Wednesday, November 29, 2000

Kentucky vampire blues

America's Back Porch-a 304-page tour of the sick Yankee underbelly

Posted By on Wed, Nov 29, 2000 at 12:00 AM

For those of you who have a nagging feeling that America is sinking into a swamp of paranoia and madness, let journalist Daniel Jeffries confirm your fears by shining his flashlight on the delusional opossum scuttling over America's Back Porch: bloodthirsty teen vampires of Kentucky, drunken jail guards wrestling de-clawed bears in bars, Check-A-Mate sex decoys for suspicious spouses, rich folks forking over money to get cosmetic surgery done on their pets, and a group called Dead Serious that will pay you $5,000 for killing anyone who is in the act of committing a crime against you.

What saves America's Back Porch from being a simple laundry list of minds gone astray is Jeffries' sense of adventure as he roots around America's underbelly. He quotes Jack Kerouac's famous lines "The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirous of everything at the same time"--but by the end of the book one has to wonder whether these lines were quoted for irony. Kerouac went on the road looking for love and kicks and the heart of America; the closest Jeffries gets to love or romance is an ex-CIA remote viewer (a psychic agent) who lives in an abandoned missile silo and is obsessed with finding Heather Tallchief, a woman who committed a supposedly perfect crime. (She made off with $4.1 million from an armored-car heist and made it to No. 3 on the FBI's most wanted list, the highest position for a woman in 23 years.)

Jeffries attempts to find his Kerouacian hero in a Native American named Charlie Horse, an in-hiding murder suspect who says he was framed by Arizona police. Horse and his tale of being mistreated by the law harken back to an event Jeffries mentions in the book's introduction: In the 1830s, a group of American Indians held a sacred ritual, spilling blood to avenge the taking of their land: "With my blood and my spirit I lay a curse in the soil. As the white man eats so let the white man go mad. Let his mind be besieged with panic and confusion." Horse chooses to live by his wits on the streets in part because he doesn't answer to the money-driven law of the white man, but to the ancient law of his ancestors.

The most informative piece in the collection concerns Area 51, the mysterious top-secret Air Force base in the Southwest, and it doesn't directly concern UFOs. It turns out that most of the long-term laborers who have worked there are now dying off from mysterious cancers and ailments. The government won't reveal what materials they've been working with, information that might help the patients and their doctors.

As an examination of unusual subcultures, America's Back Porch pales next to such works as Adam Parfrey's Apocalypse Culture, but it is an entertaining light read about limbos that could only be created in this country. It does raise a question, though: Where are the zany utopians of yesteryear?

Rupert Wondolowski writes for the , where this review first appeared.

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