George Washington Silt, 911 Hijackers & The Man Without a Face

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When I was in my late teens and 20s, I worked for my dad selling and delivering patio furniture at his store. I did it during all my breaks in college, and for a year and a few months after I graduated. Then I got all the money I earned together and used a Home Depot card, a Sears card, and several credit cards to open the tool rental shop in Boynton Beach, Florida. The total cost was about $20,000, and the business just barely got by for the first ten years, so to make extra money I worked for my dad at his patio furniture store on Sundays. This meant I had no days off all year except holidays because my tool rental shop was open from 7-5:30 weekdays and 8-2 Saturdays, and I couldn’t afford to pay for any help, not regular help anyway. I couldn’t even afford a mechanic in those days. I used to send my equipment out to be repaired by a half-Japanese, half-American fellow named George Washington Silt, who worked out of his garage in Boca Raton. George reminded me a little of Bill Murray’s character in Caddyshack, except for the half-Japanese part. He stood about five-feet-eight, had thick mop of straight black hair, always seemed to have a shit-eating grin on his face, and wore his clothes slovenly, often with his shirt unbuttoned and his pale toad’s belly punching out. George was the first in a line of several insane mechanics I’d worked with. I’m not exaggerating when I say insane. I remember one night I called him to find out the status of a couple concrete cut-off saws he was supposed to be repairing for me. He spoke to me in tongue. I didn’t know what he was saying. Something about burning circles and the river’s voice and combustible leather sofas and an apple fairy. He hadn’t taken his medication and had been smoking crack all night with Lil’ Bit, a petite twenty-three year-old Jamaican who worked as stripper at the now defunct Porthole, a strip club in a strip mall in Pompano Beach. They ended up getting in a huge fight, and Lil’ Bit called the cops. When they showed up, he was chasing her around the house, but she managed to escape through an unlocked door with another roommate, and George barricaded himself inside. The standoff lasted almost fourteen hours, ending when he burst through a door like a Himalayan brown bear and began throwing Chinese stars at members of the Special Response Team. A beanbag bullet was then fired into his chest and a concussion grenade was thrown into the house. The officers, “armed high-powered weapons and wearing riot gear,”, according to an article in the Sun Sentinel, then stormed the house and arrested Mr. Silt, taking him to an area hospital and then the Palm Beach County Jail. I don’t know how much time he had to spend in jail, but he did at least nine months that year in a madhouse, and I never got my two concrete cut-off saws back. One was a customer’s and he still brings it up whenever he comes into the shop, even though I compensated him for it. He likes to pretend the saw had sentimental value, which makes him feel I’m indebted to him forever.

When I began this blog, I hadn’t planned on talking about George Washington Silt or the tool rental business. Something happened yesterday that got me thinking about my days selling and delivering patio furniture. The dead body of a man was found. It was found behind the patio store I used to work at, along the canal. An old man who lived at the apartment complex nearby came upon it, and I’m trying to imagine the shock he must’ve felt. Earlier in the week he said he saw that same dead man, presumably alive, sleeping somewhere. But it was a very cold night, so the old man went into his apartment and got a blanket and draped it over the sleeping man. Two or three days later, seeing him again, the old man approached the reposing body and beheld the gruesome spectacle. The man’s face was now gone. It had been picked away by turkey vultures or some other wild creature. My mother told me this story last night. She got it second-hand from a friend of hers at the patio store.

“To think that that man was once a little baby,” she said. “Lying in the arms of his mother who could’ve been kissing him and giving him all the love in the world… if she only knew he’d end up like that!”

Which brings me back to George Washington Silt. His mother owned, and maybe still owns The Manatee Inn, a hotel in Boynton Beach that a few of the 911 hijackers stayed at the summer before the attacks. I got this from a recent article in the Palm Beach Post.

Waleed Shehri checked into The Manatee Inn in June and paid his $260 a week rent and deposits with a Visa card, records show. Shehri had at least two associates who slept in Room B-308. The men gave the impression they spoke little or no English, housekeeper Valrie Williams of Lake Worth said in September 2001. She said one always would stay at the room, sitting in a chair partly in the walkway and partly in the threshold of the open front door.

“I would talk to them,” Williams said. “They made like they didn’t want to talk.”

My tool rental business was only a few miles from The Manatee Inn. My mechanic at the time, a drunkard named Kevin Wagner, lived just south of the Homing Inn, in a little efficiency behind Denny’s, where two other hijackers, Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi, were late-night regulars that summer.

Waitresses recalled serving two Middle Eastern men who complained about their bills and left meager tips. One was Atta.

Anyway, I don’t know why I’m telling you all this. I guess because it gives me a strange kind of pride thinking about how the people responsible for the biggest, most world-shaking event of the 21st century – awful though it was – could’ve been anywhere on the planet, but were in my little no-event town, going to my haunts, dealing with people loosely associated with me and my tool rental shop, just weeks before it happened. What if I’d seen one or two of them out at a bar one night? What if I held the door for one of them at a 7-11? What if my mechanic, Kevin Wagner, had eaten at the next table over from them one late night at Denny’s? Maybe he did. Maybe he even heard their plans to crash into the World Trade Center but it was in an undertone and he was so drunk he forgot the next morning.

I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I’m sure it was the alcohol that did it. His organs probably just shut down. Kevin Wagner, who I write extensively about in the novel I have finished but have yet to do anything with, Ramblin’ Fever, died in 2010, at age 46. George Washington Silt died a few years before that. He was about 50. He was 41 when he got out of the madhouse, and you know what he did after that? He got a huge loan from his mother and opened a tool rental shop in Broward. It was successful from the outset, partly because he could buy whatever he wanted with his mother’s Manatee Inn money, and partly because he had a great location. Also, he was good to his customers so they kept coming back. But then, after about five or six years, I started hearing stories from wholesalers and mutual customers about how gaunt and pale and terrible George looked, and I thought it was because he was off his medication and on crack again. I’d call down there. He usually wasn’t around. He’d put some young Latino girl in charge of the place, and she was always vague about his whereabouts. Then one day in about 2008 I heard he was dead of AIDS. At first I didn’t believe it, but it turned out to be true. Did he get it from Lil’ Bit? Did he get it from someone before her? In the article I found on him in the Sun Sentinel, it says he was arrested 17 times between 1989 and 1997. Those arrests included solicitation for prostitution, drug charges and transporting of explosives. Could it possibly be true? Not the arrests, this: George Washington Silt, like the man without a face – a baby once – an infant, his mother holding him in her loving arms, kissing and coddling him, full of dreams for his future, completely oblivious to the tragedy she was nursing. I guess it always works out like that. One way or another we’re all tragedies.

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The Unemployable Hiram Legge

Another customer death. Hiram Legge was his name. I didn’t know him very well, he’d only come into the shop about five times, usually to rent a pressure cleaner for his mother’s house. He lived with her there. I’m not sure if he had a job. I suspected he didn’t. He was a little old drunk with a red nose. I pictured him drinking at night with his mother, doing all the manly chores around the house and living off her social security. One of his chores was of course pressure washing. Another was murdering possums. He went to jail for it in 2007. The article about it is still online. What happened was there was a trash bin somewhere between his house and city hall. A possum had somehow got into the trash bin and Hiram Legge stood over it looking in, armed with a stun gun and a shovel. He plunged the shovel into the bin a few times trying to kill the possum. It was still alive when a lady from Animal Control pulled up. She lowered her window, asked him what he was doing.  “Oh, it’s just a possum,” he said, looking at her with the most deadpan expression imaginable. “I’ve already killed 21 or 22 back at the house. This one’s a little more wily. I’ve tried tasing it, drowning it. Nothing seems to work.” And with that, he plunged the shovel into the bin a few more times as if it was totally normal to do that on Tuesday morning across from city hall just after an animal control officer asked you what you were doing. She told him to stop. She then called the police and he was arrested for animal cruelty, a charge he no doubt thought was bullshit. “It was a damn possum,” he probably said to himself. “A possum is a wild animal. What did I do wrong? I was raised to believe possums were inferior to man. They have no souls. My mom told me so and she’s a Christian.”

Unfortunately, the possum didn’t survive. According to the article in the Palm Beach Post, authorities gave it a proper burial. Hiram, on the other hand, who died on April 30th of this year at age 66, was cremated at Scobee-Combs-Bowden Funeral Home & Crematory in Boynton Beach. I don’t know what happened to his ashes. I guess his mother got them, if she was still alive. If not, they probably went unclaimed and are sitting in a ziplock bag in a musty storage room somewhere. I don’t think he had any other family.

As for his soul, I imagine it went to Possum Hell, where it lives for all eternity in a garbage bin with a big, dumb, violent possum standing guard over it, armed with a shovel and a stun gun and a bucket of water for whenever drowning is necessary.

Hiram Legge was a Trump supporter, if that means anything. The last time I saw him he was standing on the side of the road wearing a MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN hat.

Here is a sketch I did of him. I copied it from a 2010 mugshot when he was arrested for driving with a suspended license (first offence, with knowledge). It was probably his mother’s car.

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Of the Time I Tried to Conjure the Devil in the Black Forest

I can admit it now. Things probably would’ve been different if I hadn’t gone on that two-month holiday while my baby was in her belly. I did it for two reasons. The first was that the holiday had been planned long before she fell pregnant and I figured now would be better than later, after the baby had come. The second was that through my fault or hers or most likely both or ours, we’d been getting along horribly ever since she fell pregnant, and it was only getting worse.

All this happened over 5 years ago, in the summer of 2012, and everything’s since been fixed, but those were some strange days.

The first leg of my trip was in Madrid where I stayed for a month, living in a €22/night hostel on the Gran Via. After that I went to Lisbon for a week and a half, and then came back to Germany – Cologne for a day, and then Bad Wildbad, a little spa town in the mountains of the Black Forest. The hotel I stayed at in Bad Wildbad was advertised as a Christian hotel. I wasn’t a Christian. But it was the cheapest place I could find in all of Baden-Württemberg, and I figured I could fake it if I needed to. When I got there, it was a Saturday afternoon, and the front door was locked. I rang the bell and looked through the window. The whole downstairs of the place was dark, but on a table near the door I could see books and pamphlets of Christian propaganda. I waited. Finally, a woman of about 60 came down the staircase and unlocked the door. “Herr Powers?” she asked. I nodded. She called for her husband who came down with the contract for me to sign. Then I got my keys to my room and went up there and unpacked. I noticed there was propaganda up there too. There was a crucifix on the wall, a framed painting of a very handsome, perfectly groomed Jesus on the dresser, and on my nightstand next to a lamp whose bulb stuck out the top of its shade, sat precariously this strange object.

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I ended up staying at the hotel for two weeks, and got into a routine almost immediately. I would wake up for the continental breakfast that began at 8. Then I would go wandering through the Black Forest for a few hours, come back down the mountain, eat a light lunch, drink coffee, and then sit at a picnic table on the stream that ran through town and write for the whole afternoon.

There was a rule was written somewhere. It might have even been a commandment. You weren’t allowed to drink alcoholic beverages in the Christian Hotel.

Quatsch! I said.

A man that’s been writing all day… a man whose baby is sitting in a woman’s belly he’s not getting along with in the least… needs a little booze at home to assuage the nerves. It wasn’t in my nature to believe otherwise. So, after I’d finish writing, I’d go to the liquor store and buy several little and big bottles of the local vintage and cram them in my backpack. Then I’d go back to the hotel, the bottles clanging as I walked.

One time when I got there, a gathering of some sort was taking place in the dining room. It looked like da Vinci’s rendering of the Last Supper. Everyone was sitting at this long table, and there was a guy standing in front of it, preaching and gesticulating, his eyes gleaming like wildfire.

I walked past and took the steps two at a time, the bottles clanking and crashing together in my backpack.

When I got to my room, I opened the windows to the mountains in the distance, reclined on my bed and opened the first bottle. Cherry wine.

I got out my copy of Faust. It wasn’t Goethe’s Faust. It was the first Faust book, Historia von D. Johann Fausten, about the life of Johann Georg Faust, written by an anonymous German author. I was trying to read the book in German, but the text was ancient, and my German, like my baby, was still in the embryonic stage. But I found an English version of the book online, and read about how one night between 9 and 10 p.m., Doctor Faustus took his staff into a great dense forest, made three intersecting circles with it and conjured up the Devil.

The Last Supper of course was still going on as I read this, but I was inspired to follow suit, so I grabbed my backpack, went down the steps and past the dining room, the bottles clattering behind me.

When I got outside, the sky was clear and the stars were out. I headed down the grassy hill to the stream and found the walking stick I’d hidden under a bush. Then I took some paths up into the Black Forest and found a little opening between some trees that seemed like a good place to conjure the Devil.

I made three intersecting circles in the dirt and waited.

I sat on a stump, took a sip of wine from the bottle. I took a few more swigs and waited for about fifteen or twenty minutes. But the Devil was a no-show as I knew he’d be so I walked out of the forest and over the stream and up the hill.

The downstairs of the hotel was dark. The Last Supper was over. I crept quietly up the carpeted staircase and down the hallway and into my room. I took off my backpack and undressed and got into bed. I turned out my light and listened to the crickets chirping in the grass. Then I started thinking about how on the other side of Germany, in a small flat in Berlin, there was a woman with my baby, not so much bigger than a cricket, sitting in her belly.

It didn’t seem right. Me? A father? I’d gone 41 years without being one, it had to be a mistake. They got the wrong guy! Didn’t they?

I looked through the darkness at the faint outline of the crucifix on the wall. I looked out the window at the phantom shapes of the mountains and the stars blinking and felt suddenly weighed down by melancholy and loneliness. It was like two hands pressing down on my chest. Will a baby cure this old familiar feeling? I wondered.

I had two days until my two-month summer vacation would be over. Two days until I’d be going back to Berlin, staying in some cheap Lichtenburg hotel until I could find a new flat, then figuring out my money situation and how to make things good with her.

I was dreading it, but I was also ready for it.

I’d been hiding in the Land of Myth long enough.

A Disgruntled Customer

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I feel like I might be giving the wrong impression about my customers because I only write about the jackasses and halfwits. I do have normal ones. Some I have known for fifteen or twenty years and have a great rapport with. But somehow they’re not as interesting to write about. How much can you say about pleasant interactions with pleasant people? It’s conflict and the unusual that keeps people reading. It’s customers like Hank H., who told my brother on the phone this morning to “Take care you fucken piece of shit!” You see, we’d reserved a 3000 p.s.i. pressure washer for him to pick up at 9 a.m. Unfortunately, the person who’d been renting the machine needed it another day and we didn’t have another one in that size for Hank. To make up for it, we offered him a stronger pressure washer, one that would finish the job twice as fast, for the same price. He rejected the offer. The stronger one, he said, guzzles too much gas and in the middle of the job he’d have to schlep to the gas station all wet and muddy to fill the tank. “You need to call the guy who’s got that damn thing and tell him to bring it back to the shop. Pronto! MAKE HIM use the bigger one! I WANT THE ONE I RESERVED!” Hank seemed to have forgotten all the times he’d rented a pressure washer from us and kept it longer than he said he would – inconveniencing others – and how most times we didn’t even charge him for the extra time. He was intent on getting the little pressure washer, the weaker one, the one that would take twice as long to finish the job and would probably use the same amount of gas or less with the reduction of working time factored in. His ire grew. Shouting occurred. Words. Too many flat words of little sense or meaning spilled through his soft, foaming lips and into the phone line. Finally, my brother told him we just couldn’t do business with him anymore and to call XYZ Rentals. “Oh I will,” said Hank, “I’ll give my business to ANYONE but you people.” (Hank’s business amounted to about $70 per year but he somehow perceived himself as invaluable to the company – he no doubt forgot urns and graveyards and river-bottoms are full of ‘invaluable’ people). “Okay,” said my brother. “Take care.” “Take care you fucken piece of shit!” Hank shouted, and hung up.

It was no surprise.

We’d seen signs of Hank’s anger before that, and had read an article in the Palm Beach Post archives about how he’d become enraged at a bar during a Monday Night Football game in 1992. Something about the line being too long and how he offered a dollar to an undercover cop to buy one of the beers in the bucket on his table. The cop said no. He told Hank to buy one at the bar like everyone else, and then some taunting went on. Hank began throwing napkins and swizzle sticks at the cop and his buddies, and the dollar bill went back and forth. Then Hank dumped his beer on the cop, pretended it to be an accident, and the cop slammed his hard fist into the side of Hank’s face, shattering his cheekbone. Hank now has a titanium plate holding the bones of his cheek together, but you can’t tell by looking at him. He looks soft, like a fellow who’s held an office job all his life.

Hank H. is 66 years old. He has long, slicked-back gray hair, a ruddy face, and wears an oversized, navy-blue jumpsuit when he pressure washes. He’s the only one I’ve ever seen to wear such a thing while pressure washing. That’s part of the reason we Googled him. We had to know more. No one in his right mind – not in the subtropical Florida heat – would pressure wash in that grim and suffocating outfit.

O-Lan, you are the earth.” ~ The Good Earth (1937)

Hank had been coming into the shop about once or twice a year for the past five years and I don’t know where he’s going to go now to rent a pressure washer. All I know is that he’s going to be cursing us out until he’s satisfied he’s done it enough, which won’t be anytime soon. On the job he’s about to do – every pull of the starter rope, every swipe he makes with the pressure washer wand, every stinging bead of sweat that falls from his eyelid to the sleeve of his jumpsuit – will be dedicated to hating us. He might even curse himself too for not taking up our offer for a stronger, quicker-working machine at the same price. But by then there will be no olive branch, no olive, not even a branch – nothing at all. Rotten thoughts, rotten life. Circumstance follows the way a man thinks like his shadow.

A Trip to the Berlin Gemäldegalerie

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After several days of rain and gloom, the sun was finally out so I decided to walk there. It took about an hour. On the way, I noticed several felled trees and downed branches. Apparently, hurricane-force winds passed through Berlin last week but somehow I missed it, probably because my flat is in the back of my building and faces a large greenspace and parking lot surrounded by several other buildings that protect the area from high winds. I just thought it was a windy day. I didn’t find out until the next day that the storm, called Xavier, killed seven people, eighteen flamingos at the Berlin Zoo, and grounded flights, and knocked out service on scores of train and subway lines. Like I say, I was oblivious, most likely lying in bed reading Virgil’s Aeneid and listening to Vivaldi’s Concertos for Bassoon.

It was about 4 p.m. when I got to the museum, which meant I had two hours before closing to peruse their vast slew of 13th-18th century European paintings. As it turned out, two hours wasn’t enough. Three would’ve been perfect. But I can always go back. I have a yearly pass to all the big museums in Berlin that’s good till December. Unfortunately I’ve hardly even used it.

So, after showing my pass and walking down the steps into the main dim-lit hall of the gallery, a feeling of warmth and ecstasy arose in me. I hadn’t been in the Gemäldegalerie for several years and now I was back again mingling in the same space as the lofty and intoxicating spirits of the grand Old Masters. I walked down the long dark hall and into a well-lighted wing with paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. Here I found works by Aert van der Neer, and Peter Paul Rubens, and Frans Hals, and best of all Rembrandt. Rembrandt never lets down. He’s my favorite of all the Old Masters, and it was easy to see why as I stood in front of his Joseph Accused by Potipher’s Wife.

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Or The Preacher John the Baptist.

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Or this self-portrait of the young genius.

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But sometimes I wonder how much more we get out of seeing paintings like these in a museum than we do through our own investigations in a book or on the internet. Is there really that much of a difference between the real thing live and a blown-up image, or is it just some misguided habit of thinking or romanticism that makes us think so? Maybe it’s just that I haven’t done enough painting or paint-study to distinguish the important and nuanced differences. But I can’t help questioning. I also question those hordes of people who are always telling me how much better it is to listen to an album on vinyl than on CD or via YouTube. Personally, I like the convenience of being able to change tracks quickly without having to get out of my position of comfort, and I don’t feel the need to touch the cover or sleeve or album with my fingertips for the listening experience to be enhanced, as some have argued to be the case.

As I write this, I’m listening to J.S. Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Lute on YouTube, and am trying to imagine it being played on a record in the corner of the room. Maybe it would lend a special something to the ambience and feeling in the room, but I guess I’m too hung up on practicalities and the cheap and easy way.

So be it.

At 5:45 p.m., an announcement came on the speaker that the museum would be closing very shortly. The time had flown by. I looked over the Dürers I’d been looking over for a few more minutes, wondering if the etheral bluish-green backgrounds in his portrait paintings (see above) were an influence on Van Gogh. And then I left, promising myself I’d be back very soon.

The sky was a deep majestic blue and the temp cool and delicious when I got outside, but I didn’t feel like walking all the way back to Neukölln. Standing in a museum for two hours straight while musing sucks something out of you. I walked to Potsdamer Platz and caught the bus. I was the last one on. In fact, I almost missed it. I had to knock on the door just after the driver closed it. Luckily, he wasn’t like the driver in my German Punctuality poem. He let me on and as I walked past him I groped my pockets as though I were looking for a ticket. I wasn’t. I knew there was nothing in my pockets and he probably did too, but he didn’t say anything. I walked down the aisle, and just before I sat down the bus started moving. It was pretty empty. It felt good to be coasting along.

Staying out Late, Hangovers, Social Media & Etc.

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I don’t know why I did it. Nothing good ever comes out of staying out past 2 a.m. Yesterday was a complete waste, though I did try to write. I got several paragraphs down actually, but it was no good. The tank was totally empty and I had to destroy them.

Today I’m feeling better, but still a bit torn and frayed about the edges. Nevertheless, I’ll try to get something down here.

So, Monday night, I met a short blond from Dallas who was telling my friend T. and me she’s been in Berlin since August and will soon be leaving for some other European destination. She’s planning on staying in Europe for several months, and is able to do so because her job is very well paying and allows her to work remotely. She’s an analyst for a porn website, she was saying. What she does is look at pictures of porn all day to determine what can go on the website, and what’s too shocking or depraved to make the cut. The sense I got was that she loved the money she was making, but was ashamed of the means, although not so ashamed that she planned on changing professions. I asked her how it made her feel looking what she looked at all day. She said she’s grown numb to it. I asked if it’s changed the way she thinks about sex. ‘Oh definitely,’ she said. Then I started wondering what a job like that would do to me. It certainly wouldn’t elevate my spirit. But I’ve had lots of jobs that didn’t do that, and I’ve also made money doing things I wasn’t necessarily proud of, so I couldn’t judge. What I instead thought about was how often we do things in numbness or without even realizing the effect they’re having on our spirits. Take the social media sites (& by social media I mean Twitter, Instagram & esp. Facebook). Every time I go in one and stay for a while, I come out feeling worse than when I went in. I can’t be the only one. In fact, I suspect most people are affected the same way, but don’t even realize it because they’re too busy to pause for a moment and gauge what it’s done to them. Someone should invent a contraption, something like a mood ring or liquid crystal thermometer, that measures the fluctuations of the spirit so we know better how things and people make us feel.

Social media is porn for the dead-bored masochist in us all.
It’s porn and we don’t even get an orgasm out of the deal.
It’s porn because it’s numbed us, in a certain sense, from our feelings.
It’s porn and we’re the ones being exploited, but don’t know it because 2 billion others are in the same fix and we’re all wearing clothes.

“At times the world sees straight, but many times the world goes astray.” ~ Horace

Anyway, I didn’t mean for this post to end up as a social media rant, but since that’s the way it went, I’ll let it stand. I don’t have much else to say today other than to repeat: nothing good ever comes out of staying out past 2 a.m. Don’t do it. Go home early instead and buff the quarter panels of your Nissan Altima or eat land snails or listen to the lute works of Sylvius Leopold Weiss. The 2-day hangover is never worth it.

Kraftwerk – Computer Love

The title of my last post was Talk, Talk, which wasn’t so much a reference to the 80s band. I was more thinking about the song Talk by Coldplay which was inspired by Kraftwerk’s Computer Love. I had never even heard of Kraftwerk until 2009, when I visited Europe for the first time. It was an 11-day trip. After flying into Düsseldorf, I spent three days in Cologne, three in Paris, four in Amsterdam, and flew back out of Düsseldorf.

On my second day in Cologne, I met a gang of street-performers. Jugglers, fire eaters, an escape artist and a few randoms. I drank beers with them near the Cathedral on the Rhine, and after sundown they invited me to a party at the little trailer park they were staying at while passing through town. I accepted their offer, and the next thing I know I’m sitting on a floppy mattress in the back of an old VW van, a dresser and a rack of colorful clothes to my left, a black and white photo of a bald man in clown’s makeup banging around on the wall above my head. Driving the van was S., the escape artist, a fortysomething Italian lady from Rotterdam. In the passenger seat was Barry G., a juggling comedian from San Francisco, living in Europe since 1994. We drove about twenty minutes to the outskirts of town, then came to a gravel road and parked. I was let out the back. The three of us walked up to a door in the fence. The door must’ve been twenty-feet tall, this massive wooden structure with little spikes on top. It looked like something out of medieval times. Barry rang the buzzer and we were let in by a tall blond named Klaus.

The trailer park was on about an acre of land, surrounded on three sides by towering pine trees. There were about ten or twelve small trailers scattered around it pitched at various angles, and in the middle, under the stars – it was a perfectly clear night – a little bonfire burned. We sat down on some railroad ties in the glow of the flames. We talked and drank and passed a joint around. Then a few other street-performers came out of their trailers. One of them, a long-haired German named V., started doing headstands, spreading his legs out and twirling around. And I started talking to Klaus about my fascination with the German culture, and how I wanted to move across the pond one day. Back then it was only a dream. I didn’t think it could ever possibly happen, although I’d been saving up for it for a few years already. We talked about German philosophers and poets and musicians, and I remember asking what I’ve been asking for years. Where are the modern-day Bachs, Beethovens, Handels, Wagners? They must be around, I said. Are they in some other genre than classical music? Have you heard of Kraftwerk? Klaus asked. I hadn’t, so he invited me to his trailer to watch one of their videos. V. of the twirling headstands, who was Klaus’ roommate, also came with us. I stood at the door just outside his tiny, cluttered trailer and looked in as he turned the video on. The song he played was Autobahn, and in the video, which was of a live concert, you see the four members of Kraftwerk dressed like space creatures, standing behind podiums and working their clairvoyant magic. I didn’t think it was magic at the time. I thought it was so rudimentary and dated it was comical. But I wasn’t laughing. I was paranoid. The weed made me so. Not to mention the red-hot glares V. would give me now and again. He didn’t want me there, that was obvious. Was it because I was an American? Did he just not like my face? Was it because I wasn’t a street-performer, but instead a lowly faux businessman? I’d made the mistake earlier of admitting I owned a tool rental shop in South Florida. Soon he started speaking to Klaus in German and I didn’t understand a word. I stood there watching the four space creatures on TV and suddenly the reality of the situation struck me. I am 3000 miles from home. In a foreign country. On the outskirts of a town I know nothing about. In a trailer park full of jugglers and fire eaters and escape artists. And one of them hates me. And the music and the androids playing it can not make the mood any stranger. And I’m stoned. Too stoned. Is this the part where I get clubbed over the skull, dragged into some unterwelt cubbyhole and buggered? I could picture the headlines: AMERICAN TOURIST WITH THC IN SYSTEM GETS RAPED, BODY FOUND IN BLACK FOREST.

Finally the song ended, and Klaus asked me what I thought. I nodded and there was some uncomfortable talk, and we headed back to the bonfire. We sat down on the railroad ties and V. seemed to have lightened up a bit. Klaus started telling me a little more about Kraftwerk. He said they started the band in a garage in Düsseldorf in 1969, and are considered the inventors and pioneers of electronic music. He told me a few vignettes about this and that, and I made a mental note to do further investigating later. Maybe Autobahn is just one bad song, I thought.

That was eight years ago.

I have since grown to really like Kraftwerk, even Autobahn. But what I love most is thinking about their origins in that little garage in far-flung Düsseldorf. The music they were playing in there was so different from everything else being played in 1969, how could they, or anyone who might’ve heard it in those days, predict what a monumental impression they’d soon be making in the music industry? Was it even music they were playing? I’m sure some people had their doubts. But Kraftwerk followed their intuition regardless, and seemed to have developed a sort of prescience by doing so. Twelve years later, they released Computer World. Here are the lyrics from Computer Love, the 5th track on the 1981 album.

Computer love
Computer love
Another lonely night
Stare at the TV screen

I don’t know what to do
I need a rendezvous
Computer love
Computer love

I call this number
For a data date

I don’t know what to do
I need a rendezvous

Computer love
Computer love

If that doesn’t speak for the internet culture of today, I don’t know what does. It’s almost as if Kraftwerk had thrown little feelers out the garage and into the future and turned what they’d apprehended into art. Which is why I say: as much as I love the scientist’s bar graph & beaker, qualitative analysis, mathematical models & cross-sectional data, the best instrument we have to illuminate the unknown is the artist’s heart.

“There is nothing in the intellect that wasn’t first found in the senses.” ~ Aristotle

Talk, Talk

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I don’t think we learn much when we talk. Mostly we just impart what we already know, and that has never had much appeal to me. I prefer to listen or not listen at all and write what I can’t articulate vocally. Let other people jaw away. At least with writing there’s a kind of permanence to the act. There’s also an opening out and an expansion of potential.

I have spent too many hours of my life subservient to the human voice, trapped in cramped quarters by didactic gasbags with nothing to say and all the time in the world to prove it.

They’ll always get you. They’ll call and you’ll make the mistake of picking up the phone or they’ll turn up at your door or corner you in a bar and begin, opening their flapper valves and prating and chittering on, bragging and blasting out, and swelling, and soaring, admiring the sound of their own voices while failing to perceive in their self-love the deadening of your expression or lack of engagement, so hell-bent they are on bending your ears and cramming them chock-full with doggerel and seaweed and vowels and bird droppings.

“How the hell do I get out of this?” you start asking yourself. “I know, I’ll add nothing to the conversation but a few ‘uh-huhs’ and “right-rights,’ and wait for a pause.” But the pause invariably comes too late, and by then you feel utterly soiled, demoralized, wasted.

“You are living as if destined to live forever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply.” ~ Seneca

Which is why if we are to be greedy with anything, it should be our time, and if we are to be leery of anyone, it’s the watercooler windbag who wants nothing more than to rob us of it with witless slush.