An album by Mr. Bungle, released in 1999. If you have heard their other albums and then heard this one, you would hardly believe it's the same band. The songs are actual songs (In Disco Volante, the tracks can hardly be called songs). Not only are they actually singable, they are quite 'popy'. Some of them anyway. The tunes range from the Radiohead-sounding 'Retrovertigo', through a bizarre form of Rock and Roll (it IS Rock and Roll, though), in 'None Of Them Knew They Were Robots' to the Gypsy-metal 'Ars Moriendi'. Great stuff. And amazing lyrics, especially 'Vanity Fair'.

Album listing:

  1. Sweet Charity
  2. None Of Them Knew They Were Robots
  3. Retrovertigo
  4. The Air-Conditioned Nightmare
  5. Ars Moriendi
  6. Pink Cigarette
  7. Golem II: The Bionic Vapour Boy
  8. The Holy Filament
  9. Vanity Fair
  10. Goodbye Sober Day

California has a population of approximately 34,871,648 (2000 Census), with 217,753 legal immigrants entering in 2000 from Mexico, People's Republic of China, the Philippines, India, and Vietnam (the 5 leading countries, making up 39 percent of all immigrants in 2000). The unemployment rate has increased, rather significantly, since that whole fiasco in Silicon Valley (though I'm sure there are plenty of jobs in the military! Go! Protect Your Country! Anyway, What do all of these immigrants do?

Many do the jobs that are looked down upon by our society, that are the backbone of the Californian economy (no, they do NOT patrol beaches in little red swimsuits!):

California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom

The California CTA station (known informally as the California El Station) is about halfway between the O'Hare station and the Loop on the Blue Line in Chicago. It, along with the Western and Damen stations, are the only three elevated stations on the Blue Line before the Blue Line splits into the 54/Cermak and Forest Park branches.

It is a rather plain station (though about 300,000 people used that station in one year). It has one exit, which leads onto California Street (at about 3000 west). Inside the station proper is a small convinence mart, which usually isn't open. After paying for the fare and going through the turnstiles, there is a choice of heading up one of two staircases; one leads to the side where O'Hare trains arrive, the other to where ]54/Cermak and Forest Park trains arrive.

The actual station is equally plain: two open-air platforms facing each other with a mess of tracks between them. The barriers on the sides of the platforms (to prevent people from falling off) are painted white. There are lights to illuminate the station at night (they are yellow lights, and do a good job of covering anything under them yellow). There are usually two sheltered areas on each platform, and one set of heat-lamps. From that vantage point, you can see the Chicago skyline (parts of it, anyway), a Subway, and various other restaurants.

Establishments around the California CTA station include:

-A Subway – Good sandwiches and daily deals make this a great place to eat.
-A Bakery (directly under the train tracks on California, you can get all sorts of breads, rolls, cookies and doughnuts here for only 30 cents plus tax)
-A Laundromat
-A very small Fast-Food place (it can fit about four tables and it's rather dirty...good milkshakes though)
-A Police Station
-A Grocery Store (I think it focuses on produce)
-A Post Office (This is further north on California, where California intersects with Fullerton)

All-in-all, the California station is a rather useful station. I've enjoyed using it for the last seven years. I recognize the people who have shops around the area, and it's not a bad neighborhood. It's a good place.

California is the most populous and third largest state in the United States of America. California is often described in superlatives. Along with its size and population, it also has the highest and lowest points in the continental United States, and has some of the driest, wettest, hottest and coldest places. It is prone to earthquakes, drought, wildfire and the occasional volcanic eruption. It also has many famous landmarks and some of the United State's largest urban areas. California is sometimes compared to other nations in the world, to show that if it was an independent country, it would be as populous, large and as economically active as many major world powers. There is a county in California that is larger in area than nine of the smallest US states, and more populous than the 12 least populous. California is almost a nation in itself.

Some of this is by accident. In the same way that the borders of Europe were settled by religious wars or cousins marrying several hundred years ago, the borders of the states come from their territorial borders, which as much as I can tell, were probably drawn out by minor functionaries in the Department of the Interior sometime in the early 19th century. There is probably more to it then that, but if some politicians had decided to draw up the map differently in the 1850s, California might be two or three states, and would not be seen as quite a monolith. But that doesn't change the fact that California, as it is, is a gigantic and many-splendored place.

Because of its great size, California probably has more distinct regions than any other American state. These include:

  • Southern California (or, to my Oregonian mind, Los Angeles), where the weather is very hot and dry and where many many people live close together. It includes Los Angeles and its suburbs, as well as San Diego. This area also includes Hollywood, California, the center of the American movie industry. It also includes the gigantic port facilities of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Like any large American city, the Los Angeles area is rich in immigrant communities, probably being the second most diverse city after New York, New York. Despite all of this diversity, Southern California is still fixed in my mind (and probably not only in my mind) as the land of smog, ego and urban sprawl.
  • The Bay Area (or, to my Oregonian mind, San Francisco) is the area around San Francisco Bay. San Francisco is actually the second largest city in the Bay Area, behind San Jose. This probably makes my habit of referring to anyone from the Bay Area as "from San Francisco" inaccurate and annoying, but it at least has historical precedent. San Francisco was the first major port, and has the famous landmarks of Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate Park. As opposed to the stereotypes of stress-driven, egotistical Los Angelenos, San Francisco and the Bay Area is stereotypically a more relaxed place, although (again stereotypically) somewhat loopily so. San Francisco is famous for its gay subculture, and for being one of the founding spots of hippy culture. The area might be more famous now as one of the founding spots of the computer industry, especially in San Jose and Silicon Valley.
  • The Central Valley: People familiar with California from images of the Hollywood Sign and Pride Week in San Francisco might overlook the large part of California that is given over to agriculture. The Central Valley, between the Coast Range and the Sierra Nevada, is a large flat area, that thanks to irrigation, plenty of sunshine, and cheap labor is the richest agricultural area in the United States. Many things are grown here, from exotic crops like avocados to staple crops like rice. Driving across this area seems to be an interminable experience, with the endless fields and orchards interspersed with functional towns. Although it might not be glamorous, it is one of the reasons that California has such large ports, and also the source of many semi-tropical crops. The largest city in the Central Valley is the state capital, Sacramento.
  • The rest: outside of these large areas, are many less-populated areas that might not be familiar to those outside of California, and even to many of those in the state. From the dry, interior Salton Sea to the mountain towns along the Nevada border to the wet, forested area adjoining Oregon, there are many areas that are part of California due to the decisions of that 19th-century cartographer.

Because of this great diversity, which also includes a great mixture of ethnic groups, and many different subcultures, there is very little that can be said about California as a whole. The state has also had a mixed history politically: up until 1988, it was mostly conservative overall, but since 1992 has become more and more liberal. What might happen to California in the future, and its various regions, is something beyond my ability to guess at.

In which Yours Truly is detained by the Secret Service as a suspected assassin.



It was the summer of 1975, I think; I've mentioned before that my memories of this time are a bit hazy as to dates and things. I was living in Buffalo NY and divorced for the second time and not unnaturally had begun to feel somewhat disconnected, so of course I did what many others did at that time and in those circumstance, I set out for California.


The crossing took six days, that much is certain. I had bought a Rambler station wagon for the trip, and planned to pitch my jungle hammock (it incorporated a canopy and bug netting) on the top of the roof, tied off to the bumpers. I couldn't sleep inside as the cargo space was taken up by a large desk. I don't remember exactly why I took the desk, after all I'd even left my beloved Kayak behind, but at the time it seemed important. Perhaps as a sort of anchor to reality.


I of course chose to cross on the fabled Route 66, which meant progress at first seemed negligible as one kept encountering the same constellation of filling stations, shops and diners, over and over. After a while I struck the Great Plains and progress ceased altogether, or seemed to. Mile after mile, and once in while a distant farmhouse would appear on an absolutely flat horizon, seeming to follow along for awhile in a companionable sort of way. I wasn't able to sleep for very long; quite often I would wake at 2 or 3 in the morning and get back on the road. At that hour the only other traffic were the huge trucks delivering freight across the nation. This was the era of the CB radio, and the air would have been full of the conversation of truckers talking back and forth as they drove but as I had no such equipment the huge eighteen wheelers were silent except for the language of their many lights and I blinked politely when it was safe to pass and to cut back in as my father had taught me.


Then as I drove one morning near dawn accompanied by these genial behemoths I became aware that the landscape had changed, from flat to a sort of lunar landscape of humps and hollows colored a light beige. Dawn brought the realization that I had reached the Painted Desert and Arizona. When it was fully light I pulled into a rest station and got out. The station was a plexiglass shelter and the only man-made structure in sight except for the seemingly endless stretch of straight highway. Curious because I had never actually seen a desert before I walked away from the road. It was absolutely silent except for the crunch of my footsteps and very hot. Far in the distance I could see a range of mountains toned a deep black; everything else was a glaring wilderness of baking rock, sand, and sparse vegetation all of which seemed armored with lethal looking spines. I stirred with the toe of my shoe the twisted transparent skin of some kind of large snake and shivered, retracing my steps to the car and the safety of motion.


What did I know of California? Very little except for the names of large cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles. I had no destination in mind, but the thought of living among crowds of people felt unbearable so I turned south toward the Texas.plains. I think I must have stopped at least once en route but by then the trip had become merged into seemingly endless highway unrolling ahead promising Escape from the image of the desert that pursued me like a vision of what awaited if I stopped moving. One night I remember clearly, parked in the ruins of an abandoned Texas motel alongside the cracked concrete of a long dried swimming pool. The only things moving were the spherical tumbleweeds stirred into motion by a fitful breeze and as night closed in the sky opened overhead with a display of stars such as I had never seen before. I lay back on the warm steel hood of the Rambler and felt as if I would in a moment simply fall upward forever.


San Diego when I reached it was white stucco and an aging population in long billed hats and khaki shorts baking in the relentless sun. I turned north along the coastal road and as I did so realized that my money was getting low and the Rambler had developed an unhealthy thirst indicating a radiator leak. After some hours I reached a little seaside town, pulled in and went looking for someplace to stay.


The place I found was peculiar, one half of a divided apartment- I had the ridiculously posh bathroom and no kitchen; the fellow on the other side had the remainder. I checked the want ads and found a landscaping company nearby looking for help. I shrugged; it was not my favorite sort of work but it didn't seem to matter. The trouble was, I couldn't summon up much enthusiasm about anything.


I lasted a couple of weeks at the landscaping job until we parted by mutual consent and I hit the local job center for something more permanent. There was an ad for an opening at the Pinkerton Security Agency and more or less seduced by the romanticism of working for such a firm I went in for an interview. The absurdity of wearing the uniform appealed to me, and it seemed something about my background intrigued the interviewer. He noted my lack of war record, and mentioned that they'd had trouble keeping men at one particular post because of problems with the nurses, wink wink. It wasn't until later that it dawned on me that he must have thought I was gay. God bless America.


So I was fitted for a blue serge uniform and a peaked cap complete with badge, then told that because the post was a hospital I would be required to wear a firearm. There followed a firearms training course run by an ex-police officer who regaled all of us trainees with stories about how he had dealt with recalcitrant offenders back in the day: 'So this one ol' boy, he kept spitting goobers through the mesh ( he meant the steel mesh barrier that separates the back and front seats in a patrol car) so what I did, I put my foot down and when we hit seventy I jammed on the brakes sudden like, an' that turkey's face, it looked like a waffle iron!' (cue sycophantic laughter)


I was issued a large .38 revolver and when I had made enough holes in the paper target I was allowed to take the thing home, to be ready for my first night on the job. I remember staring at it as it lay on my desk top, the copper coated bullets gleaming, the sharp smell of the oil we had used to clean out the barrel after the target shoot. All I had to do was pick it up, point it at some reasonably vital part of my anatomy, and pull the trigger one last time. The sense of failure and all the useless questions that had pursued me across the vast American continent would all go away and bother someone else.


You see, I had already learned something about California that wasn't in the ads and tourist brochures. It was from a short deeply tanned guy who ran a Vespa dealership, when I went in to see about replacing the Rambler with something cheaper to run. We chatted for awhile about living in California, and then he said, examining me closely, ' You see all the beautiful beaches, the surf , the palm trees, all of that?' he gestured in a wave that took in the miles of coastline. 'Wait till you've been here awhile. Everybody comes here to escape their problems, see, but then they reach the ocean and that's all there is, there's no place else to run.'


I thought of this, looking at the polished walnut grips of the pistol I had been given as casually as the rest of the uniform, and thought, man, you can't really be thinking of blowing out your brains; it would be such an absurd cliché .


The Hospital proved to be up in the hills above the ocean. Southern California is to a large degree desert and scrub land and there were no houses anywhere near to the grounds. Beyond the parking lot was just darkness punctuated by a few stunted plants and an army of jack rabbits. Part of my rounds took me around the perimeter, I suppose to check for intruders, and it became one of my favorite parts of the job. Another came at the very end of my shift when I stood at the entrance way to see the doctors and nurses to their cars. The place was designed in a faux adobe style, and all over the massive portico of the entrance porch the swallows had built their mud and wattle nests. Sensing the mysterious energy of the coming dawn they would burst out in a delighted chorus of song that sounded like a seventies record played backwards at high speed. Then I would hop on my little moped- all I could reasonably afford in the end- and putt down to the coastal highway as the sun lit the tops of the hills. At the apartment I would change and take a jog around the neighborhood which was built into the side of a hill and terraced with bungalows, then shower and go to bed until late afternoon. I spoke to no one more than necessary and few people spoke to me. I painted pictures and wrote a lot of poetry.


I became absorbed with the little apartment, finally installing a compact kitchenette in an alcove complete with sink and electric oven. I amused myself trying to create gourmet meals, the only time in my life I bothered about food and a bit of history my wife refuses to believe possible. I took the little moped on long journeys on my days off, back into the hills and once as far as the mountains that run north to south inland. That trip ended with a hair raising ride down the mountain roads in the dark, feeling about as substantial as a skateboard as the cars wizzed past inches away.


One of my trips took me down south toward San Clemente, and the road I was following turned into a four lane expressway, not really suitable for the little moped, so I turned off to try to find a way around . I was motoring down a narrow side road when I came to a dead halt at a large wooden gate marked 'Coast Guard Property' that blocked the road. Now, you have to remember that I was a Pinkerton's Security Guard and by now accustomed to opening doors and going where members of the general public weren't allowed. At least that was what I told myself; what I actually did was to pry open a corner of the gate to see if there was a way through. I saw rolling grasslands and in the distance a few horses placidly grazing, but no sign of a through road.


I shrugged and was about to turn around and go back when two automobiles screeched to a halt behind me and four men jumped out with their guns drawn, all of them pointed at me. I found to my chagrin that I was not made, sadly, of the stuff of movie heroes, for I promptly wet myself. The men who in my memory remain faceless to this day hustled me into one of the cars, drove me through the gate which turned out to be electrically operated and which I had presumably damaged by forcing it open because I received a very dirty look by one of the men. It did seem an overreaction to handcuff me . They took me into a building, locked one half of the cuffs to the arm of a chair, then left.


After a while one of them came back in with the case I had strapped onto the bike's carrier which contained all the report forms I used at work, plus some other papers.

Who are all these doctors, he wanted to know. I told him I had made a list of Urologists I had wanted to see to discuss the possibility of reversing my vasectomy. He looked disappointed which I didn't understand at the time but later I realized he had hoped they were all Psychiatrists.


'Do you know where you are?' he asked next. I shrugged as well as a person wearing handcuffs can and replied in the negative. ' This is the summer home of former President Nixon,' he stated, watching me narrowly. Oh sweet Jesus, I thought. Nixon of Watergate fame. Tricky Dick. One of the most unpopular presidents ever up till then. So these guys were not fellow Security Guards, this was the Secret Service given the unenviable job of guarding the ex-president from potential assassins. This was beyond a joke- I had been in College when two disaffected young men had killed the Kennedy Brothers, one after the other. Martin Luther King's death was only a few years distant.


The grilling began in earnest. What did I think of ex-president Nixon? Did I feel he ought to have been punished? What were my feelings about the war in Vietnam? And on and on.

I became a vessel of absolute sincerity. I said that Nixon had gotten a raw deal from the media. I said I had no opinion on his leaving office, he had seemed to be a victim of circumstance. I explained that I had only been seeking a short cut, that I was a Security Guard for Pinkerton and used to opening doors. It sounded pretty thin stuff even to me, but I gradually realized that my interrogator was becoming bored. Doubtless it had been a slow afternoon and it would have been nice just to shoot someone. Finally I heard someone in the other room say, 'Oh, just throw a scare into him and let him go.'


My interrogator told me I was now in a permanent file and I had better never do anything like this again. I fell over myself promising to be good, aware by now that we were both playing a part. They took me back to he gate which now operated normally, gave me my moped and, as ordered,  let me go.


I pedaled the little machine into motion and putted off back down the road and you know? It was suddenly, completely, wonderful to be alive.

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