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.

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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.

 

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.

Epic

The Living End

What a way to (not) make a living.

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