The Rogue Voice


August 01, 2006


Feeling cranky
By Stacey Warde

Recently, while putting together this edition of The Rogue Voice, Dell asked me how the paper looked.
“It’s cranky,” Dell. “We’ve a got cranky edition.”
“It’s always cranky,” he retorted.
“Well,” I said, “this one’s really cranky.”
For example, did you ever make a run up the rugged Big Sur coastline and think about pushing your mate off the cliff’s edge?
If you have, you’ll understand what we mean by cranky. If you haven’t, you’ve never been cranky enough in your life to feel real misery.
Steve Hawthorne, who wrote May’s cover, “Boundary,” returns this month with poetic insight into life on “The Lost Coast”, where a dentist and his marble-loving wife come to terms.
Hawthorne’s fiction reads like poetry and requires the same attentiveness and playfulness from its readers that poetry demands from its creators.
While this edition may be crankier than past issues, we think it’s also more artful. We’re pleased to feature the lovely artwork of Cambrian artistst Donald Archer, who was the contributor of a fine book review in our debut October 2005 edition. His painting, “Northern Coast” gives the surreal, hard- and soft-edged feeling we wanted on the cover to illustrate Steve’s prose poem. You’ll find two more of Donald’s paintings, “Big Sur Overlook,” and “Morning Fog, Pt. Conception,” accompanying Steve’s tale of these familiar landscapes.
You can see more of Donald’s work online at Or, you can find his webpage through a link on our new blog: Thanks to commie, pinko, traitor Steve Terranova [“Why I’m not patriotic,” July 2006] for his effort getting us started online.
The poetic voice, I’ve learned, carries more weight and substance and ultimately more power than the song and dance we get from ad hacks. It’s said that advertising is a poignant marker of a culture’s obsessions and neuroses.
More powerful for me are the poets whose integrity compels them to write what they see and unveil the naked truth about our lives.
They are today’s only truly prophetic voices, demanding wakefulness and accountability. Hear what they say:

The winds of paradise are blowing. / False prophets and wishful thinkers can’t murder fast enough.

Michael Hannon of Los Osos sent this warning with his poem,”History of War” (11), which was first published in a literary journal, “BAKUNIN,” after the first Gulf War. “When is war not a gulf?” Michael asked in his cover letter introducing the poem.
Yes, we’re feeling just as cranky as you are, Michael. We see the gulf spreading wider every day.
Two other poets tapped into a similar thread where fear leads to self-betrayal, murder and war.
Regular contributor Todd Young writes, “Treason” (2), and Lee Carpenter offers “Tears for Fallujah” (17), poems that ask us to reflect deeply on the nature of our lives.
I always stand up and take notice when three poets send in poems at the same time giving voice to similar themes: our willingness to betray ourselves, our willingness to kill. I give more weight to these barometers of culture than to the pretty faces and sultry voices selling beer and automobiles.
The poet says we’re running out of oil while the ad hacks tell us we’ll be safe and can go anywhere in a Hummer.
This is the kind of cultural malaise that makes us cranky, makes us want to defy our neighbors the way Dell Franklin does in his “In defiance of the maintenance cycle” (20).
It’s the sad state of affairs that makes it impossible for a sweet guy like Ben Leroux to fall in love with a quaint little town like Las Vegas, N.M., where storeowners are so cheap and petty they’ll pay you $5 an hour or less to wash their windows (8).
It’s the hypocrisy of slamming the doors on the life of a human being in one of the most brutal institutions ever known to our kind, and expecting that person to rehabilitate himself and find his way back into “civilized” life as a healthy, contributing member of society (6).
It’s the corporate wolf in sheep’s clothing making a living off the misery of others (4).
And it’s why so many soldiers, dedicated to their careers and the men they lead, have trouble keeping a wife and family (16).
In the midst of this malaise, solutions arise through the art and poetry and stories we tell about our selves and the world in which we live. They may come off as cranky or miserable or wretched, but in the end, there’s something redemptive about them, something suggesting the dignity of wounded — “belligerent & frightened,” Todd writes — souls finding their way back home. §

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Publisher's Note: Antique Nation

The New Cayucos: Home to the chi chi effete
By Dell Franklin

When a small beach town like Cayucos loses its hardware store, and is replaced by antiques, you know it is all downhill from here on. You know something valuable is gone for good. You know an invasion is just around the corner, and that, like Carmel and Cambria, you will become mecca for the chi chi effete, and the bored, a breed that disdains bars and diners while stocking up on Charles Shaw wine at Trader Joe’s to sip from their secluded balconies.
Antique Nation. Toss in a sprinkle of wine tasting, and you got the New Cayucos. Knock down a few beach bungalows, a slew of A-frames, a block of wooden shacks, replace them with two-story, tile-topped mausoleums (where an early retired couple can live in six rooms and three baths and a spa), and you’ve got the New Cayucos, where middleclass families move out, and middle schools slowly die.
We’re talking about folks who give nothing to this town. They build architecturally embarrassing faux castles with the sleaziest material, call it an investment, rent it out occasionally to valley spawn, visit it on the Fourth of July so as to attend the funky old parade that has turned corporate and threateningly patriotic; visit it over the holidays with their children, and you’ve got the New Cayucos.
A local surfer/homie parked his dilapidated trailer out in front of the newly constructed Pierview Plaza a couple weeks ago, filled it with an eclectic assortment of junk jutting in various directions like a gigantic drawer of silverware caught in a garbage disposal. On the back was a crude sign with his name, business logo, and phone number. Trying to drum up a little business in an eccentric way. Two days later, there was a new sign on it — MOVE YOUR CRAP ELSEWHERE. No sense of humor. He waited a week, moved it a few blocks down, and somebody cut his tires.
The New Cayucos. Antique Nation. Know what my mother said about this madness when it started a few decades ago?
“Antiques are just a bunch of junk. I grew up in the Depression with that junk. You can’t use it, and who wants to look at it? That junk reminds me of being so poor we had to wear hand-me-downs and eat leftovers all week. Antiques? You can have ‘em. Give me a nice new couch.”
The hardware store is gone. No longer do our local carpenters, contractors, plumbers, painters and general laborers, before going to work in the morning, lollygag out front of the hardware store, sipping coffee, smoking, petting one another’s job dogs in truck beds. Everything one bought in that hardware store was useful, wasn’t junk. The humanity taking place within and outside that hardware store was palpable, life-affirming. Americana. I miss Leonard, the Nam vet, with whom you could have an intelligent, civilized conversation on any subject. I miss the rednecks and good ole boys. I miss walking my dog across the empty field that is now Pierview Plaza and just looking at and listening to and nodding toward that friendly congregation. The heart of Cayucos.
Replaced by antique nation and wine sippers. Dave Friesen, you of the dilapidated trailer — I ask you to fill that baby up with as much eyesore junk as possible and park it downtown in New Cayucos and leave it there for a week, at least, just to show these people who we are!

On another front, Stacey Warde, our editor and backbone, the conscience and workhorse of this paper, has been selected as one of three finalists in a national writing contest sponsored by In Character, a journal that focuses on the nature and power of everyday virtues. Badly underpaid, and sucking it up because he believes in The Rogue Voice, and hoping that someday he’ll have a stake in a growing institution that has honesty, personality, integrity, and a ball-breaking mentality, Stacey keeps a firm yet flexible harness on his publisher. I’m an angry sonofabitch. Stacey’s an angry sonofabitch, too, because he doesn’t like what he sees around here, and in our country. He’s pissed off at religion. He’s pissed off at hypocrites. He’s pissed off at cut-throat weasels with little talent except that of the ass-kisser fawning for rewards and empty kudos. Stacey’s in possession of an intense sense of fairness and humanity. He’s no socialist, but rampant greed and corruption stokes his anger.
Sometimes our angriest people are our most compassionate. It takes such a person to turn a brief human interaction with a homeless person into an award-winning article that first showed up in the Tribune. He has a chance to win 10-grand, is guaranteed 5-grand. The irony of this story is that it all emanated from a dollar.
A homeless woman asked him for a dollar. Out of work at the time, cast out from the New Times, he told her he wished he could give her something, but he was stone broke, and so she offered him her last dollar. We talked about this in the local bar. The experience moved him immensely. A moral. A lesson. When this same woman was found brutally murdered in the creek in San Luis Obispo, he was beyond disturbed, had to write about it, had to write about his brief relationship with this poor but generous woman. He wrote with eloquence and respect for the underdog and the dead, and he wrote with his trademark, which cannot be purchased or grown — heart. §

Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at

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The Lost Coast

One step back from the brink of madness
By Steve Hawthorne

Twin beams travel north through the opulent darkness spread in gentle folds between the Coast Range and the Pacific, past the bereft Seven Dwarfs architecture of Cambria’s north end, through the empty Wagon Wheel stoplight, past the Moonstone row of square hotels arrayed like plastic mausoleums in the salted starlight, and straight up the highway toward the point. A thin moon hooks the false-dawn glow from behind the Santa Lucias, casting long shadows through the cypress forests, the oak groves, and over the Hearst pastures fanning out to meet the uncertain shore.
Dana Pease hopes he doesn’t hit a deer. He rolls the window down, and the ocean-cold air engulfs the pickup’s interior with the scents of cypress, sage, fish and cow dung, bringing him more awake. He sips his coffee and glances west into an edgeless inky flatness punctuated with the odd wink of moonlit foam. Suddenly, out over the water, from out of the South, appears a red fireball. It looks to be about a mile offshore, bigger than a house, flying within feet of the water, traveling at about 100 knots, on a course parallel to his own. Dana thinks he sees flames tailing from the thing as it shoots by heading toward Monterey. In a moment it disappears beyond the dark hump of San Simeon Point.

Dana unlocks the back door to the San Simeon sportfishing operation, turns the lights on in the shop, goes down to the barn and rolls out the little John Deere orchard tractor used to haul the fishermen’s stuff out to the end of the pier for loading on the boats. In the afternoon it will bring back the moist gunny sacks belonging to laconic, seasick farmers from the Valley, who have coaxed the day’s catch from the hard bottom spots — puking their guts out — off the edge of America.
A south swell rocks the boats as the sports board from the iron gangplank under the pier. Their footing is unsure on the rolling decks, and they grasp their rent-rods like canes, for balance.
“Wierd day,” a deckhand observes, “outta the South — things are switchin’ around.”
When the last of the three boats round the point, the sea and sky are the same color gray.

David Dean, D.D.S., and two of his surfing buddies, medical professionals with lucrative practices, fasten their wetsuits between the vehicles parked at Dave’s Studio Drive home. (Dave and his wife, Tiffany, drive the Navigator and the two Beamers). They take up their boards and jog single file down the plank steps to the beach. The gunmetal swells are growing. They paddle out and sit silently on their boards in the glassy calm, feeling the ocean rise, waiting.
The buddies catch a few good rides, but Dave waits, letting a few sets slip through while he gets the rhythm. The fourth wave in the set will be the best. He feels the ocean expanding, the mountain growing, strokes into it, and drops over the edge. A brown pelican folds its wings and plunges like a collapsed umbrella into the backside. Dave thinks it’s the best ride he’s had for a month, and wishes he had more time to surf. He regrets some of the choices he’s made. His wife is not yet awake — seldom goes to the beach — doesn’t like the wind.

A scabby, blue 1952 Ford stepvan squats at the edge of a wide gravel shoulder along the road, above the lighthouse, close to Arroyo de la Cruz. The Pipe Man steps out and sets a pot of water on a butane burner set up on the ground. He opens the back door to the rig, exposing the interior lined with colorful tapestries, sets up a small folding table, and arranges the pipes in a pleasing order on the table top. They are beautifully carved from stones gathered at Jade Cove. Pipe Man hopes someone will stop with something to put in them.

A small brown man with long, gray hair and beard, wearing baggy shorts, Hawaiian shirt, and broad-brimmed straw hat emerges from under the Pico Creek bridge carrying a driftwood walking stick and a green daypack. He hikes to the San Simeon liquor stove where he takes a seat under a tree by the parking lot. His pack contains bits of abalone shell strung on small circles of bead chain. He hopes to sell enough of the key chains to buy a quart of beer.

Dana stands by the boat barn, gazing at the brightening cove, fingernail of beach, the cypress windbreak on the point … the scene reminds him of an oriental painting, crescent moon fading in the daylight background.

Crab-walking, pipe-smoking, black-hearted Capt. Chuck is outlining to Dana some of the jobs he wants done. They notice a boat coming toward the pier, a small salmon trawler, its sticks drawn up like alert feelers. “Fuckin’ Moriarty,” Chuck rasps. “They know they’re not supposed to use the ramp. A young woman with long brown hair, dragging a canvas sea bag, is hurrying down the pier to meet the boat. “Get on the Deere, run out there and stop them. They can use the ladder. Insurance don’t cover them using our ramp.” Chuck knows the old iron ladder isn’t safe, its fastenings rusted through — difficult to approach in a south swell.
When Dana gets there, the Moriarty is maneuvering toward the restricted ramp. The girl waits on the platform. Dana knows it’s the safest place for her to board. He doesn’t want to stop them. He envies the young skipper with the sun-bleached hair operating the immaculate, graceful, Monterey-hull trawler. “Hey!” he hollers to the skipper. “They don’t want you using the ramp.”
The girl looks up at him, doe-eyed, frightened. The skipper yells back at him, “Are you a moron? I’m pickin’ her up, here, and I don’t care what you say.”
Dana wants to ask the skipper if he saw the fireball, but doesn’t say anything while the girl hands the bag across, then springs aboard the Moriarty.

Capt. Chuck, blood veins standing out on his neck, spittle droplets fleeing from his bitter mouth, rages at Dana for failing the mission.
Dana tells him to stick the job up his ass, goes over to the Sebastian Store, buys a twelve-pack and walks down to the beach.
The cove at San Simeon is the first place the sun breaks through the coastal gray. The sky is an iridescent pearl, blue, pink abalone shell.

Wing Lee, an old Chinese nudist with shoulder length white hair and long thin beard, a regular at the cove, sunbathing alone, speaking to no one, passes the driftwood pile where Dana sits with his beer. A gnarled old willow, he walks by like Confucius, moving up toward the end of the cove where he bends to remove his clothes, revealing a long thin penis, a yellow noodle, dangling almost to his knees.

Dave Dean takes his after-surf shower; he plans to drive Tiffany up to Big Sur today. She’s upstairs in the kitchen having her coffee. French Vanilla creamer. She won’t drink it any other way. Her dark hair is smartly clipped in a pageboy, parted on the side, the ends brushing her neck. She is Texas-born and raised: Dallas, Methodist, Republican. Her daddy is a minor wheel at a plastic injection molding company and, after some convincing arguments from the mother, paid for the topside work that caught Dave’s attention, initially. They met at a Methodist college, and within a week of meeting Dave, Tiffany changed her course of study to dentistry, so they could have classes together. She tried going into practice with him after they graduated , but she proved inept, and decided that she hated working in people’s mouths, anyway. She has been feeling increasingly depressed lately. She is certain that it is because of the sinks. The sinks not being right. Marble sinks. That’s what she needed. She knows if she had marble sinks the depression would go away, and her life could get on track again. She wants Dave to earn more money. Not surf so much.

Beyond the eucalyptus where the surfers park, a thin rivulet leads you to the broken bones rocks of Hazard Reef. The diminutive fresh-water trace is all that’s left of an ancient river that flowed broad and powerful to the sea, depositing a deep, golden delta. The little stream pours into a tidepool holding gray and yellow stones with perfect holes all the way through them — sacred stones to earlier people; it was said that if you had a question, wanted to know how things really were, you could look through the hole in one of these stones and see the answer.
Freddy Gleason rinses his surf booties in the tidepool while the mountainous swell crests and rushes over the reef. The booming assault echoes from the yellow cliffs. He is wondering if his wife will beat the cancer. He has dyed his hair blue, to match the sea and sky.

Dana is on the seventh beer when one of the Cambria girls arrives at the cove. She spreads her blanket up the beach between him and Wing Lee, slips off her India print dress and black tank top, and shakes out her thick black hair. She is beautiful — chestnut brown and full-bodied, with round breasts that feature spacious areolas, larger than a man’s palm, like she dipped the front half of her tits in chocolate. Dana notices that the triangle between her legs is thick, untrimmed.
The young woman crosses the beach to the water, wades out, then dives through the face of a breaking wave and swims like a brown seal. She emerges from the water dripping cold diamonds and walks back to lay on her blanket. When the sun warms her loins enough, she receives a curious notion regarding Wing Lee. The thought flares, she entertains it for a moment, then chases it away.
Breezes rise to whip the waves lashing the wild shore, buffeting the affluent lines of traffic flowing on the bright highway.

At Montana de Oro, three boys hike a trail that cuts through sage, greasewood, and scrub oak, leading them along the edge of a yellow cliff rising 80 feet above the beach. Their chunk of trail breaks away from the cliff, and the boys drop. The portion of trail dissolves, mid-air, from under their feet, the illusion of solidarity dissipating like a dream as they fall. Two of them land against soft sand and will be all right. The other splits his head wide open against a rock.
The injured boy will recover, but not before his mother makes a deal, pledging a ponderous atonement.

Smokey one-way glass windows hide the interior of a tour bus idling in the Ragged Point parking area while its cargo of tiny Asian visitors cluster on the cliff edge like penguins on an ice chunk. One old woman remains on the bus, refusing to come outside. She is terrified of the steepness.

A heavy-set woman from Fresno sits on a public toilet at the Montana de Oro parking area. She thinks she sees a light flash from between her legs, raises from the seat, peers into the hole, and discovers that she has just peed on a man’s face. He’s looking back at her from beneath a sheet of clear plastic, hunkering in the blue filth, clutching a digital movie camera. A perfect oval urine drop clings to the plastic over his forehead like a saffron jewel. He has the saddest eyes she has ever seen. She pulls a cell phone from her pocket and dials 911.
The operator relays the call to the park rangers at Montana de Oro, and they arrive before the man can escape. They are the same rangers who responded to the incident involving the injured boy, earlier. They order the man out of the shitter.
The balding man is a photography instructor from San Luis Obispo, possessed of an obsession he cannot get a handle on. He’s been shooting some interesting footage down in the hole. He’s sorry and says so, over and over again, reciting the apology like a mantra, bobbing his head to the rhythm of it.
The rangers wear plastic gloves while they put the handcuffs on him.

Tiffany Dean exits a store in Cayucos bearing two bottles of flavored drinking water, and bounces into the seat of the claret Navigator.
Dave would rather they’d driven one of the BMWs.
Tiffany doesn’t like the seats in the Navigator, but knows that the road to Big Sur often falls from the sides of the mountains, into the sea. She thinks the four-wheel drive might come in handy if it happens.
Dave reflects on the life insurance policies they’ve recently purchased. If something happened to Tiffany, he wouldn’t have to receive so many patients, could surf more, drive the BMW up the highway to Big Sur….
They drive north through town, passing a street where The Oblivion Poets gather in the backyard of an old beach shack. They’ll assemble in a circle of steel chairs, drink until they are red-assed drunk, then roast a chunk of flesh on the fire.

Two hours past the high tide, old Henry climbs the ice plant-covered bluff above one of the pocket-beaches between Moonstone and San Simeon. Reaching the top, he stands to catch his breath; a carved heron, watching the cars flash by on the highway. He carries an 11-foot, caramel colored, Harnell surf rod. On his back rests a black rubber pack containing about seven pounds of Barred perch and few thin Calico surfperch — the whole thing worth about 10 dollars to the fish buyer in Morro Bay. Heavy loads of perch on other days, and a hip replacement, have diminished his stature, but he is remarkably healthy for 85. Nobody going by in the cars knows anything about the commercial perch business, and none will choose it as a career. He thinks, tomorrow, he’ll try fishing above the lighthouse, at Plastic Beach.

Nuances of wind, tide, and geology converge at Plastic to produce an eddy in local ocean currents. The prevailing Oregon Current sweeping down the coast is loaded with the wooden debris carried down by river and flood: Branches, logs, stumps, the timbers of old homestead barns. And with this comes a considerable amount of man-made items, particularly plastic: Chain with legs missing, garbage containers split from rim to bottom, fuel containers, milk jugs, juice jugs, bait jugs, soda bottles, water bottles, parts of dolls, torn tarpaulins, sheets of clear plastic, medication bottles, hospital bracelets, the occasional syringe , Big Gulp cups, lids, straws — the plastic gathers in the eddy, and washes ashore on Plastic Beach.
You park at the turnout, get through the barbed-wire fence, then cross the Hearst bull pasture to the bluff overlooking the beach. From the bluff , you are delighted to see a parti-colored crowd of Saturday beachgoers thronging the warm crescent — umbrellas pitched, blankets, towels, jugs, beach balls and Frisbees® laid out.
When you get down the bluff to the beach you find a forlorn, windblown, wrecked-circus landscape, where the multi-colored, indelible plastic quivers against the tangled driftwood, laced with drying, sandblasted kelp. The beach balls are flattened. Frisbees® broken. There isn’t a soul.

The yellow sun floods through gum and cypress branches to splash against the peeling, false-front Sebastian Store. The string of Tibetan bells nailed to the door tinkle as Dana swings inward.
A pretty, middle-aged woman stationed by the ornate cash resister greets him.
She is braless — breasts, peak-of-life-ripe beneath a red T-shirt advertising “Sebastian Store, San Simeon.” The nipples poke the red material like two gumdrops.
Dana stumbles across the splintered plank floor to the cold-case. The door clinks again and Tiffany Dean bustles in, marches straight to the case, selects two bottles of flavored water, brushes against Dana’s arm on her way to the cash register, pays for the water, and the door tinkles shut again. Dana grabs a plastic-wrapped sandwich and a six-pack of beer. He won’t eat the sandwich. Doesn’t need the beer. The stuff in the case blurs, the store tilts dangerously — he is having a hard time walking on that damned slanting floor. He finally makes it to the counter and lays the things down. The woman in the T-shirt smiles. But the smile don’t seem right. Nothing is right. He reaches across with both hands, grasps both nipples between thumb and forefinger, and twists, like turning the knobs on a radio. He thinks the reception is out, a little.

A tattooed man trudges north toward the Big Sur highlands, shouldering a heavy, dirty red backpack. A turkey vulture rides a thermal, circling, its head tilting, eyes sharp for roadkill. The pack contains everything the man owns. Among his things is a worn copy of the “Seven Pillars of Zen.” Dave and Tiffany pass without seeing him. He doesn’t turn his head.

“It’s about this long,” Dave says, spreading his arms to full extension, illustrating for Tiffany the length of the male elephant seal erection. Dave is tall and athletic, but his voice is the curious, mewling falsetto that you hear so much nowadays; a voice that men used to reserve for speaking to kitty cats and very young children.
The great seals lay like beached submarines along the shore by the lighthouse. A man with a huge belly, wearing a cowboy hat and boots, performs a taunting dance directly in front of a behemoth slug, knothead bull. He’s removed his shirt, and is waving it in the seal’s face like a bullfighter, leering over his shoulder at a group of friends who are egging him on. Dave and Tiffany, watching the scene from behind the rope that is supposed to keep the visitors and seals from mixing, are frozen, when the bull, fed up, lunges with amazing quickness, attacking the tormentor.
The cowboy manages to pull out from under the seal and crawl back — but a knee is bit half off, lower leg broken, and his foot crushed.

Countless silver wave tops disintegrating in the incessant afternoon wind, the lonesome bluffs, the open sensuous roll of foothill pastures, combine to produce an undefined sweet longing, a strange melancholy that doesn’t lie heavy, but somehow, lightens the heart. There is a vague promise at land’s end, compelling the traveler to question boundaries, and drop inhibitions.
You can drive through here. You may buy a home here. But you can never really connect to it, Tiffany is thinking. “It is a lost coast, isn’t it?” she whispers, starting to think about the marble sinks again.
Pipe Man stands up from his table as they pass.

The Morro Bay cops have cornered two skateboarders in the Lemo’s parking lot. The skateboard kids are without helmets. Backup was called and two more units respond.

Tiffany Dean rinses her mouth with some of the flavored water as the Navigator negotiates the tight curves between San Carpoforo and Ragged Point. The steering wheel is sticky from Dave’s palms.

Two people jog on the beach at Morro Strand, coming from opposite directions: As their paths intersect, they make eye contact, and a spark of love ignites in both. They never stop, but continue to jog in different directions, their hearts aching.

Dave Dean parks the Navigator on a dirt turnout at the edge of a high cliff, not far from Pacific Valley. It is a 300-foot drop, down to the waiting rocks.
It is the same turnout where, in 1970, a wild-eyed guy wearing a Navy P-coat flagged down a sheriff patrol car in the middle of the night: The cop rolls his window down and asks the guy what his problem is. The wild guy tells the cop that he does, indeed, have a problem. That said, he produces two severed human fingers, pops one into his mouth and chews, “Ima canbull,” he says, talking with his mouth full.

They stand one step back from the brink of the promontory. The ocean spreads out like milk. The verdant mountains jutting from the continental rim, behind them and, north and south as far as their eyes can see, are dangerously angular, inhumanely steep.

The ocean surface reddens as the orange sun settles to a balance on the horizon line.
Dave’s hand slides against Tfffany’s shoulder. He glances toward the highway. His arm tightens. His brain is on fire.
The white confetti gulls wheel below them.
The moment passes. He’s afraid he won’t get away with it. The only thing holding him back, preventing him from performing that irrevocable push is the fear of being found out.
“I’m scared,” she says. “We’re too close to the edge.”
He draws her back to a comfortable distance. They watch the world’s atmosphere distort the light, flattening the sun against the sea. §

Steve Hawthorne is a freelance writer who lives in Morro Bay and has seen all sides of The Lost Coast.

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Militarism and the corporate welfare state

What’s good for Big Money isn’t good for America
By Charles Sullivan

Right-wing politicos and their conservative constituents are always bemoaning big government. Yet wealthy people of all political stripes constantly use big government to their own benefit. The rich widely assume, falsely, I think, that what is good for them is good for the country. By extension they also assume that what is good for the corporations is good for the people. But that has never been the case. No one should be allowed to make a living on the misery of others.
The latter seems odd, given that business people are always harping about getting the government out of our (their) lives; all the while they are using government to obtain no-bid contracts, to write legislation in the corporate interest, stocking the judiciary with pro-corporate judges, redrawing political districts and using the military to invade and occupy sovereign nations in order to privatize them. Iraq provides a compelling case study.
Of course, what businessmen really mean by getting government off our backs is preventing government from regulating commerce, as if there were some connection between capital and democracy, democracy and freedom. In corporate speak, democracy and free trade have nothing to do with human beings and their freedoms. What Bush and his kind are really talking about is absolute corporate rule and continued plutocracy.
According to author Antonia Juhasz, “Prior to the first Gulf War in 1991 and even after eight years of war with Iran, Iraq was ranked 15 out of 130 countries on the 1990 United Nations Human Development Index. Before the first Bush invasion, Iraq had the highest percentage of college-educated citizens in the Middle East and above-average overall literacy rates. According to the World Health Organization, prior to 1991, health care reached approximately 97 percent of the urban population and 78 percent of rural residents, while the infant mortality rate was well below average for developing countries. “,
Constitutional government was established in Iraq in 1922. Prior to the 1991 U.S. invasion, Iraq was in essence a socialist government, since most of its political and economic infrastructure, including its burgeoning oil industry was nationalized. Despite Saddam Hussein’s abuse of the constitution (the U.S. is suffering similar abuses under Bush), the Iraqi people enjoyed a high standard of living and many freedoms. This allowed them benefits such as socialized health care and access to free higher education that Americans have never known.
All of those freedoms and the high standard of living were demolished with the U.S. invasion and permanent occupation of Iraq. A huge corporate fire sale was under way.
Under the imposed dictatorship of Paul Bremer, granted under the Coalition Provisional Authority during the first months of the occupation, all of Iraq’s 192 state-owned enterprises were privatized and divided among 150 U.S. corporations that have so far realized more than $50 billion in profits. Every aspect of the Iraqi economy was dismantled, privatized, and divided up by corporate America with no benefit to the Iraqi people.
With the U.S. occupation, the Iraqi Constitution was torn asunder and replaced with a new charter that places Iraq under virtual corporate rule. Under the U.S.-imposed Corporate Constitution, the Iraqis no longer have access to clean water, reliable electricity, medicine, health care, or higher education. Ownership of Iraq’s once prosperous economy, including her extensive oil fields, was transferred from the Iraqi people to U.S. corporations.
This is the democracy we have brought to Iraq, punctuated by suffering, misery, and death. When innocent blood flows so too does the money. See how the stocks of Halliburton and Bechtel rose with the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Bearing Point, Inc., of Mclean, Virginia, developed the blueprint for the economic plunder of Iraq. The Bearing Point plan turns Iraq from a socialist state to a full bore capitalist entity over three years. For their services Bearing Point made the tidy sum of $250 million.
Not surprisingly, Bremer has strong ties with corporate America and such luminaries of dementia as Donald Rumsfeld, Henry Kissinger and George Schultz that extend more than a quarter of a century. All of these men have economic ties with the same businesses that stole Iraq’s wealth. Each of them has realized great personal fortune by profiteering on the spoils of war and occupation: policies they helped to forge.
The government is studded with men like Paul Bremer and Henry Kissinger, who migrate back and forth from corporate America into the halls of government, create policy that is favorable to their own business interests, then return to business to realize the wealth they have created for themselves and their shareholders. It is men like them who are responsible for America’s aggressive war posture, among them the quagmire in Iraq.
Consider the ties regarding officials in the Bush regime and the Halliburton- military-war profiteering connection, as documented by Antonia Juhasz in The Bush Agenda:
• Joe Lopez, a retired four-star general and former aide to Cheney joined Halliburton in 1999.
• Dave Gribbon, Cheney’s former assistant in Congress was Halliburton’s vice president and returned to the White House with Cheney when Bush stole the 2000 election.
• Ray Hunt, who provided money to both of the Bush presidencies joined Halliburton in 1998 and serves to this day.
• Lawrence Eagleberger, former president of Kissinger Associates and Bush senior’s Secretary of State, also served on Halliburton’s board of directors.
• Charles Dominy, a retired three-star general and former Halliburton executive, currently serves as Halliburton’s chief lobbyist.
Halliburton is only one of many corporations that has profited from the invasion and the permanent occupation of Iraq. Other corporations have people as favorably placed in the Bush regime as Halliburton. Bechtel, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Electric — all the usual suspects — are well represented in the government; and all of them lobbied extensively for war and occupation. They have no intentions of stopping in Iraq either. The world is their oyster and the military can procure it for them.
It is worth noting that crony appointments are not peculiar to the Bush regime or to the Republican Party. They have a long and sordid history. That is how business is conducted and fortunes are made — through outright theft and conquest. None of this would be possible without the military. Our soldiers are the pawns of the rich but they think they are making the world safe for democracy. All they are doing, in fact, is opening the world up to capitalism and private ownership.
Since the occupation began in 2003, the Iraqi people have been forced to exist under conditions of extreme brutality and abject poverty. After the deliberate bombing of water sanitation facilities, hospitals, and electric generating sites there have been outbreaks of disease such as tuberculosis and dysentery, causing suffering and death. There has been no peace and no security for the innocent victims of unbridled greed.
There is also the matter of depleted uranium munitions used by U.S. forces that litters the country in aerosolized form that is easily taken up by the wind and remains radioactive forever. Depleted uranium is an indiscriminate killer whose effects linger for generations in the bodies of the occupiers and the occupied. Can you say, “Agent Orange?” That is the great free-market democracy that we have brought to the Middle East.
The war machine keeps turning like a sausage grinder, spewing its product into the coffers of the rich. Into the hopper go our sons and daughters and dark-skinned nations — out comes sausage and huge bankrolls for Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and corporate America. Corporations, government, and militarism comprise the unholy trinity of capitalism. Together they form a corporate welfare state that boggles the mind.
The American military is not abroad defending freedom and sowing the seeds of democracy, as they seem to believe. One need only examine the history of this nation to recognize the familiar patterns of conquest and oppression. The occupation of Iraq is the continuation of the policies that created the institution of slavery, following the genocide of the Indians. The military, far from being a defender of peace and freedom, has evolved into an extension of the corporate welfare state.
The world will know no peace until enough citizens are sufficiently aroused to dismantle the military apparatus. Furthermore, we must recognize the link between militarism, war, and capital and build a better system — a form of government that serves the people rather than capital. Code Pink and other groups that maintain a constant presence in Washington are on the right track. They deserve our full support. §

Charles Sullivan is a photographer, freelance writer and social activist residing somewhere in the hinterland of West Virginia. He welcomes your comments at

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Cabby's Corner

A soldier’s soldier: The invisible casualty
By Dell Franklin

Editor’s note: The following story concludes a previous Cabby’s Corner in which Dell Franklin met a career soldier, one who belived in what he was doing, and who had recently returned from the war in Iraq.

Out at the airport in the late afternoon, a familiar, smiling person approached my cab — the Airborne sergeant I’d picked up a couple months earlier. After a tour in Iraq he’d visited his family at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky (home of the 101st Airborne and was to be stationed at Camp San Luis where he was to train reservists for their tours in Iraq. He did not want to come here (a dream gig for a regular Army soldier), but wished to return to his post on the Syrian border with his troops. He’d already done a hitch in Afghanistan and two in Iraq, as well as one in Somalia as an 18-year-old.
That afternoon, sitting in the front seat, his glazed, raw eyes testimony to the distant, 1000-mile stare, he addressed me nonstop all the way out to Camp SLO in a dry, twangy, detached monotone — his eyes seeming to be elsewhere — while his monologue was on automatic pilot. He told me what he’d seen (a lot of villagers whose respect was gained only by show of force), and what we needed (more troops), and what they’d found (munitions from France and Russia), and what he thought (we could win this thing if we were given the time and the politicians stayed out of it). By the time we reached the gate, a bond had been formed, possibly because I’d related to him that I’d served a three-year hitch in the Army in the ‘60s.
Now he was back, dressed the same (Army boots, camouflage pants, Army T-shirt, buzz cut) sans duffel bag. The 1000-mile stare was gone, and we shook hands as he sat down in the front seat.
“So how’s it going with the reservists?” I asked him.
“Man, do I got a story for you,” he said, more relaxed this time, a chunky man, 17 years in the service.
“What about YOU, sarge? How are YOU doing? Getting used to the area? I told you this was God’s country.”
“Well, there’s not much here for me, tell you the truth. It’s nice country, and the people are nice, but I can’t get used to it … it’s not very military oriented. My wife wouldn’t come out here, and she’s leaving me. I was just back on a weekend pass, tryna get her back, but she won’t come. She wants to stay near the reservation at Campbell. She’s an Army wife, a country gal, doesn’t want nothing to do with this place. She’s afraid of this place … she feels more comfortable among the Army wives and the friends she made back there. Now, pal, you wanna hear a good story — about the Mickey Mouse bullshit I been goin’ through since they sent me out here?”
I told him I did as we dawdled through town in the rush hour traffic. This guy reminded me so much of the NCOs I’d known in the Army — guys who’d seen action in Korea and even WWII. They were tough on you, but also mother-hennish, as if you were their responsibility, and you had confidence in them, knew they’d lead you in the right direction if things got hairy; they relieved you of that fearful, isolated feeling you got while in “this man’s” professional Army when you knew you were just trying to get your hitch out of the way and survive the ordeal in one piece.
Guys like the one beside me were professionals, and it was never about politics with them, but instead the guy beside you, and the guys beside the guy beside you.
“Well, pal, I’ve had a helluva time trying to shape up these troopers. They are not like regular Army troops, and it is nothing against them, it is just that they are not trained well enough or toughened up enough to go over there and put up with the bullshit that’s waiting for them. I will not pass a guy on to his next station if he’s not ready for country.
“So I had a little problem with the people who wanted me to pass these guys up to their staging area at Ft. Hood, in Texas. I put my foot down. I met with the sergeant major, and he told me I had to let them go. I said I couldn’t do that. We went round and round, but I wouldn’t budge. So they sent me to the general. He told me to send them on, but I told him I couldn’t do that. So he and the sergeant major, they didn’t like that. I explained why I couldn’t send these boys over. We went round and round. I wouldn’t budge. Finally, the sergeant major asks me what I want to do. I tell him the kind of shape I want these guys to be in before I’ll send them over. So he says he’ll give me 28 days to get them ready, and that’s all he’ll give me, and it’s my ballgame, my training methods, and I said, okay, I’ll do it. They were pretty fair about that.
“Well, I put these boys through hell. I can be a pretty tough drill instructor if I wanna be. I’ve done that before, between wars. I been getting Airborne Rangers ready for combat for years. And I got pretty rough with these boys. A lot of reservists are getting killed over there because they don't know what the hell they’re doing. A guy who knows what the hell he’s doing can get killed over there randomly, if his number’s up, but a guy who’s unprepared is gonna have a better chance of eating it just by fucking up, believe me. So I got pretty damn rough with these boys. They’d never experienced anything like it in the Guard, and that’s nothing against the Guard, but an Airborne Ranger unit ain’t the Guard.
“I wouldn’t let those boys sleep much. I stayed right up with them, didn’t sleep much at all for 28 days. I can get pretty irritable and mean when I don’t get enough sleep. But I got those boys into pretty damn good shape. I was pretty proud of ‘em in the end, and they were thankful I worked their asses off. They got strong, and tough.
They’re gone now, headed for Iraq.” He paused. “So now, the sergeant major, and the general, they like what I’m doing. They liked it so much they let me work out my own program, because they know it’ll make these boys more prepared. They got me doing more. They’re seeing the light.”
“Maybe the best thing happened to those kids was having a crack troop who’s been there toughening ‘em up.”
He nodded. “You can get ‘em ready the best way you know how, and do all you can, but it’s a different ballgame once you’re there. What I taught ‘em, it’ll help, but nothing prepares you for what they’re gonna see.”
We neared the gate. “So how are YOU doin’, man? You adjusting to the area? Having any fun away from the brawl?”
He shrugged, still facing me. As he talked, his expression and tone of voice never changed. “It’s strange, not having my wife and kids here. I’m gonna be here a while. She’s not gonna come. It’s been tough on her, tough on the kids. I’ve gone three different times. It’s just the way the Army is, and she knows that. Maybe if I can get back there, I don’t know. We can’t get together unless I’m back there. She’s used to the area. She’s got family and friends around her … a support group.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, what about YOU and HER?”
We stopped at the gate. “Well, I’m working on that, man. I’m working on it. I was back there, working on it. I’m gonna keep goin’ back until I get it straightened out, if I can. I’ll hope for the best.”
“You look a lot better than the last time I saw you. Good luck, sarge. I’ll hope for the best for you, too.”
We shook hands. He got out before I could give him my card. I wanted to talk to him some more. I wanted him to have somebody to confide in who wasn’t Army, but who’d been in the Army. I wanted to buy the guy a beer in town and then maybe he’d be able to pour out what was really on his mind — deep down. A sergeant, a lifer, a leader, he’s not in the habit of spilling things out to fellow GIs. That's not the Army way. You never show weakness. Never. For your troops.
A month later, I was sitting in my cab at the airport, doing my crossword in the late afternoon, and I heard somebody yell at me. It was the sergeant. Boots. Jeans. Polo shirt. No luggage. Chunky belly hard. No swagger. Big smile. He stood by my window and we shook hands.
“Just saw you here and wanted to stop by and say hello, he said. “How you doin’?”
“Fine. How YOU doin’? You need a ride?”
“Naw. I’m driving an Army issue truck. Just got back from Kentucky.”
“Get your wife back?”
“Naw. But I’m tryin’. Tryin’ and hopin’.”
“How’re things at the base?”
He grinned. “They’re seein’ the light.” The grin went away. “I’m tryna get out of here, though. Might as well go back to Iraq, where I can do some good.”
I quickly handed him my card. “Look, sarge, you ever need somebody to talk to that’s not in the Army, but been in the Army, wanna have a beer, you call me, man, and it’s on me. You need a friend out here, I’ll be that friend.”
He took the card. “Thanks, pal. I appreciate that.”
We shook hands. I never saw or heard from him again. At night, I always watch the public television news with Jim Lehrer. At the end of the newscast, a couple times a week, they show photos of troops who’ve died in this war. There’s always sorrow in seeing those faces, but a certain amount of relief when it ain’t the sarge.
I just hope that what is left of him is in one piece.§

Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at
Read more of his "Cabby's Corner" series:
  • Ode to Tobias Wolff
  • Sisters from South Central

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    Life in the cage: A momentary breath of freedom

    A trip to a Salinas hospital offers a brief escape from prison
    By Tito David Valdez Jr.

    In the last 13 years I’ve resided in four different California state prisons. While housed in maximum security for the first six years in windowless cells, I never experienced a moment outside past 3 p.m. I missed out on sunsets, the smell of fresh evening air, the sight of bright stars or the moon.
    I’ll never forget the first evening I spent outside when I arrived at CMC in San Luis Obispo, a medium security prison. I roamed around the prison yard like a kid,, with much curiosity, joy, and excitement until 9:30 p.m. Bought a pint of rocky road ice cream and a cold Coca Cola at the mini-canteen, which is open all day. The cells had real glass windows that opened up, and I was able to smell the fresh coastal air even while in the cell.
    During each bus ride from one prison to another about every three years, I was shackled in chains, hands and feet, along with 60 other inmates, while a Correctional Transportation officer was stationed at the back of the bus, holding a shotgun in his hand. I savored each bus ride, since it was my only temporary escape from the state prison grounds. I was able to view the mountainside, the acres of farmland, real cars, chicks riding bicycles, see what freedom was like. While passing, many motels on Interstate 5 or Highway 101, I’d spot many of the popular chains of motels in which I had partied as a young man. Places like Motel 6, Comfort Inn. Reminded me of better days.
    Housed currently in minimum security since 2002, I’m at the end of the line. As a life-term prisoner, there is nowhere else I can be transferred to. I’m anchored in Soledad, like the sunken Titanic. Days pass without a change of scenery; it’s Groundhog Day every day. I view freedom only through whatever I see on the television screen.
    I finally got the opportunity to get out of the cage recently, and it was three hours I’ll never forget.

    Ask any employee or prison guard who works in a California prison if they drink the water. Publicly, they won’t answer the question. Privately, they will tell you, “Hell no!” All California Department of Corrections and Rehab employees bring their own bottled water to drink. Not even Johnny Cash in the movie, “Walk The Line,” would drink the water at Folsom Prison, and that was decades ago. Things haven’t changed.
    I’ve done my best to stay away from drinking the water, stocking up on lots of sodas and V-8 vegetable juices. However, the abundance of sodium and sugar in such products finally, took its toll.
    Three months after passing a kidney stone one morning, and experiencing the pain equivalent to a woman bearing a child, the prison doctor scheduled me to be transported to an outside private hospital in Salinas, California for an ultrasound procedure.
    The medical department doesn’t tell an inmate when he’s being transported, nor to what hospital, for security reasons. The night before the scheduled transport, medical staff informs the inmate not to drink fluids nor eat for 12 hours. Before those 12 hours are up, the inmate is awakened in the wee hours of the morning and told to report to Receiving and Release. I was awakened at 5:30 a.m. by my cellblock officer, who told me to be ready in 10 minutes. I reported to Receiving and Release and was greeted by two correctional officers who had a pair of two-piece, shirt and pants, orange jumpsuits for me to put on, as well as leg chains and wrist cuffs. Shortly after a strip search, where officers made sure I didn’t have a handcuff key or .22 pistol keestered up my ass, I was handcuffed and placed in a small white GMC van along with three other inmates. The windows were tinted very dark. The seats in the van only sit four and face each other. The seats inside were a welded rectangular cubicle surrounded by sheet metal pocked with small holes about the size of quarters to see through. The steel frame inside the van which mounts the seats is welded to where it would be extremely difficult for an inmate to attempt an escape through the back door.
    Within minutes, the van was in motion, going outside the prison perimeter, then beyond the prison gates, en route to Salinas up Highway 101. I peered through the quarter-sized holes for a view of my lost freedoms. Immediately, I felt nauseous from my claustrophobic seat in the moving vehicle. For the last four years, I’d never been outside the prison compound, never been in a car. I immediately smelled the fumes from the exhaust, which gave me a headache.
    In the van, there was one other Hispanic, and two black inmates. All of us were quiet, trying to savor the moment, appreciating the very freedom we have been denied as we observed life outside through the holes. In the front of the van, two correctional officers chatted while listening to the radio station Z-97.9 FM, a Top 40 format station. The old school song “Freaky Tales” by Oakland rapper TOO $hort was playing.
    “Dude, I’m taking a cruise to Ensenada this weekend, it’s a three-day deal. We leave from L.A. Going to try and score a hot babe,” said Officer Ruiz, a youthful 22-year-old Hispanic man, with short, buzzed dark hair, brown eyes, tan skin, and no mustache. Looked like a white boy surfer with a tan.
    “Shee-it, you gots to get all you can while you are young,” said Officer Mack, a mid-40s African American correctional officer with a beer belly, who resembles comedian Bernie Mac. “When you marry, it’s like being in the joint with conjugal visits once a month. You lucky if you get some pussy twice a month.”
    “You got it bad! I went balls out and spent a grip of cash on new threads to impress the ladies. You got any advice, give me some game.”
    “My brotha, you just got to spread your paper around. The ladies will come to you. You pick what you want, like you at a Tijuana whore house.”
    Listening to their conversation, I reflected on what I’m missing out on: A career, home, car, a large selection of women to choose from; the freedom to take vacations at any time, to barbecue on Sunday afternoons, to drink beer, eat pizza on demand…. I looked out the window through the small holes and saw another van following us. Two guards occupied the van as back up security to make sure nothing funny happened. They had two shotguns.
    Feeling trapped, desperate and hopeless, my mind drifted to fantasy scenarios. Where was the Unit, the A-team mercenaries who could save me, whisk me away to freedom — the ultimate escape? What would life be like on the run as a fugitive? If the van crashed by some unfortunate circumstance, and if I fled, where would I go? Like the pigeon who leaves the cage temporarily and always returns, I felt fear, as if I could not imagine my life being outside the cage. I’ve been so used to being a jailbird that any thought of being free, faced with real responsibility, makes me afraid.
    I focused again on the scenery outside the van. I saw migrant workers in the fields. A young couple driving in a Corvette convertible. A family of four, driving to who knows where. I observed the signs off the freeway, signaling that we passed the city of Gonzales, and farther up, Chualar.
    The van exited the freeway at the Salinas offramp and minutes later we pulled into the parking lot of the Salinas Hospital at the emergency room entrance. The four armed guards got out of both vans and one guard opened the back door. All four inmates hobbled slowly to the entrance, our feet making a clacking sound from dog tags placed on the leg chains.
    Two middle-aged Filipina women, just getting off work, looked at us as if we were part of a freak show. They whispered to each other and laughed as they continued to walk towards the parking lot.
    In the hospital, no one sat in the emergency room waiting area. I immediately recognized the distinctive, antiseptic odor of the hospital, an odor I remember when I was a free man visiting my dad when he was ill. We were told to enter a small room to the right and sit down on the chairs provided. About 15 minutes passed. We inmates and the guards were entertained by Officer Mack, who was the only person standing up as he cracked jokes, like a comedian on the NBC TV show, “Last Comic Standing.”
    Speaking with his hands in a passionate manner, like veteran convicts do, he said, “I was working on the overnight shift in D-Block the other night, and was reading the outgoing inmate mail. A slick cat tried to mail out his stinky boxer shorts to his girl. I went up to his cell and told him he can’t do that. He told me, ‘I’m just hopin’ if I send my drawers, she’ll send me her panties, so I can scratch and sniff.’”
    Everyone erupted in laughter. Officer Mack is a natural comic. He just looks funny, and he ranted on, “I read another inmate’s letter. He was writing to Jenny Craig Center headquarters to ask for a pen pal. Brilliant. You notice most of the women involved romantically with prisoners are just a little on the heavy side, not model material…”
    The laughter continued.
    Out of nowhere, an unattractive, lanky female nurse with short blond hair and pale skin came into the room and said, “Inmate Rogers? Who is inmate Rogers?” Her tone of voice, deep and distinguishable, sounded homosexual, like many of the flamboyant queens who roam the yard in state prison.
    “That’s me, I’m Rogers,” said a light-skinned African American inmate, who had dirty short dreads, like a broke-ass Lenny Kravitz.
    “You need to drink this right now. It’s for your colonoscopy. I’ll be doing your exam,” said the nurse. She handed him two tall containers of sulfate to drink.
    After taking a closer look, the female nurse was for sure a man. A transvestite. As she left the room, everyone laughed out loud, and Officer Mack said, “Damn, was that Dustin Hoffman? Bitch looked like a mannequin.”
    “That mothafucka doin’ MY colonoscopy?” asked the African inmate in a sarcastic and frightened tone of voice. Everyone laughed.
    A couple minutes later a very hot looking mid-20s woman came into the room, a radiologist, saying, “Is there a Valdez in here? Valdez?”
    I stood immediately to full attention, as if answering to an Army drill sergeant. “That’s me.”
    “Come here, follow me,” she said in a flirtatious tone of voice.
    I hobbled in my leg chains, following her, checking out her heart-shaped ass, hugged by tight black cotton pants. Right behind me was Officer Mack. “Valdez, you lucky man, that girl has ass. I am gonna hang out with you while she does the exam.”
    I was directed into a small room that had a high-tech computer screen flickering, and told to lay down on a padded table. The sign on the door read “ULTRASOUND.” Officer Mack uncuffed my hands and waist chains. The woman, who introduced herself as Betty, then told me to lay down on my back. I was able to get a closer look at her. She looked Indian, but didn’t have the dot on her forehead. She resembled Halle Berry, had a youthful dark tan complexion with huge brown eyes, short brown hair. She smelled really good. I recognized her perfume, a scent reminding me of an ex-girlfriend — Anais Anais.
    “Mr. Valdez, just relax,” she said with a heavy Hindu accent. “I am going to put some lotion on your abdomen.”
    She lifted my two-piece top jumpsuit to my chin, spreading the lotion on my rock-hard, six-pack abs. There was a warm sensation, like rubbing Vick’s, reminding me of those sex lubricants that are available at porn shops in the shady parts of Hollywood. I was getting a woody, since this is the closest I've been to any woman in many years.
    She began to rub a hand-held scanner on different portions of my abdomen, pushing buttons on the computer, taking photos, hitting keys about every five seconds. I could tell she was impressed with my physique. My right hand rested on the padded table, just one inch from her crotch. As she moved the device around, her body moved forward towards me, her crotch rubbing on my hand. It reminded me of the times when I got my hair cut at the expensive beauty salon and the hot-looking stylist was rubbing her crotch on my hand resting on the armchair. I don’t know if it was intentional; it just happened.
    I didn’t dare move my hand. I swear I could smell her glistening wetness; I could tell she was attracted to me. Officer Mack stood behind her, looking at the computer monitor, curious like a kindergarten student.
    “Yo, Valdez,” he said. “I’m looking for George Lopez’s big fat head to show up on the screen. How many babies you having?”
    The woman spoke up, ignoring Mack. “Mr. Valdez, turn on your stomach. I need to get a shot of your kidneys.” She wiped off the lotion from my stomach with a towel. It was like after a hot sex session with a woman,, where she wipes the leftover fluids off with a wet rag. She started to spread the lotion on my lower back, in the left kidney area, pulling down my jumpsuit pants just a little. I had a woody still at about half stance.
    “Okay, Mr. Valdez, turn over now, on our back again. I need to get a shot of your bladder.” She slowly wiped the oil off my back and then spread more hot oil right below my belly button, pulling down my pants about a mere two inches from the hairline around my boner. She spread the oil with her hands and then moved the hand-held device around it was too much to handle. I immediately thought of the hot chicks at the massage parlors where, for an extra $50, the masseuse would give you a handjob.
    “You excited, Mr. Valdez,” she said, as if she had succeeded in a plan to arouse me.
    “Yes, very much. I haven’t been this close to a woman in many years — thirteen to be exact.”
    “It’s okay. This happens often with young men like yourself. We should take a break. I can see on the screen that you have urine in your bladder. Go to the bathroom. I’ll come back in about five minutes.”
    As she left the room temporarily, Officer Mack threw me a white fluffy towel, which landed on my lap. Betty had handed it to him. “You made an impression, Valdez. She is going to tell all her friends about you today. You will be the highlight of gossip.”
    “Damn, Mack, it’s just being human. If you were in my shoes, it might happen to you.”
    “She’s pretty fine. Don’t trip. I’ll keep it a secret. Go to the bathroom. Hurry. She’ll be coming back shortly. Make it quick.”
    Officer Mack didn’t allow me to close the bathroom door, standard procedure. His job is to keep an eye on me at all times. As I attempted to urinate in the clean porcelain toilet, I missed the rim, attempting to piss with a woody. A bright stream of yellow urine sprayed in three different directions, hitting the wall and floor. I flushed the toilet many times, out of habit. Then I heard Betty come back into the room.
    “Officer, why does he flush so often? Is he taking a number two?”
    “No, he is just institutionalized. These convicts live with men in cells for so many years and it’s all about respect. They flush to eliminate the sound and any odor when urinating.”
    I returned to the table and Betty finished off the exam, taking photos of my bladder. I then slowly pried myself off the table and Officer Mack cuffed my hands and cuffed the chains to my waist, and I hobbled outside the room. Betty gave me a wink and a smile as I went back to the original room where other inmates were awaiting their turn. I wondered if my boner made her day.
    While sitting there, I listened to two black inmates, who had already seen the doctors.
    “Damn, Homie, mothafucka on North yard can’t get it right, out for thirty seconds on the yard, and we got lockdown again. Can’ts even make it to the canteen. The youngsters are out of the pocket, nothing ain’t gonna change, Homie.”
    “I bet you were happier than a mothafucka to get out of your cell today and come here.”
    “Yup. I got a cellie, all he do is shit, eat, fart, and watch television. He never leaves the cell. I can’t even get a cell move due to the lockdown. I’ve felt like goin’ off on him many times.”
    “I feel you, Homie. You don’t wanna get another beef for assault. Keep the faith, Homie. A change is gonna come.”
    I sat comfortably in my chair and savored the moment of being free in the outside world, inside this hospital. I watched every nurse go by and stared at them like a pervert. Some winked and smiled, others wouldn’t even look at me.
    As the last inmate returned (an old Hispanic man who also had a colonoscopy), we hobbled into the emergency room lobby. At 9:30 a.m., the room was filled with families, all of them staring at us like we were a Louisiana chain gang as we hobbled out.
    As I walked across the empty parking lot, having a perfect view of the mountains, streets, houses and cars, I again fantasized of a mercenary team coming to get me, whisking me away by helicopter to some foreign country. I started to imagine what a night in Bangkok would be like, or Germany, what I would eat, or drink….
    My fantasy was shattered as I was told to step inside the small van, and back into the small cubicle cage where the four of us were squeezed in like sardines facing each other again for the return trip to Soledad. The back door was slammed shut and all I could see was the sunlight coming through the quarter-size holes all around the steel cage. Two guards got into the front of the van, and started up their conversations again.
    “You goin’ to the staff barbecue tomorrow?” said Officer Ruiz.
    “Nah,” Officer Mack said. “I’m working a swap, getting overtime.”
    “Trying to get all that paper, eh? You going to miss out on some good chicken tomorrow.”
    Within 20 minutes of driving south on Highway 101, which seemed to last only 10 minutes, we pulled into the prison grounds, and officially I was back in the compound again, my time in free society over. We got out of the van, the guards uncuffed us, threw us our original prison blues, and we were on our way back to our cells in no time.
    Walking down the corridor back to my cellblock, I felt comfortable — at home. I greeted all the familiar personalities along the way. Fortunately, when I arrived at my cell, my cell mate was not there. My cellblock officer opened my cell door and I entered, immediately placing a DO NOT DISTURB — TAKING A DUMP sign in my cell window, and, well, you know, brought out the container of lotion, and thought about Betty….
    It may be another four years before I get an opportunity to step outside the prison again. §

    Tito David Valdez Jr. resides at and writes from the minimum security Correctional Facility in Soledad, Calif. Listen to his radio segments on prison life on the nationally syndicated program, “The Adam Carolla Show.” For times, visit Tito can be reached by email at, or by mail: Tito David Valdez Jr. J-52660, CTF Central E Wing Cell 126, P.O. Box 689, Soledad, Calif., 93960-0689.
    Read the rest of the "Life in the Cage" series:
  • Mischief in the prison chapel
  • Jailhouse pruno

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    Washing windows across America: Leaving Las Vegas (episode 11)

    An unrequited love affair with a New Mexican outpost
    By Ben Leroux

    My waitress, a mountainous mix of Navajo, Mexican, and frontier woman, looms over me with fat biceps and hostile pad with pen.
    “I’ll take the sopapilla,” I tell her, and slide the menu to the edge of the table.
    I recognize the sopapilla from a list of food items that one should consume while in New Mexico. Though I’d never found out exactly what a sopapilla was, I am not concerned. My impeccable pronunciation (soap-uh-pee-yuh) ought to put the dinner crowd in Charlotte’s Café at ease. They’d turned funeral-silent when I’d walked in wearing shorts and sandals and headed for the men’s room. Now that I’ve taken a table in jeans and sneakers, and set my atlas and clothes beside me, they have fallen into an advanced state of pulmonary arrest.
    I open my atlas and try to locate where I am. But my waitress’s big shadow is still over me. And the locals in Charlotte’s, I notice, have stopped chewing. The Cobb Salads of a venerable retired couple have paused. The children of the hardware store owner have turned in their booth to gape at me. The town football hero and his girlfriend, who have been twirling French fries in a pool of ketchup, now dab them up and down in one spot. From a cook’s hole in the kitchen, a second mountainous woman watches me.
    “What do you want in it?” my waitress says.
    “What do you want in your sopapilla?”
    “What usually comes in one?” I ask, reaching for the menu. I hear utensils freeze, and I can see a slim muscle in the football hero’s jaw twitch.
    “Whatever you want,” my waitress says. She drops her massive head to one shoulder and sighs.
    I tap my toes and look inside the menu for some help. Nothing jumps out at me. My waitress reluctantly bails me out.
    “You want beef and potato?” she says.
    “Yes. Yes, I do. I want beef and potato. Thank you.” I close the menu and open the atlas.
    “What kind of beef?”
    I reach again for the menu.
    “Umm,” I say, wondering what these people have against background music.
    “Ground or steak?” she says, shifting her weight to one leg. Forks now tick in an agitated, picking tempo at plates.
    “Steak. Yes, steak.” I say.
    “Please. Definitely smothered.”
    “In what?”
    “What do you mean, ‘In what?’”
    There are gasps. The hardware store owner tells his kids to turn around and the girlfriend pats the football hero’s trembling hand. She whispers to him: “Let it go, babe. Let it go.”
    “What do you want it smothered in?” my waitress says to me, threateningly.
    I still hide behind the menu.
    “Green or red?” she says.
    I tell her green, which I now know means green chili sauce. She leaves me, and I relax a little, and peer into the atlas.
    On the map, I follow my progress along Interstate 84 from Santa Fe. The chilly air had caught me by surprise as I’d pushed the Plymouth through the lower rungs of the Santa Fe Mountains into Las Vegas, a trek that ended with a glimpse of some far-off snow-tipped peaks.
    The sopapilla comes, smothered in hot, spicy green sauce with a side of beans and rice. I break into the puffy, delicate capsule of dough with a fork, and eat what’s inside. Charlotte’s sopapillas are heavy and heartwarming.
    Las Vegas, New Mexico, has a Wal-Mart and I find a corner of its parking lot to sleep in. I inform the staff I am out there in the Plymouth, but they are indifferent. This Wal-Mart is wild and loose and I try to stay as far away from it as I can. I feel besieged and I’m not sure I want to close my eyes. My lower bowels begin to tremor and rumble, as the green sauce goes to work and I have to make runs for the restroom.
    Back in the Plymouth, a man on the radio tells me that new statistics show New Mexico leading the nation in out-of-wedlock births and drug overdoses. I would add to that list: Vast, pothole-ridden parking lots; sidewalks that end without warning into large adobe walls; the overuse of green chilis; and burning, stinging rectums.
    In the morning, I hit the dusty old streets of Las Vegas with my bucket and poles. Things look optimistic early when the friendly ladies at the Chamber Of Commerce hire me, and throw in cookies and a cup of coffee.
    Then I target downtown. I am immediately infatuated with it. It is stylish and unrefined, and dominated by interesting old buildings. The plaza has a Victorian, pioneer look, with large antique stores, an old motel, and a couple bars. I start to think I might rake it in here. There’re enough dirty windows to keep me busy for three days at least. And it’s the kind of town I wouldn’t mind staying in for a while.
    But when you go door-to-door, peddling window-cleaning services, you run the risk of having your image of a town shattered. Want to or not, you tap into the true energy of that town. If you don’t want to know how pious or rude or cheap a town is, then don’t go in and ask about windows. Just do the tourist thing – shop, eat, sleep, then leave.
    All a vagabond window-washer really asks is to be rejected with a smidgeon of respect. A “no thank you” is great. A “no thank you” with eye contact is preferable. A “not today, but thanks for asking anyway” with eye contact and a smile can fill a window-washer with temporary euphoria and drastically alter his outlook on the world.
    In Las Vegas, I get another type of reaction, and I get it in almost every business. The merchants don’t want to look at me. As soon as they realize that I want to clean their windows and am not there to buy anything, they hold a hand up, as if shielding themselves from a blinding, nauseating accident scene. They squint and shake their heads and run away to some darkened part of their store. They hide and wait for me to leave. It happens so frequently that it becomes comical.
    The next business is one of a few huge antique stores on the plaza, and it has at least fifteen tall, dirty, panes of glass, with overhead panes above each one – a forty-dollar job for a commercial window-washer, easy. I pause outside before going in. I think about how much fun it would be to blurt out “it’s free!” just as the storeowner is trying to interrupt me and leave. To watch their reaction would be almost worth doing their windows for free. But I decide that such an offer might come across as sarcastically aggressive and earn me some unwanted attention. So I decide on the next best thing.
    I go in and track down the owner. She is with a customer, so I wait quietly, pretending to browse at some postcards. She sees me over her shoulder and asks if she can help me. I go into my regular pitch.
    “Hi, I’m in the area cleaning windows, and …”
    Up goes the hand and the wagging head, the squinted eyes, and a taut frown. She whisks her customer away, and they drift off to the back. That’s when I blurt out: “For five dollars!”
    The woman stops and does an about-face. Abandoning her customer, she comes at me with a grin that says, “Are you shitting me?”
    “What’s the catch?” she says.
    “No catch,” I say. “It’s been a slow day.”
    And so I go to work on this antique emporium as the owner watches me gleefully from inside. Her husband comes along, and they stand together and watch me go up and down the panes, using my extension poles. Customers come in and the happy couple brags to each and every one about the great deal they just got.
    You’d think I would feel pretty low cleaning those windows, which would take me about an hour to do. You’d think I’d feel cheated, embittered, and resentful. After all, what kind of guy lets people take advantage of him like this?
    And I do, for about the first five minutes. But thinking about it, what the hell else did I have to do? Doing this place for five dollars was better than doing no places for zero dollars, and it sure as hell was a lot better than working at a place like this, for cheap people like this, trapped inside a workplace with ridiculous hours and demeaning rules.
    When I finish, the owner comes out, tugging at the edges of a crisp five-dollar bill. She comes to me charitably, like she’s bringing me a big doggie biscuit – like she’s performing an act of philanthropy.
    “Here you go,” she sings. “Five dollars.”
    I take it from her, and as I leave, I think, “Fuck it. If I have to take five dollars an hour, I’ll take it. In fact, whenever I run into a place like Las Vegas, I’ll offer to do anything for five dollars. And that will be just fine. Five dollars can get you a McDonald’s value meal. Five dollars can get you enough gas to get to the next town.”
    I make my way around the last of the town plaza, wondering the entire time how Las Vegas got wasted on such a bunch of low-balling assholes. Ever since arriving, I’ve been trying to fall in love with this town, but Las Vegas hadn’t seemed interested.
    My hatred for it peaks when I stick my head inside a barbershop and give the nickel pitch to do the outsides. It would normally have been a ten-dollar job.
    “Five dollars?” says the barber, snipping at the hair of a young man. “Some other guy does both sides for four dollars.”
    The young man in the barber’s chair, about 20, has to butt in.
    “Yeah,” he says, sitting up. “I think you should do both sides for four dollars, man.” He laughs with the barber.
    I look at this giddy kid. How does he know I won’t wait for him outside?
    “Who asked you, punk?” I want to say. But I don’t. I say to him and the barber: “Really? Great. I’ll be right back then. I just have to go get something.” Then I leave. I never come back. You have to find ways to cope.
    Done for the day, I drive to the far edge of town where there is a dirty rundown motel that advertises rooms for $25 a night. I could get a room for two nights, but wouldn’t be able to afford to eat well. I try to convince myself that if I stayed one more night, and made one last effort to make Las Vegas work, it just might. I might just leave loving Las Vegas and missing it to death and vowing to come back.
    So I walk up to the lobby. But before I get to the door, I stop and turn around. I come back to the Plymouth. It was just too late. Me and Las Vegas weren’t going to work out.
    I fill up the Plymouth and look down Highway 104, with the sun setting to my back. The greatest drives are eastward, running away from the sun. On the map, the road to Tucamcari looks long and lonely and I don’t like the sound or the look of it. I see a dry, poor town of last chances and few services. But I feel like there’s no stopping or turning back now. I feel like I am already rolling down the slope of a chasm that I can’t see into, and that slope angles directly into the bowels of Texas.
    I pay for the gas, and leave.
    As I wind the Plymouth down the soft hills and small canyons southeast of Las Vegas, the land slowly broadens out into farmlands then rolling plains. I realize there’s no turning back west now, and I feel the reality that I am about to become truly alone out here. It’s bittersweet drives like this, with the sun to your back and the shadows of tall grass and yucca fronds, and ranch houses thrown out ahead of you, that you move into a depth of solitude you’ve never known, and you embrace that solitude. You embrace it because it’s all you have, and all you want.
    Behind, the sun quits quietly as 104 straightens itself out, leaving just the slightest bend in the road here and there. §

    Ben Leroux writes from a motel room in Morro Bay, and still plies his trade as a window washer. He can be reached at
    Read more of his "Washing Windows Across America" series here:
  • Evicted From Wal-Mart (episode 9)
  • Santa Fe Pride (episode 10)

  • Read more!