In the Eyes of the Law

Until quite recently, the general public had forgotten all about Nathanael Greene’s uniquely noteworthy contributions to American society.  They no longer knew he was a close and trusted adviser to our nation’s first president and founding father, George Washington.  Nor did they know that Nathanael was a brilliant soldier who was instrumental in turning back the bloody British in several key battles throughout our southern states.  Over the past two and a half centuries, the triumphs and successes of Nathanael were sadly, but customarily, consigned to oblivion by multitudes.  That is, until last week, when the calamitous crime of trespassing was allegedly committed, according to authorities.

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Some capering criminal apparently climbed the thirteen-foot, two-ton statue of Nat straddling a steed, and, to comical effect, stuck on a pair of joke eyes.  While we proles laughed our heads off, the establishment collectively clucked and tutted at the visceral desecration of a national icon.

Being from Glasgow in Scotland, my initial thought was bewilderment. Here was an unfamiliar man who had died before our modern age, yet was memorialized with a full-sized bronze bronco on a giant granite plinth.  Such was the fate of generals back then: to receive some commanding, hoof-encoded horsey hallmark, prominently set in the middle of town.  Yet today, most of us don’t know who they are or why they’re there.

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Everyone in Glasgow knows the Duke of Wellington’s statue, and in fact, will often walk by to take a look. This is due, principally, to the incessant ongoing placement of a traffic cone atop the grand Duke’s dome.

Anonymity is not an issue for the Duke of Wellington, who famously defeated Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo in 1815, and went on to serve as Britain’s prime minister, twice. Nathanael Greene would be fortunate to have the Duke’s widespread recognition: He has been trying helplessly to make eye contact for centuries.

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Russian Rubdown

Ever so subtly, while restrained under two hundred and fifty pounds of perspiring pressure, I slowly craned my neck to the right.  Trapped and pinned face-down I could barely see the circular white wall-clock with my peripheral vision.  “Shit” I whispered through clenched teeth, but it was more like “SSSSSShit,” such as you might find in a Kavanesque calendar.  The clock read ten past six, the same as last time, which must have been less than a minute earlier.  My big clammy captor was non-communicative and unrelenting as he applied increasing pressure at key points on my ensnared vertebrae. Starting at my trembling tailbone, he systematically and piercingly thumbed all the way up my squirming spinal cord to the back of my skull.  “Not my head,” I said in a perfunctory disapproving tone. “That is your spine,” he retorted, pushing even harder on my occipital with some seemingly oversized blunt finger.  “Okay, but not here,” as I motioned to my cranium with a waving right hand, thinking how absurd it was to be debating anatomy with my tormentor.  For the record, the definition of my head includes those areas with hair, just above the neck.

This one, for sure, was going to be tagged as a bad massage.  When I booked it at my little boutique hotel in downtown Kiev I had imagined a relaxing, rejuvenating, pre-dinner Swedish style rub, probably from some Ukrainian lovely.  But instead I got Jaws, who was evidently taking a break from the Bond franchise.  “Hey,” I said, using more antsy direct language, “do my legs, not my back.”  “Yes, I will do your legs when I’m finished with your back,” said the hulking henchman, and so it went for the rest of this particular eternity.  The clock, which was apparently close to the gravitational field of a Ukrainian black hole, had now advanced by two excruciating minutes, with another forty-eight to go.

My theory on the difference between a good massage and a bad one is that it is galactic in scale, where awful experiences are seared on graffitied walls in your hippocampus.  I remember each and every one of them: the lousy ones, that is.  The distinction is consequential: It’s not the same as some unsavory meal that you didn’t finish or a tedious movie where you leave mid-way or fall asleep.  You don’t limp home from The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle or get an incessant irritating rash from insipid Shrimp Scampi Linguine. For me, a good massage is the pre-Cobain definition of Nirvana: every muscle and tendon meticulously soothed while you lie there like a beached whale; and you forget all about the clock.

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Obliviously hopeful innocent souls in Seoul, Korea, moments before meeting the Elbow Sisters.  While my daughter and I just love a great massage, my lovely wife doesn’t care for them and my best friend Jay tells me he just had the one from a girlfriend back in the 1970s.

Bold Spice

Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 3.18.01 PMScreen Shot 2018-07-01 at 3.18.39 PM breakfast the other morning, there was a man with aftershave so intense I couldn’t taste my scrambled eggs.  The gentleman’s fragrance was redolent of one of those highway-closing hazmat spills.  And the word fragrance is clearly a misnomer: it was more chemical weapon than bouquet nez.  All 10,000 of my microvillian taste buds withered and died instantly like fragile daffodils in a deep sudden frost.  The odor had a pungency that seemed to coat my nostrils ensuring an enduring afterglow; as they say in American football, it had a long hang-time.  Naturally, pheromones are excreted chemicals designed to elicit a social response in members of the same species.  And they did: My response was, who fell in a vat of Old Spice?

The next day I could tell he’d already had breakfast: I surmised that L’Homme Eau De Toilette started at the cold cuts, moved on to the cereal, and hung out at the toaster, presumably preferring his dough a tad darker.  Though cold cuts and cheese are a regular breakfast on the continent, I still don’t get it—for me that’s survival refrigerator detritus, while hoping my lovely wife will break down and go to the grocery.

After breakfast, I could probably pheromonically find Pepe Le Pew’s room if I cared, as he moved around the hotel lugubriously like some unwelcome, nagging low-pressure weather system.

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The hotel Vivaldi, in Westerlo Belgium, affectionately known as The Four Seasons, really just gets one season out of four, but you get the feeling that Winter is coming.  Mind you, if Vivaldi was Scottish he would have composed The Two Seasons: Winter and June 28th.

The Princess and the Periodical

Screen Shot 2018-05-31 at 4.10.44 AMScreen Shot 2018-05-31 at 4.09.05 AMScreen Shot 2018-05-31 at 4.09.16 AM was saved by a great body of knowledge.  Luckily for her, the most significant events of the twentieth century, catalogued chronologically and contemporaneously, were stored carefully beneath the century-old artifact.  The first man on the moon, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth and the discovery of King Tut’s tomb all contributed equally to break what would otherwise have been a nasty fall.

The bed was so old that two of its legs just broke unceremoniously like Snyder’s pretzels when inadvertently sat upon.  Snapping and crackling loudly the pine pallet tipped, attempting to suddenly spill its dozing dweller to the floor far below.  Were it not for the fifty-year compendium of Nat Geo mags stored under the bed for some future undefined generation, she would have had a rash awakening.  Could it be more fitting than to be supported by such a bedrock institution?

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(My daughter was happy to spend the night at her grandmother’s.  Apparently, the bed was an heirloom, crafted from some dodgy wood a century before, probably when a five-foot tall protein-deprived populous weighed in at less than 100 pounds.  Luckily the Nat Geo stash was under that bed and the China was stored in the other room.)

Looking at a Scarlet Sky

Back in the last century, when the human attention span was still quantifiable, it was perfectly normal to watch Hank Marvin and the Shadows perform repetitive instrumental covers on TV at prime time.  Four minutes of a goggle-glassed grinning Hank, carefully picking out Stratocaster notes one at a time, with seemingly way too many other musicians in the background doing something inaudible.  Nonetheless, this guy had a unique sound; you knew when you were hearing Hank.

For this new song, Scarlet Sky, I played my beautiful Taylor T5 semi acoustic guitar, or as they call it nowadays, a hollowbody electric, which is otherwise an elegant piece of flamed koa fine furniture with strings.  It’s one of those guitars that seems to dictate how you play, and for me that oddly seems to be a melodic Hank Marvin minus the whammy bar.  However, definitely not in the Shadows, is the bass which has a forward groove like the Chili Pepper’s Flea, and the cans, which are sonically architected here by a rhythmic Dragan Bonham Stojkovski.

My great friend Steve Mackereth seemingly has developed a real knack for rank and file melody: Mack’s newfound mastery of dark social narrative drives the song insistently from start to finish.  For the conjectural voiceover, our first choice would have been Vincent Price, of course, but we went with the ubiquitous, angry-but-informed Scottish guy.  Anyway, if anyone should ask, this is what the song is about.

             Looking at a Scarlet Sky by Steve Mackereth and Alex Smith, produced by Dragan Stojkovski (4.06).  Photography by the intrepid Chris Blackshear.

The Horned Rim Fan

I’m a big fan of David Hockney; always have been.  That’s really why I bought the robin’s egg horned rims.  However, all similarities end there, although old Hock paints a mean woodland.  My current fascination continues to be with my elephant ears who will shortly leave me for winter recess.  Therefore, I am excited to cross the finish line with two colocasian compositions today, although I’ve still got a couple more yet to pass the halfway point.

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The Ear Whisperer

Rather than attempt to focus on technical accuracy I have endeavored to capture sheer vibrance as I interpret these fascinating, partying perennials in the chaos of my very own verdant oasis.

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I took entirely different approaches to each pachyderm plant portrayal using oils, brushes and knives and I had a thoroughly great time, visiting each one from time to time, along with some outdated music, whenever I felt motivated.  For both shrubbery shrines, I used the firmer, smoother Gessobord, which was a welcome break from canvas.

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Although I’ll likely lose my ears to frostbite this winter, my gesso greenery will hopefully harken back to the hazy days of midsummer.

 

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My Goddess of Mercy

The least religious guy I know just installed a 500lb Buddha in his backyard.  My new friend Matt has an affinity for all things Thai and likes to import stuff, and I have a long-developing soft spot for the Buddha.  As we all know, historically, the Buddha was male: his name was Siddhartha Gautama.  The king of his tribe in Nepal, he called himself “Buddha” because it connotes being awakened by light.  So far so good I’m thinking as no one in this story has yet died for my immoralities.

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Much heavier than it looks – the statue too

This Buddha, however, she is female.  Long since pioneered by the likes of the Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin, it is possible for the Buddha to transcend gender and even, shock horror, take an enchanting female form.  Today this is all conceivable even while the Rotary Club of Hamilton, Bermuda remains strictly male only (I did get to take my lovely wife to dinner there as a reluctant guest).  Guanyin is considered a goddess of healing and a Taoist immortal, among other reverential appellations.

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Devotees arrived within minutes of the installation

As a bonus my new Buddha also has a third eye, or Chakra: a gate that leads to inner realms and spaces of higher consciousness.  So many fascinating features!  I look forward to her good company in the years ahead, and yes, she will be decorated at Christmas.

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Radiating peacefulness

Four Wheelchairs and a Femoral

“I am not a number,” I mumbled under my breath; “I am a free man.”  Well, at least I was, two interminable days ago.  Unlike Patrick McGoohan in my deep-rooted teenage treasure, however, I know the reason I’m here.  But the hours have slowly casseroled into days and there is no buffet in sight: I have no exit strategy.  Even the Prisoner of Zenga was liberated eventually, I told myself reassuringly.

In what must be some morbid remake of Misery, I am imprisoned by an even meaner Kathy Bates.  This low-budget, foreign language version of the movie is Hecho en Madrid.  In the Spielbergian overly-long opening scene, as they always are, I am already hopelessly hobbled and strictly confined to a low-budget gray metal-framed cot.  Bedridden and brooding, I’m staring soullessly at an adjacent matching low-budget gray metal-framed chair where my personal effects have been unceremoniously crammed into a bin liner, like some rumpled tent dismantled hastily in a downpour.  Not one of those big industrial black rubbish bags, but the smaller Febrezey white ones with the handy built-in ties.  From the bulge and imprint puzzle on the bag I surmise that clumsy Kath has dumped my open backpack in there upside down, no doubt resulting in some Apple-themed detritus interspersed with my priceless collection of cheap hotel pens.

Filmed with a handheld in grainy black and white, in the next lugubrious scene my mind wanders, although it still looks as though I’m staring intently at the bulging bin liner.  No: I’m thinking back to this morning when I was violated; plopped like a cadaver into a wheelchair and shuffled to the showers where I was stripped of my dignity.  Sponged all over with the small exception of “todo,” which she said repetitively while pointing the industrial grade sponge.  I assumed that was Spanish for clean your own willy.  Nobody expects the Spanish imposition I thought, with a visual of Michael Palin riding an old London bus.

Shamefully returning to the confines of my cot, cantankerous Kath shoved my bin liner aside and dumped my carcass into the chair, like a proverbial hot potato.  My badly-aimed bottom apparently managed to entrap the divider curtain over the chair resulting in a semi-automatic staccato of snapping curtain hooks as my cheeks greeted the old hard-plastic seat at 9.81 m/s2.  Clunky Kath barely noticed the collateral damage as she went off brusquely scanning for her next victim.  I loudly shouted “fuuuuck!” after her as she left abruptly—just so she’d know she’s not getting the whole 5 stars for the service—as I did earlier when she joltingly administered my Siberian shower.  Why wait for Yelp?

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Cane and Able

As I reached gingerly to contain my hotel pen spillage on the old sterilized linoleum floor I wondered how long I’d be trapped here.  Just four days ago I’d been enjoying the sights and sounds of marvelous Madrid, when a growing, searing pain mysteriously enveloped my right leg, and just like successive Black Sabbath albums it got worse and worse, until I simply could not walk.  In writhing agony, I had to be trundled to the hospital in a wheelchair.  And we couldn’t work out what was wrong.  My doctor’s office back home emailed that I should be checked out for deep vein thrombosis, but it wasn’t that apparently, and, after a bunch of x-rays, the hospital merely administered intravenous pain medication with episodic doses of careless Kath.

So, I decided that I’d had enough and I would leave the hospital henceforth, commandeer a wheelchair and fly home immediately to Washington DC to embrace the fleeting benefits of Obamacare.  But I couldn’t walk; otherwise I would have just gotten up and left like I did in Venice that time when I had a staph infection in the other leg, now known lovingly as my good leg.  Funny how that goes.

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Hockey is a Always a Priority

Like some low IQ version of Stephen Hawking I lay there helplessly, quietly conjugating my Spanish verbs, all the while hatching my devious escape plan like Antony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs.  “Tienes un bastón por favor,” I practiced over and over, which roughly translates to, “My kingdom for a cane,” or, “I’ll give you one thousand dollars for a walking stick.”  Everyone who came within earshot of my bed was subjected to a well-practiced Solicitación en español, even the visitors.  Finally, El Doctor came on his last round of the day, and, like a broken record, I trotted out my little overused Spanish phrase.  He said, “OK, but are you able to leave on your own?”  “Oh yes, no problema,” I retorted with great confidence, lying my ass off like Donald Pleasence before he tripped over the guy’s leg while trying to retrieve the carefully positioned tiny needle from the floor.  (That’s a really relevant reference to the most awesome scene in The Great Escape for those older than, say, 50).  With all my might, I stood up and concealed my abject agony, and for winning best actor in a low-budget foreign-language drama he brought me my cane.  (I decided not to do a joke here about Kane and Able, but I did think about it).  In good but halting English he said, “OK the nurse will remove the intravenous drip and you can get dressed and you can go.”  “Thank you,” I said with genuine sincerity.

As he walked away I thought, fuck that, catheter Kath ain’t laying another finger on me, as I professionally removed the contraption from my vein, having already practiced said maneuver when I escaped previously from the hospital in Italy.  They had cats in that hospital by the way.  Anyway, I modestly positioned my half-curtain and delicately started to dress, as the doc walked past one more time.  Thinking my curtain wasn’t closed appropriately he helpfully tugged on it moving the half towards him revealing my glowing harvest moon to the lovely visiting family at the next bed.

My dignity now shredded, it took every fiber in my being to walk out of there with the walking stick, while trying not to show how much pain I was in.  Turns out I had a very bad case of sciatica, which took many weeks of injections and physical therapy to heal.  It took four wheelchairs to get home from my Spanish slammer: four wheelchairs and a femoral.

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It’s Always Nice to be Met at the Airport

A Favorable Juncture of Circumstances

At the crossroads of happenstance, ambition and aspiration one may find opportunity. While many of us may drive continuously through an eternal grid of indistinguishable meandering roads, most of us never get there. Some of us may come close, but we either dead-end or get scooped onto the highway to dwell.

Bert Keith realizes this, as for him, opportunity “beckons like a whore.” “Just reach out and take it,” he cries persistently, his voice almost breaking with frustration and sincerity. Underneath, the bass pumps and drops and the 70s-sounding rock guitars riff haltingly, like a braking locomotive. “Where do we go from here?,” Keith barks. Where indeed.

Written by Steve Mackereth, Alex Smith and Bert Keith, Opportunity was produced by Dragan “the man” Stojkovski.

A Soul For Every Sleeper

“Churchill will win,” he yelled irrepressibly after constant taunting by the vicious guards, and in return he swiftly received the most severe beating of his life. “You don’t do that twice,” he said decades later. “You quickly learned anger management in the camps.” After the ocean liner Empress of Asia was attacked by a fleet of nine Japanese dive-bombers in the Banka Strait, Mick G. was one of the fortunate survivors, who was then unfortunate to make his way to Singapore just before it fell to Japan on February 4th, 1942. Many of those prisoners were conscripted to build the infamous Burma Railway, or Death Railway, as it became known.

A Soul For Every Sleeper by Two Worlds Apart features Steve Mackereth on Vocals, Alex Smith on guitars and Dragan Stojkovski on percussion.