by Mike Palecek
“He asked, “What makes a man a writer?”
“Well,” I said, “it’s simple.
“You either get it down on paper, or jump off a bridge.”
― Charles Bukowski
You never know what you’ll do until you do what you do when it’s cold.
So I’m sitting in the parking lot in the afternoon.
The Skyline Bowl parking lot.
I was going to kill myself, but then I didn’t.
And so now I’ve got some extra time on my hands.
Like when The Cold War ended and you’re thinking, oops, I should have studied … something.
Parking lots are peaceful places sometimes, if it’s warm, or you have enough gas to keep the car running, or the FedEx guy doesn’t pull up next to you on his break and wake you up. That happened to me once. True story.
Sometimes I sleep in parking lots, in my car, put the seat way back and fuhgeddaboutit, as they say in western Nebraska.
This particular day I was reading “Lies My Teacher Told Me”, and two books containing the newspaper columns of Jimmy Breslin and Mike Royko.
This parking lot is across from Anytime Fitness, where I go ride a bike that goes nowhere. Also across Highway 53 is the federal prison and the Air Force Base.
Every afternoon fighter jets and bombers take off and circle around on training runs I guess, looking for Alvin Queda and The Taliban and Mother Goose, costing ten thousand dollars a minute and ensuring that poor people in Duluth will need nine jobs to pay for surviving one more day. Protecting us all from the terror of not knowing what to do with our time.
There was an anti-war prisoner from my home state of Nebraska there at the Duluth federal prison camp already twice since we have lived here and I didn’t go to see him either time.
People do not read.
Well, back up. It was a long winter. Record cold and snow going back to the time of the millionaires and sea captains in Duluth.
This is Duluth I’m talking about here.
And so because it is cold and people do not read and I look out my window and there are no Bigfoots bringing us house-warming gifts and we moved to these goddamn woods to see Bigfoot, I figure what’s the use.
But I held on by the neck of a hundred quart bottles and now it’s Opening Day and sunshine in Minneapolis and also here.
People do not read and I have been trying for twenty years and more to learn how to write. I am a guy who just learned a little bit about how to be a blacksmith and there goes a Model A fishtailing down the road throwing up dust.
But for some reason last week it popped into my head to start a blog and now I’m good.
It’s not a new thing, I understand. Ninety million people here and billions elsewhere have blogs, so it is not an original idea that occurred to me in the snow.
Does anyone watch TV anymore? I’m taking a poll. They do that a lot on the internet, in the social media. It’s a way to drive traffic to your blog. So, do you watch TV news? Really? Why? No, do not let me influence the poll. The poll must be pure. You read newspapers? You do?
This past week I have been trying to figure out WordPress and I have been trying to decipher how to get people to read your blog, to find your blog in the fog of nine billion blogs. I have been tweeting, scooping it, redditing it, showing my pinterest, do-splashing, buzzing, blaring, tooting, sugaring, virally contenting, in your facebooking, googling, linking in and stumbling along.
Blogging is rough sledding. You must use all your fingers, not only your thumbs. And sometimes people are not nice.
People do read. They read all freaking day.
I can’t believe people who do this have time for anything else. It would be like you spend your whole day with your nose shoved up against your phone screen and your eyes wide as giant goldfish with a brain the size of the dot on the i’s in idiot and each time around the tank is a brand new adventure.
There are hours that pass.
So, here I am.
And I am sitting in the parking lot.
I am not sleeping.
That used to be my big thing during my days off in Iowa, fill my arms with books I wanted to read and notebooks for writing, go to Sioux Center and the parking lot across from the college, find an empty corner and hours would pass. And when I had read and written and taken a nap I would go to the college and walk the treadmill and go home to drink my quart of beer and have my day off.
I am not sleeping.
I am reading a little and itching to get back home to my computer screen so I can make a difference in the world, with fighter jets and bombers over my head and bowler’s pickup trucks now warming up behind me, the deer in the ditches melting, and the bicycle that will not move within handy reach.
I am still here.
But Bartcop died.
Last week it popped into my head to check in to see how he was doing and found that he died on March 5th.
Last week on the radio show Chuck Gregory remarked about how we had never met, but that we are friends and have known each other for over ten years. That’s true.
I guess I know quite a few people that way.
That’s the way I knew Bartcop, Terry Coppage, from Oklahoma.
He had a website, a blog, that he worked every day since 1996.
That’s a long time. In the world of big-time technology that is in the times of the Duluth millionaires and sea monsters and long wooden bar counters and singing until morning on the waterfront.
He called himself a liberal blogger, loved Bill Clinton and the Democrats.
He promoted some of my work, let me have my own column for a while, called “Is This Heaven? The View From Iowa,” that featured a photo of a pig.
I have found lots of liberal bloggers on the internet talking about Bartcop after his death.
I am not really sure what a liberal blogger is.
William Rivers Pitt credits him for his coming of age, and for the rise of liberal blogging, raging against Rush and Republicans, later Bush being handed the White House, and Iraq, and the mainstream media.
Well, now there is Truthout and Buzzflash, Op-Ed News, and Smirking Chimp, Salon, and a hundred and more such sites.
And before that there were The Nation, The Progressive and a hundred and more alternative news weeklies across the country.
The list goes on about as long as you have time for: Democracy Now, Bill Moyers, National Public Radio, Jon Stewart, Rachel Maddow, and one is tempted to put in blah-blah-blah’s somewhere, but somehow one resists.
Also, Don Harkins died, a few years ago.
He was enthusiastic. That’s the first thing.
And he was the editor of The Idaho Observer. I met him on the ill-fated second wing of a disastrous around the country book tour a few years ago.
I wrote a book to stop Bush and the war, sent a crossed-out tax form with a note telling them why, and asked my wife for a lot of money to take a driving book tour around the country, east and west, to produce a buzz and stop Bush.
I had an actual reading in New York City, but is it a reading if no one is there?
And in Boston as I dragged by bags and my tired self in the door of the anarchist book shop the guy behind the counter said, “Oh, is that today?”
That’s kind of how it went times a hundred from Omaha to Boston to Dallas to San Francisco to Seattle to Fort Collins back to Iowa.
But in northern Idaho, Don Harkins greeted me with a smile and ENTHUSIASM.
And Joe Bageant is dead. The author of “Deer Hunting With Jesus.”
I “knew” him, too. He responded to my emails and I wrote back. We wrote back and forth once in a while. That’s enough. We were friends.
Don Harkins was not a liberal, neither was Joe. But even though they might not have been Democrat-huggers there were things they understood that a “liberal” would have to be hit in the nose with before they saw it.
Labels and categories are sometimes not useful.
Recently I asked some of the liberal pundits perhaps spawned by Terry Coppage of Oklahoma — why they do not talk about the truth about 9/11 and Sandy Hook and the Boston bombings, that they must know in their hearts because they are smart liberals.
I used to be a liberal. Not the smart variety. The blood on my shirt pocket variety.
I don’t feel like one now. I just feel like me.
I ran for office as a Democrat (65,000 votes in 2000) and went to prison for protesting. I was in the seminary, met Fr. Dan Berrigan, shook Dorothy Day’s hand, also Phil Berrigan.
I know who Carl Kabat is and Darrell Rupiper, Frank Cordaro. I know who Helen Woodson is and have seen vegetarian lasagna.
I don’t quite get it.
Why liberals don’t rage against the hoaxes of 9/11 and these others.
Here I go again.
The conspiracies, the hoaxes of Boston, Sandy Hook, Oklahoma City … the litany is long and can go on for as long as you have time.
And here is the crux, the root, the core — the headquarters, the reason. The bunker to bomb.
Go here to find out finally, really, what our country is about.
“Turn Here For Revolution. (No, really).”
And yet we do not go there.
Stewart, Maddow, Goodman rage against the conspiracy nuts, the kooks. They don’t wanna hear about it. Get outa here!
And I wonder why?
So I sent a note to Chris Hedges, Mark Karlin, David Swanson, Ruth Conniff and asked them why.
I did not hear back.
I did hear back from Jeff Tiedrich of Smirking Chimp, a liberal blog of long standing, who threatened to turn me into Gmail. That’s kind of how it goes. You write, you send it out, somebody complains, you go sit in the parking lot and enjoy the sun in your eyes.
… I am sitting here watching bombers and snow melting, reading Breslin and Royko and James Louwen.
James Louwen has a book called “Lies My Teacher Told Me.” He is a big deal around the country. He also thinks the 9/11 thing was pretty much the way Bush and Cheney said it was. He does not want to join this new book project I’m in to try to tell the truth about 9/11 and other things. He said so. Nope, you can’t force a guy, but you can wonder about things. In the parking lot this is still America.
Time Magazine recently talks about the view from the new One World Trade Center and how it took so many thousands of workers to build over the course of eight years, about how it is the mark of a strong nation, resurgence, all that.
And it’s all based in lies. It’s comic book material, which is all the rage.
There were no attacks by Muslims or Osama bin Laden.
The footings for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and drones are poured in sand.
And yet this young woman editor writes in the first pages about all this in big-time Time Magazine with a straight face as if it actually happened.
And the liberal bloggers and talkers also keep writing and talking as if it all actually happened.
I don’t understand.
I have no idea who they are or what they are doing. I’m certain that they know, but me I have no idea.
Don’t you ever just want to quit like I did this past winter?
Let me save you the trouble of thinking about it.
You can’t really just quit. You sit down and say, that’s it, I’m done.
And then two minutes later you are hungry or you have to pee and you get up. And then there’s something else you want, and it goes on from there.
And you will get up and look at the snow and the paucity of Bigfoots and you will remark to yourself that why don’t I start a blog.
Because writing matters. Reading matters.
Not being idiots matters.
If the American people knew the truth about George and George Bush and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama they would not be able to sit in the stands of the ballgames eating popcorn without handcuffs.
The Revolution begins with knowing, with reading perhaps something some live guy dreamed up flat on his back in a Honda Civic in the parking lot with the window cracked and a FedEx truck sitting two inches away playing Toby Keith.
I miss Bartcop, who I never actually met, also Joe Bageant, and Don Harkins.
They were writers.
They cared, they tried.
They kept going until it killed them.
— Mike Palecek