the diary thing. 02.28.02 .guitar
an epiphone emperor, very like the one I used to own, except that mine was gold-finished, and this one is a sunburstI SOLD MY LAST GUITAR THIS WEEK. Actually, itís not really my last guitar, and itís only on consignment, thus not quite sold yet, but the spirit of the above sentence remains; the guitar is gone, and wonít be back. The lovely, gold-finished, single pickup Epiphone Emperor I left with Peter Kesper at Capsule Music on Tuesday was my last really nice, playable guitar. I still have a photogenic old junker of an archtop, the first guitar I ever bought, but I doubt Iíd get a penny for it if I left it with Peter, or anyone for that matter. It looks nice sitting in the corner, though, and gently reminds me of a dream deferred, and now discarded.

I used to own a few nice guitars Ė about nineteen or twenty, total, I think Ė even though, having finally decided to be honest with myself, I'll admit I was a pretty lousy guitarist. They were a pretty lovely bunch of instruments: a Strat and a Jazzmaster, a brutally heavy Les Paul Custom, a Vox "coffin" twelveing, a wonky Hofner and this weird Italian thing with a row of pushbuttons and a sort of 1963 T-bird dashboard finish. My prize was a rare red Gretsch covered in chrome, with catís-eye f-holes and a marvellous, sweet tone. It was the second-last guitar I sold, and I suppose I should have admitted to myself then that my playing days were over. 

I actually played in bands, on stages, and was once this close to recording on an album with my friend Cadillac Bill. I sold most of my collection when I realized that I actually hated the gigging musicianís life, but kept the Epiphone, nursing a fantasy that Iíd buckle down one day and learn to comp along with standards like "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Sweet Lorraine". I even traded a photo session for lessons with a local jazz guitarist, but quit after two trips uptown, unable to navigate the shoals of rudimentary sight-reading, and clearly trying the manís patience. Freddie Green I ainít.

I just didnít have the knack; thereís no other way of putting it. I had an ear, I suppose Ė good enough to figure out punk songs after a couple of listens; a valuable talent in high school punk bands, but overrated once you start hanging around real musicians. I was never able to learn enough to play a song, unaccompanied, all the way through. I could never back up a singer, or play along in a jam session. I could make some pretty impressive noise, though, in the company of like-minded musical anarchists, but I somehow doubt that "musical anarchist" describes me well these days. Musical counter-revolutionary is more like it; musical anarchists are pretty thin on the ground where I live lately.

If anyoneís happy about it all, itís my wife. Her ex-husband was a rock guitarist (a real one, with a real squalid life, apparently, that sheís happy to have escaped) and she says she wonít miss the sound of someone noodling aimlessly on a sixing in some adjacent room. I canít say that I blame her. Besides, we can use the space in the downstairs closet where the Epiphone was stored. Iíve warned her though: As soon as we have a house, a few extra square feet, and a couple hundred bucks for me to spend at some antique market somewhere, Iím getting an old parlour pump organ. You can get them for a song these days, and Iíd like to apply those long-ago years of conservatory piano to learning old ragtime songs and Fats Waller numbers. 

She smiles, and says "Sure thing, honey", and sweetly suppresses an inward shudder. 

Poor woman.

JUST OVER MY RIGHT SHOULDER, the sports t.v. has been tuned to womenís curling most of the week. It was hard enough to take during the Olympics, but curling has suddenly become some sort of phenomenon, and itís getting coverage.

For hours now, and for most of yesterday, Iíve worked at my desk to the sound of young women urgently shouting "HURRRRY!" and "HAAARD!" It was funny at first, and we all made jokes about it to pretend we werenít faintly embarassed, but now itís just getting annoying. And by no means any kind of turn-on. Trust me.

"Doth any man doubt that if there were taken out of men's minds vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like, but it would leave the minds of a number of men poor shrunken things, full of menancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves?"

- Francis Bacon
Of Truth
Old illusions die hard, but they aren't bulletproof. And a day in the life. New and blog-like: the link list below.
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ITíS PROBABLY SOME KIND of "Stockholm Syndrome" thing Ė the captive coming to love and identify with their captor Ė but Iíve become obsessed with the Reuters pipeline feeding photos to my desktop at work. Iím chained to Reuters all day, as it unfailingly, implacably Ė except for a "dinner break" of about an hour around 7pm every day Ė feeds me photos from every notable hotspot and flashpoint around the world. 

A couple of hours ago, a new photo popped up, a slightly blurred shopping mall photo studio portrait of a little girl with a gap in her teeth. I click on the image, read the cutline info at the bottom, then shout across the room to our world editor: "Fermin? Van Dam. Itís confirmed. Colour headshot?" Fermin nods yes, and I drag the photo of the little girl Ė apparently kidnapped by a neighbour and now found dead, her body "partially burned", in a stand of trees by a roadside near San Diego Ė to the folder on the top right-hand side of my screen. A minute later, I open it up in Photoshop, run it through the usual gauntlet of digital modifications, and send it off into the bin.

Somewhere on the other side of the continent, in some living room in some formerly normal house, some kind of awful grief is nearly killing someone. In hundreds of newsrooms around the world, the same grief is being processed with only the merest hint of empathy. Just doing my job, maíam.

LETíS LOOK AT THE NEWS TODAY. Weíve got the NBA and Kournikova at the Mexican Open, and shots of the San Diego police chief doing a press conference on the Van Damís lawn. There are some Cuban police outside the Mexican embassy in Havana, where 21 men have barricaded themselves after driving a bus through the compoundís gates. Further down the page, there's a picture of Fidel, in his shiny, pressed fatigues, looking concerned.

Colombia has been the source of hundreds of photos in the last month or two, where the civil war between the government and FARC has reached some kind of apex. Yesterday, the government rolled out some kind of "mascot" Ė an inflatable cartoon doll of a soldier, more than life-size, in fatigues and forage cap, a real soldier inside animating this obscenity. Itís supposed to rally the support of villagers away from FARC. I canít imagine what they were thinking.

I doubt if we've run more than one or two photos from Colombia in the two months I've been here. It's the same at every paper; something's going on there, something terrible, perhaps, but there's always Afghanistan or Palestine or some murder somewhere to keep it from playing bigger than a brief.

Thereís been a train crash in Lincolnshire, and a runway show of Dolce & Gabbanaís fall line in Milan. More masked men with guns and rocks in Palestine. I doubt if a day goes by without a score of shots from Jerusalem, Gaza, Hebron, or the West Bank. I wonder how long itís been since a day passed without a photo slugged "MIDEAST". The Peruvian fisheries minister has launched a campaign promoting ceviche. Mmm, ceviche.

The N.Y. police who were convicted of sodomizing Abner Louima with a broom handle have had their convictions overturned. Now is a good time to be a N.Y. cop, straight or crooked. Hamid Karzai, the interim president of Afghanistan, is in France. I have a running bet with Fermin on how long itíll be till heís killed. Itís an idle thing, and while neither of us want the man dead, weíre just indulging our cynicism about the Afghani government. I suppose Iíll feel vindicated Ė in some bitter, self-loathing way Ė if and when the man dies. 

NEWSPAPER PEOPLE ARE NOTORIOUS, at least in the movies, for cultivating a casual heartlessness about human suffering, a witless fatalism that allows them to act unsurprised by anything but the most awful of tragedies. Itís probably only a middling exaggeration of the truth. Any particular sensitivity to horror or disaster would be a liability, and thereís too much work to get done to start coming over all appalled when some new nightmare comes down the wire. 

Just the other day, we got in some particularly gruesome airline crash photos, body parts and chunks of fuselage strewn over some mountainside in South America. (Argentina? Venezuela? My God, Iíve already forgotten.) At that dayís editorial meeting, I extended an open invitation to anyone who wanted to stop by my desk to take a look, since it was unlikely theyíd see print in any magazine or newspaper on this side of the Atlantic. Probably half the office took me up on my offer, an exercise in hardening the calluses, so to speak.

BRITNEYíS NEW VIDEOGAME. Software bootleggers in Iraq. Protesters banging pots and pans in the streets. That must be Argentina. No Ė Lebanon. That came out of left field. Riots in India, revenge killings for the train arson two days ago. Fermin and I are actually worried about this one. I have a vision of coming in one afternoon to look at photos of nuclear aftermath in Delhi, Karachi, Kashmir. No matter, move on. 

Great shots of a hermit discovered in the mountains of Bosnia. Ilija Panincic hid out in the hills, and hasnít seen another human for six years; he didnít know the war was over until this week. Whoever took these Ė the credit says Damir Sagolj Ė knows what heís doing. Lovely, moody portraits in the hermitís hut, and a couple of hilarious shots of the man getting a haircut from a NATO peacekeeper, with a local music teacher playing a trumpet in the background. They look like stills from a Tito-era Yugoslav black comedy. I nudge the resemblance a step further by processing one in black and white. Nice work.

A Basque bombing, the Pope and the Polish president, and a photo of the latest Palestinian suicide bomber. A woman. I guess Hamas, or Hezbollah, or Fatah, or whomever, has decided to let women die for the intifada. There was a quite sound rumour that the first one Ė the young nurse who blew herself up a few weeks ago Ė was an accident. This one isnít. Oh well, move on. There'll be more.

NATO tried to arrest Radovan Karadzic, but he got away. Iíll have to keep an eye on that one. More riot shots from India. Nestle announcing a good year in earnings, and some old shots of Nixon. Nixon? His presidential library is releasing 500 hours of tapes today. I have a soft spot for Nixon Ė well, an obsession, really. I save a shot or two for myself. I could have fun playing around with them in Photoshop.

Roger Waters playing a concert in Cape Town. A New Zealand hospital admitting that they harvested over 1300 hearts from infants over 50 years. Black humour Ė theyíre offering to return them. Amazing. Jiang Zemin in Vietnam. The Queen drinking champagne. PETA protesters in leopard-spot body paint and gings protesting in Trafalgar Square. Grammy leftovers from last night. 

THE FLOW DRIED UP a week or two ago. We get our Reuters feed from a satellite dish on the roof, but somewhere along the line a train crash Ė in Ohio, apparently; that really doesn't sound very high-tech, does it? Ė cut some fibre optic link in the chain and the torrent stopped with a shot of refugees Ė illegal workers trying to get home for the new year festivities Ė pouring out of a truck at some Chinese border post. It was fixed, but a few days later, our server crashed, and plugged the pipeline again. I was anxious, denied my full menu of raw news for days, until our sysadmin came back from his long weekend to start the river flowing once more. 

IíVE BEEN HAVING DREAMS, Reuters dreams: daisy chains of photos flowing together with a profound, suggestive logic. I donít try to make sense of them, much as I donít try to divine logic in each dayís indiscriminate core dump of war, photo ops, and inadvertent black humour. Itís not my job. Iím just the guy at the end of the pipeline.

Andy McNab, Bravo Two Zero buy it

Vasco Rossi, Stupido Hotel buy it
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