So, I’m back in the City.
I retired from the Army back in March, free and clear, 25 years of combined service completed, with nothing to show for it but a tiny pension and some pictures in my mind–graying perhaps, but still capable of producing the occasional emotional response, like muscles twitching to a spasm of electricity.
Retirement was followed by an exodus from the City, a midnight escape from a Orwellian girlfriend; 10 hours in the little GTI, only to be dumped into a convoluted family crisis in Ohio that ended with jail and yet another midnight flight, this time to an old SWAT buddy, living in the horse country of central Kentucky. I’ll revisit that emotional swamp in later posts, but for now, suffice it to say that the circle has come full round, and here I am back in New York.
It’s different, though, from the four years I spent in Bay Ridge and Staten Island, and not just because of the stern education of family drama, incarceration, and pushing around 55 gallon drums of hydrofluoric acid in some back woods chemical plant for six weeks. I’m in Astoria, somehow significantly different from southern Brooklyn, and an utterly alien world to the American midwest. Driving here, I was amazed to find that it *is* actually on the same planet, unless I missed some dimensional portal languishing in the green hills of Pennsylvania, hidden along some forgotten curve of I-70.
Astoria feels more like the “real” New York experience. It’s actually part of Queens, and is nestled around the Queensborough bridge; just a few hundred yards from mid-town Manhattan. It’s become a transition zone, a melting point between the varied immigrant neighborhoods of Queens and the uber-cool of Manhattan–but not uber-rich, and therefore unable to afford the stratospheric prices of living in the actual City. Astoria is crowded; highly diverse in every way–ethnic, sexual orientation, financial income, everything–and without the buffer of living in the gated community that was Fort Hamilton. No alarmed fences, no armed Military Police guarding the gate, no institutional order and enforced discipline to keep the trash off the lawn and the parking lots empty, oh no. Here the City intrudes into our tiny apartment every single minute of every day, a constant inescapable violation, incessant, rude, brutalizing.
The El train thundering by at third floor window level, less than a block away.The horns and indignant profanities of frustrated motorists at the intersection below. The sounds of motorcycles, deep voiced and guttural, coming to and from the dealerships just down the road. Construction noise from whatever impossible project the Department of Transportation decides to visit upon the locals today, like something from a Terry Gilliam movie, all hissing steampipes and twisting hoses and conspiratorial jackhammers at 6 in the morning.
Snippets of impossible conversations from the sidewalk, sidebar conversations between friends, or shouted into cellphones, echoing off the dour walls of the street and into my open windows, preternaturally clear. The missives are always devoid of self consciousness or filtering in that way that only New Yorkers are, shameless, and are unknown to the streets of Lexington or Cincinnati.
“Yeah, but you know he likes my pussy more than anything else.”
“Where’s Pacho? I can’t find that motherfucker anywhere. It’s like “where’s Waldo” every fuckin’ day….”
“You’re killing him, you know that, don’t you?”
“YOU’RE JUST LIKE YOUR MOTHER!”, followed by a woman’s quiet, almost unheard whisper, shocked: “Seriously?”
For a combat veteran, the neighborhood has untold delights, seemingly deliberately crafted to bring unexpected jolts of PTSD to the unwary. A storefront mosque hides a few blocks away, and groups of dish-dash swaddled men appear at random intervals, perfectly costumed in woven white caps and improbable beards, walking intently down the concrete sidewalks and muttering to each other in Arabic.
I’m not a big fan of whining about PTSD, but the transitory, almost hallucinatory nature of it gets a wonderful workout here. I’m used to that jolt of recognition when I see something that triggers a memory; a broken down car parked in an unusual spot, or a bulging bag left under a table, or the occasional car backfiring–but I look at it and say ‘it’s nothing’ and move on.
It’s different when the hallucination is real, even after that second, startled glance. Just now, writing this, a car drove by in the street below, its stereo blasting some hyperactive wailing number, no doubt fresh off the Lebanon Top 10, and just guaranteed to make the walls blur from Queens to Baghdad and back again, disconcertingly.
So, anyway, I’m here. Back in the City, and with the woman I am supposed to be with, and should have been since we met 2 years ago. Yes, there is another story there, and a good one. I’ll return to it later, I’m sure. But for now, I want to do something completely different from the military, or law enforcement, and so I’m turning back to that old Baghdad delight: writing. What I hope to do with this category, New York Snapshots, is to record those images I see every day, like the ones I just talked about–those moments of beauty or ugliness or just everyday life; particularly those that seem to be particularly ‘New York’ in nature.
I hope you’ll join me in experiencing them.
Dear Rolling Stone Editor,
You should be ashamed of yourself. How on earth can any editor that even halfway subscribes to a notion of ethical writing allow such an obvious example of yellow journalism as your recent “The Kill Team” article to be published? I shouldn’t be surprised that a company that allows a scumbag reporter like Michael Hastings to worm his way into the confidence of General McChrystal and his staff, only to betray that same confidence by writing a hashed together slander piece, would allow a similarly excretory piece like “The Kill Team” to disgrace its pages.
First of all, this article is not news. CPL Morlock pleaded guilty to his heinous crimes 10 months ago. Nobody, service member or civilian, can excuse or rationalize the behavior of him or his squad mates.
What angers me is your blatant attempt at slandering the rest of the division and US Army by trying to suggest that crimes like this are commonplace. This is precisely what you tried to do with the inclusion of the two videos on your website. These videos represent legitimate combat kills, and both, while explicit and disturbing, are not war crimes or atrocities in any way, shape or form.
If you watch and listen to the “Motorcycle” video, you can see an AK-47 underneath one of the insurgents when he is turned over. Both insurgents are wearing Kalashnikov magazine carrying vests. You can even hear one of the members of the squad relaying the situation from another unit, which had just been attacked by these same men. These are armed enemy combatants, caught exfiltrating from an ambush, and thus are perfectly legitimate targets.
The same is true for the IED placement video. The two men are clearly shown placing a roadside bomb and then seeking cover and concealment. Perhaps you would like the infantry unit to drive down that road and politely inquire of their intentions? These are legitimate combatants in the act of targeting US troops, and they were dealt with accordingly. The fact that your text accompanying these videos whines that ‘this is a clear breach of Army standards’ represents the height of hypocrisy, since you are making a fast buck of the sensational aspect of the videos, exactly the same as websites like LiveLeak and Ogrish–hardly the apex of journalistic integrity for which Rolling Stone is known for, albeit in the distant past.
Moreover, these videos were shot by entirely different units that have nothing to do with the perpetrators of the acts in the article. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the differences in size and organization of a squad, platoon, company, regiment or division–in which I suggest that your reporters pick up a dictionary or encyclopedia and educate themselves before writing some ignorant drivel as this article. Perhaps your staff is unfamiliar with the realities and nature of counter-insurgency warfare; in which case I suggest that they (a.) spend a little more time embedded with their units in the field–presupposing that ISAF will ever again allow one of your treacherous and immoral “journalists” in-country ever again, or (b.) sign up with a branch of the US military, preferably the Army or Marine Corps, and hopefully in a Combat Arms career field, and get some real world experience to go along with their liberal arts fiasco of an education.
So, which is it? Were you just trying to make a quick profit by recycling old and unrelated material? Or are you perhaps seeking to relive the halcyon days of Rolling Stone in the 1960s, when you were relevant and hip and cutting edge? Those days are long past, this is not Vietnam, and this is not the era of the Draft, sucking in the uneducated and untrained while scaring the crap out of you and everyone else hiding in smoke-wreathed colleges. Relive your glory days at home with your bong, the Nation ain’t buying this tired hippy crap anymore.
In any case, the answers to these questions don’t really matter. What does matter is the fact that I will never EVER buy another copy of Rolling Stone. Moreover, you can rest assured that this letter will go to every company that chooses to advertise in your rag of a magazine; corporations like Anheuser Busch, AT&T, Burberry, Cabelas’, Hilton Hotels, Jim Beam, Samsung, to name a few. I will be boycotting their products, and will urge everyone I know to do the same until they cut support for your endeavors.
Don’t misunderstand me: I abhor the actions of “The Kill Team”, and support the punishments that will inevitably fall upon them. But for a major American publication to attempt to tarnish the hard work and sacrifices of every US service member on the battlefield by attempting to tie legitimate combat operations to the atrocities committed by a handful of Soldiers, under conditions that are absolutely unimaginable by you or your staff, is inexcusable.
You should be ashamed.
Owen R. Powell
SGT, US Army
Thunder peels down the canyons of cement, echoing from the edifices above, stern with the cold sunlight of another March afternoon. The Leathernecks were out in force today, or as Pointman, our dreadlocked Rastafarian warrior-poet would say, ‘on patrol’, as if lower Manhattan secretly harbored a hidden rice paddy or two, freshly remembered from his youth. Ironically, it was indeed Vietnam that drew us out of our toasty living rooms and into the crisp early spring day, although an observance ceremony at Veterans Plaza, and not some somnambulant Tet Offensive sprung from our leader’s teenage memories.
Perhaps it was the solemn nature of the occasion, or reading the letters home, carved in the Wall, from long dead boys stranded on the other side of the world, but we were all more jazzed up than usual afterwards, ready to drown those secondhand nightmares in bourbon and beer and overpriced cheeseburgers. We descended upon the Village like Khan and his Mongol hordes, albeit wreathed in motorcycle exhaust instead of the frozen breath of steppe-raised warhorses.
The afternoon slipped by like a child’s top, spinning faster, a blur of shots and irish car bombs and the sound of raw engines, the freeze frame image of tourists photographing us as we roared through Soho and Tribeca, hopping from one dive bar to another, slowly working our way down until nothing was left but rock bottom and the Brooklyn Bridge, welcoming us home. It was sometime just before that final call, nestled down in the Lower East Side, that I found myself bellied up to another darkwood polished bar, awash with Jack Daniels and perma-grin and the camaraderie of my brothers, and that was when she walked through the door.
In my favorite film noir movies, black and white and sophisticated shadows, that moment would have been frozen, the music stopping suddenly, the camera panning and moving in for that sudden close-up, the blur focusing on her angelic face, transfixed. Perfect. That never happens in real life, of course, but there I was, mesmerized, the shot glass mid-air, forgotten.
She stood perfectly upright, poised, graceful, her delicately sculpted lips moving as she ordered a drink, her voice unheard by my dumbstruck ears, lost in the background music of the darkened bar. And then she smiled, and it was as if sunlight burst into that murky room, real sunlight, not that cruel echo of early spring that clothed the city like tarnished steel, but summer borne, full of life and hope, heavy with the smell of clover and the drone of drowsy bees, rich with the laughter of distant children. It was the kind of smile that makes you smile back, reflexively, even if you are not the subject of her conversation, the corner of your eyes crinkling helplessly, charmed.
I watched her the rest of the time we were there, between the jokes and the war stories with my brothers, stealing glances, amazed, hypnotized each time. Her hair was resplendent in the light from the window, and it was somehow perfect that the only patch of sunlight in the gloom would grace her thin, elfin face.
And then it was time to go. I had to say something, so I stumbled over and asked her name, and I think I smiled as she told me. I have no idea what I said in return, I can only hope it was something appropriate and gracious—hell, I may not have said anything at all, but only careened out of the door after the other Leathernecks.
But as we rode out across the bridge, the wind sharp now, cutting, as the sun dipped into the East River and the Saturday afternoon odyssey slipped into night, one thing kept repeating itself in my mind.
That, and the memory of that incredible smile, and the way it lit up that small dark room, somewhere in the back streets of the Lower East Side.
It’s funny how things work out. A couple of years ago, while I was deployed to Iraq, I wrote an article for U.S. Cavalry’s On Point website, under the nom de plume, ‘SGT Roy Batty’. It was called “The Rock Stars of Baghdad”, and was about Blackwater’s helicopter unit that was stationed nearby in the Green Zone. I was at a tiny base just across the river called FOB Shield, nestled inside the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior compound. Blackwater flew little Hughes Defender 500 helicopters to scout out the routes for their diplomat security teams, and we were fortunate enough to see them often. We called the helicopter’s “Little Birds”, after very similar helicopters that were flown by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, or SOAR, in support of Special Forces units all around the world. We knew that many Special Forces members went on to work for Blackwater after they had retired from the military, and given the extraordinary way that the Blackwater Little Birds were flown, we suspected that some of the 160th SOAR pilots were flying the helicopters that buzzed us almost daily.
And what flying it was! I’ve never seen helicopters fly that way, before or since, and neither have you—unless you are a Green Beret or one of the few lucky enough to see Blackwater in action. They would appear on top of us, as if magically summoned, a black flash and a scream of an engine, literally at tree top level and flying incredibly fast. And the maneuvers! Jinking left and right, and then climbing into an impossible vertical hammer head, only to wheel about and race back down, pulling out at the last second—and all the while with men standing outside of the cockpit, scanning with machine guns for any sign of insurgents. As I wrote in my piece, “you can’t help but feel like you are in a really good action movie every time you see these guys, and how could you lose when you have guys and toys as cool as these on your team?”
Fast forward three years. Andrew Lubin, one of the editors from the now-shuttered ‘On Point’ website, forwarded an email to me from Deonna Laguma. She said that she was involved in writing a book about the Blackwater Little Birds, and wanted to know if she could include my article in it. I didn’t know much else about her, but I certainly remembered the élan and esprit de corps of the Blackwater pilots, and I felt honored that she would think of my old article. I immediately wrote back to her, enthusiastically saying yes, and then…..nothing. Time went by, and I forgot about the interaction.
Last week, I got a book in the mail. I opened up it up, and found a hardcover edition of “You Have to Live Hard to Be Hard: One Man’s Life in Special Operations” by Dan Laguna, with Michael S. Wren. And there on the cover, in full color, was one of Blackwater’s Little Birds, with what I initially thought was the Iraqi MOI behind it. Talk about bringing back some memories! I eventually figured out it wasn’t the MOI, but one of the buildings on the Green Zone, right next to Blackwater’s home, LZ Washington. There was no mistaking the Little Bird, though. Looking at it, I could almost hear the incredible scream of its engine in the distance, some ridiculous radio controlled toy on steroids. I immediately tore open the book, and started reading it.
The book is a quick read, written in the straight forward, matter-of-fact style used by military authors like Tom Clancy, Dan Brown or Clive Cussler. The book starts off almost right away with an account of the worse day that Blackwater Aviation had to endure in Iraq: the shootdown of one of their Little Birds, and the killing of the crew by insurgents. I had written about that day in my article, and I can still remember the absolute disbelief that my squadmates and I felt when we got the news. To us, the Little Birds were bulletproof, invincible—untouchable in that action hero sort of way. It was like hearing that Arnold Schwarzenegger got killed in one of his movies: it just didn’t happen. Put it this way: I have no pictures of those helos, because they moved too fast to capture with a digital camera. How could anyone ever shoot one down?
And that was where the book got personal. First, it was written by Dan Laguna, the brother of the stricken helicopter’s pilot, Art Laguna. Dan was there in Baghdad, also working for Blackwater’s Aviation unit, and was in the rescue mission. It’s very rare that you get an account of a combat mission written by someone who was both there AND a family member, and seeing the events of that day through Dan’s eyes, as he searched in vain for his slain brother, was touching in a way that I did not expect.
The other thing that got me was the pictures. No, not the black and white pictures in the middle of the book—the pictures that filled in the blanks of that military style writing. Its one thing to read “Black Hawk Down” or some other war novel, and to have the narrative clip along in that dry “just the facts, ma’am” way, knowing nothing about the location or the people involved, and to recreate the action in some cerebral version of a movie theater. It’s something else entirely to relive those events with the sights and smells of a place that you spent an unpleasant year and some change in; places you know and remember vividly, even when you don’t want to. Places that you’ve lost fellow Soldiers in, and what it felt like to have someone you know killed; instantly, brutally, and with that horrible sense of absolute finality.
There were a number of times that I just had to put the book down, and walk away.
Ultimately, the book was uplifting, in a real way. A good segment of the book focuses on another helicopter crash; one that the author suffered through while in the 160th SOAR. Dan recounts his recovery from severe burns and injuries in vivid detail. To hear how this man fought back through incredible pain and suffering to return to Active Duty and to keep flying Special Ops was honestly moving to me. It just drove home something I knew already—that it takes a special breed to go into Special Forces; a drive that surpasses certainly anything that I could muster.
That’s not to say that I didn’t have a minor gripe with the book. I would have liked to see a lot more detail about Laguna’s time in Special Forces, and especially with the 160th. Little is known about this highly classified unit and their missions, but, after all, the book’s subtitle is ‘One Man’s Life in Special Operations”, and there is precious little actually about Special Operations. Now, I understand that Laguna is legally bound not to write about classified missions, but surely with some paraphrasing or changed names or timelines it would have been possible to include some of 160th’s incredible exploits. Things like Operation Acid Gambit and the rescue of Kurt Muse from Modelo Prison in Panama by ‘Delta Force’ have been written about extensively by people like General Colin Powell, and clearly involved the 160th SOAR. There’s any number of missions that are publically known to have been carried out by the 160th, spanning across 30 years and places like the Persian Gulf, North Africa, Kuwait, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and Afghanistan, and it would have been awesome to get the personal perspective of the a pilot who surely was intimately familiar with those operations.
Still, the book is a great read, and an uplifting one. More than just a recounting of experiences and technical details, it gives us a glimpse of what it takes to be a true Warrior—physically, spiritually, and emotionally. It is a sad truth of today that less than 1% of the American public has a direct member of their family serving in the military. It’s vital for a balanced society that we understand what our service members go through, respect what it takes to be a Warrior at the tip of the spear, and honor those who have gone in harm’s way while we sit, safe and ignorant of their sacrifices, back at home.
Dan and Art Laguna are those men.
That a few of my words would be included next to their struggles and achievements is beyond belief to me, and an incredible personal honor. It just goes to show you: it’s funny how things work out.
“Yo, where the dawgs at, beyatch?”
Okay, so maybe it didn’t go down quite like that. He was actually quite nice. But let me back up for a minute; add some backstory.
Saturday morning, Brooklyn, bright sunshine, frigidly cold, breath freezing to icicyles amid the steel air. Vinnie the Truck and Iceman came to pick me up from post, and a minute later we were on the Belt Parkway, New York harbor skimming past us in a glacier blue haze. The Iceman was reliving his glory days as a Porsche racer, slaloming his way through the traffic, pushing the straight six on his Ford to the breaking point in a deep, delicious howl and providing an excellent cure to my Seasonally Acquired Depression: the fear of imminent death.
Our destination was the Javitts Convention Center in midtown; the annual Motorcycle Show was in town again, and we were called to attendance by our club president, Pittbull. The only problem with being in a Motorcycle Club is the winter, particularly in a northern state given to long, somnambulent periods of deep cold. Riding on snow and ice is just no fun, since there is precious little actual riding, and a preponderance of sliding on one’s backside on unforgiving asphalt. The Motorcycle Show is one of the few times midwinter where you can actually get together and hold court with one’s fellow bikers; show the colors, hobnob, and buy outrageously expensive toys in the hope of future temperatures above the freezing point.
Manhattan was its usual cacophony of barely contained disorder. Bursting from the Battery Park Tunnel, we were confronted with the everpresent mass of dueling yellow cabs and oblivious pedestrians, rushing about beneath the slow, angular resurrection of the WTC. Iceman somehow picked his way through the riot of color and twirling exhaust, drafting behind the more aggressive taxis, and slid us into a convenient parking lot in front of the convention center. Naturally, being the City, we only had to shell out the paltry sum of 60 bucks to the swaddled crackhead that waved us in. Thank God the MC was at least paying for our entry into the show.
Chaos reigned inside the convention center, mirroring our joyride. The place was absolutely packed; a interesting mix between the attendees of the motorcycle show and the annual boat show that was being hosted simulatneously. Rough looking bikers with their club colors stood in groups, eyeing anyone that came within arms reach; leather clad wannabes with too many patches and no affiliation trying to squeeze past the one percenters without actually touching them; old men with trophy wives, too much money and nervous eyes just trying to get upstairs to the boat show without pissing anyone off, and at the bottom of the pecking order, hipster Manhattanites, shell shocked, that seemed to have been accidentally sucked into the convention center by the gravitational pull of the crowd.
We had our preprinted tickets, so made our way straight to the lower floor, nodding to the MCs that we knew or respected, ignoring the ones that we didn’t, and the rest of the folks just moved out of our way, our red and gold colors clearing a path. The Javitts show is a particularly interesting event, in that it brings together MCs from all over the City and the Tri-State area. You will see clubs here that you’ve never seen before or even heard of, and it gives everyone a chance to see and be seen.
The clubs present fall into a few main categories. There are the ‘one percenters’, outlaw clubs, usually regarded as the roughest and toughest and associated with the occasional illegal activity, hence the outlaw moniker–the Hells Angels are an example, and yes, they were present, with a legit booth and plenty of support T-shirts for sale. Next are the traditional 3-patch clubs, like us, which follow the often byzantine organization, protocol and rules of the dominant outlaw clubs, but are generally law abiding folks. Most of these clubs are founded around specific common denominators: military service, a geographical location, or shared occupations. My club, the Leathernecks, is solely made up of former Marines. Police have their own clubs, although they are generally shunned by all other bikers. Believe or not, NYC Sanitation has a well-respected MC; the Trashed. I’ve seen the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, and even an Electrician’s MC. Then there are the one patch clubs, usually just formed to ride motorcycles, with a minimum of rules, rank structure or organization. They’re not even called MCs, but RCs–Riding Clubs, and are viewed as little more than a social gathering.
A whole different genus are the ethnic sports bike clubs–which are usually Black, occasionally Latino, and seem to borrow aspects of all three classes as they see fit. They are often viewed as posers though, not necessarily ‘real’ MCs, since they frequently appear and disappear spontaneously and are often little more than a couple of kids with cheap bikes and similiar jackets. At the bottom of the order are the independents, the ‘lone wolves’–motorcycle enthusiasts who are not affiliated with any group, although they may or may not wear patches that initially appear to be biker Colors. There is a whole lexicon behind the patches on a biker’s vest that instantly tells the initiated a wealth of information–who they belong to, where they come from, what their role in the club is, and respect or dismissal springs instantly from this codex in cloth.
In any case, the whole gamut of the motorcycle world was here and on display in all its garish glory. We waded through the crowd until we came upon the imposing edifice of our MC President, Pitbull, surrounded by an improbable entourage of brother Leathernecks and members of his family. Pittbull is this big Italian man–as Italian as Italian can be, with a goatee and a voice like gravel wrapped in velvet. He was standing in the entrance, sporting a mischevious grin and his signature cowboy-ish black hat with a large, gold Marine Corps EGA on the front. Ritual greetings were exchanged, and we began our slow tour through the throng of the crowd.
All the major bike manufacturers were represented; from American cruisers like Harley Davidson (of course); Indian, with their new takes on their old incarnation; new players like Victory; the Europeans, BMW mostly, and then the Japanese, such as Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha. Every kind of motorcycle under the sun–hogs and sportsbikes and touring bikes and racing bikes and trikes. Wild custom choppers, old school bobbers, old man motorcycles with everything up to and including the kitchen sink, bizarre off-road cycles ready for the Paris-Dakar rally, insane custom sports bikes with every conceivable shiny chrome neon doo-dad bolted, glued and velcro’ed into place. My favorite motorcycles of the show, aside from the prerequisite Harley Davidsons, were actually some funky Europeans. Ural, of all companies–Russian, in case you didn’t know–had a whole section with their rugged Cold War battle bikes, complete with camouflage paint, sidecars with adjustable spotlights, spare tires and E-tools included. All they needed was a PKC belt-fed machine gun to complete the ensemble–just like the one parked outside a certain Russian mob joint I know in Coney Island.
My next favorite was almost as funky, and shared the military theme–Royal Enfield. They were just down the same aisle, and had a uber-cute selection of their single stroke 500cc bikes, all done up in vintage British livery; recalling the glory days of English motorcycling and largely bygone names. Norton. BSA. Triumph (still going strong!) The bike that really grabbed my attention was their Bullet 500 Military. Old school olive drab, complete with tool kits that look like ammo cans, this thing looked like it should have been zipping dispatches around the backroads of the Hurtgen Forest instead of sitting in convention center with kids climbing all over it. I’d have loved to taken it for a test ride, although I suspect it would be alarmingly light after my Springer.
So we meandered our way through the throng, greeting various members of various MCs as we went. It seemed like everytime I stopped to check something out, I’d turn around and the entourage had disappeared. No wonder, I tend to get engrossed in things that I’m interested in. I would run into the brothers again whenever there was a logjam in the flow of the bodies, and that usually meant that there was a celebrity around.
There were a couple. Dee Snyder, the lead singer of 80s hair band Twisted Sister was there. He’s a very active biker out on Long Island, and is well regarded for arranging the annual Bikers for Babies charity run. Apparently he has a reality TV show nowadays on A&E, “Growing Up Twisted”, and the rest of his family/cast was there alongside him, in all their glory. Hell, I didnt know he had kids, let along a whole TV show…
Dee, in stranger times.
A couple of aisles over there was yet another mass of bodies and outstretched cellphones, snapping pictures of somebody, so I craned my neck along with everyone else and caught a view of one of those walking sex dolls of the Hollywood variety; all blonde and plastic and parabolic arcs, and next to him was some scrawny, very light skin black dude in a muscle T signing autographs. Very ordinary looking, but yep, it was Ice T, original gangster rapper, star of movies like Johnny Mnemonic, New Jack City and Tank Girl, and currently a regular on the TV show, Law & Order. The replicant next to him was his wife, Coco, a former Playboy bunny. We gawked at the unlikely pair for a minute or two and then shuffled on with the rest of the tour. The only other star I saw was right around the corner; Paul Teutel Jr, from American Chopper, along with a number of their spectacular paperweights from their custom chopper shop. I say paperweights, because, while they are certainly eye-catching, most of them are essentially unrideable, little more than very expensive showroom baubles. Unfortunately Paul Sr was not around–I like him the best on the show, what with his handlebar moustache and grouchy bear attitude.
So, the Leathernecks continued their tour of the show, most of the rest of which was really not terribly interesting. Lots of essentially the same helmets, T-shirts, gloves, and snivel gear. I was amazed that nothing was grabbing at my wallet, as it tends to at most of the biker parties we go to. There’s always a vendor with a new chain or switchblade to keep things interesting. But nope, there was a distinct lack of imagination in most of the vendors. I did come across a small but very cool selection of retro 70’s style helmets, but they were unfortunately both expensive and non- DOT approved. NYPD has really cracked down on non-regulation helmets; they will straight up take your bike if you don’t have one. So that was a wash.
A little further along, I came across some really cool European Lazer helmets that looked like some retro version of a MIG fighter pilot helmet, complete with vertical sliding visor, but wouldn’t you know it–too small. Even their biggest one. Guess they don’t have enough Neanderthal fighter pilots in Germany, which was too bad, cause these helmets were pretty damn cool. I stomped off to drown my sorrows in a beer at one of the concession areas.
So I’m standing there, sipping on a lukewarm budweiser, when who should come barreling through the crowd, but Ice T, with the inimitable pre-fab Ms Coco in tow behind him. For some reason, ol’ T comes right through the crowd up to me, and asks, “Hey, you seen any hot dogs around here?” Quite politely too. I pointed at the Sabrett vendor next to me, and off he went. He must have had the serious munchies or something, because the dude was in quite the rush. Coco undulated along after him, flashed a synthetic smile, and they were swallowed by the crowd.
I suppose that’s what I like about the biker world, and Manhattan in general. Nothing really takes you by surprise. Everybody seems to be on the same level, even if they aren’t. I smiled and finished my drink, and wandered off to find the rest of my Leatherneck brothers. I wouldn’t say that passing interaction was the highlight of the day, but it was kinda neat; I’d have to tell them about it.
Still, I think I would have gone for the gyros.
In any case nobody has told you, you have, as of today, only 699 days left to live. The world is going to end on December 21, 2012, according to the Mayan Long Count Calendar. So, there you go. You have been notified. Better get your life sorted out, right?
Where am I getting this, you ask? Ok, here’s a little backstory. The Mayans, an ancient civilization in the Yucatan pensinula of Mexico back around, oh, the 5th century BC, developed a very accurate system of calendars and almanacs. One of these calendars, called the Tzolk’in, was used on an annual basis, having 365 days. Another calendar was used to measure long portions of time, and is commonly called the Long Count Calendar. Turns out that this calendar is used for really long periods of time–it started on August 11th, 3114 BC, and ends–you guessed it–on December 21, 2012.
The Long Count Calendar turns out to be extremely accurate. It was used to provide information on the lunar phase and position of the Moon, the heliacal risings of Venus as the morning and evening stars, and can still be used to accurately predict lunar and solar eclipses today. The Mayans were centrally fixated with cycles, like many agrarian societies which rely on the accurate prediction of these cycles for planting and harvesting their crops. Interestingly, the Mayans believed that the current age was preceded by other four other ages, each with its own version of Earth, each fashioned in various forms by the gods and then ritually destroyed at the end of each cycle.
And, of course, we are living in the fifth and final cycle. Which ends in about two years.
So in a nutshell, that’s the basis for my new blog. The world is doomed, we’re all going to die. But–what if it were true? And you knew the exact time that you were going to “shuffle off this mortal coil?” The world really is going to end 699 days from now. You only have this finite period of time to complete your bucket list, to neatly wrap up your entire life, to fulfill your destiny and accomplish everything that you want to complete. Just under two years, and then <click> oblivion. What would you do differently? How would you treat the people you interact with every day–and not just your loved ones; those close to you? The guy who cleans the floors in your office building. The parking attendant that you silently hand your ticket to every day. Those punk teenagers who always get in the way at the gym. Would you be content to sit in your home and play Xbox like always, or would you actually get out and do something? And what? And would it have any effect, considering this unavoidable, utterly final roadblock to the expanding cosmos?
So, my hope is to record the next 699 days on this blog, keeping the mindset that the world truly will end on 21 December 2012. Willl I do anything different? Will my life drastically change? Who will be coming along for the ride? We’ll just have to see.
Oh, and another thing–there’s a whole bunch of really interesting, bizarre things going on these days. Thousands of birds falling dead out of the sky, tens of thousands of fish dying in the rivers, lunar eclipses on the winter solstice, monoliths on Phobos, hexagons on the poles of Saturn, quantum mechanics being used to make subspace radios and teleportation devices, and somehow Lady Gaga still manages to make a living as a singer. Are all of these things related to the end of the world and 2012? I don’t know, but I’m going to document them here just to keep it real. Except for Lady Gaga. He’s on his own…
Now, just to set the matter straight, I don’t really think that the world will end on this date. I haven’t completely succumbed to schizophrenia yet, and I don’t need to “up” my meds. Last night my girlfriend earnestly reassured me that if I did truly believe that, she was okay with it and would adjust accordingly to my newfound beliefs! It was probably the most supportive thing she has ever said to me, come to think of it. But no, I’m sure this will be exactly the same as the Y2K fiasco, or the Great Planetary Line-up when I was a kid in the 80’s, or the Great Disappointment of 1844. <fizzle>
But it sure would be neat if something happened.
Leaving her apartment at six in the morning her bedroom thick with the lure of sleep
birds twittering in the trees around me
welcoming the sudden birth of Spring on the Island
the joy of riding the Hog
without cringing at the steel caress of the wind
welcoming it this morning
as I soar into the tequila sunrise
dawn at 300 feet over the Hudson
freighters below, pristine, like children’s models
muscling their slow way into the Atlantic
grey clad soldiers
hunchbacked with rucksacks at the ready
the golf course route green, gold and rustling with awakening earth
I drop back and take my time
greeting the canadian geese
and the Brooklyn commuters
each consumed with their morning routines
morning shower, euphoric glorious heat, needling skin and nerves alive and jangling singing along with the seagulls that live in my attic
work easy comaraderie friendly people no quick brutal death or sudden harsh word to mar this Army morning just joking over fresh coffee and homemade chocolate chip brownies the day rolls along cheerfully like a friar making amiable parish rounds
young evening descends on Brooklyn like a soothing bandage riding the Hog to jiu-jitsu the streets warm and welcoming for the first time in months the engine growling beneath me purring with the newfound March freedom
the class ripe with sweat and low level pain familiar, reassuring respected partners in the drills gasping for breath, learning the new routines perhaps men need pain and something stronger than themselves to feel alive
later laying with her in the candle brushed darkness her body stretched out next to me long, tanned, Mediterranian trading painful muscles for something more dangerous her eyes dark and sparkling green in the shadows warily alive watching me in that silent interrogating way of hers
and at the end drifting into fog wreathed sleep I can feel the winter dying around me and the slow pulse of Summer waiting just over the horizon