Mar 092014


“I think that pleasure is a very difficult behavior. It’s not as simple as that to enjoy one’s self. And I must say that’s my dream. I would like and hope I die of an overdose of pleasure of any kind.”

—Michel Foucault

A spy waited down the street from my house last month and followed me to the train station. Jumped out of his car, snuck onto the express. Rode it with me into New York, sitting a few rows back. In Penn Station I accidentally gave him the slip. But the next week, the agent followed me again, and I led him downtown to my weekly appointment in a crumbling office building near Union Square.

He’s bold, my secret agent, so he rode up with me in the elevator to the fourteenth floor. I didn’t know he was following me; I didn’t even notice him in the elevator. I was busy thinking about myself and my life problems.

He saw which office I went into, and he made a plan to set himself up with a telescope in an empty loft across the square. He would have a direct view of my activities. He would find a way to bug the office with an audio device. It was an extravagant plan, but my agent is an extravagant man.

Pretty soon he knew exactly what I was doing in that office.

It’s where I meet with my contact. We are in a secret organization.
We are searching together for a very destructive element.
We are on the cutting edge.
We could save the planet.

The spy doesn’t want us to save the planet. He wants to destroy it. Or at least, all the living creatures on it.
It will happen. But first, he would follow me.

Yesterday I sensed him there behind me at a fast-food place. So I decided to confuse him, throw him off. I made it look like I was going to have the chili. But then I ordered a hot dog.

Aug 182013

jones a coward2

April 27th, 1992
“Greetings from Fairbanks! This is the last you shall hear from me Wayne. Arrived here 2 days ago. It was very difficult to catch rides in the Yukon Territory. But I finally got here.
Please return all mail I receive to the sender. It might be a very long time before I return South. If this adventure proves fatal and you don’t ever hear from me again I want you to know you’re a great man. I now walk into the wild. Alex.

—(personal postcard, reprinted in INTO THE WILD, by John Krakauer)

What scares me?
You want general or particular?
–An economic crisis, the kind where no one can get a job and everyone is homeless, walking around in overcoats, standing in line for bread, making fires in old trash barrels. Another Great Depression. Yeah. Scared of that.
–Ye Olde Candle Shoppe and Fudge stores, crap shops and souvenir stands, lined up around every decent spot of natural beauty or historical significance in America. Cruise ships looming over all of it in seemingly shallow water.
–Scared I am worse than I think I am.
–Scared I am better than I think I am.
–Scared that the man I love decides he doesn’t love me back. Not anymore. Yes, he did before, for a really long time, and in spite of my flaws, but now he doesn’t. Just like that. Won’t even talk to me. Because he loves someone else, and she has a really fabulous job and gets even more emails than he does. She has a blonde bob. They run 10K races together.

What was I scared of as a kid?
–The rapture. Thanks to the sick Christian horse camp my parents sent me to. The counselors did a skit by the campfire: You come home from school and your house is empty. Why? Because Judgment Day happened when you were on the bus, and all the godly kids were taken up into heaven, and you, well, you were left down on Earth. Because you are bad. Your family all got picked, EVEN THE DOG. But not you. You nasty little sinner.
–I was scared to be the one to lose the relay race for my four-person team.
–Scared I would never grow breasts. That I was some kind of hermaphrodite who would never reach puberty.
–Scared my mom would forget to pick me up from school.
–Scared of the neighborhood bully, who really was bigger than all the other kids and who really did glare at me and later, much later, went to jail for murder. (That might be hearsay.)
–Scared to talk to that cute boy, oh, how I loved him! The name changed, but the trembling love stayed the same.

What I will be scared of in the future?
–Bad things happening to the planet that can’t be reversed.
–Irresponsible young men who drive like maniacs.
–Breaking my hip or other bones.
–Arthritis. Bowel complaints. Adult diapers.
–Toxic imports from China.
–French people.
–Poor people.
–Rich people.

Better get braver and fast.



*about the art: cartoon by Nicolas Bentley, from the book Wisdom for Others by George Mikes, c. 1952.

Apr 292012

Submarines: The History and Evolution of Underwater Fighting Vessels by Antony Preston, the illustration is by John Batchelor. c. 1975 Octopus Books (Phoebus Publishing, London).

“A long time ago William James corrected a prevailing view of the relation between feelings and action by asserting, for example, that we do not run away because we are afraid but are afraid because we run away. In other words, what we feel when we feel afraid is our behavior—the very behavior which in the traditional view expresses the feeling and is explained by it.”

B.F. Skinner from Beyond Freedom and Dignity  B.F. Skinner Beyond Freedom and Dignity, Alfred A. Knopf, New York: 1971.


When I was a kid I had a long walk home from the bus stop. There was a HUGE dog that would stand in his house behind a picture window —he was up on the couch, probably— and bark his head off as I passed. One day I walked by and I noticed that the HUGE dog was not in the picture window. Then I saw him bounding across the front yard headed straight for me. I did what any reasonable third-grader would do, I ran away. The dog of course came after me. I remember it as a German Shepherd, but I don’t claim that it really was a German Shepherd. He was herding me, not biting or even nipping, just barking and pursuing. I ran down to the bottom of the hill and climbed a tree. I can’t remember what happened next.

Another time, a neighbor’s Irish Setter bit me on the back of my leg (I mean my ass). His teeth tore right through my Toughskin jeans. I was running away from that dog, too, when he took my flesh.

One of my adults finally told me that a dog will attack if you act scared; if you act angry, indifferent, or anything in the world but scared, the dog is more likely to leave you alone. Or it might attack you anyway.

B.F. Skinner is no longer politically correct. He may have had a moment in the sixties. But Noam Chomsky took him down, and he has a bad reputation now as a creepy pseudo-scientist. He did shameful things with pigeons and invented some kind of child-rearing box where babies feed themselves pellets while moms play tennis.

I disassociate this post from B.F. Skinner.

My father took me to see Das Boot when I was in junior high school.
Have you seen Das Boot? The movie takes place on a German U-Boat, or submarine.
The movie is in German. The movie is confined.

“When a submarine dives, she admits water to flood her ballast tanks, and thus destroys her positive buoyancy.”

Don’t chase boys.