September 01, 2006
The angriest man on earth
I’m miserable. I’m an asshole, getting treated like an asshole by an even bigger asshole.
He’s got a massive head like a pumpkin, and a wild beard, and he’s a scary-looking dude, like some steroid-bursting, NFL reject defensive tackle on the warpath.
The angriest man on earth
I have a lot to look forward to every day to piss me off
By Dell Franklin
I was an angry young man. Not because of any gripe against society or my parents, or my situation. I was just angry, a red-ass, a high--strung sonofabitch who usually took his anger out on opponents on ball fields and gymnasiums. An asshole. Too competitive. I had a few friends who understood (mostly fellow jocks), and later on, in college, malcon-tent social rejects who understood. But, by and large, everybody else pretty much felt I was an asshole and tried to avoid me.
I never mellowed. I’m no better these days. So what. I enjoy being angry. Thrive on it. Feel it's possibly a natural state of mind. Or possibly I inherited this anger from my father, who was of Russian stock and nearly beat to death a member of a notoriously violent motor-cycle gang in the 1960s as a 50-year-old man over a traffic altercation.
I guess I’m pretty happy BEING angry. A good thing. People tell me anger is bad for your gut. your heart, your psyche. It’s negative energy leading to pessimism and depression, and all this stuff drives you crazy, gives you ulcers and cancer and heart attacks. Well, maybe that’s true. Maybe anger will end up killing me, one way or the other, but I’m unfortunately going to die some day anyway, so I might as well go down an angry sonofabitch.
I throw tantrums, rages. Any little thing will ignite me. If I’m driving along, and the lens of the sunglasses fitting over my pres-cription glasses falls out, like they always do, every day, I have to find them on my lap, and the goddam things won’t clip in, and I don’t want to pull over. It’s hard anyway fitt-ing the lens back in the frame when I’m NOT driving, because I’ve got six thumbs, but I try anyway, knowing all I have to do is bring the lens and frame to the nearby optometry office and they’ll easily fix them, but that’s a pain in the ass. So I fumble around and knock the other lens out and go into a rage, smash-ing the dash, hurling the fragile glasses across the seat, and my dog jumps up and scrambles from the front seat to the back, tail between his legs — there’s constant inner turmoil and outer chaos. I have a lot to look forward to every day to piss me off.
Anyway, I used drive down to L.A. every two weeks to see my ailing 87-year-old mother before she died.
Driving to L.A., a hellhole, is not too horrible an experience until, on Highway 101, you get over the hill from Camarillo. But I avoid that five-lane mayhem by cutting off onto Las Posas Road to the coast in Oxnard and taking Highway 1 through Trancas, Point Dume, Malibu and Santa Monica to the 10 freeway.
But before I even get there, I’m skirting along Santa Maria on Highway 101 for another visit with my mother. My sunshade lens and frames are under a seat or scattered somewhere, and I’m not going to stop and find them. I use my terrible old sunglasses, the ones I found in a bar I worked 10 years ago — the kind you buy at the Dollar Store. My radio is inferior, comes and goes — NPR — along the Central Coast, on my way to L.A.
It’s early in the morning. Drivers buzz all around me along the Santa Maria stretch of road. I’m in the passing lane and the bas-tards are on my ass. Well, I’m passing a long line of trucks. I take my time. I see the asshole behind me is on his cell phone. I go slower. I hate cell phones. I visited a friend at a San Luis Obispo motel the other day, and, by the pool, out of eight people sitting around in deck chairs, seven were on cell phones. These people are losing out on some-thing valuable, by not talking to each other. Everybody’s so isolated. It’s a form of snobbism. “I got MY cell phone, you got yours. I don’t need you, you don’t need me.” Our world.
Now the guy behind me, in a sparkling new $60,000 SUV, is nudging up closer to my tail. Blinking his lights. I’m driving an 18-year-old mini-compact four-cylinder Japanese job with duct tape and an insulting bumper sticker meant to piss off Republicans and rich capitalists. He’s getting good and pissed at 7:30 in the morning as I slow down to 58 mph from around 65. Momentarily, he’s placed his cell phone down and is glaring at me, sees me glaring back through my rear view. He flips me the finger. Ha, ha, ha. My anger is ebbing away. Transference of anger to the enemy always cools me down. I thrive on it.
I slow to 55. Cars stack up behind me. I speed up to around 60 to keep neck-and-neck with the line of monster semis in the slow lane, then notch it up to 65 and take my time passing them. When there is finally a car-and-a-half length gap between me and the lead semi, the SUV swerves crazily into that lane and gets beside me; I don’t look over, but sort of peer at him out of the side of my eye without giving him the satisfaction of my full attention, though I can see he’s relatively enraged. Still not looking at him, I flip him a very languid, very dismissive finger as he swerves in front of me to show who’s boss. I take my time pulling in front of the long line of semis at 67 and cruise along while the other long line of drivers who had been behind me take time off from their cell phones to issue me exasperated, angry looks as they whip past. I’ve made their days. Anger is good.
It’s an uneventful ride through Santa Barbara and all the little communities south. No use being pissed off. When I reach Camarillo, I turn inland on Las Posas Road and head for Highway 1, and there is clear sailing all the way to Point Magu, where I turn onto 1. But then, up the road a few miles, where it’s single lane, and little traffic, a bus-sized RV pulls out about 75 yards in front of me while I’m tooling along at 55, the speed limit. He saw me coming, but pulled out anyway, when it was obvious I was the only car coming. Now I’m angry. My dog senses it and crawls up to the front and sits shotgun, alarmed, keeping an eye on me, anticipating trouble ahead.
I have to slow down to 25, right on the tail of the RV. He gets it up to 35. He and his female companion admiring the coastline. I see his face in the sideview mirror as I jockey along the median. He’s a smug-looking entitled asshole in his $110,000 monstrosity; he thinks owns the road. A gas hogger. Sports car towed in the back. Going in style. Keeping it at 35. Motherfucker! I know I can pass him a few miles up, where the highway splits for half a mile into a passing lane, but it’s his arrogance that has me riled. Cars pile up behind me. I honk at the prick. He eyes me in his sideview mirror. I shake my fist.
“PULL OVER, YOU COCKSUCKER!” I bellow, head out the window, my gorge rising, heart beating fast like a lion in pursuit. “YOU MOTHERFUCKER! YOU PIECE OF SHIT!”
He ignores me, goes even slower. I’m playing into his hands. He’s getting a big kick out of tormenting a poor slob in a dilapidated tin can. Goddammit, I hate this. I’m miserable. I’m an asshole, getting treated like an asshole by an even bigger asshole. Finally, the road splits and I gun my tiny little four-banger up beside the gas-hogging, road-hogging prick. He’s way up in the cock-pit. Glances down at me unemotionally. Instead of issuing him a salvo of vicious profanity and vile insults, I shake my head sadly and drive on, passing him. I pull in front of him to let everybody else — -all pissed off — pass me. When they are all past me, the passing lane closes. I slow down, and down, and down, to a 20 mph crawl, trying to provoke the asshole in the RV, who shakes his head slowly, sadly, and now I am embarrassed at falling to his despicable level, and start up. What a petty sonofabitch I am, letting my anger turn me into a wretch in my wretched little car. As a human being, this guy, who represents just about everything I hate, is manipulating me, like a puppet. So what if he has to slow down. He wants it that way. Wants to look at the goddam ocean.
I hit the gas and get far in front. So I don’t have to see him again and face his gaze, both of us knowing I’m an asshole, an angry asshole, out of his mind, and carrying on like a fool at 61. An idiot.
As I near Malibu, and traffic thickens, the dog senses my rising tension and crawls into my lap, hindering my comfort, squashing my balls, a 65-pound black lab mix. He’s concerned, almost frantic, knowing my volatile nature and explosive temper. In this environment, he knows I’m liable to go berserk and get in a fisticuff on the side of the road. I hate Southern California, the place that spawned me. Still, with my poor dog in a state of heightened agitation, I force myself to relax, calm down, wanting to soothe the helpless animal, who is my best friend, revering me as the center of his universe.
I take deep breaths, like a transcendental meditator. One after another. Find a jazz station. Look at the ocean. The traffic, though pokey and aggravating, moves along at about 35 mph. Then, in Malibu, it’s stop-and-go. A few five-minute waits for things to get going again. I continue to take deep breaths. As we crawl along at 5 mph, there’s a guy in a huge dust-crusted Suburban with tools and equipment stacked ceiling high, and he’s trying to edge into my lane, the passing lane, trying to get in front of me in what can only be described as a bullying manner. He’s got a massive head like a pumpkin, and a wild beard, and he’s a scary-looking dude, like some steroid-bursting, NFL reject defensive tackle on the warpath. He’s grimacing and eyeing me with mounting anger as he continues to creep in front of me, no more than four inches from ramming me. I fully intend to allow this L.A. crazy to get his way. His mammoth vehicle about to squash me, I nod at him. Then he goes berserk. His face grows beet red and he cusses me savagely, eyes popping out in his face, eyes red like those of a bull stalking a matador, and then he wrenches his wheel and I hit the brakes as he lurches in front of me just as traffic starts to flow at about 15 mph. He’s one angry sonofabitch and he’s venting it all at me, his bloodshot eyes pinning me in the crosshairs of his oversized side mirror, waiting for my response.
I jut my head out the window to get a better look at him, and he gives me the finger.
He doesn’t JUST give me the finger, he gives me a huge finger in a manner so animated, so authoritative so urgent, so vengeful, so menacing, that I have no alternative but to return the finger, and I do, shaking it with emphasis, jabbing it up toward my aerial, and now he’s got his giant pumpkin head out the window and twisted around, and he looks positively Cyclopian as he rages at me, cursing, shaking the finger as he drives along, and now my dog is scrunching around in a panic, mauling me with his adrenalin-juiced paws, jutting his head out the window and licking my face to calm me down as I continue jabbing my finger at the motherfucker in front of me, calling him stupid, dumb, a miserable desperate asshole, and finally, when we come to another stop, I am seized with the sudden fear this giant Cyclops is going to get out of his car and possibly kill or maim me. I have never seen a human this angry, in, well, years — maybe ever!
I pull my head back in as the traffic crawls and stare at the deranged fucker, and he con-tinues braying and barking, crawling along, sticking his finger out the window the whole way. Now, as traffic mercifully picks up, he turns back around, looking at the road, his left hand still out, finger pointing at the sky. We get up to around 40 mph, a good flow. He’s still giving me the finger, his mal-evolent eyes on mine in his sideview mirror. I honk. He shakes his finger and raises it for emphasis, and jabs it up in a manner indicating I can “shove it” up my ass. I honk again and he increases the vigor with which he is f1ipping me the bone.
Finally, I start laughing. I am truly happy. My dog licks my face and crawls back to his shotgun position to peer calmly out the window at the ocean. I have been following the lunatic in front of me for a nearly 20 minutes, and he’s still giving me the finger. We stop at another light. He’s still got that finger out there, just holding it, not moving it around, showing me he’s not about to let me off the hook.
He’s still got his Cyclopian eye on me, too. So I jut my head out the window. He’s waiting, waiting…. I give him the peace sign. He shakes the finger violently in response, wagging it back and forth maniacally, and I see he’s gritting his teeth. We slow down for another light, and, head out the window, I cry out, “PEACE, MY BROTHER! W’RE ALL IN THIS BULLSHIT TOGETHER! MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR!”
He goes apoplectic, unleashing a blood-curdling slew of profanity, calls me a faggot, a cocksucker, you name it, he calls me it. He’s started again. Face redder than before. Traffic flows. We’re nearly into Santa Monica by now. Where is this fucker going? We’ve been doing this, from what I can read on my speedometer, for seven miles — a long drive in L.A.
I continue to give him the peace sign. Keep my hand out the window full time, and when he re-emphasizes the rage of his finger-giving, I answer him with an even more intense peace sign. He sees me studying him in his sideview mirror, and mouths the words: “Hippie cocksucker motherfucking faggot.” I mouth the words: “Find love, my brother.”
“FUCK YOU!” he rages on, bouncing around in his seat, his finger still out there. Eight miles, and his finger's still out there. A record. I pull into the second lane and try to edge up beside him, for a nice talk, possibly an understanding, perhaps a truce, but he swerves to cut me off, not about to let me go anywhere, and when the driver who was behind me tries to move up and pass him, he swerves back into the passing lane, cutting him off, too, and we jockey around this way for another mile, disrupting traffic, drawing honks and shouts, to no avail, and he’s still giving me the finger and I’m still giving him the peace sign.
Finally, a mile or two from the 10 freeway, he gets into the left hand turn lane. I slow down to pass him. He’s got his massive face turned toward me, but now he looks absolutely exhausted, haggard, the electric sparking insanity in his eyes gone blank, like fuses burnt out, and I’m grinning as I give him the peace sign, and, with a look of disappointment and, perhaps relief, he flips me a rather half-assed finger as I go on my way, still giving him the peace sign out the window.
I’m so relaxed that a momentary stall on the interchange of the 10 transiting onto the 405 doesn’t bother me a bit. I'm almost giddy.
Endorphins ripple through my body. I’m no longer angry. I’m spent. I’m a noodle. My dog rests his muzzle on my lap and I stroke him gently. I’m in the passing lane. L.A. crazies on cellphones are going ape shit behind me, and those veering off to pass me issue me filthy looks. I tool along near the airport, totally at peace. Anger is good.§
Publisher Dell Franklin practices his anger every day in Cayucos, and along the roads of San Luis Obispo County, cursing uppity snobs and people who don’t know how to drive. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Go to the main page for this month's Rogue Voice
Washing windows across America
Proud motels were once filled every night back when Tucumcari was the major stopover point between Chicago and L.A. Now they are nocturnal beggars, with a dreamlike beauty to them.
"Want a little advice? Never take acid at an Iron Maiden concert."
End of the Mother Road (episode 12)
By Ben Leroux
The Lotaburger staff of Tucumcari, New Mexico, doesn’t deserve the abruptness with which I treat them. They are just innocent, fat, pimply white kids trying to serve with a smile. It is late, and I think they sense that I am at the edge of something, so they give me a wide berth. They call me “sir” and actually say “thank you” when I order. One even asks me for permission to mop around my table. I grunt at him.
“Thank you,” he says.
My surliness must be residual from two days in the inhospitable outpost of Las Vegas. Now I am just 50 miles from the Texas border, disoriented in mysterious darkened flatlands. Possibly I have raised my dukes in anticipation that the farther one goes east in this country, the larger the shoulder-chips on people grow. I leer at anyone in the Lotaburger who locks eyes with me.
After eating, I go out back and bunk down in the Plymouth. All I know of Tucumcari thus far is this exit area off the I-40, which consists of two filling stations, a chain motel, this Lotaburger, and a McDonald’s across the street.
The next morning I drive across the street and drink coffee in the McDonald’s with my atlas and a pen at hand. There’s still a chance that I may be able to afford a room for one night, but it is too early yet to go looking.
I end up eavesdropping on a table of men. It is the same table of men you find Saturday morning in any small-town McDonald’s, discussing trucks, farming, politics, and the weather over cheap pancakes and coffee. But with these Tucumcari men, such subjects orbit superficially around the true nucleus of their lives – football.
Listening to them while looking through the atlas, I realize that Tucumcari is a hybrid town — part New Mexican and part Texan. In addition to a Texas-like allegiance to football, there is an unchecked twang in a word or two.
I look up. Across the aisle is a young, fair-skinned, pregnant woman in McDonald’s maternity attire. She rests a knee on a hard bench-seat while wiping the tabletop with a wet rag. She’s stealing a break, watching up front for passing supervisors.
“Oh nothing,” I say. I hunch over my atlas.
“What are you drawin’ on that map?”
“It looks like you’re drawin’ something,” she says.
“It looks like you’re drawin’ circles.”
“Okay. I’ll tell you. I’m circling cities.”
“You’re what?” She tries to stretch her neck across the aisle.
“I’m circling cities. I’m a window-washer, and that’s how I travel. It’s not a big thing.”
“What kind of cities you circlin’?”
She scans up front before scampering across the aisle to my table. She kneels on the seat across from me and starts wiping my table. She looks down at the obscure towns I have circled throughout western Texas. She gets an eyeful then darts back to the booth where she resumes on one knee, moving the rag around and around in the same spot.
Feeling a trust in her, I elaborate.
“What I do is find all the cities in a state that have a population of between two- and twenty-thousand people. Those, I have found are best for window washing. Then I circle them. That way I always know where I can make some quick money.”
“And you’re going to wash windows in all them cities?”
“No, just the ones on my route. I’m headed in the general direction of Florida, but nothing’s set in stone. I just try to stay off the main roads, and away from big cities.”
“You should go up to Jeffrey’s Market,” she says.
“Do they need their windows cleaned?” I ask.
“I don’t know. But they got windows. Big ones.” She sets down her rag and shows me the rough dimensions of Jeffrey’s windows with her arms, and then starts to give me directions. I stop her.
“When people send me somewhere to go do windows, it usually amounts to nothing,” I tell her. “So I probably won’t go. Every place has windows. Thanks though.”
She seems a little wounded.
“But maybe you could tell me of a good, cheap mechanic in town,” I say.
She lights up. “What’s the problem?”
I list the array of maladies that afflict the underside of the Plymouth – rotting ball-joints, bushings, u-joints, brakes, and something called a pitman arm.
“Well, I know a guy from mud boggin’,” she says. “He’s a kind of a shade-tree mechanic.”
“Mud boggin’?” I flip through the atlas for the map of New Mexico, and scour it. “Is that a town around here? Mud boggin’?”
“No, no no,” she laughs. “Mud boggin’. You mean you don’t know what a mud bog is? You know, four-by-four racin’ in mud flats? No? Shoot, I met my husband at a mud bog. I beat him in a race when I was four months pregnant. He purposed to me right then and there.”
Tucumcari isn’t much in the daylight. It is mostly empty, dated motels along Route 66 with rooms for around twenty dollars a night. Since there’s no Wal-Mart to camp at, I decide I’ll get one, even though it means I’ll eat like a bird for the weekend.
I select a peculiar courtyard motel with peeling siding yet freshly painted doors. It is called the Snooze Inn and it resembles a commune more than a motel, as thin artist-types sit in doorways playing with cats or tinkering with wood sculptures.
Swampy water floats fallow in a half-filled swimming pool behind a chain-link fence.
The room has character, and a good bed and TV. I catch up on sports scores and news, and nap. I wake and eat a dinner of dollar-store junk food and malt liquor.
I come out after dark and walk Route 66. Now that it’s night, Tucumcari has been resurrected. It hums with neon as the mostly-vacant motels have switched on their signs for the trafficless Mother Road. The proud motels were once filled every night, back when Tucumcari was the major stopover point between Chicago and L.A. Now they are nocturnal beggars, with a dreamlike beauty to them.
I stop under the flashing pinks, blues, and greens of the signs and watch them plead for the salvation of Route 66 and motels like the Buckaroo, The Palomino, and the Blue Swallow. They call to the ghosts of old truckers and traveling families.
In a bar I spend two of my last dollars on a draft beer. A broken jukebox steals money from a group of listless drunks who keep urging one another to feed it more money. I watch the bottom right-hand corner of a football game on an obstructed set behind the bar. A meth-head couple comes in, exploring for activity, transforming the energy of the place into a nervous hell. I walk back to the motel. Bored hicks in a 4-by-4 rumble by, checking me out, followed by bored Mexican low-riders doing the same.
By Sunday morning, my plan to survive off of potato chips and malt liquor has failed, and I am queasy with hunger. I wake too early, craving greasy hangover food. So I set out on foot, just looking for something. I don’t know what. Food in a garbage can, I guess – another potato chip.
I come upon an American/Mexican diner and wade through its intermingling aromas of chorizo, maple syrup, and coffee grounds. I walk in, and a small brown man greets me at the register.
“Juan pear-son?” he says.
I say yes, one person, but that I’d like talk to him first. I tell him in broken Spanish that if he’ll allow me, I will clean his windows for breakfast. He watches me with blank eyes before disappearing into the kitchen. I start to leave. But out comes a kitchen worker in a stained apron.
“My dad says you wanted something?”
“Ah, forget it. I was just offering to clean your windows in exchange for a breakfast. I’ll try someplace else.”
The kid though, is already yelling into the kitchen in Spanish. He and his father banter back and forth. The kid takes a menu from the front counter and leads me out into the dining area.
“Will this table be fine sir?” he asks me, pointing to a nice window-table.
“Well, I’ll just go get my things and clean your windows first. I don’t need much. Just some eggs and hashed browns.”
“My dad says just to eat. You don’t have to do nothing. Just eat. Coffee?”
He fills my cup as I sit.
“Okay,” I say. “But after I’m done, I’ll be back to wash your windows. They look like they need it. I’m staying at the Snooze.”
I load up the coffee with packets of sugar, and half-and-half and feel the cobwebs start to clear.
I eat an omelet with hashed browns and juice and toast. The kid keeps my coffee refilled and checks to see if I need additional butter or juice.
As I leave, I tell him I’ll be right back. He nods at me unemotionally.
A half hour later I’ve checked out of the Snooze and am back cleaning the diner’s windows. The old man runs and hides when he sees me, and his son comes out to take his place.
It takes about 20 minutes to go around the joint. When I finish, I knock on a window and wave goodbye to the kid. I don’t go into thank his father. I don’t know him, but I think I know why he’s hiding from me. He’s the type of guy who doesn’t expect thanks for a spontaneous, selfless act. I think I understand him.
The food-for-windows program works again that evening at a Chinese restaurant. I eat a quiet dinner of sweet-and-sour pork and rabbit legs. I’m onto something, maybe.
I spend the rest of Sunday finding various places to waste time in Tucumcari. Each time I get out of the Plymouth though, I bound out with a giant leap. According to the local newspaper, it has been a record summer for rattlesnake bites. People by the dozens are getting nipped doing simple things like getting out of their cars. And uncharacteristically, the rattlers have been crawling on to sidewalks and going after little kids. No one knows what has gotten into the rattlers this summer.
Monday morning I walk into a downtown diner that is infinitely wide and long, with ominous spaces between tables. At the very back, some distance off, a kind-faced hostess waits for me behind the cash register. Halfway, I wave to her and she waves back. The endless march gives the town of Tucumcari a chance to check me out from their tables.
I give the hostess my pitch, proposing ten dollars for the outside or fifteen for both sides. She starts to shake her head, and I turn around for the endless march of shame out of the diner.
“You know what? Go ahead,” she says after all.
We negotiate both sides for ten dollars and lunch. After cleaning the insides, I delicately replace the window display of a hometown doll maker, and a shrine to the high school football team. The hostess watches over me with satisfaction. Women are often more impressed with my handling of their window décor than how clean I get their windows.
“So. Stranded, or stayin’?” she says as she serves my lunch. I have been given a ten-dollar limit.
I pause for thought, because the idea of stopping and living in a place like Tucumcari had never occurred to me until just then. It was a dying town of tumbleweeds and rattlesnakes, but what else was wrong with it? These people were kind and they knew who they were and they sure as hell knew how to treat a window washer. And I really liked all the space I had at this table. The nearest booth of people was a good ten yards away.
“Neither, really,” I say. “But I could. I mean, it’s a nice town. It’s just that there’s not enough windows.”
I leave and walk the deserted, oversized downtown streets with a full belly. Quiet shadows hang from square, steadfast buildings with boarded windows. I could just as easily be in a Kansas ghost town. A lone stoplight buzzes and clicks above what used to be an important intersection, changing colors for no one. I feel a little guilty for trying to get money out of these people. I walk from block to vacant block, on the alert for rattlers coiling up in the monstrous concrete gutters.
At a corner, I come across an antique/second-hand store that has no “open” or “closed” sign. There are old wheelbarrows and obsolete farming tools in the front window display. I hold my hands up to the glass and peer into the store and see a feint light somewhere in the back. The door moves when I push on it. So I step back and come up with an estimate for the windows, and go in.
A cowbell attached to the door clamors, and I jump back as the shadows of two bodies leap from behind old shelves and desks. They flee in opposite directions. A short squatty one disappears into a back room and a tall gangly one stands behind a stack of boxes, pretending to work. When he sees me standing in the doorway, he relaxes.
“It ain’t the old man!” he yells to the back room.
Together, the two shadows emerge and come to me, wading through used appliances and lawnmowers, rubbing their eyes and yawning. The tall slender one wears glasses and thinning shoulder-length hair. The squatty one is razor-stubbled and wears a grimy T-shirt.
“We thought you was the old man,” the slender one tells me, exposing dirty yellow teeth. “We know the sound of his truck, but sometimes he tries to pull a fast one on us. He knows we’re lazy bastards, but still we don’t like to disrespect him.”
“I was just in town doing windows,” I say. “I can do your outsides for ten dollars if you like.”
The squatty one stops mid-yawn, to laugh. But Slim elbows him in the chest.
“Wait,” says Slim. “You say you will wash all the windows for ten dollars?”
“Yeah. It’s no big deal,” I say.
“All of them?”
Both guys reach for their wallets. “You got it, buddy. I’m Kelly and this here’s Ernie.” They each produce a five and escort me outside.
“Now you know where this store begins and ends, don’t you?” says Kelly.
“Yeah, from here to right here.” I point.
“Nope. Follow me.” Ernie wheezes in excitement as Kelly leads us down the sidewalk and around a corner, where I see that the second-hand store comprises an entire downtown block. They wait for my reaction, Ernie grinning perversely.
“Aw, shit,” I say. “There’s so many empty businesses here in Tucumcari, I couldn’t tell these were yours. It’s misleading.”
“Still wanna do ‘em? I mean you don’t have to, but if ten dollars is all you’re askin’, me and Ernie will gladly pay you. Otherwise the old man’ll make us do ‘em and if there’s one thing that me and Ernie hate, it’s windows. We are willing to pitch in five dollars apiece of our measly salaries, aren’t we Ernie?”
“Yeah, hell. Why not?” I say. “I said I’d do ‘em, so I’ll do ‘em.” I get ready to start.
“Hell yeah, boy. That’s a whole lotta windows,” says Kelly, jumping around. “We’ll get you some drinking water. Ernie, go get him a water.”
Ernie scoots off and returns with a cold bottled water for me, and they watch with curious admiration as I reach into my duffel bag and pull out my soft-bristled brush then take the lid from my bucket, and dunk the brush in. They shake their heads with respect as they see that I am actually going to go through with it. Kelly tells Ernie to go back into the shop in case the old man shows up.
“So where were you last?” Kelly asks me.
“Las Vegas,” I say.
“Woo-hoo. Crazy-ass Vegas town. What did you think‘ol Vegas?”
“I didn’t know what to think. What is wrong with those people up there?” I brush water onto the first pane.
“He-he-he. You had trouble in Vegas did you? He-he-he. Well, you’re the wrong color for one thing.”
“But I never had any trouble in Gallup, and that was all Navajos. I was treated very well in Espanola, which as I’m sure you know is mostly Mexican. Assholedness, it seems, knows no race. But it evidently knows geography. We have a town like that where I’m from. It’s called Cambria, practically all white and nearly the whole town are unbelievable assholes.”
“Now you’re preachin’, window-man. Yee-haw. I’m hearin’ it. I know Cambria.”
“Then you know what I’m talking about.”
“Not really. I was too fucked up on drugs at that time, so it’s pretty much a blur. I was playing in a rock band that toured up and down that coast. I just vaguely remember the name — Cambria.”
Kelly gets a few more pieces of information from me before he lights a cigarette and is off to the races. He talks and gesticulates incessantly, as if he hasn’t talked to anyone in years, waving the cigarette as he paces the sidewalk. He talks about the towns of New Mexico and what the people are like and by the level of interest I show in one topic, he decides which sub-topics to veer off into. I get very little work done listening to him.
“As far as Tucumcari,” he says, “well, you can probably already tell it’s dead. But some of us like it that way. It was I-40 that did her in. Throw in a few chain motels, and this is what you get. Hey, don’t do all these fuckin’ windows man. It’s hot out here. Come in and take a break. We got a swamp cooler inside – and couches.”
I follow him inside.
“I tell you what else, I’m gonna call the old man and see if I can get you some more work.”
As he goes behind the counter and dials, I migrate toward a section of used musical equipment.
I sit down at a drum set and pick up the sticks. I look around the place, astounded by its vastness. It is the size of two high school gymnasiums.
I hear Kelly bragging on the phone about how he and Ernie discovered an ace window-washer and took the initiative to muster up five dollars apiece to get the windows cleaned, and that the guy was only in town for the day. When he’s done, Kelly has made it sound like he and Ernie had sacrificed immensely.
Kelly hangs up and comes over to where I sit and says, “That was the old man. I told him you did the whole building. He’ll never check. He owns so much shit, he doesn’t know where it begins or ends.”
I hit the bass with the foot-pedal - BOOMP.
“Your drums?” I ask - BOOMP.
“Nah,” says Kelly. “The old man’s. He used to play jazz – Benny Goodman-type shit. He quit once his old lady died. Now he drinks.”
I start tapping one of the sticks on the hi-hat and throw in a soft snare. Kelly peruses four electric guitars propped up against an old couch. He straps one over his shoulder and plugs it into a little floor amp and starts tuning the guitar by ear.
“What kind of band did you play in?” I ask.
“I would describe it as a cross between Iron Maiden and Tangerine Dream, if you can imagine that.”
“I told him about you,” Kelly says, looking for a pick. “The old man. I think he wants you to do his home and some other properties of his. You could make some good money before you leave Tucumcari. You could leave Tucumcari rich, bro. When he gets here though, I gotta split to that back room. Me and Ernie are supposed to be back there priming his classic.”
I look into the fluorescent-lit back room where Ernie looks up from a girlie magazine and waves. He leans against an old classic car of some kind.
“Yeah man,” says Kelly, tuning his axe. “I used to tour up and down that fucking coast where you’re from, playing the bars. Acid, coke, you name it, I was on it. No more though. Last time I dropped acid was at an Iron Maiden concert in Albuquerque. Want a little advice? Never take acid at an Iron Maiden concert. Dude, the stairs were giant, and I thought the fucking world was coming to an end. I tried to climb the speakers. Next one I’m going to straight. He-he-he. Wouldn’t it be a trip to get kicked out of an Iron Maiden concert sober?”
Kelly cranks up the little floor amp and starts whacking at the strings with his pick.
“THIS’S MY BABY, MAN!”
You never know about someone who says they once played in a band. Musicians are notorious for delusions of grandeur. But Kelley is the real deal – a guy that should be touring with a classic rock band. His pencil-length fingers float along the neck of the guitar with butterfly grace as he bends notes, plays with dials and levers, and rattles the walls of the store with wailing licks.
I let up a little, because together we start to sound like Carlos Santana sitting in with a middle-school band. But Kelly starts rocking his body, and looks over at me and nods as if he’s trying to pick up on a beat. Tentatively, I move from the hi-hat to the crown of a cymbal to give it more of a rock sound. Kelly slams heavy-metal power chords.
“COME ON, WINDOW-MAN! HIT IT!” Kelly bangs his head at the dark, dusty air, his thinning strands of hair thrashing about wildly. I throw in a tom-tom, start giving the snare hell and smash the cymbals with authority.
“YEAH WINDOW-MAN! YEAH!”
We get lost in a heavy-metal haze. Ernie pounds an air guitar in the back room. We are at an Iron Maiden concert, loaded and crazy.
Abruptly, Kelly stops.
He mutes the strings and cocks his head and pokes out his lips like a concentrating weasel. He listens. I pinch the edge of the ringing cymbal to silence it.
“Ernie!” he yells, setting down his axe. “It’s the old man! Good knowin’ you, bro,” he says to me. “Good luck in Tucumcari.”
Kelly hurdles a roto-tiller and a coffee table as he splits for the back room. There, Ernie tosses him a piece of sandpaper, and they go to work on the classic.
I set down the drumsticks and wait for the walls of the warehouse to quiet before I get up and go to the counter. The old man is behind a messy desk, rustling through papers.
“You must be the window-washer,” he grumbles at me through the flemmy throat of a seasoned drinker. He looks at me through filmy reddened eyes.
“I got one of those sunrooms at my house,” he says. “Those Plexiglass fucking things that go over my hot-pool. Can you do those fucking things? They’re a pain in the ass.”
I wait while the old man unsteadily scrawls address on the back of a business card.
“Can you find these places?” he says. “Do you know Tucumcari?”
I tell him I’ll find them. I tell him I’ll drive by them and come back with here with an estimate.
“Are your prices reasonable?” he asks me.
“I’m pretty cheap,” I say.
“Just do them then. When you come back, we’ll work it out.”
“You sure that’s okay?” I say.
“It’s okay with me if it’s okay with you, buddy. Just do a good job.”
I drive through the backstreets of Tucumcari where I see how the people live — their modest homes and their roughly defined yards. I don’t break any speed records looking for the old man’s addresses. I take my time.§
Ben Leroux writes from a motel room in Morro Bay, and still plies his trade as a window washer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Read more of his "Washing Windows Across America" series here:
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‘While you’re burning in hell, monsters stab you with pitchforks, and make you stand on your head in poop, and it gets in your mouth and you can't do anything about it.’
Creation is an ongoing, prescient process. And our knowledge increases. That which we used to think of as mysticism is now science — and now science hints at an expanding universe that may be conscious.
While forgetting to suffer the little children
By Steve Hawthorne
Notions dawn in the minds of children. At the age of 5, the idea came to me that I should attend church. I wasn’t altogether unfamiliar with the concept of god: A spirit that pervades and animates life and is far bigger than we can see. I’d already begun to fish, and was a frequent sojourner to local woods and fields, brooks and ponds, where I’d experienced the implicit ecstasy in catching a big bullfrog, or landing a brook trout and wondering at its sunrise flanks adorned with spots as red as dead suns, emitting incandescent blue halos. I’d considered the brook that speaks in tongues, and entertained the cryptic whispers of trees on the edge of hearing. I guess you could say, at that stage of development, my leanings tended toward the “animistic,” you might even say the “shamanistic,” though at the time I had no language to describe dogmas or philosophies. At 5, I was an operator in the field of perceptions. And what I perceived was a life, world, and universe, juicy with pregnant potential, where everything is as it should be. To my forming mind there was no argument between Creationism and Darwinism — I simply accepted an evolving world, defined by the ongoing process and mechanics of creation.
Even at 5, my domestication was well underway, tinting me with the significant input of dogma that is inescapable when one has contact with other humans. “Good people go to heaven — bad people go to hell,” one grandfather enlightened me; and a cousin elaborated on that for me: “When you’re in hell, you burn forever. You can feel yourself being burned, but you never burn up. You just feel it. While you’re burning, monsters stab you with pitchforks, and make you stand on your head in poop, and it gets in your mouth and you can’t do anything about it.”
That bit of knowledge caused some dark concern, but I remember not being able to completely accept that punishment/reward view of how things work. It didn’t seem to mesh with the reality I was glimpsing. But I kept an open mind on the subject. Not taking any chances.
It was beginning to look like there were two realities. One, the lowercase reality, like the picture on a TV screen that we watch while the flickering drama of life takes place on it. A picture screen showing dad drinking too much. Mom and dad fighting. Mom shredding the couch with a kitchen knife. Grandma getting a shot from the doctor twice a week for her heart…. And, two, the uppercase Reality, the one we don’t see, behind the TV screen, where the strange components that serve to project and animate the picture array on a forlorn, alien landscape, that few of us understand or will ever see, hidden from sight, bound by electronic law.
Maybe my grandmother’s death earlier that year had got me thinking about eternity. My mother made the announcement at supper while ladling spaghetti onto my plate: “Your grandmother died today.” She tried to sound nonchalant, like mentioning the arrival of something in the mail. Maybe she thought that if she spoke the words innocuously enough they wouldn’t hurt me, wouldn’t be strong enough to take hold of me in their inevitable grip, and toss me into the yawning, black mouth of a deep well where I would tumble in freefall. “Grandma is with God now.”
My grandmother died at the age of 58, her fragile form beaten by a con-genital heart defect that both shaded and lightened her life, that set her apart and made her different. She was possessed of that resigned grace, the strange knowing, the delicate joy we sometimes see in those who are long dying.
Ariel Russell was the gentle and gifted daughter of Nova Scotia Yankees; she played the piano and sang in a sweet soprano; she accomplished what few women of her time could, rising to prominence as the manager of a bank while still in her 20s; she married, and raised two daughters while patiently suffering her husband’s constant philandering.
From my birth, until her death, I spent a lot of time with Ariel. We worked in her garden. Her favorite flowers were the raucous little pansies thronging the borders and lacing the garden, cavorting like drunken clowns beneath the more stately breeds. As soon as I could talk, my grandmother began to teach me to read; and, by the age of 3, I was driving my parents crazy, reading out loud, of course, every bit of print I saw. Billboards. License plates. Soup cans. Everything. Nothing special about me, just regular dirt who, in the future, would be often parched; but Ariel planted the seed, imbuing me with her love of words and music, like the gardener she was, cultivating good things into me, hoping those things would come to a sweet fruition, even if she wouldn’t be there to enjoy the harvest.
On the Vedic battlefield of Armageddon, when all the armies of the world are assembled at the height of their glory, radiant in their power, Krishna says to the warrior Arjuna: “You can stand with me or not, but with you or without you, I am going to slay every hero assembled here, and none will stand.”
None will stand.
Maybe I thought that going to church would somehow reconnect me with my grandmother. Surely, she was in heaven; and the church people seemed assured of their connection to that place, vocal in their assertions that they possessed the roadmap to it.
My mother and father were both the progeny of New England Congregational (Puritan) mothers and Catholic fathers; both of them agnostics who didn’t attend church; and though they were surprised, they weren’t opposed to the idea of me going when I made it known that was my wish. Especially my mother, who took up the cause, hauling me off to Ware and Pratt where I was outfitted with the then-prerequisite stiff, scratchy, gray wool suit, a pair of slippery-soled, hard-leather Stride-Rite shoes that were of no practical use that I could discern, meant to “train” the feet of children to walk “correctly” (very uncomfortably), a white shift, and a clip-on bow tie that felt like a finger pushing into my esophagus. It was tacitly impressed on me that being presentable to God required a certain degree of discomfort, “sacrifice” you could say; a modicum of suffering that one bears with humility, that is somehow pleasing to God. Of course, my small suffering was laughable compared to the passionate scourging and nailed crucifixion that Christ suffered; or the suffering of Peter, hung upside-down; or the suffering of the Irish Druids who failed to convert, and were thrust underwater, in lakes, by St. Patrick’s armed escort. I do remember feeling a twinge of humble pride as I suffered in front of the store mirror, trussed-up in my Sunday suit.
Come Sunday, my mom helped me into the suit, anointed my head with Vitalis, and marched me toward the white-clapboarded and sharp-steepled Congregational meetinghouse at Webster Square. Mom, who had the final say on my indoctrination, remained true to her Puritan roots and we marched right past the rococo Our Lady of Lourdes, the local Catholic church founded by French Catholics not long after the French and Indian War, but still the new kid on the block to the minds of some who attended the Bethany Congregational meeting house that faced-off with it across Webster Square. [Webster Square is named for Daniel Webster, the protagonist in the story, “The Devil and Daniel Webster.” Pious folks tempted into deals with the devil are a popular and recurrent theme in New England. It is something they know a lot about.] Sunday-suited white people with English surnames were gathered outside the Greek Revival entrance to the old church when we arrived. My mom asked a lady the location of the Sunday school. The lady directed us to the clean, brightly-lit basement downstairs under the church’s main vestibule where I was introduced to the pretty, young Sunday school teacher who took me by the hand.
That was the only time my mother ever walked me to church. Every Sunday I would rise, put on the suit, and traipse the mile to Bethany by myself, as pious and faithful as Cotton Mather. [Those over 50 may recall the days when children were allowed to range more freely.] My first Sunday school teacher was a gentle and kind young woman who stayed with the more positive and affirmative aspects of Christ’s teaching. Christ in his softer moments: “Love thy neighbor as thyself, and do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.” Us kids learned these things from coloring books while the grownups upstairs wrestled with Leviticus: “I will also do this unto you; I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague that shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart; and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.”
On Easter, after a year of perfect attendance, I was awarded a nickel-sized cloisonné pin, red crucifix on a white background in a gold setting that had two little gold hooks on the bottom where bars were to be added for each additional year of perfect attendance — not unlike a Boy Scout medal. I never saw the women wear these, but men of the church seemed to favor them; stiff Yankee men with square, pink, restrained hands, ushered the flock to their pews, their long attendance medals hanging from their lapels like fire-ladders to the cross, wagging like old testament beards.
Christ informs us: “You must become as children to enter unto Heaven.”
My second year at Sunday school, I moved on to a new classroom with a different teacher. Not like my first Sunday school teacher. She asked me who my parents were.
I told her that my parents didn’t go to church. She asked me how I got to church. I told her that I walked, by myself, from my house at 21 Sylvan Street.
The next Sunday when I arrived at church, I was met at the door to Sunday school class by the stern-faced teacher and a tall, stern-faced man, wearing a long attendance medal, who I knew to be one of the church ushers, a Mr. Flynt, (Flynt bore a strong resemblance to Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry) who grasped me by the shoulder and leaned over to whisper in my ear, “Your parents don’t go to church here, and we can’t be responsible for you. You can’t come here anymore without your parents, young man.” That said, he led me upstairs by the arm, showed me out the rear exit, and closed the door.
Christ advises the flock: “Suffer the children to come unto me.”
I wasn’t going to be easily denied, so I went over to the basement window that looked down on my classroom, and laid on the grass with my face pressed to the window, hoping the teacher would take pity on me and let me back in. Didn’t my attendance pin count for something? Was I just an imposter who didn’t deserve to be among the cherubic flock happily working in their coloring books on the other side of the glass? I heard a door slam and looked up to see Mr. Flynt hustling across the lawn toward me, his shoes squeaking, his suit rustling like a black flag. “Hey!” he yelled, pointing his finger while he came at me, “I told you to get out of here…,” he grabbed me by the upper arms, and I dangled like a trophy carp while he gave me the bum’s rush toward the sidewalk, “…and I’m not going to tell you again!”
Christ warns us: “Avoid worshiping in the temple of stone.”
Don Miguel Ruiz, the Toltec shaman who wrote “The Four Agreements,” gives us this one: “Don’t take anything personal.”
It was a shiny-black, irrevocable moment of disenfranchisement, of alienation; and even Adam, cast out from Eden, could not have been more miserable, more sick, or void of hope. I died on the sidewalk in front of the Bethany Congregational Church. Died my first little death — the aching, desperate death that comes before a resurrection.
I didn’t stay dead for long. Children are resilient, thank god, a lot tougher than people might think; and smarter too. Although, at the time, I hadn’t mastered enough of the language to be able to articulate the ambiguous mewing of the situation at Bethany, I knew a few things about it: I didn’t blame God for my rejection. I knew there were good people in the congregation. My new Sunday school teacher and Mr. Flynt had conspired to nip me in the bud before my attendance medal got any longer. They were jerks.
“Those rotten bastards,” my mom said, “I’m gonna have a talk with the minister and you’ll be back next Sunday.”
I told her, “No.” I didn’t want to go to church anymore.
The Son of Man promised: “There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.”
Somebody once asked Einstein why he worked in the field of mathematics, his reply: “To prove the existence of god.”
If you could go back to colonial Boston, stand on the town Common and declare or even suggest Einstein’s blasphemy; you would be set upon, seized, pilloried in public while your fate was being determined, pronounced a heretic, and probably a witch; then either hung, drowned, dragged, or crushed under stones.
But Creation is an ongoing, prescient process. And our knowledge increases. That which we used to think of as mysticism is now science — and now science hints at an expanding universe that may be conscious. Quantum engineers seeking to design computers that store information on atoms have discovered that atoms may already store information; and the fabric of the universe may actually be computing the equation. A mystic equation that we are only beginning to decipher. There are secrets in water and stone, twig and leaf. Maybe I AM is the equation, love is the prime, and the full-circle 0, the alpha and omega.
Lao Tse offers a yin-yang of divine irony: “The name that can be named, is not the real name. The way that can be named, is not the real way.”
Maybe language has to evolve more before we have words to fill the chaotic and dangerous gap between the pre-medieval semantics of dogma — and scientific jargon. A more precise language. And this language will become more comprehensible, more unobstructed as the angry, jealous, and vengeful war-god-from-the-desert sheds his leathery carapace to reveal the compassionate God; who rewards questions with knowledge, humility with wisdom, kindness with kindness; a loving Creator who reflects, like a mirror, the universal dimension of our human passion.§
Steve Hawthorne is a freelance writer who lives in Morro Bay where he contributes to the evolution of language and consciousness.
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In the pantheon of mean, tough, and vile--looking, truck-stop women I’d seen over the years, she was right at the top of the list, a scary creature whose presence chilled me to the bone.
‘Good Christ,’ I muttered, as she continued to glare at us, the face turning into a mask of deadly, accusatory rage.
First fare (hair of the dog)
A cowboy returns home to the meanest woman in the world
By Dell Franklin
I got this new job driving a cab. I always knew that somewhere along the line I’d end up hacking. Mostly I’ve tended bar, but I’ve dabbled at almost every other low-level gig, and, since San Luis Obispo is suspicious of hiring bartenders from the L.A. area, I knew I could get on as a cab driver because cab companies will hire anybody, so I’d heard, as long as you had a clean driving record and could suck in oxygen. I met the requirements. I was trained for one day by an old Mexican from East L.A., Sam Sanchez, who felt, because I was a bartender, I’d be a natural.
My first fare was at, without exception, the seediest dive in SLO Town, and at nine in the morning. As a bartender, I had always worked nights, and could not believe a bar could be this crowded at such an early hour. A murky, downcast pall seemed to hang over everybody like a vast energy-sucking dark cloud commingling with the dense swirl of smoke as mournful country western music wafted from the juke.
All heads along the bar and in the busy poolroom turned toward me, pairs of eyes squinting at me in a prolonged size-up as I stood in my new polyester cab uniform.
“Somebody call a cab?” I asked politely, but loud enough to be heard over the din.
A middle-aged, slatternly woman was smoking behind the bar. “He’s in the head,” she said dully. I nodded. I stood, arms folded. Slowly, gradually, heads turned away from me. A haggard-looking pool shooter said, “You the new cabbie?” I nodded. “How long you been hackin’?”
“This is my first day.”
“Yeh, no shit? You like it?”
“I don’t know yet. This is my first ride.”
“It’s a shit job. I done it in Redding, couple years back. You’ll hate it. People are assholes. Good luck, anyway, bub. You’ll need it.”
A chorus of derisive giggles and cackles rang along the bar. Then a middle-sized man, bow-legged, with a walrus mustache, flip-flops and a cowboy hat lurched out of the head and through the poolroom, stagger-ing toward me, wiping at his nose with the sleeve of his rumpled, booze-stained cowboy shirt. The bartender called out his name — Buck — and pointed toward me. He stopped before me, teetering in place, trying to focus his red-rimmed, very sad, very diluted eyes on me.
“Where’s Woody?” he asked.
“I don’t know about any Woody.”
“Woody always picks me up. I asked for Woody.”
”They fired Woody a month ago,” the bartender told him. “This is the new guy.”
“What’s your name, new guy?”
I introduced myself.
“Come on,” he said, nodding toward the door. As I turned, he put a hand on my shoulder to steady himself. “I gotta get home, sooner or later,” he said. “This ain’t gonna be easy.”
Outside, I helped him into the cab, front seat. He was around 40, weathered in the bright morning sun, reeking of sweat and booze. The corners of his mouth were flecked with white saliva and his nose ran like a leaky tap.
“First of all,” he said in his grating, gravel voice that was going hoarse, “take me to a liquor store.”
“We’re sitting in the parking lot of a liquor store, Buck,” I said, pointing ahead.
“Goddammit, we are.” He handed me some money. “Can you get me a twelve-pack of half quarts of Bud?” he asked, very polite.
“Sure.” I went inside and purchased the beer and placed the sack on his lap as he lay back, cowboy hat tilted down over his eyes. He lifted it back up, straightened. He pointed ahead.
“Go to the flower shop,” he said. “You know where the flower shop is, pard?”
“No. This is my first day. You’re my first ride. I don’t know where anything is yet.”
“Up ahead, coupla blocks. Shit, I’m in big goddam trouble.”
“What’s wrong?” I asked, negotiating smoothly onto a main artery.
“The ole lady kicked me out two nights ago, I think. You know what day it is?”
I told him.
“Yeh, I been on a good one for two days. I got to go back sooner or later, like I sez. She is the meanest goddam woman in the world, pard. Maybe she’s cooled down enough she won’t shoot me. I went out in my undies. Had to borrow these pants and shirt from a pal. I done drunk my self sober in the meantime.”
I spotted the florist shop and pulled in. Buck handed me some bills and asked me to go in and purchase a large bouquet of long-stemmed red roses. I did so, placing the roses atop the twelve-pack on his lap. He already had a can out.
“These roses, they’ll help,” he said, sniffing at the flowers. “They always do.” He tapped his beer can against the twelve-pack. “This always helps, too, but it ain’t a done deal. Now, there’s a liquor store up the road, got better videos. Take me to that store. You know where it is?”
He pointed ahead, cracking open one of the beers, glancing at me. “You look like you could use a snort. Want a beer?”
I shook my head. “Not a hair-of-the-dog man,” I told him.
He nodded. “Sometimes a hair-of-the-dog ends up another twenny-four hours, it does.” He tipped the beer up and drained half of it, foaming up his mustache, the beer dripping down his chin onto his neck and soaking his filthy western shirt. He sighed, belched. “That’s better,” he said. Then: “Slow down. There’s the store.” His ruined eyes gleamed dully, his mouth crooking up in a grimacing smile. “Gimme a minute here, pard. I’ll take care-a bizness.”
He staggered into the store and returned ten minutes later, clutching two videos. I glanced at them. They were rated XXX. He leaned back in his seat, very tired, rubbed at his runny nose. Then he tapped the videos, looking hopeful. “These oughta do the trick. If they don’t, nothin’ will.”
He pointed ahead. “That’s right, you’re not Woody. You don’t know where I live.” He had me turn here, turn there, take a back street, until we pulled up in front of an apartment building, one of many such low-rent buildings down the road from a market. Just as we came to a stop, a woman stepped out of one of the bottom apartments in a bathrobe. She stood in the doorway, sort of slouched, arms crossed across her chest, and aimed toward us one of the more malignant looks I'd yet witnessed in my 43 plus years. In the pantheon of mean, tough, and vile--looking, truck-stop women I’d seen over the years, she was right at the top of the list, a scary creature whose presence chilled me to the bone.
“Good Christ,” I muttered, as she continued to glare at us, the face turning into a mask of deadly, accusatory rage.
Buck sighed massively. He handed me a wrinkled and soggy wad of bills and told me to keep the change — over a $5 tip. He seemed, now, more deflated than ever, pitifully hangdog and defenseless, almost as if he were pleading with ME for help. “Wish me luck, pard.”
“Good luck, Buck.”
He got out, teetered momentarily and then gathered himself, and be-gan weaving toward the truck stop woman. As he drew closer, her cold black eyes were riveted on his package. When he lurched up to her and halted, she sniffed the roses without taking them out, tapped the beer, then withdrew one of the videos. She looked it over, nodded, patted Buck on the ass, nodded at me, and followed Buck into the apartment, hand on his ass, the door closing behind them.
Six months later I picked him up again, same situation, same bar same results. §
Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of his Cabby's Corner series here:
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Life in the cage
There is only one neutral area on the entire yard, where you can sit and talk to someone of another race, as a human being, an equal, without the stark reality of racial division — the toilets.
Betty Bulldog is the nickname of a rogue Latina correctional officer. She is short, stocky, 40-something, who at first appears to be a lesbian, but has a husband and kids. She rides a Harley to work and is known for being an “inmate hater.”
Soledad’s ‘Breakfast Club’
Conversations run free in the prison’s outdoor toilets
By Tito David Valdez Jr.
Every weekday morning while you enjoy a cup of delicious hot home-brewed coffee, or while you drive the congested streets or highways on the way to work, in a galaxy not so far away, I am exiting the chow hall after breakfast, on my way to a special place on the recreation yard, to meet up with two other convicts, together we are the “Breakfast Club.”
The recreational yard at this minimum security prison is huge, probably one of the biggest in the California state prison system.
There is a brand new basketball court, a tournament-size tennis court, horse shoe pits, volleybal1 court, a soccer and football field, baseball diamond, and a commissary to purchase sodas, chips, and candy.
On a typical weekday, about a thousand inmates sit or mill about the yard; most sit on picnic table benches, socializing, or walk counterclockwise around the track. Four guard towers, one at each corner of the rectangular yard, preside over the activity. Inmates sit in selected areas, designated by race. Institutional racism is alive and well in California prisons.
One picnic table is designated for blacks from Southern California, another for blacks from Northern California, another for Southern Mexicans from San Gabriel Valley, another for Southern Mexicans from Fresno. An entire area with ten tables is for whites. There are separate tables for Mexican nationals from Guadalajara, Mexico City, Tijuana. Even the Asians have their own area.
Racism extends even to the inmate telephones. Ten phones belong to blacks, seven to Hispanics, three for whites, two for Asians and Indians. There are no signs to specify this — everyone just knows.
It is what it is. Territories passed on by each generation of prisoners for decades, since the joint opened up in 1959. This minimum security yard was once a maximum security yard, where hundreds of men over the years have been murdered in the struggle for power. Even the infamous Black Panther, George Jackson, walked this yard in the turbulent ‘70s. There is only one neutral area on the entire yard, where you can sit and talk to someone of another race, as a human being, an equal, without the stark reality of racial division — the toilets.
Surprisingly, there are only six total toilets, three on each side sectioned off by a barrier in the middle, and two urinals, for more than a thousand men on the yard. Such a condition in free society would draw outrage, but this isn’t free society; it’s hell, the belly of the beast. Inmates always have nothing coming.
Each morning, I look forward to taking my morning dump outside, where I can feel the fresh morning air on my buttocks, feel the warm rays of sunshine on my face, and hear the latest gossip.
Taking a dump while your cellmate is inside the cell is not comfortable. Nevertheless, taking a dump outside still affords no privacy, since there are always two other men who will sit beside you.
At 7 a.m., I pull out a small folded up roll of toilet paper from my sweatpants pocket, wipe the toilet seat down once, pull my pants down to my ankles, and sit on the mighty throne ... drop... flush. Within seconds, the usual suspects, the club members, arrive as they do every day, same time, and are about to prepare to sit on the toilet rims next to me. I cannot help but observe each man’s entrance and habits.
On the far left, Malcolm arrives; he’s a lean muscular 50-year-old African American from South Central L.A., a veteran cat burglar, who spent his life ripping off the rich in ritzy Westwood and Beverly Hills. He had a clean con. He obtained jobs from domestic agencies as a handyman and gained access to mansions. After careful planning, he would strike the target home when the owners were out, netting $70,000 days, selling all the purloined goods — jewelry, Persian rugs, and precious paintings — to Iranians and Jews in downtown L.A.
Malcolm is currently serving a 25 years to life sentence for a petty third strike. His two prior convictions were for residential burglaries. He was found by Beverly Hills cops, in possession of someone else’s drivers license (with his photo on it), pulled over simply because he was a black man walking around in a rich white neighborhood.
“Say, Dave, looks like we meet again, to send our tribute to the governor of California.”
“Yeah,” I say, “I’m ready to send my issue to him right now, via air mail!” Drop...flush.
He wets a strip of toilet paper in the sink, then wipes the toilet seat rim, pulls his pants down to his ankles, and sits down on the cold porcelain toilet. He lifts his right leg out of his pants, and plants his foot away from his pants.
“Malcolm, you don’t have to do that anymore, man, this is minimum security.”
“I gots to do it, homie, I can’t get caught slipping. Any mothafucka can run up on your ass if you got your pants around your ankles. How you gonna fight? Know what I mean?” Flush.
In prison, we pick up lots of habits. We don’t walk around the dayroom area with slippers and shower shoes. It’s mandatory to wear state boots or tennis shoes because you never know when a fight or brawl will break out. When sitting on the throne, the rule is to “drop and flush.” We learn this from spending many years locked up in a cell during lockdowns, where you have no choice but to crap in front of your cell partner, whose head may be only three feet away from the toilet.
Soon, Brad arrives; he’s a lanky 45-year-old white guy with long blond hair, goatee, missing teeth, and a complexion — due to years of meth use — cratered with acne. On first blush, you would think he’s a construction worker with his damaged skin. He looks 10 years older than his age. He doesn’t wipe the toilet when he sits, but just pulls his shorts around his ankles, without any concern for who may have been there before him. He pulls out a contraband Bic lighter from his sock, lights up a tiny contraband cigarette, and takes a hit, exhaling the smoke like a shaman. This is a white man’s incense, to rid the air of the foul smell.
“Alright, homies, I got the latest on Betty Bulldog. They’re sending her to work at the entrance door to medical.” Flush.
“Ah fuck, ain’t that a bitch,” says Malcolm. “You can’t get over on her, she is too wise for a mothafucka.”Flush.
“She goes by the book,” I say. “I wonder why they are moving her there instead of putting her ass in a tower, so she can’t bother anybody anymore.” Flush.
“They are trying to make us miserable. They put her in charge of the door, to give prisoners a hard time, so they won’t cone back to medical. Now I won’t be able to meet up with my homeboy from South yard. We used to meet there every afternoon, because the cop before didn’t ask you for a ducat to get in,” said Brad.
Betty Bulldog is the nickname of a rogue Latina correctional officer. She is short, stocky, 40-something, who at first appears to be a lesbian, but has a husband and kids. She rides a Harley to work and is known for being an “inmate hater.” Always in a bad mood, yelling at everyone. She was moved to the clinic after an entire cellblock of inmates filed a complaint on her for disrespecting black inmates who refused to serve food during a racial lockdown. She called them “lazy ass cry babies.”
Just as inmates have nicknames for themselves, they also assign nicknames to guards. If an officer is short, he maybe be called “Tattoo,” the name of the midget in the television show, “Fantasy Island.” If he is fat, he might be called “Shrek,” for the pudgy cartoon character.
“A mothafucka got to stay healthy in prison,” says Malcolm. “You get sick, you puttin’ yourself in the hands of those silly ass reject doctors. You see what they did to old man Smokey?” Flush.
“Man, they really cut him up like Frankenstein,” says Brad. Flush. “Just to remove a small, cancerous mole.”
“I feel sorry for him,” I say. “He’s going to have a huge scar for life.” I notice a long line of inmates developing in front of us, waiting to use the very toilets we’re sitting on. “So what’s the latest with the three strikes?” I ask Brad.
“I heard the D.A.’s office is supporting a change in the law by putting something on the November ballot, to let out thousands of nonviolent offenders.” Flush.
“Come on, you know they’re blowing smoke up everyone’s mothafuckin’ ass,” says Malcolm. “Arnold told everyone in his State of the State speech he wants to build 80,000 new jail cells … they don’t wanna let no one out. We are money to these people.” Flush.
“He’s right,” I say. “I think all these politicians are stepping forward with big promises to change the law only because it’s election year. They want the minority vote. All you got in prison is minorities. It’s bullshit.” Flush.
A voice belonging to a Chicano inmate named Shorty yells out at us from the growing line. “Come on eh, homie has to take a dump; this ain’t no AA meeting.”
Malcolm pulls out a small roll of bundled up toilet paper from his pants pocket and is about to wipe, but stops. He looks like he’s about to fart and does … Flush. “Damn, I been constipated. Prison food is a mothafticka.”
“For sure!” I say. “I try my best to stay away from the chow hall. Too much starchy foods, not enough fiber.”
“Hey holmes,” says Brad. “I used to work in the kitchen. You wouldn’t believe how unsanitary it is in there. They only do inspections once every six months. You know that every convict in that kitchen is trying to get his hustle, to steal and later sell onions, ketchup, sugar, etcetera. He doesn’t give a rat’s ass about looking out for the next man, keeping the trays and pots clean.”
“You been out to visiting lately?” I ask.
“Yeah, it’s getting worse. They got casino-style video cameras everywhere in there. Go figure, they spend a hundred-grand on the security cameras when this is a minimum security prison. That money could have been used to add another visiting day for us, to ease overcrowding conditions on weekends. Imagine, families drive like five hours or more to visit someone and get turned away or only get a couple hours to visit, and get terminated.”
“That’s true.” I say. “Like, what’s the sense of us not being able to come out to night yard? Even level III medium security prisons allow inmates to come out at night. Why is there a metal detector we have to walk through before and after the yard? They don’t even have a metal detector at medium or maximum security prisons! Everything is ass backwards!”
“It’s all about money, ain’t a damn thing funny,” says Malcolm. Flush. “Hey, you notice when a prison administrator screws up at one prison they get sent up to CDCR Headquarters to make policy? HA!”
We laugh in unison as the cold reality of it all hits us. Malcolm pulls out his toilet paper and begins to wipe. Three wipes later, he is finished, places his right leg and foot back in his pants, and is off to the sink to wash his hands, but there isn’t a bar of soap; someone stole it, probably a dope fiend.
I’ve noticed that every man has a different style of wiping. Underneath and upwards. Over to the back and downwards. A style and method learned from early childhood, taught by mom or a grandparent, which still survives adulthood.
“Damn, that felt good,” says Malcolm. “What a relief! I’m going to get my run on. I ain’t going to be like a lot of those cats around here who sit on their asses all day and do nothing, waiting to die. I am still in my prime, got a lot to offer the young ladies out there. My dick can still get hard enough to cut diamonds.”
“You are lying, man,” I say. “I bet you are already impotent. No pussy in a decade will do that to a man.”
“I got hope, you should have some, too, keep hope alive, my brotha. One day, we will be free,” says Malcolm. “They can’t keep us forever.”
As Malcolm leaves the bathroom area, Shorty, the Chicano with bald head, wearing baggy shorts and a wife-beater tank top, walks up to the sink, pulls out a piece of toilet paper, wets it and wipes down the seat, then a third time. He sits down in a hurry, sending his issue to the governor. Drop. Flush. “Damn,” he says. “What the fuck is wrong with you all — you constipated? Why you guys lounge around here like it’s the ‘Breakfast Club’?”
“Holmes,” I say. “You know how it is — we just talking shit.” §
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 www.adamcarolla.com. Tito can be reached by email at email@example.com, or by mail: Tito David Valdez Jr. J-52660, CTF Central E Wing Cell 126, P.O. Box 689, Soledad, Calif., 93960-0689.
Read more of his "Life in the Cage" series:
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Questions from the left and right
I find it hard to believe that conservatives are saying, ‘Trust the government.’ I wonder if you’ll think the same way when a Democrat is in office.
The Supreme Court settled the abortion issue a long time ago. Making abortion illegal or inventing new restrictions will only keep us from focusing on other problems that still need resolution.
Conservatives don’t automatically equate change with progress, don’t assume that we are necessarily any smarter than our ancestors were, and don’t strive for utopia this side of heaven.
The convenient thing about blaming Bush (or Rove, or Cheney) is that progressives don’t then have to do any soul-searching.
Editor’s note: Vitriol spills every day into public conversation about politics, the war in Iraq, crimes and misdemeanors; we’re a nation divided in a time of great unrest and uncertainty. Polarization has kept us from reading or listening to the other side. We decided to risk a dialog between two commentators with strong yet varied opinions on topics that divide us as a nation. Steve Pittelli, an outspoken war critic and peace activist, and Patrick O’Hannigan, supporter of the war on terror and contributor to the American Spectator, present each other with three questions addressing some of the most divisive issues of the day: terrorism, foreign policy, national security and, yes, abortion. Where we may have failed to bridge the gap, we hope, at the least, you will come away from this with a willingness to think beyond polarization.
STEVE QUESTIONS PATRICK
Question 1: Support for the war?
More than three years after George W. Bush proclaimed “Mission Accomplished,” his justification for attacking Iraq — weapons of mass destruction — appears at best an episode of poor intelligence. More likely, it was a deliberate fabrication.
His subsequent rationales for war, such as spreading democracy, are even weaker. Iraq seems close to civil war, with civilians killed by the dozens daily, and U.S. troops still dying. Meanwhile, much of the world views the U.S. as a pariah, yet we keep hearing “stay the course” from the Bush administration. Why do you still support this war and at what point would you stop supporting it?
I reject the premise of question 1 on multiple grounds, but will answer it anyway.
Just to set the record straight, George W. Bush did not proclaim “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. Those were the words of a banner strung by sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln as a backdrop to his speech aboard the aircraft carrier, which had indeed completed its mission. George W. Bush announced the end of “major combat operations” on the then-reasonable assumption that with Saddam Hussein deposed and the Iraqi military in tatters, all that remained for coalition troops was mop up. Bush turned out to be wrong.
WMD were never the sole justification for attacking Iraq, not before or after the invasion of 2003. Saddam Hussein’s continued flouting of UN inspectors and resolutions was the primary justification, made more urgent by widespread post-9/11 recognition that the West had better play more offense and less defense when dealing with despots who applaud both terrorism and terrorists.
I still support the war because any sane consideration of the cost/benefit ratio involved must look not only at American casualties and sectarian strife, but also at a) the removal of Saddam Hussein and his psychotic sons from positions of power; b) the successful hosting of three free elections in Iraq; c) the suddenly mannered and cooperative behavior of Libya’s Moammar Khadaffi; d) the exposure of corruption at the core of the United Nations’ oil for food program; e) the lifting of debilitating and increasingly unenforceable economic sanctions that harmed the people of Iraq; f) the opportunities now enjoyed by formerly oppressed Iraqi minorities such as the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs; g) the war-driven revealing of the black market in nuclear technology formerly run by Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan; and h) the newfound reluctance of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups to borrow bin Ladenesque phrasing in calling the United States “a weak horse.”
In short, I think the war has made us safer.
I would stop supporting the war if its end result was to pave the way for a Shia Muslim super-state dominated by Iran, or if the reconstituted Iraqi military and police forces thought Westerners should be the only ones taking bullets and IED blasts from the “insurgents.”
I’ll leave “Mission Accomplished” interpretations to the reader. Saddam Hussein was no different from dozens of dictators (many of whom the U.S. supports), except for the large amount of oil in Iraq. It would appear that a Shia state, probably backed or supported by Iran, is a likely outcome, along with a society that is even more hostile to the U.S. because of this war. I don’t see how that is going to make the U.S. safer any time in the next few decades.
Question 2: Impeachable offense?
I have always understood that conservatives (particularly Libertarians) were supportive of privacy issues. The Bush administration now admits to large-scale monitoring of American citizens with no oversight from Congress or the courts. The justification, “national security,” is the same used in George Orwell’s “1984” and by regimes that garner little respect in the annals of history. Do you support such activity by the president, and why isn’t this just a clear instance of the president breaking the law in an impeachable manner?
That totalitarian regimes do and have done bad things in the name of “national security” is no shock to any conservative. We’re the ones who say that human nature is fundamentally flawed. But the “large-scale monitoring of American citizens” that has some privacy advocates seething is nothing more or less than data mining. When looking for potential threats in a country with nearly 300 million citizens, no other strategy will do. Remember the wiretapping kerfuffle of some months ago? Most progressive pundits glided right past the fact that such wiretapping was a) not eavesdropping on telephone call content, only tracking numbers called, and b) not applicable to calls within the United States.
Moreover, I’m not convinced that there is “no oversight by the Congress or the courts,” in part because FISA courts are not the only ones around, and in part because too many Congressmen and Senators have egos too large to make them lapdogs for a popular president, let alone an unpopular president. Opinion is divided among legal experts as to whether George W. Bush has done anything that warrants impeachment.
We don’t really know what kind of spying the government is doing, who is being monitored, if there is any oversight, or for what purpose the information is being used. I find it hard to believe that conservatives are saying, “Trust the government.” I wonder if you’ll think the same way when a Democrat is in office.
Question 3: Define ‘conservative’
Can you give me a definition of “conservative”?
If you want a definition of “conservative,” Russell Kirk’s is hard to beat. In “The Essence of Conservatism,” he wrote, “Conservatives distrust what Burke called ‘abstractions,’ that is, absolute political dogmas divorced from practical experience and particular circumstances. They do believe, nevertheless, in the existence of certain abiding truths that govern the conduct of human society. Perhaps the chief principles that have characterized American conservative thought are these: 1. People and nations are governed by moral laws; and these laws originate in a wisdom that is more than human; 2. Variety and diversity are the characteristics of a high civilization; 3. Justice demands equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome; 4. Property and freedom are connected: economic leveling is not economic progress; 5. Power is dangerous, so “that government is best which governs least”; 6. The past is a great storehouse of wisdom.
Burke’s essay had ten points, but the last four flow from the first six. Conservatives don’t automatically equate change with progress, don’t assume that we are necessarily any smarter than our ancestors were, and don’t strive for utopia this side of heaven, because we’re all imperfect beings who can’t get there without help. Many of us think pacifism on any significant scale is suicidal, precisely because people are imperfect. To all of that, I’d add only that faith and reason do complement each other.
I don’t think that Bush is following the six points that you list. I doubt that many of the people who call themselves conservative have these points in mind when they go to the polls. This is an idealistic version of conservatism, but it doesn’t seem to exist in practice, at least as related to the Republican Party. §
PATRICK QUESTIONS STEVE
Question 1: Who speaks for the Democrats?
Given the high-profile race between Lamont and Lieberman in Connecticut, the ongoing rumors of a Hillary Clinton run at the presidency in 2008, and the sometimes-incoherent sound bites offered by Harry Reid and Howard Dean, who, if anyone, speaks for the Democrat party these days? And does it matter?
Perhaps it doesn’t matter from a political perspective. Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress have fouled things up so badly in Iraq that Democrats might win solely on a “We’re not George W. Bush” platform. That would actually be an improvement from the “We support-the-president-and-wouldn’t-dare-criticize-his-war-but-vote-for-us-anyway” platform that they have been running on for the past few years. I hope, however, that they will put together a coherent platform.
The biggest problem for the Democrats has been the Iraq war. It is the elephant in the room and many politicians like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry refused to take a position against the war for political reasons. They have bottlenecked the party and the sooner they are pushed aside, the better. Dumping Lieberman is a great first step.
The Bush administration has been so successful at making any opposition to the war seem treasonous, and this has really kept the Democrats divided and capitulating. The Lamont primary victory shows that the tide is turning and I hope that the Democrats will unite behind a withdrawal from Iraq.
I wish that they would run on the kind of platform that the Green Party has been pushing for years: Environmental responsibility, a sane energy policy that explores alternatives to our oil-dependent nation, attempts at peaceful, diplomatic solutions to the world’s problems, a national health care system, a livable wage, etc. I doubt they will, but perhaps they will get behind at least a few of these issues and the election won’t come down to flag-burning, gay marriage and abortion.
Democratic Party leadership is yet to be shaped. I think that the Democrats are likely to coalesce around more progressive candidates and push away from the DLC, Clinton crowd that has held control for the past several years. Russ Feingold is a good example of the type of Democrat that we might expect to rise when the dust settles.
We agree that the war is a problem for Democrats, but I would not accuse the Bush administration of making opposition to the war seem treasonous. The convenient thing about blaming Bush (or Rove, or Cheney) is that progressives don’t then have to do any soul-searching. Not liking Ann Coulter and her talk radio counterparts is not enough to prove that they take orders from the White House.
Question 2: Familiarity with other cultures?
Among progressives, the most common of many criticisms of the current administration seems to be that it’s led by a cowboy wannabe with no patience for dialog, no appreciation for nuance, and no thirst for learning anything about the rest of the world that hasn’t been spoon-fed to him by more literate handlers. I understand the perception, but as a conservative I wonder if it doesn’t rest on a fatally flawed assumption that familiarity with other cultures and peoples breeds tolerance for those cultures and peoples. Do you believe that, and if so, why?
Are you suggesting that the president need not have familiarity with other cultures and peoples? Frankly, I don’t see how he could become more intolerant, but shouldn’t our president have some appreciation for nuance and a desire to learn and understand what’s happening in the world? It would be one thing if the country was completely isolated, but the president is advocating wars, trade policies and aid to countries (including providing or selling weaponry) that he apparently knows nothing about. Basing decisions on your gut instincts might be good in a rugby match, but is this how our president should be making foreign policy decisions?
Your argument that it is “a fatally flawed assumption” that familiarity with other cultures will breed tolerance implies that we might find other cultures so bad that familiarity with them would make people even more intolerant. While cultural diversity can lead to a certain amount of strife, the U.S. (of democratic nations, at least) is arguably the least familiar with other nations and cultures and is also the most intolerant and indifferent. So, far from being “fatally flawed,” it is a demonstrated truism. I wish that Americans would travel outside of the country more often.
I asked the question not about the president (who should read more), but because I do not think that the U.S. population is the most intolerant compared to other countries with democratic governments. How are you going to prove that? On the contrary, it’s shared civic culture that makes our multi-ethnic society tolerant. When neighboring cultures do not share common values, then familiarity does breed contempt. Pakistanis and Indians, Jews and Palestinians, Koreans and Japanese are all intimately familiar with each other’s cultures, and they continue to loathe each other. Also, I don’t think the U.S. media fosters intolerance. In fact, they go out of their way to bury ethnic identifiers whenever any member of a minority population commits a crime.
Question 3: Is abortion a ‘distraction’?
How does progressive respect for life and dignity square itself with high levels of support for abortion among people who self-identify as progressives, and why do so many progressives think of abortion as a distraction from more pressing issues? Does “choice” trump across the board?
Progressives aren’t cheering about how great abortion is, if that’s what you mean by “high levels of support.” If you wish to make abortion illegal, then are you suggesting that women who have illegal abortions go to jail? When abortion was illegal, abortions were still performed all the time in back rooms, often by people with little or no training, with some very nasty results. Putting women in such circumstances or jailing them, to me, is a lack of respect and dignity.
Making abortion illegal is not going to make it go away. What has changed in the past 40 years other than fundamentalist Christians gaining more control of the government? This is largely an attempt to legislate a Biblical commandment: “Thou shalt not have an abortion.” It is a bullying tactic to “officially” stigmatize women who have abortions.
It also seems odd that those who wish to make abortion illegal seem to support Bush’s position on unrelated issues, such as the war in Iraq, domestic spying, Social Security privatization, etc. Why do they blindly support the president’s position on these issues? Is it a devil’s bargain to make abortion illegal? Can’t they spend a tenth of the time they spend on that issue addressing the city of New Orleans?
The Supreme Court settled the abortion issue a long time ago. Making abortion illegal or inventing new restrictions will only keep us from focusing on other problems that still need resolution. Roe vs. Wade is a decision implemented in a real world, where people make a lot of imperfect decisions. New legislation is not going to change that.
Nobody cheers for abortion. What people like me say is that if the primary duty of a state is to protect its citizens, and if the most defenseless citizens are those in the womb, then the state should not approve of killing them. Retroactive birth control is, among other things, a failure of the imagination. That people who perform(ed) back-alley abortions do not respect women is a given: why would you then institutionalize that lack of respect by codifying it in federal law? The Supreme Court’s “settling” of the abortion issue is part of the problem — it should have been decided by the people. We talk about this stuff because, for most conservatives, life trumps choice. You don’t have to be Christian to think that, else Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers wouldn’t lose sleep over improved ultrasound technology, or judges who think Roe v. Wade was a classic example of judicial overreach. §
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Rogue Nation - Publisher's Note
A bartender, cab driver and low-level laborer most of my life, I was treated with class and dignity, hallmarks of Rogue Nation.
Join us as we 'Dare, Risk, Dream' with Rogue Ales
By Dell Franklin
The Rogue Voice has found a second home in Oregon. Jack Joyce, founder and president of Rogue Ales, the nation’s largest microbrewery based in Newport, Oregon, found our paper amusing, inspiring and in character with his own Rogue Nation image, philosophy, and quality beers. So he flew me up to his home turf near Portland to find out just how joyously deranged I really am.
Before meeting Jack, though, I retouched base at the Portland Airport with that city’s foremost rogue and outrageous character, Frank Peters, a still strapping, 63-year-old blond hunk, world-class senior basketball player, notorious degenerate and womanizer who currently owns and operates a crew of 15 girls at his Grand Cafe nightclub on the wrong side of the Willamette River that separates it from the more opulent downtown. Peters, who held a single balloon to welcome me at the airport after a 43-year separation, sometimes carries around a book entitled “How to Deal with Your Oversized Penis” and makes sure to place it over his snoozing face whenever he flies somewhere.
Peters, who once played for and managed the Portland Maverick baseball team, ran for mayor on the outlaw platform, (he received around 20 votes), and his nightclub sports hundreds of framed and life-sized photos of himself. After a few drinks at his bar, he took me on a tour of strip clubs (something unheard of in San Luis Obispo County). In the morning I helped Frank count the booty from the legalized slot machines in his establishment, and later I was picked up out front by Jack Joyce of Rogue Ales. I was dressed in my business apparel—shorts, athletic T-shirt, flip-flops. Jack, who was a lawyer for 15 years and an executive for Nike for six years before opening his brewery in 1988, was dressed pretty much the same, after coming from the YMCA gym. Another good sign was his car: like mine, it was rather dated, dusty, and cluttered with his life and business.
He showed me a brief tour of downtown Portland, a gorgeous place, reminding me of San Francisco, but somewhat like Milwaukee in that it had very old drinking establishments on every corner. Jack has his own pub (Rogue Nation) in a Soho-like area just off from the main downtown.
Otherworldly beers pour from his spouts while his kitchen dishes up first-rate pub cuisine. Above, are of offices for his young staff of go-getters, the heart of his business.
A bartender, cab driver and low-level laborer most of my life, I was treated with class and dignity, hallmarks of Rogue Nation. I suppose, with Nike, image is everything, but with Rogue Nation, substance and attitude is everything, combined with their image of “going against the grain and creating their own image.” You have to feel something in your gut, and I felt it, and so did they.
Rogue Nation and Rogue Ales will, in the future, be part of the Rogue Voice, and visa versa. They will advertise with us and hopefully lend us a little badly needed business guidance, for we are new in this milieu and hungry to learn from experienced mentors like Jack. We will try and enlighten locals as to the superior quality of Rogue Ales, which sports the same pledge to individuality, personality, and boldness as our journal. For more information on Rogue Nation, visit www.rogue.com and click on the “Rogue Nation” link.
Hopefully, this labor of love will become more than a small county rag, but will find a larger audience in pockets of Oregon and Washington and Northern California (we already send copies to City Lights Book Store in San Francisco), and wherever Rogue Ales sells beer — in 48 states and eight countries. Before I headed home, Jack handed me a few bumper stickers, which say it all: “DARE, RISK, DREAM.” We’re going for it. Join us. §
BEER BANNER The Rogue Nation flag is available from Rogue Ales. Visit www.rogue.com for more information.