Ummagma’s ‘Winter Tale’EP

This is a review of Ummagma’s latest EP ‘Winter Tale’ I wrote for The Record Stache.

I have been a big fan of this Canadian-Ukrainian band for several years. They have a sound that is really hard to categorize – somewhere between Pink Floyd and My Bloody Valentine. Kind of . Take a listen and see for yourself.

Ministry ‘Trax! Rarities’ Review

Ministry Review at The Record Stache

The Devil and Knoxville

I don’t know why my religious beliefs are any of your business…but considering the nature of this post, I will tell you: pushed into this corner (and I do feel a bit pushed for several reasons), I would say I am a deist who believes in the teachings of Christ (mainly: love thy neighbor, Golden Rule stuff). Many of my friends are atheists. While I defend their right to believe in anything (or nothing), as they will (probably with far more honesty than they would defend my right), I think atheism is a religion that pretends not to be, made up of people who can’t wait to explain why they’re right. Kind of like vegans. Except that I respect vegans more. Vegans have faith; atheists have a chip on their shoulders about faith. I’d much rather you say you were an agnostic. Saying you can prove there is no God (or gods) is just as silly as a minister’s arguments about proving God real. The fact is, no one knows what is right or wrong. Go with faith.

Then you bring a government like ours into it. On one side, conservatives will swear the FOUNDING FATHERS (tech department: put some reverb on that, please) were all Christians and that this nation (like almost every nation before it, according to the leaders) is blessed by the hand of God. On the other side, moderates and liberals will generally point out that many of our FOUNDING FATHERS (tech: a wee bit less ‘verb) were in fact not Christians. I won’t bore you with Ben Franklin and the Hellfire Club. I won’t point out the writings of Thomas Paine (if just for their humanist values). But surely you didn’t forget that this nation was in fact founded on religious freedom, diversity, and the ability to practice (or not) that diversity. After all, barely a hundred years –give or take–before the Constitution was penned, they were still burning women (and some men) for basically learning what herbs helped cure fevers and eased childbirth. Like a doctor today, if one of your patients dies, they strip your medical license and burn you at the stake. Okay, well, maybe today you just get hit with a lawsuit. So over the centuries We The People have decided to keep religion and government sort of separate.

When I’m in Knoxville, I listen to 98.7 FM. They are billed as a “talk radio” format station. Hereabouts, that is code for “conservative right-wing talk radio.” I listen to it whenever I am not enjoying one of the songs the infinitely better University of Tennessee student radio station plays. Why don’t I just listen to Modest Mouse for the 300th time this month? Because I believe you should know thy enemy. And Rush Limbaugh (amongst others) is definitely my enemy.

This morning talk radio all over Knoxville was buzzing with the news that a Satanist (from what I gather, of the La Vey stripe) had insisted on his right to say his infernal prayer as is tradition before every city council/county council meeting. Since, before this took place, the city and county of Knoxville had taken turns, allowing various faiths and denominations to say their peace, as it were.

But then the Devil came to town.

After much debate, the powers-that-be (well, the earthly ones) decided to let the Prayer to Lucifer (or whatever it is officially known as, I don’t claim to be an expert, just a troublemaker) go ahead. The radio station played a recording, calling it “creepy” and insisting that it made (the female host) tell God she was sorry. Maybe they were joking…a little bit. After all, when no one but your expected crazies responded, this crazy decided to take matters of religious freedom into my own hands.

I looked up the number to the station and, for a wonder, I got through. I explained my point to the call screener, and then told him I understood he probably wouldn’t let me say my piece.

Boy, was I surprised. As the only person in Knoxville that thought it was rude to loudly yell the Lord’s Prayer and “Amen” over the Prayer to Lucifer (or the only person who decided to speak up), I became a minor celebrity/figure of hate. The radio station even played Motley Crue’s “Shout at the Devil” during my defensive argument and the back-pedalling by the hosts when I brought up how the First Amendment only seemed to apply to white, Republican Christians. It was kind of cool, I won’t lie. I remember as a teenager, my little clique of punk/metal heads would rock to that song. And I felt like I was making a fair point: if you are going to SAY that you are for diversity, be prepared to back up diverse things. Things you might not like.

And Shout. Shout at the Devil.

 

A LITTLE FICTION I AM WORKING ON

AYAHUASCA COWBOY/GIRL

By Gregory Purvis

Version 1.0

The spilled-ink of space ran through the void as if over a dirty window looking into some other place. It was sprinkled in distant, unfamiliar stars with a blue-gray gas giant in the foreground, the system’s massive sun leaking around the huge planet like a halo. Purple bursts of rocket gas ignited from the rear of a small skiff moving to cut off their quarry, using the gravity from their launch to save fuel.

The skiff slowed and came about, aiming two long stainless steel pylons at the larger twin-engine spacecraft. The pylons were electrical weapons; capable of releasing bolts of energy around 800,000 degrees—hot enough to melt four inches of armored hull. The second pylon, firing a millisecond later, would breach the inner hull and probably vaporize much of the interior. If you were made of carbon, like the crew was, the guns would boil whatever was liquid (most of you) away, and then turn you back to what you had started out as. On the positive side, it was too quick to hurt.

The Twin Sisters was a hand-built ship. Many fighter-skiffs misjudged hand-built ships pieced together from older craft: invariably a fatal mistake. For registration purposes, the Twin Sisters was a Class IV Gemini mated with a de-commissioned military air tank. The better part of her hull was taken from a twin-engine Gemini scout. The engines had been enlarged to Class IV, and re-mounted on a larger frame to incorporate an old air tank between them. The Sisters also held four small, Kali model drones, two on each side of the air tank’s chassis. Each drone was mounted in a gravity box so that they could be controlled from the ship, or dropped to swarm independently, like angry wasps, around the ship’s antagonists.

There was twin habitation modules originally designed as one fuselage for a long distance gel-ship. These had been cut in half with a laser and mounted one module to a side; each had been plated with ceramic armor. One module still retained its automated medical system and gel chambers—ten chambers that could evacuate two of the sealed pods at a time from repurposed dorsal torpedo launchers. Once launched, a sleeping crewmate was at the mercy of the drug filled oxygen-rich gel and long range radio transponders, but it beat the alternative: space was a big, mostly empty place.

The other module had been largely stripped down, providing working and recreational living space for a crew that spent a lot of time travelling between large space stations, orbital labs, and the massive military ships evacuated after being breached during combat in the last Far War.

These craft had floated, derelict and haunted by the scars of war, only to be—years after their final battle—taken over, patched up, the hull re-sealed and the ship held in-place with solar sails attached to anchor pinions. They had been gradually enlarged: ships would dock and then their docking rings would be welded shut; habitation modules or satellites were bought from scrappers and added wherever space could be found for them. As long as their positioning and rotation had been calculated correctly, the sails pulled in and converted enough solar power to run the craft and even store their excess. Now these old ships were so-called “ring moons”: anchored around some large planet, where they used barges outfitted with tow lines, magnetic rockets, and gravity pliers to haul back to their “moon” any meteorite or floating chunk of rock with enough valuable mineral deposits or seams of precious metals. Whether the civilians living aboard were pirates or just a scrapper colony depended largely on the amount of law present, whether it was respected, and if the workers were content to scrap instead of steal. Sometimes you would run across one of the so-called “black clinics”, where experiments forbidden on Earth or in Terran-controlled zones were carried out by pharmaceutical corporations. The only spacers who dealt with them were slavers—pirates who breached a passing ship to harvest the people as well as the cargo that might be aboard.

Sometimes the Sisters would travel through a worm, and time did weird things inside those things. For this reason, the crew would climb into the gel pods as if they were making a long point-to-point trip, depending on bots to keep up the ship, make repairs, and wake them at a set time if the medical computer failed to.

The only crew member that had ever gone through a worm awake was their own Captain Jack Jill, an androgyne that preferred to periodically switch sexual appearances (and the order s/he used first and last names) rather than keep the similarities androgyne’s normally shared. Captain Jack Jill had brewed up a glass of ayahuasca-laced green tea right before they requested the Federal Aerospace Spatial Transponder (FAST if you liked mil-spec acronyms) near Jupiter to open a worm to a moon called Carthage. The worm had opened, oscillating as it spun through its hole in the dimensional fabric of the void. When the computer had made its calculations and the right frequency was reached—indicating the worm was now open on the far side of its hole—the ship slipped through and the Captain had never been right in the head since.

Now s/he sat in a gel command couch, watching the little wedge-shaped craft turn.

[UNIDENTIFIED CLASS II ARMED SKIFF—WEAPONS SYSTEMS LOCKED AND CHARGING], Sister 1 announced. The two exits and the emergency crawlspace under the floor sealed and the six open chambers circling the central work space of the module flooded with gel, spiked with combat drugs. The crew inhaled deeply when they heard the gel alarm and tendrils of the substance entered their mouths and nostrils, quickly filling their lungs.

The skiff had by now read the life forms aboard, scanned their armor, and noticed the two rail guns loaded with 12-ounce nickel slugs mounted on independent rings circling the large central orbital platform of the air tank. Both of the guns were pointed at the skiff.

[INCOMING MESSAGE FROM SKIFF, SCANS READ THREE LIFE FORMS. INFO-LINK SQUIRT DECODED: CRAFT REGISTRY 303-4a—APPARENTLY A LOCAL REGISTRATION. NO SUCH CODE ON FILE WITH UTSCR. WOULD YOU LIKE THE CRAFT DETAILS AND ARMAMENT, CAPTAIN?], Sister 2 chimed in, the AI’s voice slightly more chirpy than its counterpart. Neither AI was aware that a few lines of code—hidden from their access—actually split the ship’s single AI into two separate personalities.

“What’s to know?” the Captain laughed. “They want to make sure we’re not an easy target or an easy threat, or they’d have fired those ‘lectrics by now. Their station must be either poor or crafty, or they’d have another four of those things all around us.

“They gotta know their only hope is surrounding us.” Captain Jack Jill laughed, floating up from where the couch had been with a kick through the gel to get a closer view on the screen.

“Read me their message. If it’s in Russian or something, go ahead and translate it into Mercantile English.”

[THE SQUIRT IS IN MANDARIN CHINESE. TRANSLATION: GREETINGS AND PLEASE BE WELCOMED TO THE HONORABLE DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF HO WEI LIN MOON. PLEASE FORGIVE NECESSARY SECURITY PROCEDURE. YOU MAY LAND AT BAY 2. NO WEAPONS ARE ALLOWED. PLEASE HONOR TO PRESENT PASSPORTS OR TERRAN MERCHANT IDENTIFICATION AT OUR PLEASANT SECURITY STATION.] Sister 2’s voice had momentarily changed to a male voice speaking Mandarin, overlaid in English.

“Okay folks,” the Captain said cheerfully. “Everyone gelled-up will stay put. If you are in Module 1, you get to go have a look-see. What we want to know is if they have medicine. Specifically Arizona Flu vaccine and antibiotics, but we also might want to get some gel. We can use gel to synthesize some shit, but nothing as complex as a biophage or a vaccine. And because I’m a cautious sort I just wasted a bunch, so a canister would be nice. The satellite labs orbiting Luna need the vaccine and no lab on Earth will give them a drop, seeing as how Earth is eat-up with the flu.

“We can probably charge ten times the market. We also need parts. Chinese moon like this, they import a lot of Korean stuff, so anything we are low on grab if you can grab cheap. We still have that large meteor with all that platinum in it, if currency is too hard for them to turn around. Oh, steal what you can. We’re a long way from home.”

Everyone in Module 1 took in the Captain’s speech without comment. They had not started off as pirates. They were armed couriers. But then their Captain had gone through a worm high on psychedelic drugs. No one knew what they were now, and the places s/he chose to stop weren’t places anyone wanted to jump ship.

The flight computer—moving them smoothly on airskates—docked next to a large shuttle with an Australian cybernetics company logo painted on the side. The airskates turned sideways and fixed onto the docking ring. Locking down, there was a long hiss and the ship stopped movement.

[DOCKING COMPLETE. BE AWARE: A LOCKING MECHANISM ASIDE FROM THE AIRLOCK HAS BEEN RECENTLY FITTED. WE ARE NOT AS YET LOCKED DOWN WITH IT.]

“Okay, folks,” the Captain announced, scrambling his commands with old, hard to locate software. “This could be a trap, or just…well, it’s probably a trap. Take ceramic pistols. Or print an automatic quick, if you can keep the scanner from picking it up. Print a list of what we need on a sheet of plastic next to the printer doing the autos. Hide them, and if security finds them tell them our translation software goes in and out. That we thought they might be pirates of the ho, ho, ho and a bottle ‘o rum variety.”

Four people zipped themselves into armored jumpsuits with the Republic of Texas flag on the breast. Their passports and ID hung from a bright red cord from around their necks, and the weapons were hidden in two pieces designed to look like helmet attachment software. They had only time to print two automatics, so one of the four courier-cum-pirates—a big guy called Little Joe—wore a helmet and hid the pieces in the helmet attachment and an oxygen canister. Allergies, was his excuse.

Two armed men stood waiting behind an armored hard-point. Both wore jumpsuits as well, with an unfamiliar flag. One of the men was African, with rows of ridged tribal scars across his face. The other was Chinese, his Mandarin commands translated through an old language system, the speaker mounted right in front of a slot for the grubby plastic passport cartridges.

The four crew members approached in a group, stopping short when the African raised a rifle with a cluster of thin, round muzzles.

“One at the time, please, honored guests.”

Little Joe smiled. “Captain JJ Gipson Haynes sends his regards. I’m Lieutenant Joseph Little.”

He held up his passport: a black cartridge about the size of a pack of medicinal cigarettes.

FALLING THROUGH THE CRACKS

My grandparents had a narrow trap door in a small closet in their house. It led straight down to the basement. In reality, it was nothing more exotic than a laundry chute. A quick, convenient way to drop a heavy pile of soiled clothing and bed linens down to the basement, where the perpetually shaking washing machine monster lived.

If this description sounds slightly fantastic, it’s because the memories are those of a small boy. Like Alice’s Wonderland, things might seem larger or smaller (or dark and scary) depending on who it is that’s peering through the looking glass. As a six year-old boy, I was scared of falling through that little door. I thought I might just keep falling, forever. That I wouldn’t land on a nice big pile of sheets, warm from the dryer, but would in fact continue to fall deeper into the dark basement, through the cracks in the floor, down deeper and deeper, forever.

But because I was a boy, I was also fascinated with the trap door. Despite my fear of it I couldn’t stay away from it. That attraction to the dark is the story of my life.

Now–as a 40 year-old man–the fascination is gone. I don’t have to keep opening the closet door and looking down at the little wooden knob on the floor. But I still feel like I’m falling. The difference is, the cracks are real.

I have never felt this isolated or alone in all my life. That sensation of falling through the cracks is made all the more real  because each time I slip a little farther down, I get farther away from anyone who can haul me out before it’s too late.

“So get yourself out” is what you may be thinking, right? Don’t you think I would if I could? If I saw the way, believe me, I’d take it.

My life has deteriorated way past that opportunity; if it was ever there, I’ve missed it.

Do I have family and friends who could help me? Sure. But for all my “talents” with language, I’m pretty close to retarded when it comes to simply expressing myself, one person to another. And with the exception of my immediate family, I despise asking for help.

I think those who still care for me are simply tired. I can certainly understand this, so it’s hard to be angry with them. I mean, I’m tired. I’m tired of being tired, and that’s far past any kind of conventional exhaustion I know how to deal with. Basically, I’ve become a source of nothing but misery for everyone including myself.

I cause nothing but pain to others, and if they may still be too polite to admit this openly, I’m not. I’m not writing these things down because I expect or want your pity. I’m writing this down because I just want someone to know what happened.

And what DID happen?

I fell through the cracks.

Down here: I can’t walk without pain. On some days I just lay there, doing nothing. My left foot is leaking and swollen…sometimes it’s about twice the size of my right foot. Striations of infection follow the lines of the bones in my largest toe, and up the long bone in my left leg. The toe is turning an unnatural color. I have pictures. Diabetes has left me with few choices: two years ago I had a career, a life, goals and dreams. I had moved back to northeast Alabama to start a new life, taking a job as a reporter for a small but respected daily newspaper. Life wasn’t perfect, but whose life is?

I figured I would work at the smaller papers and write my novel at night and on weekends. My plan was simple but well-thought-out: by the time I had enough experience with the smaller newspapers to apply for a better position with a larger paper in Atlanta, I would have finished my novel. If it sold, I would have the choice of being able to continue to work for smaller papers, giving me more time for my writing; if things weren’t moving as fast, I would have the resume I needed to get a better job.

Before falling in the crack, back In Florida, there were a few warning signs. They were actually quite frightening. I passed out behind the wheel a couple of times. My blood sugar records (tested at the ER and by my doctor) were all over the place. But I never got a full diagnosis until 2008. By then, the neuropathic damage to my feet and legs had been done. “There’s not much we can do about that,” my doctor said.

It’s hard to explain to someone what neuropathy feels like. You lose sensation in areas affected by the nerve damage, so most people assume that you can’t feel anything. Kind of like being numbed up at the dentist’s office. Because of this description, it’s normal to think there is no pain involved.

But there is a tremendous amount of pain. Sometimes it feels like my foot is burning. Simply touching the skin causes pain. The worst pain is the deep ache, what I call “bone pain” (I have no idea if it is related to the bones) that seems to run along certain bones in my feet.

The doctor says I can’t work. Being a reporter requires walking. Moving around, taking photographs, et cetera. I applied for social security but that takes forever, I’m told. I’ve also been told I don’t qualify for “normal” social security benefits because I don’t have enough work credits in the right time frame. If I had applied when I started having problems (in my early 30’s), they could not use this against me. But because I still held out hope that things would get better and I could go on with a normal life, so I didn’t apply then. I went back to school instead. Again: planning on helping myself and being a productive member of society. By not using government resources I am now being punished.

But there is another form of social security that only deals with health issues: disability.

The lawyer says I’m not an ideal candidate because I’m young. Again, I fall through the cracks: either I’m too young or too old, sick…but not yet sick enough.

During my tenure with the newspaper, we changed insurance companies. We also changed business managers (twice). I told the new business manager I wanted to take out long term disability insurance. This was before I was diagnosed; before my foot started turning into zombie foot. She filled out the forms: I have a copy of them, in her handwriting. But she never actually submitted them.

So after my personal leave and vacation time was exhausted, I took unpaid medical leave. Then I was dismissed, as I had no disability to help me through the months to come.

Those papers, like so much else, fell through the cracks.

I saw a lawyer (I want to say who he was, because it is actually funny, considering that I was asking whether I should bring a lawsuit against the newspaper…but I respect him too much to do this), and though he couldn’t represent me, he told me someone who could…and encouraged me to go for it.

But after a one-sided and biased “hearing” with the State Board of Labor and the secretary-turned-business  [Note: now the Publisher of this paper…sigh], I lost the anger to press the lawsuit, even though the lawyer had plenty of anger for both of us. It fell through the cracks.

I find it increasingly difficult to prepare food, so I don’t eat or eat poorly.

I can’t clean up, so I live in squalor. By myself, in a small RV. Few visitors find me.

But who would WANT to come visit? I wouldn’t.

I’ve fallen through the cracks.

My parents don’t want to play nurse, so they’re willing to help financially; but the thought of having to actually take on part of this burden I have become to everyone horrifies them. As it does me.

They would rather I go to a nursing home than come back to Florida.

But who can blame them?

Even so, I can’t do this by myself anymore. And no matter how loud I yell no one hears me.

I guess it’s hard to hear me now, way down here. In the cracks.

[Other than my father’s death a couple of years after writing this…after which I DID return to Florida…I suppose this post is the most personal one I have ever written. I found it yesterday, in the “Drafts” folder and decided to post it. I’m 46 years old; I wrote this 6 years ago. The six year-old boy I speak of who was afraid and at the same time attracted to the trap door in his grandparent’s closet…well, that was forty years ago. As hard as that is for me to wrap my head around.]

 

Welcome back!

Thanks for hanging in there. Evil Robots is back in the blog biz.

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