I was born in Chicago. I’ve lived in this town, this state, this country for forty years. I’ve been making artistic choices of one kind or another for more than twenty-five of those years. More often than not, these choices were about balance.
I became interested in balance when I learned what exactly happened in the world that gave me – of all the billions of the earth – the options I have. What happened was empire. Empire is my counterbalance.
I have spent my life in the interior of the world’s most powerful empire. I am surrounded by proof of this in the form of an unending stream of immigrants, a parade in which my own ancestors marched during the 19th and 20th centuries.
If the imperial character of my home ended there, I might even be a fan of empire. Of course, it does not, and I am not.
This empire, as all before it, breeds its own demise in the form of rampant authoritarianism, official corruption and intellectual stagnation. My friends and I have always tried to stand in opposition to these things, to varying degrees of success.
Officer Bob is one such attempt. It’s a black humor protest of the widening acceptance of senseless force and corrupt officialdom. It’s a counterbalance and a spit into the abyss of history awaiting us.
What I’m trying to say is Officer Bob will never, ever appear on Oprah.
I think I was eleven or twelve when childhood pal Alan Buchbinder left on vacation with his family for a week and let me borrow his Atari 2600 while he was gone. I played that thing until I made myself sick, and that’s not an exaggeration. I flirted with epilepsy, dehydration and starvation, and that was only the first day.
Why so obsessed with the 2600? Well, somewhat due to the exciting cartridge packaging. These were always painted tableaus of drama, espionage, military conflict, dragons and kings – hilarious already since the games themselves were rendered in flickery 8-bit boxes you shoved around using a joystick.
This morning at around 4:30 AM, I experienced my first earthquake, courtesy of the downstate Illinois New Madrid Fault. I woke to a dark bedroom and a low but regular thumping sound. My first thought was that one of our cats was doing that scratch-the-ear-with-hind-paw thing, as the thumping had that regularity to it.
Then I noticed that the whole house was gently, but insistently swaying north-south in time with the thumping. Probably a couple of inches each way.
If this was a cat, it was twenty feet tall.
It lasted about one minute – one supremely weird minute. The thought “earthquake?” did occur to me at some point, but right when the shaking ended, I heard the furnace fan also shut off by coincidence, which let me shrug off the whole thing and get back to sleep.
What was most striking about the quake was its creepy, regular oscillation. I don’t know why I thought this, but I always assumed a quake would be more irregular / noisy than this one was. It was downright pro forma and mechanical. The ground tugged and released the house at what I reckon to be a steady 4.5 Hertz (shakes per second) for about a minute, making maybe 270 total oscillations.
I measured the frequency later in the day by firing up Audiomulch and dialing a low frequency oscillator until I found what seemed like the right frequency. The exact reading is 4.6273 Hz, but I rounded because I’m not a geek.
News and USGS reports called the quake a 5.2 on the Richter scale, centered in a small town about 200 miles south of my house.
Whenever the ground you’re occupying acts like a fluid, it will get your attention. Like waves on a calm surface radiating outward from a thrown pebble, an utterly enormous volume of dirt was bunched and stretched into hundreds of waves that reached as far north as Michigan and as far south as Atlanta. Our house rode these waves – four and a half of them a second. Wow.
Also, let me take the time to debunk a myth about animals during an earthquake. Supposedly, animals are able to hear crazy events like quakes and freak out a little bit before they hit. We hear this a lot from our friends in California.
Uh huh. Put down the bong, Peace Bear. Not even the neighbor’s dogs — who will bark at grass — uttered a peep.