He was no longer the player he once was, with strings of women he could call whenever he needed service, and wads of money to support them. He was no longer as sure of himself. He was a man who hadn’t been with a woman in 10 years.
She looked him up and down like a jockey examining a racehorse. Carlos thought she might check his teeth.Getting out
By Antonio C. de BacaEditor’s note: We’re pleased to present the work of Antonio C. de Baca, who spent ten years in prison and is currently studying engineering at Boise University. The following is the first of a series by Mr. de Baca.
The air hit Carlos in a strange new way as he walked out of the prison lobby, a way he had never felt. It smelled different, too, sweet on the tip of his tongue. The breeze hadn’t really changed; it was the same as it had always been inside the prison walls. What had changed, what made it feel so different, was where he stood when he breathed—it made his skin tingle. He was no longer behind the twenty-foot fence with armed guards who treated him like a degenerate beast. He was free, fully paid up for the crime he had committed so many long and cloudy years ago.
His prison blue jeans and denim shirt were new and fit him like they were made for him, like a Gucci suit tailored for a an ex-con. The shirt was a bit snug, showing the over-developed muscles of Carlos’ upper body. But his pants were the way he liked them, baggy except around his waist, like those worn by all the kids from the hip-hop videos—his only connection to the outside world until now. His face was young yet hard for his 28 years, the way a soldier’s face looks after he’s seen death. Hints of white flecked his otherwise jet black hair. If he were to smile, a person might mistake him for someone much younger. But Carlos hadn’t smiled much or had reason to in some time—nearly a decade.
A young Hispanic woman sat on the hood of an older model red Nissan Sentra, waiting. She got off the car and waved to Carlos, her face unsure, as if she didn’t know the person she was waiting for. Carlos knew that she had to be his ride to the Greyhound Bus Station. Carlos’s cellie in prison offered to have his wife give him a ride. Carlos was uncertain about this at first. He was afraid that he might make a pass at the wife of one of the few friends he had. But he needed a ride to leave the grounds—it was policy, no prisoner could walk from the prison. Besides, he was no longer the player he once was, with strings of women he could call whenever he needed service, and wads of money to support them. He was no longer as sure of himself. He was a man who hadn’t been with a woman in ten years.
She was more gorgeous than most women he’d seen before prison. Her long black hair came to the middle of her back and reminded him of Japanese silk, and her mocha complexion reminded him milked coffee. Carlos was almost a head taller than she, and by the petiteness of her waist he knew he could pick her up more easily than the stack of weights he’d lifted so many times in prison. His heart yearned for her at first glance; he felt a rhythmic upbeat in his chest.
“Carlos Ruiz?” she asked, coming within inches from his face, hands relaxed on her hips—too close for his comfort. He caught her scent, which reminded him of roses in the sweetness of the fresh air outside the prison walls. Carlos nodded—his face red, bashful—wondering what she might think of him. He was not used to women getting that close. Female prison guards kept a safe distance from even the most well behaved prisoner.
“Come on, you can speak.” The closeness of her breath hinted at peppermint bubble gum. “I ain’t going to bite.” He was surprised that he remembered what bubble gum smelled like after ten years. Prisoners weren’t allowed to have gum.
Carlos closed his eyes before he spoke, “Yeah, you must be Antoinette?” Then he finally got the courage to look into her eyes, which matched her ebony-colored hair—dark, silky.
“Yep, that be me.” She looked him up and down like a jockey examining a racehorse. Carlos thought she might check his teeth.
“You don’t have any stuff?”
“This is it, just the clothes on my back.” He felt weird saying that. He always pictured himself leaving prison a rich man with his own car waiting for him. It was a dream all prisoners had, only to find out they had nothing upon their release, the same as when they got here. Carlos never thought that he’d have to depend on the kindness of another to get back home to California. He wondered about all the thousands upon thousands of dollars he made from selling drugs—not a penny was left. Poof! Gone the day he got arrested. He only wished someone in his family could be here to pick him up right now, but none could afford to miss a day of work and drive from California to Idaho to get him. With nothing but his clothes, he faced the cold reality of the world that gives nothing to anyone for free.
“Well, then we should be on our way.” She opened the passenger’s door for him as if she was the man and he the woman, making Carlos feel impotent, not opening the door for her. She let him pull the door closed and went to the driver’s side to start the car.
Enclosed in the Nissan, Carlos realized that it was the first time in a decade he’d been alone with a woman. He watched as Antoinette pulled the car out of the parking space and started driving away from the prison. Carlos felt smal1, insignificant. He looked down at her legs as she slipped onto the highway to Boise. He couldn’t see an inch of her skin through her black Levis, but knew that they were more perfect than any Playboy model’s. She caught his eyes on her legs and smiled at him, which made him blush, humbling him. He knew that he shouldn’t look at his friend’s wife with hunger, but that’s what he felt. The scent of Atoinette’s rose perfume in the car didn’t help either.
“Boise has changed a lot since you’ve been gone.” Carlos didn’t know how to respond, so he just nodded, agreeing, wearing a smile that felt insincere. He never thought that, after spending nights and days with killers for so long and showing no sign of anxiety, an Aztec queen who looked as sweet as a caramel mocha would make him feel as anxious as a boy on his first date. So he just sat there in silence as she drove. ”What does it feel like to be free?” she asked, breaking the silence.
“Different.” It was the only word that came to him that didn’t make him feel like a coward. But cowardly was exactly how he felt, suddenly cast into a world he hadn’t seen in ten years and remembered little about, with few connections, no money and no means to take care of himself.
Antoinette pulled into a lot, where several Greyhound buses were parked and waiting.
“Is your ticket inside?” She started to play with her long hair. His eyes followed her hand comb through its silkiness.
“Yeah.” His voice lacked confidence. “They already paid for it back home. I just need to show my ID. They were supposed to leave me some money too.” He pulled out a bright orange ID card. It was a state-issued prison ID. He showed it to her as a kid buying beer with a fake ID would—nervous, unsure, quickly putting it back into his pocket.
Carlos started to follow her inside, his eyes never leaving her rear-end as she walked in front of him. She had the most perfect body, one he hadn’t seen in the flesh in years. It was better than any of the women on TV, because she was real. She didn’t look like the media whores you see on TV, glamorous, blonde, blue eyes, big tits. No, she had that exotic appeal that was so rare on TV.
As they walked inside the station, he felt like every eye was upon him. To one obvious gawker, he wanted to say, what the fuck are you looking at? The typical response he’d give to someone looking at him that way in prison. But something inside him told him to leave those comments in prison. Carlos gave him an iced stare, inflicting a chill in his challenger, before Antoinette grabbed his arm and led him to the counter. He felt like a little puppy in her grasp. He knew that she knew he wanted to pounce, and that she was only trying to help him stay out of trouble and get on his way. He still felt the need to portray the gangster image that he had kept up for so long, since elementary school. Always trying to be tougher than everyone else. If he met a kid who was bigger, he’d use a stick. He was quick to join a gang, and in the gang he wasn’t scared to show that he could be as hard as the hardest gang member.
“Do you have a ticket for Carlos Ruiz?” Antoinette asked the man at the counter.
“Do you have some form of ID?” he asked, smiling.
Carlos handed his prison ID to the man who looked at it as if he was surprised and embarrassed for Carlos. Carlos wanted to ask him if he had a problem with that ID, but before he could speak the man handed it back and started to print a ticket. All that time behind bars, no one had ever looked at Carlos as if they were ashamed for him. With fear, yes. With respect, yes. But never with the contempt that this man showed.
“It says that we’ve some money for you also, the man said, handing him 200 dollars.
Antoinette led him to one of the seats in the bus station. She looked at her cheap plastic wristwatch and then to Carlos. “It looks like your bus should be leaving any minute now.” She smiled showing her straight teeth.
Carlos was free. He didn’t know how he should feel, and worse, he didn’t know how he should act. There were too many people. There was no order to the way people moved. In prison, everyone moved from place to place in straight lines. Prisoners had to ask before moving around. Everything was structured.
People in the bus station moved about freely. He liked it even less when someone walked behind him. It brought back feelings of one of his enemies stalking, ready to make a move on his life.
His face must have caused Antoinette warning; she put her arm on his shoulder.
“It’s OK,” she said. “No one is out to get you.” He felt disgraced. He failed to hide his apprehension from her, a feeling that he kept hidden for so long from so many hardened men. Her hand on his shoulder brought him comfort. A loudspeaker announced the departure of the bus for Reno. Carlos stood up as if he was going to be late, even though the bus line was a few feet in front of him.
Antoinette stood up and gave him a hug. He wondered why she was hugging him. Her breasts pushed up against his chest. He squeezed her tighter, moving his hands down to her waist, but stopping there. He wanted to kiss her, but he couldn’t.
He let her go and got on the bus without looking back. §
Antonio C. de Baca spent 10 years in the Idaho State Prison. He attends Boise University, where he writes and studies engineering. He is the recipient of an honorable mention for fiction from the PEN American Center.
Go to the main page for this month's Rogue Voice
Washing windows across America: Peripherals
I leave Tire Mart and move on down the main street of Victoria, earning a few bucks here and there, but mainly cursing the brakes of the Plymouth, mechanics, and all the goddamned peripherals in life.
Every mile was driven in a white-knuckled state of terror that I dealt with through such diversions as deep-breathing, visualization, singing, prayer, chanting, and good old fashioned denial.Illustration by Jawbone LenPeripherals
Episode 23Why worry when you’ve got a Slant-Six?
By Ben Leroux
In the summer of 2003, I discarded all I owned and loaded a troubled 1975 Plymouth with clothes, books, a guitar, a cat named Reggie, and $17.94 worth of window-cleaning equipment. I drove across the United States, stopping in nowhere towns, pail and squeegee in hand, cleaning windows for another day’s pittance. Free of any attachments, I floated vaguely east, wandering in a private stratum without itinerary or expectation. I became a true outsider, a fugitive from the banal, suffocating cycle of madness that passes for a “normal life” today in America.
“She’s a good car,” said Pat Loomis of Loomis Automotive and Muffler. It was the August day I was leaving Morro Bay and the Plymouth sat in his lot, sagging and packed to the roof with an incensed cat aboard. Pat had just put in spark plugs and cables and patched up a corroded gas tank.
“She’s got the old Slant-Six engine in her,” he said. “And it’s one of the best, if not thee best engine ever made.”
“Really?” I’d only owned the heap for four months, so I took it as good news.
“Yup. It’s basically indestructible and will run forever. You can’t kill it, actually.”
“Well now don’t get too comfortable. There’s peripherals to watch out for.”
“The things around the engine–brakes, tires, electrical, etcetera–little things off to the side. But keep water in her, and change the oil regularly and she’ll be a good little car for you.”
“Will she get me to Arizona?”
“Where in Arizona?”
“I don’t know about Flagstaff,” said Pat. “Laughlin, Nevada maybe. Barstow, California, for sure. Just remember what I told you about the peripherals.”
I told Pat I would and with that, he snapped the tail of the Plymouth with a grimy rag and watched me drive away.
I took the Plymouth down the off-ramp onto Highway 1 where it joined the southbound five o’clock traffic. From there, it grumbled south into Santa Maria, sailed east through the Cuyama Valley, scaled the Tehachapi Mountains, and braved a sweltering night through the Mojave without so much as a cough. The following day, in defiance of doubters and critics alike (and there were many), the Plymouth rose through mountains of northern Arizona in a way that made me feel proud to be associated with such a beast. There had been jokes back in Morro Bay. One popular dig was to say to me, “Call us with your new address in (fill in nearby city of choice: Atascadero, Santa Maria, etc).” It wasn’t until the final push up the grade into Flagstaff that she began panting, unable to reach 60 mph. I quickly got her into a Flagstaff mechanic.
“Don’t you know that a car loses half its power at this elevation?” this mechanic said to me. “Take her down to Phoenix and she’ll get all her power back.”
“You mean she has altitude sickness?”
“So to speak. But this thing has a Slant-Six, and that is one of the best engines ever made, if not thee best.”
“Then I have nothing to worry about.”
“Wouldn’t say that. It’s an old car. You might want to consider getting a new one. You can get a decent car these days for five thousand.”
For the next month, the Plymouth sat out in front of my room at the Hummingbird Inn while during the day I went around on foot, hustling window-washing jobs. In it’s golden rust, it looked made for such a high, rugged setting. But I had the itch. So on my last day, I reloaded it, and on the way out of Flagstaff, stopped at a wheel and alignment place for a precautionary inspection.
After an hour wait, an attendant came into the lobby and handed me a list: ball joints, bushings, alignment, wheels, brakes, u-joint, and something called a pitman arm. Somehow, in a month of sitting at the Hummingbird, the entire underside of the Plymouth had gone to shit. It had to be addressed immediately I was told, but of course I had only enough dough to get to the next town of Winslow. On the map, it didn’t look like there was much to Winslow, or anywhere in between there and New Mexico.
“Could I make it to New Mexico?” I asked the attendant.
“Where in New Mexico?”
“I wouldn’t try it.”
I balked at the advice and drove as if it were my choice to do so. The Plymouth made it to Gallup, then to Albuquerque, then up through the hilly Painted Desert around Santa Fe. However, I don’t remember much of the drive and can describe very little of the scenery. Every mile of it was driven in a white-knuckled state of terror that I dealt with through such diversions as deep-breathing, visualization, singing, prayer, chanting, and good old fashioned denial. Then one September day I looked up and I was in the Texas panhandle with enough money to get the left ball-joint fixed. After that I began to feel like I might get an upper hand on the repairs, and maybe start to make a dent in the peripherals.
Now though, I am in the far southeastern Texas city of Victoria, and the closer I get to the Gulf of Mexico the more the economy seems to sink. The peripherals eat at me more than ever, and I am making a push to get the last of them taken care of. I have a set of brake shoes in the trunk and am looking for the right man to put them on. It was easier said than done.
“What kinda car’d you say?” says Darrell. Darrell mans the computer at the Victoria Tire Mart. He wears a black and red uniform with a checkered collar and tire tracks around the shoulders. The office is tidy and sealed off from the spurning, whirring hydraulic tools in the adjacent garage.
“A ’75 Plymouth,” I tell Darrell. “I already have the brakes. Just need someone to slap them on. What would you charge me?”
“First of all, we don’t just ‘slap’ things on here at Tire Mart. Now does that have the old Slant-Six in it?” With his molars, Darrell rips a strand of beef-jerky to shreds while gulping from a can of Diet 7-Up.
“Yes it does.”
“Did you know that is one of the best engines ever made, if not thee best?”
“I’ve been told so.”
“Well you can’t kill that thing. It’s indestructible.”
“I know, Darrell. It’s just the peripherals you gotta watch for. Like brakes.”
“Exactly,” says Darrell, then stops and smiles. “I used to have an old Duster with a Slant-Six you know.”
Darrell holds on to the memory for a couple seconds, then frowns and rips off another hunk of jerky and goes back to pounding at the computer. “Now brakes and alignment would run you, let’s see…six… fi…two…eigh… Two-hundred.”
“Two hundred? And without the alignment? Like I said, I already have the brakes. I just need you to slap—I mean, put them on.”
“Let’s see…” He clicks at the computer some more. “At three hours labor you’re lookin’ at…one…eigh… thir…ten…. You’re looking at one-fifty.”
“One-fifty? What gives? On this street alone, I’ve been quoted everything from eighty to two-eighty, and I don’t even think you need an alignment with brakes. I think that’s tires.”
“All I can tell you is you get what you pay for.”
“But three hours? It’s just brakes.”
Darrell takes a deep breath, and I know this breath. This breath is predictably followed by the three words well, it, and depends. When you hear these three words together, on the heels of that predatorial breath, you have two choices: Leave, or bend over and take what’s coming.
“Well it depends,” says Darrell. “It depends on what other problems we might encounter on an old car like that.”
I leave Tire Mart and move on down the main street of Victoria, earning a few bucks here and there, but mainly cursing the brakes of the Plymouth, mechanics, and all the goddamned peripherals in life.
Will-n-Bill’s Radiator, Tire, Wrecking & Auto Body must be the best garage in Victoria, as it has much too much business for its space. There are cars parked around the block. As I move through the maze of late-model vehicles, I pass the tire showroom. Two obese women sit outside of it, arms folded across their Buddha bellies, watching the activity with slightly ajar mouths. I am relieved to see that the windows of this showroom have been recently cleaned. I don’t want to get stuck inside that glass oven on a hot afternoon like this.
I find two men sitting in the shade of a bay, on plastic chairs, conducting the movements of the lot with sharp whistles and waves of hands. One’s nametag says BILL and the other says WILL. They roll toothpicks around in their mouths and slurp from Big Gulp’s. I tell them about the Plymouth, then wait the traditional thirty seconds or so it takes a mechanic to acknowledge your presence. I use the time to survey the lot of Bill-n-Will’s.
Cars are wedged within millimeters of each other, and some are stored twenty feet in the air by outdoor hoists. In each of the three bays, a baggy-drawered grease monkey squints under the hood or belly of a car, twisting, cranking, or pounding. Then one shoots out from under a car and hollers, and Bill or Will whistles, and the other two mechanics run out into the lot, each start a car, and the entire lot shifts as the repaired car is taken out to the street. A car is then lowered from a hoist and moved into a bay, and another raised so a new one can be parked under it. The grease monkeys then disappear back under their projects. Amongst the mayhem, three small boys dash about serving the mechanics. They each wear mechanic’s smocks that fit them like dresses, and each have a green rag hanging from a pocket, and well-placed grease about the faces and arms.
“An old ‘75 Plymouth?” Bill finally gets to me. “With the Slant-Six?”
“One of the best engines ever made,” says Will.
“If not thee best,” I confirm.
“Indestructible,” says Bill.
“Can’t kill it is what I hear.”
“Can’t,” says Bill, and along with Will walks out to the street, and looks for it.
“Where is it?”
“A few blocks away. I’m a window-washer, and I’ve found it easier to park somewhere and get around on foot.”
“Well, go get it,” they say. “We’ll take a look at it while you’re washin’ our windows.”
“Your windows don’t really need it,” I say. I didn’t want to get stuck in that broiler-terrarium for any amount of money.
“Fuggit, do ‘em anyway. You need the money don’t you? Go get your Plymouth. Go get your Slant-Six.”
I hike back up to where I’d left the Plymouth in front of a bank, a little excited. It seemed a connection had been made on account of the old Slant-Six, didn’t it? Maybe they’d give me a deal on the brakes. It would be one more peripheral I could scratch off the list.
When I get back, the lot has shifted again, and cars that were on the street are now hoisted over cars that were previously on hoists, and the three small boys have their green towels out, waving me through a narrow path that’s been cleared just for the Plymouth.
“Hay sir! Raght here, sir!” the boys yell, the biggest one pushing the other two aside. The two women sitting outside the showroom clap as I squeeze the Plymouth into a vacated bay, getting the real VIP treatment.
Before I can kill the engine, Bill and Will are under the hood.
“Lookit’er,” they say. “Look’t the ‘ol Slant-Six in there.”
I take my equipment over to the terrarium and start on the outsides, convincing myself the work will pay off. It goes fast but I run out of water. When I go over to ask Bill and Will for some, they are still under the hood, and I wonder when they’ll get to the brakes. Bill peeks out from under my hood, annoyed and whistles.
“Boys, git ‘im some water!”
The little boys charge me, racing, tripping over their dresses, getting up and readjusting their rolled-up sleeves. When they get to me, they fight over my bucket and try to pull it from me. The older boy hip-checks the other two aside, winning the right to lead me through the garage bays to a basin near the back. There is then a tug-of-war to see who gets to operate the hose. The oldest boy wins again, but the other two each grasp onto an insignificant piece of the hose and watch the bucket fill.
When I get back, the women have turned their chairs to face the showroom.
“They shore is clain,” says one of them.
“Shore is,” says the other. “Look, you can see the tars better.”
As expected, the angle of the sun turns the inside of the tire showroom into a steam bath and, to make matters worse, I have to work from atop a wooden display platform that encircles the showroom floor. After some time, the women get the idea to bring their chairs inside to enjoy the enhanced view of the lot through the newly cleaned windows.
“We wanted to look through yer clean windas,” they say, as the oxygen in the room dissipates. “From out there you can see the tars better, and from in here you can see the cars better.”
Captivated, they follow me from pane to pane, shifting the angle of their squealing chairs. A window is dirty, then clean. It’s a simple joy. Atop the platform, I feel almost obliged to go into song and dance.
It’s not long before the three little mutts rediscover me, and come into the showroom and scramble around, asking a million questions, opening and closing doors, moving tires, sucking up the last of the oxygen, and asking me if I need a drink of water. They get into an argument over who gets to get me the drink of water if I decide I want one and like most things, it goes up the pecking order to the oldest.
When finished, I emerge from the incubator dripping and looking for the Plymouth. But it is not on the lot, which has once again shifted beyond recognition. Bill and Will are seated back where I originally found them, Bill pouring a package of M&M’s down his throat, and Will inhaling a bag of Bugles.
“So?” I say. “When can you get me in? Tomorrow?”
“It’s a good little car,” Bill says. Will tosses me the keys. “Sorry to say we cain’t do your brakes.”
“But they’re in my trunk. All you have to do is put them on.”
“Too much liability if something happens. It’s so old is all.”
I pick up my things and go find the Plymouth, three blocks down. There was no winning against the peripherals. Peripherals bred while you slept, and it didn’t do much good to worry about them. Sometimes the best thing to do was just pretend they didn’t exist. After a certain point in a person’s life, the war against the peripherals became one of attrition and you might as well just opt for the drink instead, and that’s what I do. I slip into a cool little mini-mall lounge and slam three mugs of Budweiser. When I come out, the peripherals are still there, but now they are fuzzier and less urgent.
Charlie of Charlie’s Chevron stands at the sidewalk, covered from head to toe in grease, a daft orangutan masticating a burrito while watching cars go by. Why is it these fuckers are always eating or chewing? Whatever time of day, they are gnawing on something–apples, toothpicks, tobacco, beer nuts, straws, jerky, sandwiches, licorice, nachos, pens, seeds, Twinkies, cigarette butts, matchbooks, popcorn. They meet you with that same dippy look and crisscrossed eyes, always ripping a bite off of a hot dog or candy bar or dumping a package of Ritz crackers down their gullet. Then you wait helplessly as they take that deep predatorial breath, about to emit their steaming bullshit. They never give you a straight answer.
I get out of the Plymouth and walk up to Charlie. I don’t say anything right away. I circle him a couple times, looking him over. He stands unaffected, working the burrito. I stop and face his dull, lazy eyes and begin speaking very slowly.
“I have brakes in the trunk of my ‘75 Plymouth, Charlie. Follow me? I need them installed. Though I am well aware I am in need of other repairs, I am here only to address brakes at this time. I am trying to make it to the next town. I don’t care about any other deficiencies you may find while under my vehicle. I don’t even care if you find a bomb under there. If you find a bomb Charlie, leave the bomb. The deal is I hand you the brakes and you slap them on. Or, put them on, if that makes you feel better. Can you do that, and if so, how much would it be?”
Charlie rolls a mash of brown-gray burrito filling around his chops.
“Sixty bucks,” he says, wiping his mouth, then nose with a sleeve.
I hand Charlie the keys then walk to a nearby Wendy’s to eat lunch and give him the hour he’d asked for. I wanted to trust Charlie. But there was tendency when meeting a new mechanic to try and make him into something he wasn’t, to make him into the mechanic of your dreams. After so many bad cars and deceitful mechanics however, I had long been soured into a state of conspiratorial phobia whenever it came to anything automotive. So I don’t give Charlie an hour. I go back early, hoping to catch him in the act of his preferred form of betrayal.
I find the Plymouth parked on the side of Charlie’s Chevron and Charlie in the office, sitting in front of a fan, eating a powdered jelly donut and watching a game show on a greasy little TV. I know this old trick. This is where Charlie tells me he can’t do A until he does B, and he can’t do B until he does C and D.
But Charlie hands me a smudgy bill for sixty dollars, and my key.
“You did ‘em already, Charlie?”
Charlie burps, and I take out my wallet and hand him three twenty-dollar bills.
“Charlie, I just want you to know I appreciate your fairness.”
“Treat people lak I lak to be treated.”
“You wouldn’t believe what I’ve been quoted for brakes just on this street alone.”
“Prob’ly everything from a hunnerd to two-fifty.”
“Ain’t nothin’ to brakes, really. So why charge so much?”
“I look at windows the same way. I figure if I can clean them, an orangutan can. So I charge what is reasonable.”
“It’s a lost form of doing business.”
“Some places won’t even work on this car, Charlie.”
“Pussies. This here’s a good car. It’s an old Slant-Six, ain’t it?”
“Yes it is.”
“Engine’ll run forever.”
“Can’t kill it.”
“Cain’t. You’ll need an alignment soon, as you know. And tars. Just do a little as you go along.”
“I see you understand.”
“Ah been there b’fore.”
Over his shoulder, posted on a bulletin board is a snapshot of a man who could be Charlie, leaning over the bow of a boat, spewing a stream of beige vomit from his open mouth, into what could be the Gulf of Mexico. The vomit is suspended in midair.
“That you, Charlie?”
Charlie puts down his donut and turns and looks. A wide smile breaks across his hairy, blackened face. White powder has clotted at the corners of his mouth and cherry filling covers his teeth.
“See what kinda friends I have? Here I am pukin’ from a hangover on a fishin’ trip and all they can do is take a picture of me. Some friends.”
“It’s a nice picture though.”
“Yes it is.”
“Well, thanks again.”
“Aright, partner. Jest remember, shop around. What ones ain’t decent are either crooks or pussies, and that’s the cold, hard truth. Hey, at least you got an old Slant-Six. That’s one of the best engines ever made, if not thee best.” §
Ben Leroux continues to ply his trade as a window washer and writes from his home in Morro Bay. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Read more of his Washing windows across America series here:
Evicted From Wal-Mart (episode 9)Santa Fe Pride (episode 10)Leaving Las Vegas (episode 11)Tucumcari: End of the mother road (episode 12)Clovis ain't Texas (episode13)Welcome to Muleshoe (episode 14)Dry times in Lubbock (episode 15)Zen and the art of messing with Texas (episode 16)Directions from Texas (episode 17)A bug you can't see (episode 18)The bigger they are (episode19)Life in Lockhart (episode 20)Slow grinding war in Lockhart (episode 21)On the Riverwalk (episode 22)
Go to the main page for this month's Rogue Voice
Fear and flogging in Las Vegas
O, to be a Neolithic woman in a calendar of thirteen moons, to welcome the fecund flowing of seasons, to have sexual rituals in place of silence and forgetting…
It’s always at the last possible moment, like right now, that I wonder why I didn’t think of an exit plan. Why didn’t we just come here to see Penn & Teller, like typical tourists?
Painting “Sargent’s Vase ii” by David Settino Scott / www.davidsettinoscott.comFear and flogging in Las Vegas
In search of primitive rites of cleansing and empowerment“Our inner spirit so announces our power in both earthly and heavenly matters that even our body can foster an intimate association in its creative power with these things. For wherever soul and body live together in proper agreement, they attain the highest reward in mutual joy.”
—Hildegard of BingenBy Allyson Hardman
Ninety-nine degrees in the shade, and they say it’s a cool one—the strangers we pass on the street—because of this here breeze, but I feel only hot waves passing over me, into me; sweat steams off my nearly naked skin before it can form into salty rivulets—not one drip lands on the concrete slabs of this infamous strip.
We were up all night; my eyes fixed on the road from the passenger seat, Sal’s neck going into spasms as he refused to give up the wheel. Hoping to see the sun rising over Vegas, we settled for a post-dawn blinding blue light surrounding an apparition of unfettered sin.
We brave the mid-morning heat because Sal’s forgotten his belt, and there’s a Ross Dress For Less across the street from our hotel—the Stardust, one of the few remaining from the “Old” Vegas and soon to be demolished—also because our room isn’t ready yet, and we’ve had no success persuading the concierge to offer us VIP service—and the party’s tonight. We need to be ready by six. But we’d like to freshen up, and relax first. What have I gotten myself into?
Las Vegas hosts more than 23,000 conventions each year. I never thought I’d attend a convention like this one, an adults-only party, in Vegas, where we’ve come to learn more about the modern spank scene. Yet here I find myself, in the heart of Old Vegas, the fading relic of another era of mobsters and crooners, trying to remain cool, signing my real name on a tag upon which I have checked off “SWITCHEE” as my…as my…
Let me go over this again. About six weeks ago, we were in our garden, Sal and I, talking about how late the season was, that it was already the 4th of July, yet our pitiful-looking corn crop was still far from knee-high. Winter had stretched on into May with heavy rains and meager sunshine. I reminded him how well the tomatoes I planted behind the house—without his permission—were growing.
“Insolent little girl!” Sal teased me. “I told you not to grow tomatoes there, and you went ahead and did it anyway.”
“Yeah, so,” I retorted. “What are you gonna do about it? Those are the best tomatoes in the whole garden.”
“I know; you can come with me to the next Silhouette Crossing party. It’s in Vegas this year, and I’ve never been. Have you?”
Everyone looks rather unassumingly normal standing here, in the foyer, on our way inside the convention suite, but what is normal for Vegas? Most of the attendees have arrived dressed in the Rat Pack theme of the party, dolled up in the swankiest prom-wear from the 1940s. Old Vegas is back in the house where the Rat Pack first crooned in Las Vegas together; women with perfect posture, salon-coiffed hair and caked-on rouge saunter past us with a come hither stare. Pictures of Sammy and Dean and Frank, smiling into the glare of stage lights, adorn the wall behind the Silhouette Crossing greeting table.
It’s always at the last possible moment, like right now, that I wonder why I didn’t think of an exit plan. Why didn’t we just come here to see Penn & Teller, like typical tourists? I know, I know, typical is only a recent invention of the human mind to convince ourselves that we uphold a cultural standard of living from which none should stray, lest we be branded as social and sexual deviants. I’ve tried for so long to wear the mask of the unassuming tourist meandering in a consistently homogenized crowd, but now I’ve crossed the threshold from the bedroom to the ballroom, wearing this “SWITCHEE” nametag, advertising my preference for both spanking and being spanked, eating Swedish meatballs, swilling down my rum and coke elixir of courage, and shopping for a new cane amongst the many vendors’ booths while pretending to be unfazed by the young woman dressed like a perfectly naughty Catholic schoolgirl taking a flogging from a bullwhip-wielding vampy dominatrix at the center of the room. Crack! The Catholic schoolgirl, skirt hiked over her bare bum, gasps at the contact. Her ass shows the red and pink markings of the whip’s kiss. The dom is a pro and she doesn’t miss. A crowd gathers while others in the ballroom mix for conversation and hookups for private suite parties later in the evening. No, this is just another typical day in the life of an erotic subculture.
Origins of unbridled doubt
I was looking for a missing link, that hidden certain honest something about life that would reveal itself to me in books other than the one supposedly good book that had been crammed down my throat by my Bible-toting family in the naïve hope that it could ward off sin. And what is sin? I did not know, but imagined that it had something to do with being born a woman and something to do with the planting of seeds and something to do with making God angry, who would punish me if I didn’t get things straight. It must have been this fear, the promise of retribution that always hung over my head, which compelled my interest in spanking. I knew there simply must be more than one story, one book, to explain it all.
Origins of ritual lust
Twenty-thousand and some odd years ago, way back in the Paleolithic Era of the Ice Age, our pre-Christian ancestors glorified genitalia in their cave drawings, sculpted maternal figurines, and carved dildos out of antlers. The earth was covered in ice, but our people kept their heart fires burning strong. By 10,000 B.C.E., the first Neolithic farmers took advantage of the great thaw to further cultivate matriarchal ideologies and their primal, unabashed reverence for sex. O, to be a Neolithic woman in a calendar of thirteen moons, to welcome the fecund flowing of seasons, to have sexual rituals in place of silence and forgetting and an irate God chasing his naked, disobedient children from the garden….
Is it true that ancient Romans once sacrificed a goat each year in a ritual of “purging all afflictions and ills before the spring growing season,” known as Lupercalia? Did the priests really slice off strips of goatskin, run around wildly, and flog the fields and the women alike for the sake of fecundity? Yes! Where has this ritual of cleansing gone, to be replaced with so much patriarchal dogma and the erasure of our primitive need to render vulvas and phalluses in the cavernous walls of our collective memory?
Nosh and stardom, Switchee Girl?
“Hi there, I’m Giovanni.”
I look up from my tiny paper plate of Swedish meatballs to see a sexy, short and svelte Italian-looking fellow Switchee reaching out his hand in greeting. His thick-browed dark eyes sparkle in a self-assured, fresh-from-Hollywood way that both attracts and repels my hand. I swallow my last niblet [spell correction] of meat, swipe my tongue across my teeth, and open my mouth to reply—forming a nervous, involuntarily smile as I try to speak easy words.
Hi, Giovanni. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here…
Sal and I had been browsing the vendor booths along the edges of the ballroom, snacking on hors d’oeuvres, and we’d noticed Giovanni following us with his eyes. He’s worked his way over to our table while Sal is at the bar buying more drinks. Giovanni stands waiting for my reply when Sal interrupts my pregnant pause, returning from the bar with round three of my chosen poison—rum for the courage, coke for the much-needed caffeine after 32 hours without sleep.
Giovanni coyly eyes the nametag I’m wearing around my neck (it looks like an all-access pass into the kinky world of spankable sins); he studies the lines of my brown faux suede pants, and the infinite twinkles in my sparkly glittered toes peeking out from clunky black clogs, as he gets chummy with my man. After a few minutes of small talk—this your first time in Vegas, shit like that—he bluntly asks Sal and I if we want to be in a Silhouette Crossing movie. And before I can consider just how to say no, and politely head for the door, he reads my face—intuits my look of what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, and therefore should not be videotaped—and quickly changes his tune.
I glance at the booth in the far corner, the one with a small television playing spanking scenes on a loop—pretty red bottoms turned up for the firm masculine hand—and observe the inconspicuous lineup of hopeful actors who want to sign up for the next kinky production. This is not what I had in mind when I first set out on a journey to learn new erotic rituals to sate my primal urges and kinky curiosity.
He just wants me to spank him; he says it quite plainly. Cameras don’t have to be there. Of course, Sal, to whom he’s sidling up, can be there.
“Why me?” I hear myself asking, just a tongue slide away from an inarticulate slur.
“Look around, Allyson,” Giovanni says, his penetrating gaze sears into my heavy, sleep-deprived eyes. “Most of the women here are submissives. The only bare ass in here belongs to women being spanked by men, or other women. Don’t get me wrong—I like to spank—I could do that for you, if you want, but this weekend I want to be dominated. It’s hard to find women who want to do that. You’re one of the few switchees here, and you’re the most intriguing one in the room.”
Maybe it’s the thirteen meatballs I’ve eaten, the three rum and cokes I’ve guzzled, the hallucinogenic insomnia, the steady, uneven cadence of men’s bare hands slapping against their girlfriends’ purple-welted tushies, or even the allure of the sweltering heat of a Vegas summer looming just outside of this ballroom of sin, but Giovanni is making a lot of sense right now. My head swirls as I consider his request. I’m thinking of the experiential words of our dearly departed Hunter S. Thompson, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”
Origins of ritual dominance
Where once priests ran laughing and lashing about pagan Europe—where ritual floggings of the land and the women heralded another season of abundance, another season to honor the life-giving connection between woman and earth, in balance and reverence with nature—the dark horse of warped Christianity came thrashing, eroding the pathway between humankind and nature, and erecting a system of coercion to a misogynist God in its stead.
God no longer dwelled in the trees and tomatoes or in the lusciously tempting fruits of the earth and human sexuality. St. Augustine, in the 4th century, wrote that Adam’s sin derived from the “nature of the semen from which we were propagated.” Just nurturing our earthly desires, spreading around our little seeds and seeking joys in the body made the great master of the spiritual realm—that one and only invisible, overarching God on high—angry with us for choosing to worship the body as much as the spirit.
Heresy derives from the Greek word hairetikos: “able to choose.” So, in essence, anyone in Europe who chose to practice rituals other than those to which the established Church demanded blind ignorant allegiance faced a sentence of brutal torture and fiery death. After the Church deemed home remedies and the art of self-healing blasphemous, the healers and midwives, mostly women, were especially vulnerable to persecution for their knowledge and practice of the ancient traditions of using herbal medicines.
The Church’s menacing dark horse slowly swept away women’s primitive knowledge of herbal healing and sexual rites. By the Victorian Age, European women had all but lost their status as healers and sexually potent beings.
Seeds of change…
Late one balmy California evening, we awakened to Sockee, the neighbor’s dog, howling under the luscious blue brightness of the full moon. It was 2 a.m., but we joined in her plaintive wolfish cries from the center of our bellies, yowling through the window, laughing and reaching that primal pit of wild wailing and carrying our night calls all the way to the waking moon. All through the neighborhood, dogs lifted their voices, breaking the silence of the night.
We arose giggling between howls, choosing to wander outside to moonbathe on the beach, offering Sockee a consoling howl and a meaty bone on our way out of the garden, Sal toting an intoxicatingly fragrant Salvia switch freshly cut from the garden.
Earlier that night, we discovered that maybe we weren’t really the sexual deviants we believed ourselves to be. We had decided to explore our curiosities by attending a local gathering of kinksters in the banquet room of a budget Chinese restaurant. The gathering was a way of introducing newcomers to the group and screening out the riff raff. By the end of our evening of greasy egg rolls and casual chatter about bondage, discipline, sadomasochism, and tools of preference— along with a more serious discussion of Dr. Gloria Brame’s basic parameters for safe, sane and consensual play—we felt like a couple of overwhelmed vanillas—couples who never deviate from straight, missionary sex—in a roomful of professional hardcore BDSMers. We knew nothing of violet wands, nipple clamps, or how to choose the best cat o’ nine tail; we had only scratched the surface of this sensuous and wonderful yet seemingly depraved sexual netherworld. Everyone we met there seemed so happy, playful and…normal, yet surely they would never ask us to join their club if they knew how close to vanilla we were. We returned to our little beach nest, closed the curtains and went to sleep forgetting about the full moon rising in the east.
Upon awakening to Sockee’s dogged howling in the middle of the night, we remembered that our own rituals with which we had played and experimented—light spanking, occasional binding and blindfolding—were tame compared to the nipple-clamping, violet wand-tapping, and whipping rituals of the kinksters we met at the Chinese restaurant. They were a committed, serious group that would not long tolerate the faint-hearted. The full moon, the howling and a cheap Chinese dinner with real kinksters gave us new courage.
Under the moonlight, we walked along the beach to a spot we dubbed Full Moon Rock, climbed up to a jagged perch above the gleaming roaring sea, removed our clothing, and with our new inspiration, took turns purging our ills with gentle lashes to our bare bottoms with the pungent Salvia, and howled our primal song to a sleeping town, remembering our pagan ancestors, their primal urges, their artistry in fashioning deer horn dildos, erotic cave paintings, and performing rites of fecundity, cleansing and renewal. When we returned to our little love nest, we fucked like animals.
I stand poised over the edge of the city—secluded in our private air-conditioned room—looking down on a drunken brawl at the McDonald’s next door. The creepy Circus Circus clown smiles at me from across the way; I imagine Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro as ether-floating, upright snakes coiling their way into the heart of the American Dream, into the bedlam that lies beneath the surface of everything, into the world Hunter S. Thompson described so beautifully, a world of fear and loathing.
Hunter, have I let you down? I bought the ticket, but I just don’t know if I’m ready to take the ride and open my dominant role playing with a stranger I just met who boasted that he’s a Skinamax star who needs a woman to put him in his place. I don’t know if I’m ready to write down any of my waxing moontime rituals of dominance over my lover, much less slip into a room alone with a kinky porn star at a Vegas spanking convention. Maybe it’s because I try to pretend that I’m still the good essentialist daughter, ever subordinate to a man’s will.
I told Giovanni that I was too tired tonight to do anything but sink into the quicksand of insomnia dreams. He laughed, perhaps thinking it was some kind of joke. I told him I’d consider meeting him later at one of the many private parties that will be going on in suites throughout this hotel.
Sal’s lying in the hotel bed reading Living Energies. He reads aloud to me as my mind wanders from the enthralling lights of the strip to the distant Salvia growing in our garden to his close lips curving out the shape of words.
“…the amount of energy in the universe is finite and at all times constant; there can neither be more, nor less energy. It is merely transformed from one form into another.”
He adds, “So, there you have it. Proof that our choice of kinky play is a practice in the even exchange of reciprocal energy.”
“Yes, yes,” I say, lying down beside him. “And the fucking Church tried to convince our foremothers that God’s energy was greater than woman’s matter.”
My eyelids drift down and down. In my lucid dreaming—still listening to the sweet sound of Sal’s voice reciting scientific epiphanies in my ear—we are far from this arid civilization known for it’s sin; we are back home in the garden willing our seeds to grow, taking in the fecund waves of blushing Salvia buds and the cooling Pacific wind. §
Allyson Hardman lives on a ranch near Cayucos where she writes and grows a garden full of beautiful flowers and switches.
Go to the main page for this month's Rogue Voice
Cabby's Corner: One hundred degrees in the shade
My cab sits blistering under the sun, heaving, panting, wheezing as people walk by and pause to wonder why it is not turned off.
I have visions of the Porterville and Fresno behemoth women stewing in a gigantic pot in some remote jungle with a village of scrawny Hmongs dancing around them.
CABBY’S CORNER, 198OsOne hundred degrees in the shadeAnd more than half a ton of muumuus in an even hotter cabBy Dell Franklin
It’s 107 degrees, high noon, a Saturday, one of the hottest days on record, and I’ve been hacking since 9 o’clock with a blinding hangover.
The Ford LTD cab I’ve been driving (like all our other cars) has no AC or tinted windows and the seats are vinyl, so that the heat sizzles and turns the interior into a sauna.
I’m wearing a polyester short-sleeve Yellow Cab shirt and brown pants and I’m soaked through like some soggy creature who’s just slithered out of a swamp, and I smell like it, don’t know why I showed up for work, except that I’m poor, very poor, and a fool.
While sitting on a bench in the shade at the airport, waiting for a guy who’s coming in from L.A. on a prop job, my cab sits blis-tering under the sun, heaving, panting, wheezing as people walk by and pause to wonder why it is not turned off; it is one of only two cabs running (the others are in the garage for repair). While stumbling around in a hangover fog earlier, I jarred my face against the corner of the cab door and busted one of the stems of my aviator sun-glasses so that they sag on my wounded sweaty face, and I cannot imagine the thoughts of passengers who at first espy the wheezing filthy cab and then my disheveled presence on the bench.
A man in summer suit with Valpack, overnight bag, and briefcase, emerges from the swinging door and walks toward the cab. I rise and walk over to meet him as he looks me over: from dingy tennis shoes to beltless waistline to tattered shirt with Yellow Cab insignia to mottled face and soiled Irish linen drinking cap purchased in 1976 on a pub crawl through most of Ireland.
He nods, and I’m happy I can’t see his eyes behind designer shades. I open the back door for him and stuff his gear in the trunk and settle behind the wheel. “God it’s hot,” he says.
“A hundred and seven,” I say. “And this cab has no AC or tinted windows and the seats are on fire. Sorry. Not my fault. You’re going to the Embassy Suites, right?”
“Right. Thank you.” He leans forward, concerned. “Why doesn’t this cab have AC? All the cabs in Los Angeles have AC.”
“Because the corporate sadists who run this shoestsring operation as a subsidy don’t give a damn about us.” I’m driving out of the air-port and onto a main artery. “They even made us join their chickenshit union, which has no benefits, except if I get killed in an accident they’ll send a hundred bucks to my mother for burial. Ha ha ha. You see, they own school buses and a transportation empire second to none in this country, but we must pay some kind of Mickey Mouse union dues so the execs can have a little slush fund when they have their conven-tions and get drunk and buy whores while they’re away from their wives.”
He falls back, sighing. “Wow. You’re one angry employee, aren’t you, Mr.…?”
“Franklin. Dell Franklin. Very angry employee. On a day like this, which involves nonstop suffering, do they care about my not having AC while they lounge around their pools in Vegas or wherever with their highballs and call girls after butchering a golf course, ey?”
He leans forward again, points. “Why do you have that huge swatch of duct tape covering the ignition?”
“To guard against turning it off, in case I follow my natural inclination to turn off the engine when I am not driving the car.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Franklin, but I’m a little lost here…”
“Something to do with the crank shaft. Don’t ask me, I’m no mechanic. You see, if we turn the engine off, it won’t start again. There's only one other cab out there, and it barely runs. We were supposed to get a part for this cab a week ago, but it never came, so this cab has been running continuously for nearly a week. The engine has over 200,000 miles, so it could blow at any time. We’re like the Pony Express—one guy gets off the horse, the other jumps on, only the poor horse at least gets fed and watered down.”
He sits back, already lathered in sweat, mopping at his face with a monogrammed hanky. “Good God,” he croaks, and sits silently for the remainder of the ride, until I pull into the Embassy Suites entrance. I jump out and open his door and then withdraw his baggage and place it lightly on the ground. He requests a receipt for tax purposes, which I expertly fill out. The ride is eleven bucks and he tips me four dollars instead of a sawbuck and when I thank him like a thankful slave he hands me his business card.
“Mr. Franklin, I work for the corporation that employs you,” he says. “I’m here to check out a few irregularities, and I promise you I will look into the complaints you’ve registered. They are legitimate. Thank you for an interesting and informative ride.”
We shake hands like pals. Yeah, sure. You beautifully tailored and manicured prick, you could have slipped me the sawbuck for morale purposes and ego appreciation. Lip service.
All I’ve wanted to do all morning is pull over under a massive tree on shady Mill Street and open my doors and push the seat back and sprawl out and suffer, but we’ve been busy all morning, and now Tammy tells me we’re backed up and I must return to the airport and pick up some people and drive them to California Men’s Colony, the minimum and medium security prison on the outskirts of town.
When I arrive at the airport in the noisy LTD (the tappets are ticking and rattling), two exhausted and grumpy looking elephantine women are awaiting me in the shade, clad in muumuus, fanning themselves, faces flushed. I skid to a stop and jump out and take their baggage while they squeeze into the back seat, an obvious mother and daughter, together tipping the scales at least at 500 beans. I stash their suitcases in the trunk and start out. The two ladies fan themselves feverishly and pant like polar bears in a desert and ask about the AC, and I explain there’s no AC, and they tell me they’re from Florida and did not expect this kind of inhuman heat and can I return to the prison to take them to their motel after their visit, and I tell them yes, and they clam up, fan and sweat, and I drop them off at the prison and head back into town.
I stay busy for three straight hours, back and forth, up and down the outdated grid in the increasing Saturday afternoon traffic, everybody out buying tools and material for air-conditioned home care, driving slow, getting in my way, drawing my wrath.
At 3:30 p.m., my dispatcher sends me back to the minimum security side of the prison to fetch the two women in muumuus. They are sitting on a bench, looking peaked and lifeless, just barely able to lift their massive bulk when I come skidding to a stop. After they’re properly squeezed in and settled, still fanning their sweat-glazed inflamed faces, I start down the single lane road that leads to Highway 1 and San Luis Obispo.
These ladies are staying in some cheap bungalow-like motel rooms across from the Greyhound station.
My radio crackles and Tammy calls and asks if my passengers would mind if I picked up another woman at CMC East, the medium security side of the prison. I ask them, and they nod that it is OK. I swerve around and approach the other side of the prison, where a large crowd of visitors is headed toward the parking lot of glinting chrome. A mammoth woman, dwarfing in size the two in my back seat, also in a muumuu, carrying a Bible and transparent plastic purse with single bills and coins, wearing shades and clogs, walks right around my cab and gets into the front seat beside me. She is sweat-glazed, pink as a hog, and wheezing. She could be an albino but I cannot tell the color of her eyes because of the shades.
“Greyhound,” she rasps, and opens her Bible.
I am about to pull away when I hear a desperate, shrill voice call out: “Cabby! Cabby! Wait!”
I halt, and turn to spot yet another obese woman heading my way in the usual muumuu and shades and flat clogs, and she, too, is toting a Bible, and this one is so immense she resembles the Fat Lady one sees in a carnival freak show, dwarfing the monster sitting shotgun. She moves in struggling lurches, her chin sagging down to her enormous breasts.
Panting and wheezing and sweat-glazed, she sizes up the situation in the cab and commences to open the rear door and squeeze herself into the back seat. The two ladies back there are squished like sardines against the door, the older one’s eyes popping from her face, helpless, pleading with me in desperation. “No, no, no…” she cries. “For God’s sake don’t let her IN!”
I take immediate control of the situation, jump out of my cab, and stand by my door: “You!” I shout, pointing at the human jello mould wedged into the back seat. “You move to the front.” Now I bend down into my window. “You!” I shout, indicating Shotgun. “Take the back seat! Switch! I want a switch here.”
Unhappy with my commands, yet docile, they do as ordered. Shotgun takes a while to unglue herself from the sticky front seat and watches the carnival woman awkwardly extricate herself from the back seat. The switch, in slow motion, is complete. In the back seat they are all crammed together with no room to spare, not even enough room to fan themselves, a morose crew. The cab is now lowered significantly and appears to be sinking into the blistered, melting asphalt. I get in, adding another 185 pounds to well over half a ton, two pillow-like arms nudged up against me—like sitting beside a giant bean bag. I wonder seriously if the LTD can survive this mash of humanity.
Out on the highway, there is a hill to ascend. I’m not sure we’ll make it as a line of cars slow up behind us as we chug slowly, strain-ing, groaning, panting, losing power. Amazingly, for the first time of the day, there is no comment about the lack of AC, though my new shotgun partner has a comment.
“This thing’s a real dog. What’s wrong with it?”
“It’s been running nonstop for a week. This car will continue to run, and slowly but surely it is losing power and dying, and could die any minute now.”
“Hummmph,” is her response, and she opens her Bible.
We manage to overtake the hill and begin coasting down, picking up speed. My aviator glasses, damaged from the shot to my head this morning, fall off my face and land in the cavernous lap of the carnival woman, and she picks them up with her pudgy hand and hands them to me without looking, and I toss them on the dash and ask her where she’s from.
“Porterville,” she says.
“What’s Porterville like?”
I nod. “Do you like Porterville?”
“I used to, ‘til the H-mongs came.”
“Boat people. The H-mongs trap cats and cook ‘em. They trapped my cat. They’re no good. They ruined my neighborhood.”
“We got the Veet Nameez in Fresno,” says the former Shotgun from the back seat. “They’re no better than them H-mongs. Fresno use-ta be a good place ‘til all the Mexicans and Veet Nameez took over.”
“Them H-mongs would sooner kill a person and cook ‘em as they would a cat,” says Shotgun. “They don’t believe in God.”
“Them Veet Nameez don’t neither. I wish they’d go back to where they come from.”
We enter San Luis Obispo and move sluggishly on the main artery, Santa Rosa. The ladies are quiet. The two women from Florida look as though they’ll either cry or scream.
“So whattaya do for fun in Porterville?” I ask Shotgun.
“There ain’t nothin’ to do in Porterville,” she says, and reopens her Bible at the ribbon-like marker. “Porterville’s a pit.”
“Do they have any McDonald’s?”
“Three? In a small town like that?”
“I said they got three!” she snaps, obviously weary of my inquisition, sighing mountainously, slapping shut her Bible.
I let the subject drop and head toward Greyhound. The poor things have a long, stifling-hot bus ride and the Valley’s an even hotter cauldron.
I have visions of the Porterville and Fresno behemoth women stewing in a gigantic pot in some remote jungle with a village of scrawny Hmongs dancing around them, whooping and hopping and throwing spears, faces
and bodies smeared with grease paint as they anticipate a Bacchanalian feast that will keep them going for at least a week, until they return to their customary ways of growing food and trapping animals.
I’m watching my meter. The usual fare to Greyhound is eleven dollars. I could charge the Valley women eleven a piece, along with the other two, which is the usual procedure, but I’m going to give them a break. I’ll charge them eleven dollars for the entire ride, but try and slow down and push it to around $11.40 to see if they’ll give me a sixty cent tip. When I pull into the station the meter reads $11.60. Just before I arrive, I explain to the ladies the deal I’m giving them. They grunt. I am surprised at how quickly they remove themselves from the cab. The four of them stand together and divvy up singles, quarters, dimes, nickels, and pay me with exact change.
I remove the baggage for the two ladies from Florida, place it on the ground. The older one asks if I could drive them across the street to the cheap motel bungalows. It is less than a 50-yard walk. I get back in my cab and drive off. It’s hotter than ever. §
Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at publisher@rogue voice.com.
Read more of the Cabby's corner series, here:
Ode to Tobias WolffSisters from South CentralA soldier's storyFirst fare (hair of the dog)The good lawyerMr. HeadphonesLittle Miss SunshineA rainy New Year's Eve in the 'A' cabThe mayoral candidateOld blind LizzieCheerleaderA real winnerThe culture warFast times with Grace Ivey
Go to the main page for this month's Rogue Voice
Jesus makes me laugh
The Jesus I know is a party animal.
I’m putting my money on the Jesus who would, given the opportunity, take a bong hit for love of a friend rather than join the yokels who praise his name at the local church.Jesus makes me laugh
Time to party down with the Lord
By Stacey Warde
At the start of the 20th century, Charles Sheldon introduced in his novel, “In His Steps,” the oft-asked question, “What would Jesus do?”
It was meant to challenge conscientious Christians to consider the choices they make, such as whether Jesus as publisher would sell ads for alcohol in his newspaper.
In Sheldon’s novel, of course, Jesus probably wouldn’t sell drinking ads, so the publisher refuses them. No need to worry about lost revenue, though, because with a commitment like this, the good Christian doing what Jesus would do will receive God’s blessing and protection, even if it means going out of business.
Not every Christian will agree, however, that Jesus wouldn’t sell ads for alcohol, just like they can’t agree whether the wine Jesus served was fermented or unfermented grape juice.
Personally, having known Jesus for nearly 30 years, I can say without a doubt that the wine he served was not only fermented but the best money could buy. And the people he served probably got ripped out of their minds. I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t get a little tipsy too.
The Jesus I know is a party animal.
Unlike the humorless Christo-Fascists who are better at shooting off their mouths and their guns than making sense or making peace, Jesus likes to have a good time and laugh. He likes to raise hell, so to speak. Well, heck, even Christians know that Jesus went to Hell.
“Hey, Satan!” said Jesus. “Gimme a beer!”
“Sorry Jesus, we’re all out.”
“Well, what kind of joint is this? Outta beer?”
“That’s what I said, Jesus. If you don’t like it, you can leave.”
“Fine with me,” Jesus said, adding: “Hey, everyone, party at my place!” And he left, taking nearly everyone with him.
If you look hard enough, you’ll find stories of Jesus in the Bible (and there’s probably plenty more that aren’t in the Bible) where he liked to wine and dine with friends, live it up with song and music, and take on the religious hypocrites who couldn’t understand his preference for spending most of his time with whores and other outcasts rather than with religious kooks and pompous asses.
Jesus at his best, as I see it, celebrated life and saved his harshest criticisms for the petty priests who were good for nothing but putting on a religious show of pretty piety, much like today’s priests and religious leaders, who have done more to turn people away from God.
In fact, according to the Bible, the hypocrisy of priests angered Jesus more than any other sin. The only time I know of that Jesus got pissed was when he confronted religious hypocrites and killjoys, and ran the greedy money mongers out of the temple.
Chased them with a whip, cursed them vehemently, said they were nothing but a bunch of “poisonous snakes.” He called the priests “whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones,” pretty on the outside but stinking to high heaven and dead on the inside, kind of like today’s priests.
Yes, Jesus got angry but he was more likely to be partying down, spending time with his friends and showing kindness to the friendless, drawing a crowd, breaking bread and pouring wine.
We don’t see enough of this side of Jesus, whose name today is more often invoked to protect the violent and wicked, to crush the oppressed, than it is to help the widow or the poor or the downtrodden.
I’d bet that were Jesus alive today, and some say that he is, he’d be down at the prison or by the docks or at the bar clinking glasses with someone who needs a friend. You would not find him at many churches.
I’m putting my money on the Jesus who would, given the opportunity, take a bong hit for love of a friend rather than join the yokels who praise his name at the local church.
What this means, really, is that I see Jesus as a regular guy with a big heart, a lion’s heart, who wasn’t afraid to challenge authority when it caused more harm than good, and who could celebrate life in the midst of great evil.
What would Jesus do if he met a Christian today? Probably puke his guts out. This comes straight from Scripture, where the latter day church gives God an ulcer because of its vapid, lukewarm nature; it has forgotten how celebrate life and live.
I read Sheldon’s book at a pivotal point in my growing up, when the question about what Jesus would do seemed like the right thing to ask. I was a student thinking about a career, a husband thinking about a family and a future. I needed some guidance.
Looking back on it, too many of my decisions were impacted by religious zealots and kooks rather than the example of Jesus, who seems a much happier person by comparison.
“What would Jesus do?” I think he’d meet me at the Cayucos Tavern right now for a drink and a high five. He’d make me laugh. §
Stacey Warde is editor of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Go to the main page for this month's Rogue Voice
Life in the cage: Sweet escape
Although there is no exact prison rule prohibiting recorders, just as there is no specific rule prohibiting cell phones, possession of such items would be considered contraband, subject to a serious write-up.
I was once told by a veteran convict that the best way to get rid of a cell slug, was to masturbate when he is in the cell.
Sweet escapeHow I landed a spot on national radio from my prison cell
By Tito David Valdez Jr.
Exiting the law library about 2:45 p.m., I headed west-bound down the long corridor to make it back to my cell block to shower before the rush of inmates arrived. An alarm suddenly sounded in the infirmary, guards ran down the corridor to the scene, while another guard waived me to enter into the prison chapel until the alarm was clear.
I’m not a regular at the chapel, so when I entered, I didn’t know anyone. I spoke with the chapel clerk to pass time.
“So when is Jesus coming back?” I asked.
“Very funny. The Bible says he will come like a thief in the night. We have to be ready for his return,” said Elder John, a dark-skinned, tall African American who spoke like preacher T.D. Jakes, his words very persuasive.
“I bet Christians thought Jesus was coming back, believing Hitler was the Antichrist during World War II.”
“The word says there will be many false prophets, sheep in wolves’ clothing. There have been many after Hitler, like David Koresh, Charles Manson, Jim Jones. There is even a guy now in Puerto Rico claiming to be Jesus himself.”
“Yeah, I heard of that guy, an ex-con, saw him on 60 Minutes. How do you know Jesus wasn’t just a con man, a chameleon?”
“The Bible tells me so.”
“Yeah, but do you realize how many times that book has been edited?”
“Yes, but the Word tells us to obey authority. We trust that the current version is exactly what God wants it to be.”
I looked around the chapel and observed the many men praising the Lord. Hard to believe I was in a prison; seemed like I was at an on-fire Baptist church, men with tears in their eyes, hands and arms up, rejoicing, singing. This wasn’t even a service, it was choir practice.
Chaplain Ray, an overweight 50-something white man with suspenders holding his pants, spoke to Elder John.
“John, I need you to clean out that closet in the corner, place all the music equipment into this box, then give it to Officer Jackson who will be locking it up from now on in C-Block. He will be by in about ten minutes. Throw away anything that is not useful.”
“OK,” said Elder John.
I observed John going through the closet, separating things. He then threw away an old tape recorder into the trash can.
“John, what’s wrong with that recorder?”
“I don’t know, but I’ve been here five years and no one has ever got it to work. Why? Do you think you can fix it?”
No, but if you are throwing it away, can I have it? I may know someone who can fix it.”
“Yeah, go ahead. Just promise me you won’t be using it to record Led Zepplin or Snoop Dogg songs over our Bible study cassettes.”
The intercom relayed, “Alarm clear, resume corridor traffic.”
Like a child who was on a mission to obtain something sweet from the local ice cream truck, I rushed into my cellblock, with the recorder hidden in my pants, skipped the shower, and went to Cell 305, where the prison’s tech wizard resided, an inmate called “Gadget.”
“Gadget! Gadget! Hey man, come to the door!”
Gadget, a lanky tall white guy in his 40s, who looks like Howard Stern with big nose and long hair, was wearing bottle cap thick eyeglasses, soldering a circuit board. He took off his glasses, coming to the cell door.
“Yeah, what’s up?”
Pulling out the recorder from my pants, I showed it to him.
“Can you fix this?”
“Don’t know. At the next unlock in ten minutes, let me take a look at it.”
At 3:30 p.m., the unit guard opened the cell doors and I handed it to Gadget.
At 6 p.m., Gadget walked with me to chow.
“Where did you find this Dave?”
“The chapel. They were throwing it away as garbage.”
“It’s a gem. I already fixed it. Superb recording quality. You are going to love it man.”
“What exactly was wrong with it?”
“The electrical cord had a serious short. The gears on the recorder were bent. A few resistors were fried. But it’s just like new now. Got any tobacco?”
“I wish. If I had some, I’d be selling it making a grip of cash!”
“Got any coffee?”
“No, but I’ll get you some. What’s the damage, what is this gonna cost me?”
“Ah, just get me a $2.50 pouch of Maxwell House when you go to canteen.”
After dinner, I returned from the unit, retrieved the recorder from Gadget, and tried it out. My cellmate, Rafael, who was watching television as he does all day and night, looked down, curious.
“Hey, where did you get that?” he said, while sipping coffee from his mug.
“Found it in the trash.”
“Does it still record?”
“I don’t know. Gonna try it right now for the first time.”
I tuned in my portable radio to X-103.9, the local alternative rock station, placed a Bible study cassette in there, hooked up the male-male cords and pushed “record.” Then played it back.
“Hey homie, it works!” said Rafael.
“Yeah, it really works!”
Although there is no exact prison rule prohibiting recorders, just as there is no specific rule prohibiting cell phones, possession of such items would be considered contraband, subject to a serious write-up.
I felt uncomfortable having the unit in my cell, especially where my cellmate who never leaves, would possibly be using it to record oldies cassettes for his homies, bringing a lot of activity in and out of our cell. Such activity would catch the attention of the unit guards, and soon, they would do a shake-down. Gadget kept it in his cell and when I locked up every night after dayroom, I’d retrieve it. I spent many nights listening to the radio, recording all my favorite songs on Bible study tapes. I catalogued each tape: rap, rock, country, classical, etc.
One evening, while listening to the local college radio station at UC Santa Cruz, I felt compelled to send all my favorite songs to a female jock who always played my requests on her goth-industrial show called “Dark Circles.”
With no access to a real microphone to record, I experimented using my headphones as a microphone, and amplifying my voice with a small equalizer, which I purchased from the vendor catalogs. It worked. I spoke on the tape and had it sent out to her.
She received it, thanking me on the air. Like deja vu, an idea came to mind which seemed unrealistic, yet, possible.
Recognizing that crime television shows obtain the highest ratings and that a new television show “Prison Break” was about to debut on Fox, I felt the timing was right for a prisoner-hosted radio show.
Prisoners have a First Amendment right to communicate with the outside world and use of a telephone is an instrument to exercise that right.
For the last 10 years, federal death row prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal has hosted radio commentaries for National Public Radio.
I felt I could do the same, catering to a more liberal audience, potentially creating a two-hour
show, playing the best alternative rock flashbacks from the ‘80s and ‘90s.
A real radio show hosted live, by me, a state prisoner, via prison telephone. It would be edgy, a gimmick that no program director could turn down, once pitched.
But I needed to create a demo tape, give them an idea of what the show would sound like.
I got to work right away.
Any movie or television sitcom always starts with a script.
I quickly produced the outline of what the demo would sound like. But I needed bells and whistles, something that I could only obtain by listening and recording bits and pieces off the radio.
For weeks, I recorded station sweepers, commercials, even radio personalities speaking, and about one-hundred songs onto ten different Bible study cassettes. Each tape was labeled and the music or voice bits I marked in a journal the number on the counter of each bit for future reference.
After writing the script, the real challenge came in being able to create the demo tape, with my cellmate always hanging out. I needed to be alone, to do my thing, to speak into the headphone to record my voice.
I was once told by a veteran convict that the best way to get rid of a cell slug, was to masturbate when he is in the cell.
“Hey, man, what the fuck are you doing?” said Rafael, as he stepped down off his bunk to take a leak.
“What does it look like?”
“You are disrespecting me, holmes.”
“You never leave the cell! I am a man, I got to relieve stress.”
In 1993, as a free man, I could produce a demo tape in three to four hours, having access to a real microphone, harmonizer, reel-to-reel, mixing board.
In the joint, in 2005, I was faced with the challenge of producing a demo tape with an antiquated 1970s recorder, three different Walkmans, a headphone as a mic, and a Bible study cassette as a master tape.
With my cellie now out in the dayroom, I could concentrate. It was extremely difficult to time everything right, while pushing play on two separate Walkmans (one Walkman playing music, the other playing snippets of a woman’s voice) and trying to speak into the headphone all at the same time. I became frustrated, feeling like smashing the recorder on the floor. But I persevered, and four months later, the final demo was completed.
Taking bits and pieces of conversations from recordings I made of a local female disc jockey, I spliced her voice and sentences to sound like she and I were having a real conversation. The edits were so clean and tight that no one I shared the tape with could tell she wasn’t really talking to me. After 400 splices, the one-hour show in real time was ready to pitch.
I went to Hungarian Johnny, the prison’s hustle man, to find out what it would cost to smuggle a cassette tape out of prison. We aren’t allowed to send cassettes or CDs through the U.S. mail.
“Hey, Johnny, I need to get another cassette out.”
At his usual spot on the yard, in front of the canteen, he stood selling items on consignment, smoking a contraband cigarette. He sported a beer belly from eating so well, his white skin sun-damaged from being on the yard all day, every day.
“I can get it out. Gonna cost you $20. You got any
tobacco?” he said with a thick heavy Russian accent.
“We have a deal. Give me three jars of Folgers coffee and an address.”
As a former salesman of computers and telemarketer for the Los Angeles Times in my younger days, I learned that everything in life is based on the law of averages. It even applies to picking up chicks at the local bar. For every ten people you try to sell something to (or try to get laid with), one will buy.
One week later, thanks to Hungarian Johnny, my brother was in possession of the one-hour demo tape. I had him duplicate ten copies on CD and he sent them to numerous alternative rock station program directors.
I waited two months for a response.
Nothing. Not even a rejection letter. They probably thought I was a nut case.
In March 2006, morning radio personality Howard Stern moved from terrestrial radio to satellite radio for a whopping 500 million dollars over five years. I heard celebrity Adam Carolla took over the syndicated morning slot on CBS Radio’s FREE FM. Adam formerly hosted the popular daily teen advice show “Loveline” for 11 years with Dr. Drew Pinsky, and had produced and hosted 100 episodes of the “Man Show” on cable with Jimmy Kimmel. I remembered his monologues, where he spoke about his dealings with ex cons, having hired many of them to do construction work. I told my brother to copy one more CD and send it to him, being confident he would be receptive to the concept.
In May 2006, I got a call back. The producer of the radio show didn’t want to give me my own radio show but offered to give me a weekly segment, a convict calling in from the joint live, to talk about “life in the cage.”
The day I talked to the producer was the most meaningful day of my imprisonment. I was judged for my talent, not my crime or for wearing blue. Given an opportunity instead of being rejected or sold off as a loser locked up.
Though there has been many obstacles which have prevented me from doing my live weekly segment on scheduled mornings, due to fog or lockdowns, the radio show producers have been understanding and patient. They recognize the segment is indeed a novelty.
I’ve been given a second chance at doing what I do best.
Reflecting back to how I inherited that recorder, for a second, I wanted to believe it was a result of divine intervention, that there really is a God…
Nah…what was I thinking? §
Editor’s note: In May 2007, Dave celebrated one year on the air as “Prisoner David” on the Adam Carolla Show. Listen to his archive radio segments with angel Adam Carolla, devil Danny Bonaduce, and temptress Teresa Strausser at: www.jailhouseroq.com. View video clips of David’s 1993 television/radio show Hollywood Haze at: www.habeaswiki.org.
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 here:
Mischief in the prison chapelJailhouse prunoA momentary breath of freedomBreakfast ClubTrappedInstitutialized Evening dayroom Destination ASHSleepless in SoledadJailhouse lawyersIn the hole (part 1)In the hole (part 2)The idiot boxShower time
Go to the main page for this month's Rogue Voice
Rogue of the month: Ed Frawley
What I did was offer anybody a hundred bucks in cash if they’d hang their dong in that tank with the piranha for a minute.
This woman comes in, a stern, middle-aged woman, and she sees the monkey, goes over to meet him, and the damn monkey, he starts whacking off.
The pawn broker
By Dell Franklin
“There was this guy,” says Ed Frawley, now retired, “he came into my pawnshop one day in Whittier, hanging around, talking, and I knew he was sizing me up, feeling me out, probing for my weakness, and sure enough the bugger found it—a soft spot for animals. Now I had a little area roped off from the shop, off to the side, with a chain link fence, and over the years I’d had a goat chewing on the grass, I had a horse in there, a mule, and a goose. I got the goose from this guy who comes in holding the goose by the neck, and the damn thing was going crazy, thrashing around, so I took the goose from the guy and put it out in my little area. He wanted five bucks for that goose, but I gave him three. Helluva goose. Like a watch-goose. Every time somebody walked by on the sidewalk, that goose honked his head off, gave ‘em hell. I finally sold the goose and made a few bucks. Everything sells, in time.”
A real Irishman with New York City roots doesn’t need to be drunk to tell a story, though Ed Frawley, now nearing 80, has had a few in his prime, and even if he can’t find his shoes in the morning and can’t remember what he had for dinner the night before, he can narrate a tale dating back fifty years in meticulous detail, as if it happened yesterday. Of course, it helps that Ed spent thirty years running and owning pawnshops in East L.A. and Whittier before moving up here to Cayucos in 1977. But in a white, affluent area like San Luis Obispo, where the economy thrives, there is little use for pawnshops, and so Ed became a watchsmith and a locksmith.
“Ed,” I say, “about that pawnshop?”
“So, anyway, this guy who keeps showing up and hanging around finally comes in one day with a cage with a monkey in it. He wants $25 for it and guarantees I’ll make $75 off it. Well, it’s the 1950s, and $75 dollars is a lotta money. So I buy the monkey. Now, I had all these cases up front, behind the bars. Out front it was like a shit-house, appliances and lawn mowers and such, so you had to find a path through them. In these cases, though, I had the good stuff, So what I did was put the monkey cage up on a couple stacks, near the register, so he was above everybody. I had him about an hour when this little Italian guy, around 70, one of these vain guys who liked to come in and take his shirt off and show me his muscles, a guy who was really full of himself, like that guy on TV…”
“Jack La Lanne.”
“Right. So he comes in, and he sees the monkey, and he’s got his shirt open, and he goes up to that monkey, and the monkey pees on him. What a scene, the guy’s jumping around, violated, yelling his head off, so yeah, that monkey, he’s doing his job, he’s running out the people who don't want anything but just hang around.”
Ed now has a belly and his beard is white. He’s a bit pasty-faced, like most Irishmen, but he’s got a twinkle in his eye. Ed could be on his death bed, getting last rites, but if you asked him to tell you a story he’d jump up, animated, moving around.
“So now this woman comes in, a stern, middle-aged woman, and she sees the monkey, goes over to meet him, and the damn monkey, he starts whacking off. Jesus, she goes screaming out of the place, and now I realize having this damn monkey’s not going to be that simple…he’s got a mind of his own.
“So I move the monkey away from the area near the register, be-cause there’s no telling what he’ll do next. That evening my wife and I wanted to go down the road to this little pub, where they had a good band, to do a little dancing and cocktailing. So we get hold of Patti’s brother, who lives nearby, and he’s gonna watch the shop for us and close it up early in the evening. Well, we go out and have a helluva good time, and when we get home after midnight, the babysitter is all worked up, and has me call my brother-in-law. Well, his wife tells me to come right over, they got the monkey. I guess there’d been one helluva scene. The cops called the babysitter, who called my brother, and told him to come down to the pawnshop, because they thought somebody was in there robbing the place. What happened was that damn monkey, he was strong as hell, and smart, and he got his arm through the cage and opened the lock and got out, and he was jumping and swinging around the place, causing a ruckus. When my brother-in-law opened the door, the monkey tore out and climbed the chain link fence, clear to the top, and he stood up there, and he had raided the till and put all these quarters in the little pouch they have under their chin, and he’s tossing them at the squad car, making a helluva racket—pink, pink, pink. Well, they couldn’t get him down, so my brother-in-law goes in the store and gets a bunch of quarters, and when the monkey runs out of quarters, he rattles them around in his hand, and the monkey jumps down, and he grabs him and throws him in his car and takes him home.
“He puts him in the bathroom. Well, five minutes later he’s torn the bathroom apart. The shower curtain’s ripped down, and he’s into my sister-in-law’s powders and creams, he’s covered in powders and creams, a mess, so he takes him out before he tears the whole house apart, and he sits down on a chair and holds the monkey by his arms in his lap. He had to sit there for almost four hours like that, his wife calling our babysitter over and over, until we got home and I came and got that monkey and put him back in the cage. After that I made a new fool-proof lock to keep that little guy in there, and I rigged up a raised area outside by the fence and put the cage out there, but damn if that monkey didn’t whack off every time a lady from the beauty parlor next door walked by. Finally, I sold that monkey for $100 to a mechanic who worked at the Powerine station across the street. He had four kids. Soon as I sold it, the guy who sold me the monkey was back with three more monkeys, and he told me I’d make $225 off them, and so I bought them, and sure enough I sold ‘em for $100 apiece.”
“What else did you have beside a goat, a donkey, a horse, a goose, and monkeys? Any birds?”
“I had a piranha fish, you know, one of those man-eaters from the Amazon in South America. I had a big tank, and the piranha lived in there, and it’s funny, because he liked me. He was a male. I could stick my finger in there for a minute, and he wouldn’t do anything, but if a woman walked by, he went crazy, swimming back and forth, all worked up, acting like the devil, wanting that woman. Well, what I did was I cooked up this deal with some guys who hung around the pawnshop and lived in the area. They were all fascinated by that piranha. So what I did was offer anybody a hundred bucks in cash if they’d hang their dong in that tank for a minute. I knew I could got a lot of guys to buy tickets, and make some money, but I couldn’t find any takers, only bettors. Finally, this really tough-looking guy comes in and he scoffs at that piranha and says sure, he’ll do it.
So now everybody’s getting excited, anticipating the Saturday night when this guy’s gonna hang his dong in the tank with the piranha. I start selling tickets to the Saturday Night Dong Dipping Event.
“But first I wanna let this guy know what he’s in for. I tell him, ‘look, you better check this fish out before you try this out.’ He probably felt, well, it’s not a shark, or a barracuda, just this little fish, and he’s cocky as hell, a real tough guy, but he agrees to come down and check out the piranha on a Monday night. Now, at first I was gonna throw a rat in the tank, but that would’ve been too bloody and gory, so I found one of those long black fish, I’m not sure what it was, but here’s the guy, and I got the fish, and I drop it in there, and the piranha, his jaw opened up, like he’s all jaws, and he pounces on that fish, and in seconds that fish is disappearing, and this guy, he looks like he’s seen a ghost, he turns pale, grabs his crotch, and starts sinking to the ground, he almost passed out, and that was the end of the Dong Dipping Event.”
Ed has more stories. He had a gun, of course, but never had to use it. It seems he knew how to handle dangerous, perhaps lethal situations without panicking, though once, when a pack of twenty or so bikers tried to take over his shop, he jumped up and aimed a shotgun at the leader and threatened to “blow your goddam brains out,” if he didn’t get his boys and their molls out of there. They left. He’s dealt with other predatory personalities who take his courteous nature for weakness by placing his pistol at their heads, the pawnbroker business.
City boy, street guy, army man. The full ride. In his day, Ed could habituate any bar and be immediately surrounded, wearing his little peaked Irish drinking cap. Just had that aura.
For a decade now, his health has been plaguing him with pain so gnawing and incessant and severe that he’s had to fight off an inclination to get depressed about the situation. But lately he’s been having some good days. One will never find him in anything but good spirits. Meanwhile, the stories keep coming.
“You did the whole thing,” I say. “Raised a family and raised hell. A rare combination.”
When Ed tells a story, those eyes twinkle, and one story leads to another, and another, and you can’t leave, and you don’t want to. This article could turn into a book, a scrollwork of outrageous street characters and situations in this suburban backdrop, where everybody hides behind their garage doors and burglar alarms. §
Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meet some of our previously featured "rogues" here:
Mandy DavisCasimir PulaskiJim RuddellSteve TrossLori Lynn MeltonLong John GallagherBilly HalesIlan Funke-Bilu HalesBig Lou