peeling latex paints at the backdoor porch. But there’s always a story behind, in between the pages.
Rosetta Star’s “kitchen door”—which commenced in “a 12-foot square room house that Dad built out of a building that someone else was going to tear down,” and slithered to Hardee’s and Taco Bell in Marion and Warren Wilson College – extended to a wild-and-romantic intercontinental wanderlust life that’d surely rival Bridget Jones’ diary. “I could write a book about this time in my life…” she beams. “Crazy!”
     Let’s turn the pages of Rosetta’s scrapbook/journal…“
     While at Warren Wilson, when I was 19, I met a German guy, real cute and with a cool accent… I got married as a joke in a mall in Tennessee to a man I didn’t even know. We had been seeing each other a month, he was 25. We spent a few months working and gardening and playing house and then we flew away…“
     A few nights in London and then to Sri Lanka… Extremely jetlagged, and hung over—into New Delhi. My senses were all blown—everything in India was sensory overload. The smells, sights, my thoughts… We spent 6 months in India and Nepal, two months just partying in Goa… It was just too much intensity to a Southern girl. I was so home sick as could be when we left so I parted from my lover in an airport in France and, came home. A week of grounding in the mountains and I was again dying to get back to him. I flew to Hamburg, Germany, planning to move there…“
     I spent a month living in the red light district of St Pauli and was fed up with my life there... too much coffee, cake and beer. I needed some meaning in my life, I was dreaming of big gardens and tea with my best friend in the apple orchards, I needed to come home. So back we came, we lived in a school bus behind my parents house and hung about. That fall, I found out I was pregnant. I had just turned 21. I took a pregnancy test in a bar bathroom in Little Italy, NY… We were driving some friends to the airport in Boston, and I knew I was very late and we were going to be out drinking that night. I didn’t tell anyone that night. When we got back to home we had been planning to go to Mexico for the winter but we were kind of scared to go so far so we went to Key West, instead.“
     We squatted in an empty teepee and I worked at a café. We lived in our van with a cat and two dogs for a couple of months and then when I started to be swollen up pregnant I was ready to come home again. We moved back in with my parents. Luka Star was born Aug 18 in 1998 at home, he was a big loud baby but my ex-hubby didn’t take it so well, his new job as father. We did still have some fun and we partially built a cool straw/clay slip house on my parents’ land but finally we moved to town as a last resort to save our marriage. It didn’t work… we split in a nasty way and I redefined myself…
     So that’s how Rosetta traversed life, rediscovered some wisdom along the way, and then headed back home. “Home” later became Rosetta’s Kitchen in downtown Asheville—which was inaugurated on a September three years ago, before her 26th birthday.“
     Luka was 2 ½ and I loved downtown. I was amazed at how everyone ate out all the time and I reached back to a plan we had had before to open a place just like the kitchen in Hamburg or Berlin and instead I asked my family for help and they came through with shining colors.”

Rosetta’s Kitchen’s Concept
Rosetta’s Kitchen’s concept was “reborn” in the early spring of 2002… “a place to be, a community kitchen. It was basically to take the idea of my home kitchen which had always been a colorful and fun place to be full of good food and open it to the public.”
     As expected, Rosetta’s restless star gravitated to downtown Asheville’s gruffly-romantic and sweetly-flawed humanity… “I love the beauty of the fact that no one really knows what is the `right way’ to live anyway but are each trying in their own way… I see a whole community of people really open to knowledge and change and tolerance of others trying to do the same thing in their own way. I think this community is learning about the power of interdependence, and that the more we all keep this dialogue of conscious community open, the more it will spread.”
     She continues, “I love the community. I love having a huge group of people who feel like family, all the connections and networks of all the little different groups; professional, social, activists, diverse cultures, there are so many great people here. There are great people everywhere, but in Asheville I find people that are more excited about life and living it to it’s fullest, people who see solutions to civilization’s problems, people who are consciously creating themselves and the world around them, rather than just being apathetic and following the status quo.”

Nasty Workings of the American System
That excitement about life trudged a scary episode when she, along with other protesters, had a dose of what she calls, “nasty lessons in the workings of the American system...” during the first day of mass protests against the outbreak of war in Iraq.“
     I was arrested by choice while trying to get everyone present to follow my example... when the police started making violent arrests, I thought that from what I learned from history of civil disobedience in this country that we didn’t want to let them only take a few scapegoats and chase every one away...”
     Rosetta, at this point, could easily, effortlessly ramble from childhood memories of her parents’ Old Fort kitchen to an Oktoberfest soiree in Hamburg to a kirtan afternoon in New Delhi to why her second child Petra Star (with partner Gary Buan) was also born at home on Oct 23, 2003 to her sweet anticipation of her third child... back to that violent street demonstration in downtown Asheville where she was pinned down to the ground… to her exuberant pronouncements of having “a beautiful family of my own… family is the most important thing there is and to have a stable one is such a blessing”…
     I haven’t even talked about her Kitchen’s Korean BBQ tempeh, pad thai, and broth of life of miso, ginger, arame and garlic. While this article wasn’t intended to be a restaurant profile or food review, I can’t help but touch the spirit behind the counter... or beyond the kitchen door. That’s all that I could do--considering the fact that my subject has opted to talk about a screenplay-worth of beautiful, intriguing trials, triumphs, and tribulations--than offer me an obtuse recitation of entrepreneurial flair and/or overwhelm me with heavy-handed socioeconomic rant. You see, I just want to write something nakedly human about the soul behind one of the beautiful spirits of downtown Asheville.
     However, I must admit that before I got to liking Rosetta’s flailing, gypsy/neohippie fashion sense… I first got enamored to the kale and peanut butter tofu in her little Lexington Av eatery. But, as I previously mentioned, “food” and “mealtimes” are sacred rituals—you don’t really talk about them, you just let them live within yourself, enjoy them… These days, we don’t really visit a diner or eatery to partake of its culinary pleasure--we, more often than not, try to feel and savor a communal vibe and, simply, feel good. We want to observe humanity, eavesdrop once and a while, or engage someone in a freewheeling, rambling conversation...
     Such is Rosetta’s Kitchen from dusk till dawn... such is the experience of a lazy August afternoon with Rosetta Star Rzany. She has more magic and secrets to share other than skillet corbread and granny’s gravy. Obviously, she wants to talk more about gifts and blessings beyond the kitchen door, such as… “I still have lost of pets and a colorful house…”