Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Dreams of Dalkey at the Witching Hour...

Out of the blue, I had a conversation with an old friend from high school, someone that I've rarely spoken to in the past decade. Part of it went like this:

Her: It's funny how life works...
...and how previous encounters prove themselves useful in the future…

Me: Well then, I look forward to our future encounters...

Her: Same here... who knows, maybe we will meet in Ireland on someone's grave… by chance...


I don't really know where that comment came from, since I don't think she knows about my predilection for graves, but it got me thinking about an old grave I had seen in Ireland, how mystical of a place it is for me, and how it seemed perfect for such an encounter. Odd too that it comes up just a week before the day when I left Ireland seven years ago (May5), which would put it no more than a few days away from when I actually made the trip to this grave.

I scanned the photos onto my computer from old film, which is why they are scratched and oddly saturated. It oddly fits my memory too, imperfectly captured and over saturated to try and make it feel as good as it looks in real life…

On a hill aching to be a mountain in Dalkey, on the outer edge of Dublin Bay, back in 2004 when I was a boy a long way from home. From the summit, near an obelisk erected in memory of Queen Victoria, I had a special spot all picked out to sit and think, and from there, several times a week for four months, I would do just that. From that perch, barely visible down the side of the hill, is what looks like a grave.

The only trouble was that there was no way to get to it; whatever it was appeared to be surrounded on all sides by the thorny shrubs that give Dalkey its name (from the Gaelic – Deilginis – Thorn Island).  

Friday, April 22, 2011

Is Dick Nixon Dead?

April 22 is a weird triumvirate of events. It’s Earth Day. It 's also the anniversary of the death of Richard Milhous Nixon. On this day 17 years ago, he finally kicked it and the world let out a sigh of relief. Needless to say, it is a day for great celebration (along with August 9, the day of his resignation).

But this year seems especially important, because April 22 is also Good Friday, the death of Jesus Christ. Is there a connection? I’m too busy drinking to write something new, but while I consider the Jesus/Nixon-Satan connection, I just cut-and-pasted below parts of an essay I submitted for a literary contest last month. It was originally 4,000 words and I cut it down to the best 1,700 or so. Each passage is broken up by photo evidence of the story.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I plan on spending the rest of the night drinking malt liquor and watching some Nixon related films and drunkenly adding savage Nixon quotes to my Facebook page.  Fun times…


            “People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook...”
I struggled to focus on the words written in front of me, lost in the haze of drink and sweating profusely from the midday heat that had overtaken the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Southern California. Suddenly, I sensed movement in the back of the large hall, a replica of the East Room of the White House, but I was too busy reading into the podium’s microphone to do anything.
The Junior Republican, a young white male in a light blue oxford shirt, had slithered in quietly. He interrupted me just as I was reaching the speech’s climax, his voice quavering in such a way that I stopped mid-sentence, half-shocked at the realization that we were not alone.
I can only imagine the jolt the scene must have given him, the familiar sounding voice echoing eerily from the PA system throughout the room, the hallowed sounds of his master in actuality coming from some freak in a latex Richard Nixon Halloween mask.
“Are you guys… here… for the memorial service?”
            I leaned away from the microphone, but made certain not to remove the mask or the sunglasses. I could tell it was a conscious effort for him not to make any sudden movement. Guenther, the self-described documentarian of the trip, stopped snapping photos and turned around to see what had caused me to stop reading.
And then his words hit me.
Memorial service?
            It was only then that I noticed the multitude of flowered wreaths spread out behind the podium. I had wondered why the microphones were on, but I had been far too drunk and way too eager to jump behind the podium to follow that thought through to the logical conclusion: that they were on because the room was about to be used.
I leaned into the microphone again, to add volume and authority, but continued to mimic Nixon’s voice. We had obviously rattled the bastard’s cage, why stop now?
“Speech is almost over sonny, we’ll be done in a few minutes.”
            He explained that the service was going to start in about ten minutes, politely asked if we could be done by then, and then quickly made his exit. Guenther and I exchanged glances and then burst into laughter. He had us dead to rights – we were the one’s trespassing – and yet he was the one who had scrambled out in fear.
I didn’t even bother to ask who had died. A failure of reporting, I know, but at that point in the day I was so far gone that conventional reporting skills had gone by the wayside.  Besides, I hadn’t come some 3,200 miles for some long forgotten aide; I came for the Head Dick himself.
And I was certain he was dead.
Or was I?

...What the fuck am I doing here at the Richard Nixon Theme Park? What does it all mean?
            We turned a corner near a glass display of Pat Nixon’s necklaces and came upon a reconstruction of the Lincoln Sitting Room, which was watched over by an old guard with an unassumingly Christian and probably false name. He seemed to be easy going, but I could see what he was doing: describing the contents of the room, “accidentally” mixing up names and calling it the “Nixon Sitting Room,” and very gently asking us our business at the museum.
            But what he hadn’t counted on was that we were ready for it; we had already been asked that question a few minutes earlier by a pair museum attendants, two innocent old women who sat watch over a room of bronze statutes depicting various world leaders from Nixon’s era. Except they weren’t bronze at all – they were plaster painted to look metal.
That’s the key, look beyond the surface bullshit, you’ll see the real Richard Nixon.
Making every effort to keep a straight face, I had told the women, “This is my Graceland.” Guenther and I had then launched into what can only be described as a homosexual exchange about Coney Island after dark and some playful banter about who was the better photographer. The old women laughed, but their amusement was suspect.
I tried a similar approach with “John,” who, by the cut of his hair and the impeccable condition of his uniform suit coat, was obviously ex-military, probably Marines (I later explained to Guenther that he must have felt an obligation to work there on account of Nixon putting an end to that horrible war in Vietnam and for bringing him home safely to mother).
I preserved our exchange verbatim in my notebook:
“So you guys are here…for fun?
“Oh yes sir, I’m loving this.”
(Still in disbelief, he asks) “So you’re a Nixon fan?”
“Oh, you bet sir.”
“Well, you’re in the right place.”
Knowing the thin rapport would be short lived, I tested “John”, asking him where the exhibit on Watergate was. I was anxious to see his answer because I already knew that there was no Watergate exhibit. He pointed the way, adding as an afterthought that there was nothing there. It was being “remodeled.” His response opened the door for my next question, delivered with both a childish tone and a calculated intent.
“What was there before?”
He shrugged. “You know, I wasn’t here back then… but I was told that the new exhibit will be….a little more balanced.”

            ...I asked Guenther, “Did you ever have one of those moments where you ask yourself, What the fuck am I doing?
            Guenther quickly got my mind back to the job at hand.
            “Quit stalling,” he said simply from the identical bench next to me. He was waiting anxiously to see what I would do.
            As if on cue, an old woman walked by, her handler keeping an arm on her elbow to keep her steady, and in passing, as if meant only for her companion, she looked down at the grave and said, “He did so much for our country.”
I then looked down myself and focused on Nixon’s epitaph. It dug into my soul like the chisel that had carved it:
 “The Greatest Honor History Can Bestow is the Title of Peacemaker.”
            This, coming from the man who dropped 110,000 tons of bombs on Cambodia, a nation America was never at war with. But who cares if he bombed a bunch of yellow people into oblivion, he opened talks with China! Who cares that a “third-rate burglary” had led to a court case called The United States v. Richard Nixon and claims by his attorneys that the president was a monarch on the level of Louis XIV and thus above the Constitution – he ended the war in Vietnam!
And there you have it. That’s what it’s about, I thought as a maniacal grin spread across my face.
Nixon needs his reckoning…

…As the Nixon mask came out my jacket pocket, I sprawled out in the lush grass on top of his mortal remains, borderline blacked out and unfurling the American Flag to use as a burial shroud. Then, pulling the mask over my face, I downed the last of the rum from my flask.
Small victories, I thought, trying to contain myself. Don’t let the bad karma of the place get to you.
It all made sense, at least for the moment, to simply lie down and stare up at the same blue skies of Yorba Linda that a young Dick Nixon once played under, using his black headstone as a headrest. The grave is the final legacy, and what better place to demonstrate that the spirit of Dick Nixon is still with us.
It wasn’t much, I know, but it was a necessary step. Or, to use Guenther’s positive spin, “Can you say you’ve ever defiled the grave of a U.S. President?”

...Before I left, I made sure to get a grave rubbing, sans epitaph. I needed proof.
I eventually hung it near the front door of my apartment, sandwiched between photocopied headlines proclaiming the end of Nixon’s reign. It is a crucial part of my existence, to look on that tombstone every day before venturing out into the world. Brother Dick has been dead for 17 years now, yet I still find it difficult coming to grips with the fact that he is truly gone. Every few years some snippet of White House tapes will be uncovered where Nixon makes a comment like, “There are too many Jews in Washington,” and it will exhume old wounds and remind me of the scourge that Richard Nixon still is on this country.
But, for now, I am taking it one day at a time. Small victories.
In the days and months following my visit to that Unholy Land, the specter of Richard Nixon would reappear often, but always in a highly disturbing fashion: his shaking jowls urinating on a subway platform in underground Manhattan, drinking whiskey from a flask early on a Saturday morning on the D.C. metro, sitting mockingly on a park bench full of Asian tourists, making lewd gestures to motorists stalled on Interstate 101, vomiting malt liquor into the Pacific Ocean in the middle night, howling at the moon in the hills of Topanga above Malibu, brooding sullenly in a seedy Virginia hotel room, a chair propped against the door to replace the deadbolt that had been angrily ripped from the frame.

…Last spring, Nixon even showed up on the steps of Federal Hall in Manhattan, waving around a Gadsden Flag and swilling scotch in front of the statue of George Washington.
Taking notice of a trio of uniformed police officers, he jumped off the base of the statue and approached the armed men. Like so many other tourists, he asked if they would pose for a photo with him.
One of the policemen instructed, “You have to take the mask off.”
Nixon only scowled and asked why.
“We don’t know who you are. You could be wanted.”
Nixon bellowed out a laugh and explained that he was never convicted, not even impeached. But the humor was lost on the policemen, and the former president soon disappeared into the swirling humanity of Downtown Manhattan, waiting for the right moment to reappear, to continue the scourge on the American public that is Dick Nixon.  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

John Gunther Jr. - People Who Are Famous For Having Died (Part 2)

John Gunther Jr. 
1929- 1947
Ferncliff Mausoleum
Hartsdale, New York
John Gunther Jr. was just a boy when a brain tumor ended his hopes of doing some good in this world. His father's account of his sickness and death went on to become a seminal memoir of grieving and loss. That's all I really have to say about Johnny. The book at first seems too cold and straight-forward, but it is one of the first of its kind and is memorable for the way Gunther conveys his son's optimistic character throughout the ordeal.

When he uttered that childish wish – “to do some good for the world” – he was reflecting all the gifts that had been given him, of goodness, gentleness, and warmth of spirit; he was one of those who thought earnestly that he owed the world a living, not vice versa. But he never got a chance, and the world is much the poorer for it.
                -- John Gunther, “Death Be Not Proud” 


Sunday, April 17, 2011


Newark, New Jersey 
Gomel Chesed Cemetery

I've been trying to write about Allen Ginsberg for two weeks now, with little success. Instead of waiting for the words to come, I've decided to just go ahead and put up some photos. Perhaps some future inspiration will allow me to finish what I've started. Enjoy.

 Despite the fact that it was raining for most of the time, I think the rubbings came out alright...

Nice view of the truck park in the background:

Tuesday, April 5, 2011



JUNE 3, 1926 - APRIL 5, 1997 

I wanted to post something today, since it's the anniversary of his death. I went a little crazy with the HDR, but he's out there somewhere, beyond the ruined temple but before the tractor trailer truck park. More photos to come soon...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Jeffrey Miller - People Who Are Famous For Having Died

MARCH 28, 1950 - MAY 4, 1970
Ferncliff Mausoleum --  Ardsley, New York

As a  fifteen-year old, Jeffrey Miller had written an anti-war poem that ended:

In the pastures converted into battlefields
        the small metal pellets speed through the air,
                pausing occasionally to claim another victim.
        A teenager from a small Ohio farm clutches his side
        in pain and as he feels his life ebbing away, he too
                asks why-
        why is he dying here, thousands of miles from home,
        giving his life for those who did not even ask his help?
        The War Without a Purpose marches on relentlessly,
                not stopping to mourn for its dead,
                content to wait for its end.
        But all the frightened parents who still have their sons
                fear that
        the end is not in sight. 

He had gone to Michigan State University with his brother, but when Russ graduated, Jeffrey felt alone, so he transferred to a different college, this one in Ohio.

Five weeks after his twentieth birthday, Jeffrey had took part in a campus demonstration; he even picked up a stray canister of tear gas and hurled it at the National Guard keeping watch over the University. Like many people who had voted for Richard Nixon because he a platform of peace, Jeffrey was upset when Nixon announced plans to expand the Vietnam War by sending troops into Cambodia. 

Later it would be discovered that Jeffrey was 265 feet away from the armed Guardsmen  – almost the length of a football field. The coroner’s report showed that he was shot once – through the mouth – through a mouth opened to scream in horror or gasp that America had turned to such tyranny or awe at the fact he was a transfer, a student of Kent State for barely six months. Before he could finish his thought, a shell from one of the 29 M-1 rifles being fired at him and his fellow students tore through the back of his throat. He was dead before he hit the ground, before a horrified fourteen year old girl could begin to scream over his corpse, before the shutter on the photographer's camera snapped. 

The Guardsmen claimed they were in fear for their lives as they turned and opened fire on the unarmed crowd, most of whom were standing in a parking lot 300 feet away.

Jeffrey's body was joined by Sandra Scheuer, an honor student who was walking across campus with a friend to her speech therapy class – her major. She was shot through the throat – from 400 feet away — and bled out in five minutes.

They were joined by Allison Krause, who earlier in the week had fatefully told friends, “flowers are better than bullets.” Her bullet came in sideways, tearing through her left arm and destroying the inside of her torso.  She survived a few hours.

They were joined by William Schroeder, another honor student, an Eagle Scout who was at Kent State on an ROTC scholarship. He too was walking to class, 400 feet away, when he was shot in the back. He made it to the hospital before dying on the slab.

They were joined by nine surviors, some shot in limbs, others in the torso, one in the spine – paralyzed forever.

For his part, Nixon said that "bums" were destroying American campuses. Allison's father, while being interviewed on television, said, "My daughter was not a bum."

The turning point in my life can be pinpointed to a specific second. One second out of a thirteen second fusillade when the Ohio National Guard spun in their tracks at the crest of a hill on a lovely, warm May day and, unbelievably, shot at random into a crowd of protesting students. The rifle bullet that entered Jeff's mouth and exited at the base of his skull changed my life as surely as it ended his. 
–  Jeffrey Miller’s mother