Archive for September, 2011

The Time I Turned a Poetry Slam Into A Riot

September 23, 2011


OK, I admit that on my previous post, I put it out there as a bit of a tease that the second time I performed The Tower I accidentally caused a riot. Fishing, fishing! So THANKS for rising to the bait go to my lovely friend Jan of Zurich (with whom I had an affair in San Francisco many years ago, the ridiculous brevity of which was counter-balanced by its painlessness, spontaneity and sense of effortless intellectual fun…) who went ahead and asked me to tell the story. That conversation was taking place on FB, so I put it there but then thought to meself: hey, as long as I’m sort of revisiting the events of a decade ago (lagging behind by a few days because, well you know, just cuz), I really ought to put the story on 66witches, or the next bit, where the cops come for me, won’t have as good of a context. It’s important for me to convey exactly how much insanity took place in such a short amount of time. People living in the US then will remember that we were also being told that we were under a major Anthrax attack.
*
The 2nd time I performed The Tower was probably September 14th or 15th 2001. I was under the impression that I was one of the featured poets at a local poetry slam, around the corner from my house, a place called the Black Box, run by friends from grad school. I hate poetry slams by the way. In between the contestants, not a single one of whom was addressing the WTC disaster of a couple days earlier, were the featured poets who had longer sets; incidentally none of them mentioned it either.

It was the usual shit, mostly in the hip hop style, urban confessional, sexual politics yawn blah blah. I couldn’t fucking believe it. Then my name was called and so I went up there to do my thang. You’ve read the poem so you know it aint short. In fact, it’s nearly 2000 words, including the song quotes, and clocks in at anywhere from 12-17 minutes, depending on things like how I do the song bits, or if there’s a lot of audience reaction.

When I was about 3/4 of the way through you coulda heard a pin drop in that place. People were paying rapt attention. I was at the very bleakest part, the death and destruction and confusion part when all of a sudden I notice some kind of conferring going on at the back of the room between what looked like some of the event organizers. (cuz when you’re on stage, every movement in the house is like there’s a spotlight on it) This was in Oakland and the audience was pretty racially mixed, but there was a definite trend towards favouring the African-American rap style (which I love in music but don’t really like at a poetry recital…but I digress) and the MC was a twenty something black female intellectual type. (Just for purposes of setting the scene.) So I’m doing my poem but clocking what’s going on in the back of the room and then one of the persons emerges from the darkness and I recognize her as the MC. And she’s weaving her way through the crowd and coming straight towards me. I don’t know why she’s doing this, but try to ignore it and keep going. Then, she’s actually on the stage. Then she’s beside me! I try to keep going but of course I look over at her and that’s when she puts her hands on the Mic and sez:

“You know, we’re all really moved by whatchoo bin sayin’ an’ all but like, we really gotta move on to the next contestant..you’ve gone way over the 3 minute time limit…”

WHAT? What the hell was she talking about?

I don’t let go of a microphone too easily and my hand was still on it and so I say something like “I’m not in the contest! I was asked to come here and read this tonight by my friends who own this place!”

But where the fuck were they to back me up? I couldn’t see any of em.

A tussle began. This woman and I were literally having a tug of war with the microphone. She was being really nice but also VERY insistent. The audience started getting restless.

“Listen lady! I’m sorry if I broke your rules. I did not come down here to compete in your poetry slam. I came down here because in case you hadn’t noticed a KIND OF FUCKING MAJOR SOMETHING JUST HAPPENED LIKE 2 DAYS AGO AND NOT ONE OF YOUR SO CALLED POETS HAS SAID A FUCKING WORD ABOUT IT! FORGET YOUR CONTEST! THIS IS REAL LIFE! I’M TRYING TO SAY SOMETHING HERE AND YOU ARE STOPPING ME IN THE MOST HOPELESS, DARK AND EVIL PIECE OF THIS POEM. I’M SORRY I WENT OVER YOUR TIME LIMIT BUT I’LL BE DONE IN LIKE 2 MINUTES AND I PROMISE YOU WE WILL BE ENDING ON A HIGH NOTE IF YOU JUST LET ME CONTINUE! I HEREBY DISQUALIFY MYSELF OK?!!!”

Or something like that.

A few shouts started to come from the crowd. So I decided to put it to them.

“Who wants me to keep going?”

Well, quite a lot did and started to shout “let her finish!”

But there was also quite a few (most likely “poets” who hadn’t had their turn yet) who most definitely did not.

“Get her off! She’s gone on long enough!”

It started to get quite loud and heavy. Some people stood up and started shouting at each other. The MC and I were still grappling over the microphone. Then I looked out at the scene and noticed something else that really pissed me off and was so typical and indicative of the obtuse attitude I was facing and it was this: despite the place packed with people, so that they were even lining the walls and perimeter of the room, there were 3 or 4 perfectly good empty cocktail tables and chairs right at the front.

Why the fuck do people do that? I used to call it the “semi-circle of fear” and when I played in bands around San Francisco it was one of the things that really got my goat. This giant fucking hole right in front of the stage cuz…what…everyone needs to be near the exit in case it sucks and they gotta go? Are they afraid of having to have their reactions visible to others? Are they too cool for school? What’s the goddamn problem?

So imagine the above paragraph, complete with flashback pictures, happening in about 2 seconds inside my brain. Things suddenly came to a head.

With a final wrench I got possession of the mic in my left hand, simultaneously grabbing my papers and music stand and sticking them under my right arm.

I shouted my parting words into the microphone:

“GO ON THEN! HAVE YOUR CONTEST! WIN SOME PRIZES!”

And with that, I hurled the mic and mic stand into the empty front row, sending shit flying all over the shop, simultaneously (and rather gracefully, if completely dementedly) leaping from the stage and making a super-fast run for it!

By the time I got to the door the whole place had erupted into complete chaos. I took one look back and saw people one step away from fisticuffs and overheard little snippets of the many dozens of individual arguments that were now taking place.


..but she’s a fucking hypocrite, she was talking about peace but then she was violent…no you asshole she was making a fucking point…..i just wanted to hear how it turned out…..fuck you…. saddam hussein…well I didn’t vote for Bush…

They’d forgotten all about me and I ran home.

About 20 minutes later, a couple of my friends who’d been at the gig came to my house to see how I was. They told me that the Black Box had had to kick everyone out and shut down the event and lock the doors because it had gotten so out of hand that there was absolutely no chance of restoring order and returning to the regular program. So I guess nobody won any prizes.

This pleased me immensely but I was still really pissed off about not getting to finish and the whole thing confirmed how much I dislike the slam format, which I’ve stupidly proven to myself a couple more times even since then.

So I wrote another poem. This one was called “Slam Slam” and it was basically this story I’ve just told you, but in poem form.

When I finished it, about 7 the next morning, I printed it out and went and GLUED it to the front door of the Black Box.

I later found out, to my total horror, that the event had been videotaped. Several of my classmates from grad school then ambushed me at the peace concert in Dolores Park that took place one or 2 days later, where Spearhead played. Apparently these friends had been studying the tape and had a lot of advice to give me about my personality and wanted to help me through some kind of healing by watching it.

It was hard for me to accept their offer because I really couldn’t quite get past the part where a) it was on tape and b) they’d been watching it. One of these people was the very guy who ran the venue and whose crappy communication skills were actually responsible for the whole misunderstanding in the first place. I mean, why the fuck didn’t he tell me that I was booked into the slam and only had 3 minutes?

But they didn’t want to talk about that, just my reaction. It was a very new age scene and these were the very same people who had recently forced a very reluctant me into the centre of a bogus and very embarrassing forgiveness ritual that I absolutely hated and had to act my way out of. I’m sure they were right in the sense that I could have learned something from watching the tape but at that very moment it struck me as the most monumentally besides-the-fucking-point-thing to be bringing to my attention considering everything that was happening in the world, plus their own complicity in what had happened at the gig.

And then either the next day or the day after was when I was raided by the Oakland Police Force. It was an extremely intense period of my life and super-dramatic and traumatic shit continued happening for about 3 or 4 months.

Next time I’m in Oakland I am going to visit the Black Box which is still there. I have a good excuse to visit because when I left the country I also loaned them a piece of original art (a painting of Buddha reclining on a settee in a garden that I bought from the homeless people art project in the Tenderloin district in SF on a grad school field trip) that I’d like back.

But just between you and me, I’m also hoping they still keep the archive of past events in the same location as it used to be because I fully intend to find and remove that tape. I never signed a model release and while I am now finally ready to watch it, I think it should be up to me if anyone else gets to see it from now on.

I’m not sure what happened to the Slam Slam poem. This was all several corrupted hard drives and international moves ago. Pretty sure there’s a copy in my stuff in L.A. so maybe I’ll dig it out again someday. I seem to remember it as being pretty funny.

The Tower

September 18, 2011

On the same day as the events described in my previous post, September 11, 2001, I wrote the following poem, which I performed twice over the next few days, accidentally causing a riot on the second occasion. A couple of days after that happened, in fact exactly ten years ago today, I experienced my own personal Tower moment, when 5 armed thugs working on behalf of the prohibition stormed into my house, guns drawn and aimed at my face, chained me up, kidnapped me and subjected me to sexual assault (for that’s what I call being forced to strip naked roughly 20 times in front of up to 30 people at a time, some prisoners, some guards). It’s funny now to think that I wrote this poem one week earlier.

***
Lately certain songs seem to stick in me
seem to whirl around repetitiously
telling me teaching me healing me musically
spelling out that something’s wrong
and I say to myself

What’s going on?
So much trouble in the world So much trouble in the world

Today the twin towers in the land of Babylon fell
I saw it on Television
live and direct from Hell
Watched the unbelievable happen
before my sleep smeared eyes
with shock but not surprise
as kamikaze devotees of Thanatos blazed their satanic heroic exodus into adrenalin death-buzz overdose bidding for oblivion in a method most grandiose turning lower Manhattan just like this
into a soot-filled necropolis
thus begging a terrible question
oh how the fuck did this begin?
when will it end when will we end it stop pretending, stop dissembling stop this parroting of chewed clichés that revolve around retaliation and only escalate the situation this war has no fucking enemy fools! it’s an internal viral invasion
in this culture of tired boasts
“we are the most”s “let’s have a toast’s”
I say yes yes let’s let’s place some bets!
five bucks says 50,000 died
hey remember that thing with the cyanide?
that Jim Jones thing back in 89
let’s all raise a glass of Koolaid wine
to the numero uno and most divinely deceptively contrived lie that is us today us as in U.S. of A.-holes
for whom the death knell tolls
in this the land of the murdered Indian brave
the land of the bomb and the home of the slave
wow somebody out there must really be pissed
let’s all hang a proxy to get our fix
just like they did in old Haymarket
a fire just needs a flame to spark it
doomsday prophets want to Noah’s ark it
it’s Y2K II deja vu give or take a few plot points
the panic sets in
the xenophobic uglies start to burble in the din

don’t you know that it’s true that for me and for you the world is a ghetto don’t you know that it’s truethat for me and for you the world is a – people moving out people moving in why? because of the color of their skin run, run, run, but you sure can’t hide An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth
hey vote for me and I’ll set you free rap on brother, brother rap on well the only person talkin bout love thy brother is the preacher and it seems nobody’s interested in learning but the teacher segregation determination demonstration integration aggravation humiliation time to question what’s in a nation ball of confusion yeah that’s what the world is today woo hey hey

our fix is a dose of good old-fashioned retribution
hey that’s the strongly manly solution
catch the bastards and watch ‘em die
a truth, I mean a tooth, for a why, I mean I I mean
who are these monsters who cheer in the streets?
did ya see ‘em in Palestine, waving their sheets
marked with slogans applauding this blow to their devil
but Americans never would sink to their level
oh no says the news anchor we will survive!
we’re still number one, we’re still broadcasting live
this is different from when we dropped bombs on Baghdad
watched strikes set to music to make us feel glad
that we had such good aim in this cool techy game
that we’re tough the right stuff that enough is enough is enough is enough
that the president must never be perceived as a
powder puff a sissy a wuss or a faggot
‘cause in the death culture all the spoils go to the maggot
that lives off the fat of collateral damage
so pork up the army and somehow we’ll manage
to keep building more bigger bombs than the others
to kill foreign sons before they kill our mothers..
“we’re gonna hunt down an’ punish these folks!” said the leader of the free world
in between two bad jokes
oh fuck said I we are all gonna die this is the guy
in charge of our protection?
bet yer sorry ya stole that election!
but then maybe not could it be a dark plot
is this the war from within?
if so did it just begin
if so it has barely but barely but barely begun
this twin towers thing just the first pop from a handgun
don’t you get to some people this shit is fun!
could this be some kinda sick bid for control of your thoughts of your feelings of your e-mail (!)
of your soul
no it couldn’t be that that they fabricate disaster just to crush the people faster?
Hah! They wouldn’t do it! that’s insane
you mean kill their own then cast the blame?
Now I don’t mean to be a harbinger of ruin
or imply that it’s a shoe-in
that the power’s about to do in it’s own
in its maddest ever ploy to oppress the hoi polloi
to sustain the status quo
all I am saying is that I think these thoughts but admit that
I don’t know
Whose side is which and what’s a win and who do you trust
to save your skin
and will the body count just keep rising higher
tell me again – what’s the definition of
“friendly fire”?
When your lips move are you a liar?
Or do you speak the truth though you may tire
stand when you’d like to
fall remember they made paperweights out of the Berlin wall
Yes we can be heroes everyone of us knows
hey remember how that song goes..

I I can remember standing by the wall the guns shot above our heads and we kissed as though nothing could fall
And the shame was on the other side
Oh we can beat them forever and ever
And we can be heroes
Just for one day Whatcha say

Oh and speaking of kisses and worlds and wishes
And wond’rin what’s gonna happen next
it reminds me of that song by X
where the angry eloquent punk priestess Exene
spits out poetry like lit gasoline…

danana danana nana danana danana nana
no-one is united all things are untied
guess who’s boiling over inside
they’ve been telling lies
there are no angels there are devils in many ways
take it like a man
the world’s a mess it’s in my kiss
the world’s a mess it’s in my kiss…

and yet when I saw the newsclown’s skit
seemed like some of ‘em almost relished it
seemed like they knew their time was now
camera close-up on the furrowed brow
but even the disguise was only partly intact
for the first time in my life there was a rip in the act
the mask was on crooked the hood was pulled back
that we verged on the end of times was how it appeared
like the time of Armageddon
I mean not to be weird but didn’t it kinda seem like
Judgement Day?
Or maybe just made to look that way..

Alas! alas! that great city Babylon!
In a single hour thy plagues have come
A single hour of desolation
And the merchants of the earth mourned and swore
For none would buy their goods no more
The precious stones the wealth of wheat
the souls of men the vats of meat

and so on and so forth and such
perhaps you think I’m a bit touched
In the head it’s been said
But the tower is toppled and the bodies fall down
to the ground hit by lightning that shatters the town
streets become detrituts and debris dumps
and there on the small screen
a couple clasps hands and jumps
from the one hundred somethingth floor
to be no more
so we, my friends and I , discuss this at some length
declaring it a kind of strength
I mean if you knew you were about to die
wouldn’t you step off the ledge and try to fly?
why? why not?
when one last act is all you got
look on the bright side
it’s your one and only chance
to do the 99 Storey Freefall Dance!
make no mistake
i’m not making light of death
just proposing that flight
may be the best response in a situation
requiring a choice between hurtling through space and
incineration
both are certain to end in death
think I’d take the air for my last breath
oh kids these are ancient tremendous tears
and the song that comes to mind now is
Five Years..

pushing through the market square
so many mothers sighing
the news had just come over
we had 5 years left to cry in
the newsguy wept and told us
that the earth was surely dying
cried so much his face was wet
that’s how I knew he was not lying
I heard telephones opera house favorite melodies
I saw boys with their toys electric guns and TVs
my brain hurt like a warehouse
I had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to keep everything in there
We’ve got 5 years what a surprise
5 years stuck on my eyes
5 years my brain hurts a lot
5 years and that’s all we’ve got

but wait a second friends
I didn’t come here to be fatalistic
to lose all hope in the negative statistics
the sadistic ballistics no no no!
my friends we need to get SY-NER-GISTIC
we need to combine our healthy action
we need to resist the cheap distraction
resist the urge to split into factions
it’s no longer about whose typed up the best thesis
here’s a new word
can you say SYN-AR-TESIS?
That’s a binding or a knitting together
like a creative union or a cooperative communion
like the photons with their
“spooky action at a distance”
we can combine and enjoin our energies
they will yield without resistance
which happens to be synergistic’s other definition
in other words
we can change things by our own volition
trust is our shield love is our ammunition
hope is our magic ride
our secret weapon is vision
as it turns out – we are on a mission!
so give yourselves permission to join me in a brief rendition
of a favorite rhyme I like to sing
war what is it good for absolutely nothing

war – HIUH – good god yawl
what is it good for – absolutely nothing
say it again
war – HIUH – good god yawl
what is it good for – absolutely nothing
say it again
nothing say it again nothing say it again nothing say it again..

oh you’ve been a delight so kind and polite
thank you ever so much I am touched
that you came here tonight
the envelope of hope is now open
mucho gracias for hearing what I have spoken
it’s but a token of my love
I’m kind of a nun
a none of the above
so I leave you for now with a prayer and a bow
I hope I have brought a small measure of thought
to this “tragic occasion affecting the nation”
that you leave feeling wise no need for disguise
a few tears in the eyes
and a vow of commitment to change this predic’ment

as an ally once said
in a somewhat overly dramatic voice
“we just have to dare to be brilliant
dahling
and after all,
to be daring is within everyone’s choice”

* with many thanks to the musical artists whose work I have quoted

Sharing Tragedy With a Stranger

September 8, 2011

The BBC has been airing a lot of programmes relating to the events of September 11, 2001 for the obvious reason that the 10 year anniversary is fast approaching. On their website they asked people to write in on the theme of “where were you”.

So, here is what I sent in, a story I’ve told many times but never before actually written about. If any reader thinks they can identify the people in my story, please do get in touch.

*
Very late on the night of September 10th, I dropped off a new boyfriend I’d met at Burning Man Festival at the San Francisco airport where he was taking an American Airlines flight to Chicago. Instead of driving back across the bridge to Oakland, I decided to spend the night at a friend’s place in the city, on Valencia Street in the Mission district, a sprawling sort of open-plan live-work space.

For some reason I woke up really early the next morning. It was before 6 a.m. when I usually got up around 9. But I couldn’t seem to get back to sleep and so I got up. A few minutes later the phone rang, odd as it was so early. The call was picked up by the old fashioned tape-based answering machine my friend had, so I could hear the message as it was being left. It was her mother who lived on the east coast. She had an odd tense sound in her voice as she asked Lisa to call her as soon as she got up.

I heard Lisa shift around and so I called out to her asking if she was awake.

She grumbled something about her mother never getting the hang of the time difference and how annoying it was to be woken up this early. But I’m really into voices and her mother’s sounded odd.

“You know, I really think you should call her back. It sounded like it was important.”

Some more grumbling, then she got up and stumbled sleepily to the phone.

“Hi Mom.. you know it’s super early here and…”

Suddenly she stopped talking. I was trying to make coffee and had just realized there wasn’t any so wasn’t paying that much attention, when abruptly I heard Lisa cry out.

“WHAT?”

I turned around and all the sleep was gone out of her now, she was sitting bolt upright, her eyes like saucers.

“OMIGOD, OMIGOD! DIANA TURN ON THE TV! TURN ON THE TV!”

I happened to be standing right in front of the shelf that the small TV set was on, so I switched it on, saying as I did so.

“What channel?”

Usually when people wanted you to switch on the TV it was to get a specific station.

The screen flickered to life and I saw an image of the instantly recognizable World Trade Centre in NYC, one of the towers apparently ablaze, with big puffs of smoke coming out the sides. I’d lived there in ‘93 when it had been bombed and for a moment I wondered if they were revisiting the story, only that fire had come from the parking garage, so…

Was this a movie or something? The sequel to “Independence Day” or “Mars Attacks”? I was really confused!

“Uh! What are we supposed to be looking at?!” I said, turning to Lisa, but as soon as I turned back around it was obvious: I watched in incredulous disbelief as a jet airplane glided directly into the second tower.

“WHAT THE FUCK?!”

The mute button had been on so now I hit it so I could hear the announcers’ voices: there’d been hijackings and I’d just seen the second plane hit the second of the twin towers, live on TV. It was an American Airlines flight. Wait, could this be the one my new boyfriend was on? No, he would’ve got to his destination by now! (This was before details had come through about how long the planes had been in the air or where they originated.)

I really couldn’t process this. I needed a coffee. COFFEE COFFEE! WE WERE OUT OF COFFEE!

I guess it’s a shock reflex to do something mundane in an emergency or maybe it’s just because there was something I could do about it, but I became completely focused on the coffee situation.

I ran down the long corridor to the gate to the street, remembering that the café at the corner opened really early. But when I got to the gate and opened it, I froze.

I looked out at the people walking along the sidewalk, riding on the buses, driving in their cars, pedalling their bicycles, shooting along on their skateboards…. and realized that not one of the people I was looking at knew about what had just happened. They couldn’t possibly just be going about their business otherwise!

I had a sudden premonition that I was witnessing the last moment of an entire era, of a way, of a time. It sounds corny to say “a time of innocence” but it was something like that. In a few minutes or hours, every single one of those smiling, or harried, or hurried, or hung-over people, whatever they were, whoever they were, in a very short time they would know what had just happened, what was still happening. And nothing would ever be the same.

Should I tell them? Sound the alarm? No. Why rob them of this last few minutes of ignorant bliss. What reason would I have to ruin that?

In a weird daze, I went to the corner and into the café. I ordered two coffees to go and looked around at all the people in there. They didn’t know either. They were all reading that morning’s papers that were already as out of date as yesterday’s news. Should I tell them? I was the only one who knew, the only one who knew….

Then I walked out on the pavement and I saw someone else who knew, who must’ve known. Why else would he be hugging the lamp post on the corner of 22nd and Valencia, hugging it like it was gonna save him from something, sobbing in anguished despair? But this was San Francisco, and the Mission district to boot, haven of crazies and druggies and homeless; on any other day, I too might have walked straight past the screaming, crying man who held on to that lamp post for dear life. But I didn’t because I knew why he was crying. I knew he knew.

I ran over to him and set the coffees down on the pavement. He was oblivious to me standing there.

“Hey! Hey you! Do you have people in New York!?”

Then he noticed me and turned to face me – here was someone else who knew!

He left the post and reached out his arms to me. His eyes were spinning, his face red and wet, he was blubbering with a lack of inhibition that can only be triggered by the most extreme of human crises: life or death.

“YES!” he cried, “YES! MY COUSIN!” and he fell into my arms and we clung to each other on the street while he cried and sobbed his story to me.

“ SHE’S IN THERE! SHE’S IN THE SECOND TOWER! I WAS JUST TALKING TO HER ON THE PHONE – SHE WAS IN THE STAIRWELL AND SHE CALLED ME AND I WAS TALKING TO HER AND THE PHONE’S GONE DEAD! THE PHONE’S GONE DEAD!”

We were both crying by now and must have looked a crazy sight to all those people who didn’t know. But then again, this was the Mission in San Francisco, so maybe not. Certainly nobody else stopped to find out what was wrong. Probably just thought it was something personal between us. He obviously hadn’t been able to bring himself to tell anybody who didn’t already know either.

I couldn’t think what to say to comfort him. I’d just seen the plane crash into the building, so “it’s gonna be fine” wasn’t gonna cut it. Anyway, I don’t believe in making optimistic predictions in emergencies; it’s more important to have courage to face whatever may happen.

“What’s her name?”
“Debbie. Debbie Golden.”

“OK. Debbie Golden. Debbie Golden. I’ll never forget it. I wish for Debbie Golden to be OK. I pray for Debbie Golden to be OK. I’ll always think her name I promise you I promise you! Debbie Golden. Debbie Golden! I’ll tell people her name. ”

Reading between the lines, I guess I was saying I’d remember her name whether she lived or died. That she wouldn’t be forgotten if she didn’t make it. But that I’d keep her name alive as long as there was uncertainty about whether or not she was alive. I meant all that and I know that he understood every unspoken word of it.

We were in complete hysterics by this point with him actually spasming with fear and grief as I repeated this stranger’s name like it was a holy mantra. Our fingernails were digging into eachother’s arms as we shook and trembled together on that street corner while people just walked around us.

What good was remembering this woman’s name gonna do? What did it matter if I told people her name or prayed for her or not? But for some reason it seemed comforting, both to him and to me.

I don’t know how long we were there but finally things subsided enough to release our embrace.

“I gotta go make some calls.”

“Of course. Of course. Debbie Golden. Debbie Golden..”

We parted and I picked up my coffees, now lukewarm, and headed back to Lisa’s where she was glued to the TV.

“I just met someone whose cousin is in there! They were just on the phone right when it happened! Her name is Debbie Golden!”

I told her the story and she explained that her mother, an early riser, had just happened to be watching the news when the first reports came on. She wasn’t in New York and was in no danger though. Whew. Pretty soon, my guy rang me from Chicago to let me know he was completely unaffected, so that was obviously a huge relief even though I’d sort of already worked it out. Double Whew.

But what about that poor guy’s cousin? What happened to Debbie Golden? Debbie Golden? Debbie Golden? Debbie Golden?

It took quite some time before definitive lists of victims were published and reliable. So for many years I would check and check again, seeing if the name Debbie Golden appeared on any of them. It never was but it was many years before I stopped checking and could finally feel 100% certain in the knowledge that she’d made it down the rest of the stairs to freedom, safety and life. Over the years I had occasion to tell the story many times and of course, always told her name.

In all the emotion, I never did ask the guy what his own name was, nor he mine, but I’m sure he remembers our encounter as vividly as I do. I must be the first person he saw after his phone went dead.

I’d sure like to meet him again and let him know how glad I was that his cousin got out alive and that I kept my promise and never forget her name. Could the BBC help with that? I bet a similiar scenario was played out between other pairs and groups of strangers all over the place. I see it as a tiny story with a big resonance.

Maybe it would mean something too, to this woman Debbie Golden, to know that in the middle of that awful tragedy and many thousands of miles away, specifically she (her name anyway) made a huge effect on, and thus created a weird bond with, someone she has never met. That some woman named Diana Trimble, who now lives in England, cried for her safety in her cousin’s arms on a street corner in San Francisco during those exact moments as she was anxiously making her way down that stairwell for the hope of life itself. And that I will always carry her name with me because of that moment in which I briefly shared a stranger’s anguish. I’d like to think it helped him a tiny bit. May the good luck that was fortunately hers that day ever be with Debbie Golden and her cousin, wherever they may be. And may it rub off on me a little too.

Sweet, Charming Chats about Killing?

September 4, 2011

Nothing whatsoever strange about keeping this in your bedroom.

OK. As senseles and rotten homicides go, this one is in a league all its own. Certainly if you live in the UK, you’ve come across the recent case of a 16 year-old boy, Joshua Davies, who casually murdered his 15 year old ex-girlfriend by meeting her in the woods then bashing her head in with a rock, variations on which idea he’d apparently often talked about. The “charming” horror-movie fanatic who also collected knives and was fascinated by weapons made his final decision based on a kind of sociopoathic misunderstanding of a flippant text from a friend in reply to his throwing out there “what would you do if I really did kill her?” The ludicrous query got an equally ludicrous response (“I’d buy you breakfast”) from a supposedly joking-right-back pal, who was soon afterwards taken to look at the dead girl’s body.

The story is being sold as “the boy who killed on a dare for a free breakfast” but I think that rather badly misses the point.

I went on the message boards to see what people were saying about all this and predictably there was a lot of disgust and desire for revenge, hangings too good for him etc. The victim’s family has come forward and asked for the reinstatement of capital punishment for which they have received much support. I can understand their feelings. Rebecca Aylward seemed like a lovely, smart and promising girl. Sadly, she fell for the “dangerous one” as so many females do, only in her case, there was more to it than motorbikes and ditching school.

But something else struck me, something that no one besides myself seemed to comment on. Below is what I posted. I’m interested in what others think, so do write in.

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Um, I’m still having trouble with the part of the story where it was somehow considered normal by friends and family, including the victim herself, that the guy openly talked about various ways to kill her. Look, me and my friends did a lot o risky stuff when we were teens: group shags, LSD in the woods, shoplifting, shooting up drugs…. but we never, I mean NEVER joked around about MURDER. There was a horror show element to a certain strand of the underground punk and gay scenes (what eventually became goth and fetish) but that was all just fantasy theatrics, vampires and fun sexy nonsense. Anyone who showed a genuine interest in violence would’ve stuck out like a sore thumb.

I guess what I’m saying is, the most disturbing thing to me about all this is that everyone’s saying “We never saw it comin’! He was so sweet and charming…um, and also totally obsessed with gory murders, knives, death and um, yeah, frequently mentioned killing Rebecca in all sorts of different ways…but still we thought he was a lovely kid….”

Sorry, but it is only me that’s going WTF??? I’m the furthest thing from an old prude or fart someone of my 45 years can be but I’m genuinely scared of the REAL decline of Western civilization if nobody once suspected this kid had some unhealthy obsessions because his leisure pursuits were what, so mainstream? But then I think of the triumph of ironic consumerism, Manson girls T-shirts and serial killer collectible cards, Grand Theft Auto and movies like Kill Bill and yeah, I guess it gets harder and harder to tell because everyone’s so desensitized.

Calling for the death penalty though, rather misses the point too. Ted Bundy was right – we should’ve taken the opportunity to study his brain rather than just snuff him. We need to know what creates cold-blooded killers. Assuming one is not the product of abuse, as seems the case here, and ignoring the religious fanatics who speak of “evil”, we really have to look for answers in brain make-up.

Already strong causal effects have been proven between certain kinds of brain tumours and sudden onset of paedophiliac tendencies, for example. Something is clearly wrong with this kid and it would be good to get beyond the desire to annihilate him in retaliation for his hideous action and instead use him as a scientific subject in aid of increasing understanding about what kind of birth defect it may be that creates certain types of killers.

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