The Rogue Voice


November 01, 2007

Poems of War

The stigma of another unpopular war is killing our soldiers.

The full scope of suicides among Iraq war vets is still unknown.

Poems of war
Making friends with the enemy

By Stacey Warde

CHERYL Softich answers the phone at American Bank of the North in Mountain Iron, Minnesota, her voice leaden, measured.
Her son, Noah Charles Pierce, recently took his own life, living with the harsh judgment of an estranged biological father who didn’t spend much time with his son, and who didn’t attend his funeral.
“You’re a murderer.” Noah never could get those words out of his mind, never could get over the pain of killing an innocent man during his second tour as a G.I. in Iraq.
The words had been uttered even before Noah left for his first tour by a man Cheryl says despises war, and the U.S. military. He said this to Noah, his son, whose dream from the time he was a young boy had always been to be a soldier, as well as a poet.
Cheryl says she’s doing OK, under the circumstances. This time is as good as any to talk, she adds. “We’ll see, we’ll see how it goes; depending on what we talk about.”
We want to talk about her son’s poems, the ones he wrote about soldiering in Iraq, about befriending and sharing food with an Iraqi boy who doesn’t speak English and leaving him behind, crying, alone, unwilling to part—afraid of what might happen.
We want to talk about the poem that asks, “What the fuck kind of war is this?”
“Look,” Cheryl perks, her voice rising, “my son did take his own life, but he’s a casualty of the war. I don’t consider my son’s suicide shameful, nor do the people who knew him. I’m just as proud of Noah today as I was the day he was born.”
In late July, Noah Charles Pierce, 23, having returned home from his second tour of Iraq, drove his truck to a favorite fishing hole in the Gilbert area of Minnesota, less than one mile from his childhood home, taking along his gun and six medals, and ended his life.
Carved into the dash of his truck were the words, “freedom isn’t free.” He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], haunted by the memory of shooting, under orders, a man he later learned was innocent, a doctor who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Tonight just doesn’t seem right,” Noah wrote in the poem titled “WTF,” that recounts the harrowing moment: “The feeling won’t shake / Can’t smoke enough cigarettes / Why are these vehicles fucking with me / I shine my spotlight, he pulls over / The other stomps on the gas / Oh fuck, another car bomb / I shoot / Someone shouts, ‘This one is dead.’”
The investigation said Noah followed the protocol of combat, “done by the books,” and still, an innocent man dead. An all too familiar and sad experience for American troops fighting a war in which the enemy easily blends with the civilian populace, and harmless people become targets.
Noah also carried the memory of his best friend who died close by his side in an explosion.
“Noah was always a sensitive person,” his mother says. “He had become in his eyes exactly what his biological father said he was.” A murderer. Yet, those who loved him most, his mother, sister Sarah, and stepfather, Tom Softich (the father that Noah had nothing but good to say about and respected above all others) saw him differently, as a dedicated young man, with a poet’s yearning, hurting from the effects of war.
Cheryl notes that vets have told her they still live with the nightmare of war some 40-50 years later, unable to shake the horror of killing and maiming. She wouldn’t have wanted Noah to live with that for the rest of his life.
The stigma of another unpopular war is killing our soldiers.
No one knows for sure the exact number of Iraq war veterans who have taken their lives since returning home, but as recently reported in the Marine Corps Times: “Veterans’ groups and families who have lost loved ones [to suicide] say the number of troops struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health issues is on the increase and not enough help is being provided by the Pentagon and the Veterans Affairs Department.”
The full scope of suicides, notes the online journal, is still unknown.
“The problem that we face right now is that there’s no method to track veterans coming home,” Paul Rieckhoff, executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told the Times. “There’s no system. There’s no national registry.”
And the Veterans Administration doesn’t track the numbers either. Nonetheless, those reaching out to distressed soldiers say military suicides appear to be on the rise, with calls for help increasing from both veterans and their families.
Adding significantly to the problem is the stigma attached to getting help. Soldiers afraid to appear weak are less likely to seek the support they need to deal with the traumas of war that they bring home with them.
Noah, says his mother, clearly suffered from the effects of the war even though he always firmly believed that it was right for him to be there. He just wasn’t himself, she says, when he came back to the U.S. “The spark was gone,” she said in an interview with the Mesabi Daily News, which covers the Mountain Iron region. “The guilt just ate at him. He was too kind-hearted.”
More disturbing, Cheryl notes during a telephone interview, has been the callousness of people who not only don’t support the war or the military but who refuse to show any sympathy or moral support for the troops fighting in it.
Within a few days of his return home, a familiar figure in Noah’s hometown shouted: “Hey Noah, did you kill anyone?” Noah couldn’t acknowledge the person and promptly left the scene, Cheryl says. It was too much for him.
“Sure, these kids are returning home from a war. Of course, they may have killed someone but you don’t ask them that.”
Additionally, there are some who argue, “These guys knew, or should have known, what they were getting into, so why feel sorry?”
Not everyone is this calloused, but the attitude is prevalent enough to appear in local conversations and in reader comments on web sites that report on the suffering of Iraq war veterans.
“In an all volunteer army, to pretend soldiers have NO culpability for their complicity is ridiculous political pandering,” commented one reader of the Mesabi Daily News story posted on the progressive web page Common Dreams (
And later: “Don’t pity people who murder in the name [of] god, country, or patriotism and don’t pity people who raise people to believe murder in the name of god, country, or patriotism is okay or justifiable.”
That insensitivity to soldiers irks Cheryl, and she bristles at those, on the left or right, who use soldiers’ sufferings for their own benefit, to promote political causes or crusades for or against the war.
“I think it’s wrong,” she said. “No one knows what these boys are going through.”
Cheryl declares her son’s commitment to defend the U.S. against its enemies arose from the ashes of 9/11. Even before the attacks, he believed it his duty to serve, she adds. He would have joined no matter what. But 9/11 propelled him.

His last year of high school, Cheryl says, “he spent a whole year on the computer, researching the different services, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, and he kept coming back to the Army. So he signed with the Army.”
At the end of Oct. 2001, one month after the Sept. 11 attacks and two months before his 18th birthday, Noah approached his mom for consent to sign with the Army. He had to go, he said, and if she didn’t consent now, he was going to sign anyhow in two months.
Cheryl and her husband, Tom Softich, knowing that war was coming, tried to reason with Noah, tried to get him to reconsider. But he was determined to join.
Because her son was committed to military service, and had been since he was a boy, Cheryl consented, and Noah signed into the delayed entry program, going active soon after his 18th birthday.
“Noah always knew he was going to be in a war; he just didn’t know which one,” Cheryl says. “Just like I knew when I first held that baby in my arms that I’d outlive him.”
Her last text message to Noah before he died, “You are my heart, Noah,” words she has tattooed on her leg.

Cheryl Softich is careful about how her son’s poems are to be used. She doesn’t want people with an agenda to profit from them. “Noah wouldn’t like that.” She wants people to read the poems for what they are, based on their own merit.
Noah knew as well as anyone the power of words and used them with effect to convey his love for his mother, the pain of his experience of war, and the guilt that was too much for him to bear. He wrote of the hemorrhages of war and the separations from what we love most, our homes and families—of the loss of life.
While not practiced, Noah’s poems bring us into the immediacy of war, into the senselessness of its tragedies, and into the longing for home that comes in the midst of unbearable and avoidable carnage.
We received a copy of Noah’s handwritten poems through a friend who had a connection with William Kerzie, one of the color guard that offered a final salute in a memorial to the troubled soldier.
We received the poems, copied from a spiral notebook, only days after news broke of another soldier’s apparent suicide; Spc. John R. Fish of nearby Paso Robles was found dead from a single gunshot wound to the head in late August in a New Mexico desert, about 30 miles from Fort Bliss.
According to a report by the Associated Press, a handwritten note was found on his bunk, “I have some things to take care of. I won’t be coming back.”
At first we thought these might be John’s poems and were struck by their directness regarding the experience of war. Only later, when we decided to pursue publication of the poems, did we learn that Noah had penned them.
We offer these poems as a tribute to a fallen soldier and as a reminder of the horrors of war. §
  • Read the poems of Noah Charles Pierce

  • Tyler Bruun, a friend of Noah Charles Pierce, started an organization to raise money to help those struggling with PTSD upon their return from the war. The organization is called Northern Organization for Assisting Heroes
    Tyler Bruun can be reached by email:

    Stacey Warde is editor of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at
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    The Poems of Iraq War Veteran, Noah Charles Pierce


    I feel bad for the kids
    Can’t blame them for begging
    Can’t give them anything, they beg more
    This one was different
    He was 7
    I let him sit next to me on the Bradley
    I give him water,
    He goes gets me food.
    It’s great compared to MRE’s
    No english
    No arabic
    Yet we still understand each other
    Then it’s time to leave
    He wraps his arms around me crying
    I say it will be ok
    I still wonder if he is.

    —Noah Charles Pierce © 2007 Cheryl Softich

    Still at war

    Got home almost a year and a half ago
    We were so happy
    That beer never tasted so good
    Iraq was the farthest thing from my mind
    That was the best week of my life
    It crept up slowly
    first just while sleeping
    more real and scary than when it happened
    After, it’s on the mind awake
    Never 10 minutes goes by without being reminded
    Been home a year and a half physically
    Mentally I will never be home

    —Noah Charles Pierce © 2007 Cheryl Softich


    the wind is picking up a little dust
    no big deal
    It must be getting worse
    Vehicles are upside down all over
    It’s daylight now and we have to stay put
    The sky is a weird orange
    Just mid-day but it’s dark
    better tie a rope before you go pee
    Seems like someone keeps dumping a bucket of
    Sand on my lap
    I wonder if this is an omen not to wage war
    Or is this our glimpse of the hell we are destined to.

    —Noah Charles Pierce © 2007 Cheryl Softich


    The sun just dipped off the horizon.
    Only a matter of hours now.
    After months of waiting
    Morale is high, let’s do this
    Then we spot the first cruise missile
    My stomach goes in knots
    Reality just kicked in
    Even non-smokers light one up
    What will tonight have in store
    Time to load up.
    Guess we’ll find out.

    —Noah Charles Pierce © 2007 Cheryl Softich


    It’s been hours since we saw our unit
    Keep heading north hoping to find them
    The sky was full of green streaks
    Pretty amazing,
    beautiful, if only nobody was dying at the end
    too many explosions to use the night vision goggles
    Just made you blind
    I ask my driver, are we in Iraq yet?
    He shrugs
    An enemy tank blows up and tells us we are
    A year ago,
    All I worried about was next weekend.
    Now I wonder if I will see the morning
    Finally, radio contact
    that was an easy night

    —Noah Charles Pierce © 2007 Cheryl Softich

    2nd time

    We are getting on the plane.
    That last step
    I hope it isn’t my last in U.S. soil
    Nothing to do but sleep
    I wonder what it will be like this time.
    Hurry from the plane onto a bus
    Sleep some more
    Stopped, I hope we can get off for a smoke
    Must be lucky
    Before I even light up the feeling hits me.
    Did I ever leave the desert?
    The girlfriends, the parties, the training
    All I remember is this godforgotten country

    —Noah Charles Pierce © 2007 Cheryl Softich

    freedom isn’t free

    It’s dark and I sit at my .50 cal trembling
    40 mph in a humvee and I have deju vu
    Just want to go home
    then that bad feeling hits me again
    are my ears bleeding?
    is everybody else OK?
    Goddamned roadside bombs
    We are fine
    Another truck wasn’t so lucky
    Back at base no food, can barely get a
    new truck ready in time for the morning
    Another day kicking in doors
    find a cache and insurgents responsible
    for american deaths
    Frustrated because we have to be nice
    as we arrest them
    So when you talk to me
    I may not seem to pay attention
    I may forget to laugh at a joke
    remember freedom isn’t free
    I would do it all over for you

    —Noah Charles Pierce © 2007 Cheryl Softich


    hurry up and eat
    We roll out in 20
    Tonight just doesn’t seem right
    The feeling won’t shake
    Can’t smoke enough cigarettes
    Why are these vehicles fucking with me
    I shine my spotlight, he pulls over
    The other stomps on the gas
    Oh fuck, another car bomb
    I shoot
    Someone shouts, “This one’s dead.”
    At camp people shake my hand
    I’m just upset and pissed
    It was a doctor
    The investigation said it was done by the books
    I ask myself, “What the fuck kind of
    war is this?”

    —Noah Charles Pierce © 2007 Cheryl Softich

    Everything I imagined

    They yell get out of the truck
    I just wonder why as I take over
    “Boom” and I think I hope that’s friendly.
    Someone yells open fire
    Don’t know what I’m shooting at.
    People fall, but did I do it?
    Just keep shooting
    Really just want to roll up in a ball and wake up
    If only it were a dream
    As we advance I no longer fear for myself
    I worry about whoever that guy is next to me
    My eyes burn from all the smoke
    I wonder if the smell of death will ever
    leave my nose
    People shake my hand now
    They say thanks for serving the country
    Sorry, you guys were the farthest from my mind
    That day was exactly the way
    I imagined war

    —Noah Charles Pierce © 2007 Cheryl Softich


    It is 7:30. Got off work at 4:30
    Yet I find myself drunk again
    I drink to forget
    But it seems like I drink to remember
    At least drunk I don’t dream

    —Noah Charles Pierce © 2007 Cheryl Softich
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    Getting out (Part IV)

    Money wrapped like that meant it was ready to be weighed. Weighing money saved people time and nobody weighed less than a hundred thousand at a time./
    Carlos’s grandma pulled something out of his hair with her hand, looking at it with her fingers. Carlos looked at it too. There was blood between her fingers.

    (Part IV) Carlos finds trouble his first night on the town

    By Antonio C. de Baca

    Editor’s note: We’re pleased to present the work of Antonio C. de Baca, who spent ten years in prison and is pursuing studies at Boise State University. The following is the final episode of a four-part fictional series on getting out of prison by Mr. de Baca.
    In last month’s third episode, Carlos runs into his old homies while waiting for a ride home after his first grueling day on a new construction job in Stockton, Calif. He makes plans to spend an evening with them, rationalizing that he is the only person who can get himself into trouble.

    By Antonio C. de Baca

    Final episode
    Boxer’s Infinity was parked in front of the store where every car that passed could see it. Carlos wished for a second that they hadn’t parked there; someone from his family might see him getting into the car. It would cause more hurt than was needed right now in his abuelita’s life. She didn’t need to know he was with these gangsters. Still, the chances were slim that anyone in his family would see him get into Boxer’s car.
    “What’s up, fools?” Carlos asked. Carlos looked into the car. Soldier Boy was there and a young Chicano was sitting in the back seat. Carlos recognized him, Micky, Boxer’s little brother.
    “Get in, fool,” Boxer said. He pulled out from the front of the store before Carlos had closed his door. Carlos first speculated where they were going, which club, but then thought that wasn’t important. He’d find out soon enough. It felt good to be riding. Women would look at them like they were the superstars. They were the superheroes.
    He remembered how everyone would open their doors for them wherever they went, and how they drew the ladies’ eyes whenever they walked into a club, how the women would flock around them like pigeons on dried bread in a park. The memories came flooding back but his mind was still mostly filled with images of lifeless convict eyes and fluorescent-lit cells. Carlos let the images of the good times resurface, slipping deeper into his past, gathering in every instance of when the gangster life was the only suitable life.
    Soldier Boy handed him a pair of Nike shoes, pants, and polo shirt, the style of clothes that Carlos wore during his gangster days, before he put on those prison blues. He dressed in the back as they drove. He didn’t even think twice about getting dressed in the back seat. He just wanted to look normal, thug normal.
    Boxer turned up the music; it was playing rap, Tupac.
    The music trumpeted in Carlos’s head, a pulsating, mesmerizing beat, reminding him of the evil things he’d done, things that brought admiration and trepidation from others, like the crime that put him in an Idaho prison for 10 years, the shooting of a drug dealer who owed money. As Tupac rapped through the car sound system, Carlos remembered firing a straight line of smoke into his victim with the tiny .22 pistol, and being close enough for blood to spray onto his face. Then, the scream that sounded more like a pig’s squeal than a human’s—the pure terror. He thought about how he had planned to invite his prey out to eat and then try to kill him, a ruse that was a trademark kept by the most dangerous, because anyone could drive by and shoot someone. Only the most heartless could go out and have a laugh with their victims before they killed them. Tupac’s song finished and thoughts of prison came back to Carlos’s mind and stayed there like an ugly tattoo that stared at him every time he looked in the mirror.
    Prison put a different perspective on things and Carlos knew that life was more than nice clothes and fast cars; it was about freedom, using the bathroom or taking a shower or eating when you want.
    “Hey fool,” Boxer said. “I know you ain’t been out here in a long ass time, but things’ve changed and you’re going to see how in a minute. So keep your eyes open.” Boxer pulled into the parking lot of a club. A line almost went around the building. Carlos couldn’t judge the true size of the building from the outside. It looked like it was two stories tall, but it could’ve been more, and the length reminded him of an aircraft hangar, all gray and long.
    Boxer drove through the lot up to the front of the club, where hundreds of women were lined up outside, waiting to get in. Carlos couldn’t believe his eyes. It was the most women he’d seen in one place as far back as he could remember.
    It was how he pictured freedom.
    Boxer got out of the car without taking his car keys. Everyone else got out with him. Carlos got out slower than the rest, feeling strange around all these people, especially the women, who looked like they came right out of magazines, with painted on pants and shirts like bras, barely covering their breasts. A young Chicano, who looked too young to drive, came running around to the driver’s side of the car, got in and drove it somewhere….
    This wasn’t the same Stockton Carlos remembered. It wasn’t the same Boxer that he’d known. Boxer never had that much pull, having someone park his car for him. Carlos sat stunned, taking it all in. A voice called him: “You going to stay out here fool, or you going to come in?” Soldier Boy and Micky were already inside, only Boxer waited. They walked past the line of people who stared at them like beggars. The huge bouncers swung out of Boxer’s way like a remote control garage door.
    “What’s up with this?” Carlos asked. “You know who owns this club?”
    Boxer smiled as he walked to the back of the club, wading through a sea of people, moving as one to the pounding music. A thick smell of cigarette smoke filled the air.
    “It’s my club,” Boxer yelled loud enough to be heard over the noise. “But the paperwork says it’s my uncle’s.”
    Carlos followed Boxer deeper into the club, past the dance floor into a dark hallway that smelled of urine. The sight of packed bathrooms brought clarity to why it smelled.
    Boxer opened a door that was almost invisible at the end of the hall. It led to a lighted hall with rooms on both sides. Boxer entered a room where Soldier Boy and Micky and two other people Carlos had never seen before were waiting. From inside the room, the club’s music could barely be heard.
    “What’s up, putos?” Boxer said to the two strangers. One was older and looked like Boxer, minus the fat face. The other was short and round, like the talking M&M’s® candies from the TV commercials. He was also closer to both Carlos’s and Boxer’s age, in his late 20s.
    Carlos looked around the room. It was a plush red apartment with a black leather sofa and love seat, big screen TV and a small bar in the center against the wall. The older man, who looked like Boxer, was behind the bar; the other was sitting at the bar with Micky. Soldier Boy was sitting on the couch watching TV. It was the kind of apartment that Carlos always thought he was going to have when he got out of prison, a place where he would be king. Not like his grandma’s house, walls so thin that you could hear through them. All of her furniture almost 20 years old, stuff that he remembered from his childhood. Or his uncle’s one-bedroom apartment that he shared with his wife and son.
    “This is my homeboy, Carlos,” Boxer said. Carlos shook hands with them. Boxer introduced the older man as his uncle.
    “So what’s up, fool?” Boxer asked the short overweight man. “You brought the money or no?”
    The overweight man at the bar grabbed a duffel bag that was lying next to his stool and threw it for Boxer to grab.
    Boxer pulled out stacks of bills wrapped in plastic. Carlos knew from all his years of selling drugs that money wrapped like that meant it was ready to be weighed. Weighing money saved people time and nobody weighed less than a hundred thousand at a time. It also meant that Boxer was high on the ladder. He was big time.

    “It’s all there,” the fat man said. He looked around the room carefully, as if trying to decide on something. He looked back at Boxer. “I started to hear some bad things about your brother Joe.”
    Boxer stopped handling the money, placing it back in the bag. His eyes became crossed. Carlos knew Joe, Boxer’s brother, but he didn’t know him well. Probably as well as he knew Micky, and being locked up in Idaho didn’t help Carlos know more about Boxer’s family or keep up with the talk on the street.
    “What the fuck are you talking about?” Boxer asked, a hint of menace in his voice. Carlos wondered if the fat man felt the tension rise in the room. Even Carlos felt his own blood turn warm when Boxer spoke.
    The man paused for a second, probably second-guessing himself.
    “I heard he was working for Five-O,” he said. “He ain’t no good.” He was working for the police.
    Carlos saw Boxer’s ears turn crimson like fire and his eyes burn with hate. Boxer looked like he was about to pounce on the little fat guy, whose confidence was now completely gone, knowing that he should have kept his mouth shut. Carlos knew what came next. The man was headed to the hospital, if he was lucky.
    Carlos’s instincts took over, instincts of violence, always ready to commit violence when it was least expected. Without thinking, he walked right up to the bar, real close. Everything in his mind went blank and, like a zombie with one purpose, he thought only about grabbing the fat man. Carlos and Boxer moved as one, even after being away from each other for so long. No one could stop what was coming next.

    Carlos positioned himself better so the man couldn’t go anywhere if he tried. They had both been there before, when they were in their teens, Boxer shooting a friend of theirs that they thought was talking to the police. Carlos just grabbed the murder weapon seconds after the shooting not even stopping to ask what he was to do with it. He knew what to do with it—get rid of it, destroy the evidence, which he did with a blowtorch. Carlos and Boxer never once talked about the murder after that night, it was taboo to talk about such things after they were done. And the two felt much closer to each other having shared in the ultimate sin. They had both earned honor that night, stripes among gangsters. Everyone knew that it was Carlos and Boxer who killed their friend; even the police questioned them, but had no proof to arrest them. The only witnesses were themselves.
    The man sensed the malice. He tried to get up from his stool, but Carlos, as if in a trance, grabbed him in a bear hug, holding the man’s arms at his side. It wasn’t hard for him to hold him in place. All the weights that Carlos had lifted over the years in prison made this out-of-shape man soft, useless against Carlos’s grip.
    “Hold his ass there!” Boxer shouted. Carlos tightened his hold, feeling the man’s heart beat through him. Carlos could smell the man’s body odor, which reminded him of a wino at a homeless shelter.
    Carlos sensed movement behind him. Someone was grabbing the man’s feet. Carlos was uncertain who it was until he noticed Soldier Boy, always one to jump to any conflict—he had the instinct, like a good soldier, ready to rise to the duty at hand. Soldier Boy lifted the fat man’s feet. The man started to say something, but his words weren’t clear, they didn’t make sense, like he was talking in tongues, which only the chosen might have understood, but he was in a room full of sinners.
    “Take him to the bathroom!” Boxer ordered, his voice echoing. Carlos followed Soldier Boy to a small bathroom in the back of the apartment. The man’s breath was almost out and his fight was gone. He looked as if he was accepting his fate hopelessly, a fate that so many before him had faced at the hands of Boxer and his crew.
    It was difficult carrying the big man through the bathroom door. He was almost too wide. But they managed.
    “Put his ass in the tub!” Boxer screamed. Soldier Boy’s hands were going through his pockets and over his waistband.
    Making sure that if he let him go he couldn’t grab a weapon—or he was checking for money?
    “Let him go!” Boxer yelled. Carlos used all the force he could manage and slammed the man’s body into the tub, landing him face first. Boxer was on top of him almost at the same moment, aiming a small gun—pop, pop, pop—blood splattering all over the wall and shower curtain. Carlos felt drops hitting his face. A leaky shower head? He checked to see what it was. It was blood.
    Carlos felt strange looking down at the man in the tub, as if having a vision, as if he was viewing himself from above, witnessing an ex-con who had no control over his actions. I’m not responsible for this, he told himself, even though he was the first one to move when he felt Boxer’s hostility. I ain’t the one who pulled the trigger, he rationalized. But no matter what Carlos said to himself, he realized that he had just taken part in a murder.
    The blood started to seep from the victim’s body, running down the drain. Carlos didn’t know how long he had stood there, but he could hear Boxer’s voice giving instructions, as if in slow motion, like a cassette player running too slow. Soldier Boy started removing the man’s pants, which got stuck on his shoes. He realized his mistake and pulled the shoes off with them.
    “Carlos, help with those plastic bags!” Everything returned to reality at that moment. He had committed another crime and hadn’t even been out of jail more than two days. A capital crime that could send him and everyone else in the room to death row.
    Carlos grabbed some plastic bags from Micky. They were bigger and stronger than normal garbage bags, good for carrying and disposing a body.
    “Don’t touch them with your hands!” Micky said. Carlos looked down at Micky’s hands, both gloved. Micky handed him a pair of gloves. He knew what came next: Dumping the body. Carlos considered telling Boxer that he changed his mind and didn’t want to take part in this anymore.
    But seeing the small pistol in Boxer’s hand as he walked around the room telling everyone what to do, Carlos knew that it wasn’t a good idea to change his mind now. There’d be two bodies in that tub if he told Boxer that he wanted to leave. Boxer wasn’t one to leave someone alive he didn’t trust.
    The body didn’t take long to package and was quickly ready to be moved. Boxer didn’t want anyone to know where he was going to dump it. All Carlos had to do was watch the body until it was time to carry it to a car parked outside. Carlos sat in the back of the club with the body, hoping his nervousness didn’t show. He had been through this before, but this was different, he didn’t want to be a part of this life any longer. He didn’t want to go back to prison. He didn’t want to go back to the gun towers. He didn’t want to go back to watching his back all the time, worrying about when his enemies were going to try to kill him. He didn’t want to spend the rest of his life on death row.
    Carlos waited, he didn’t know how long, in that room with the body wrapped in plastic. He just sat there watching it, hoping that it would get up and make a run for the door.
    He prayed that it was all taking place only in his head. But the minute he convinced himself it was make-believe, one of his homies would walk in from somewhere in the club, slapping factuality in his face.
    “Carnal,” brother, Boxer said, making Carlos look up from the couch. Boxer was standing in the doorway. “Everyone’s gone, the club’s empty. We need to move that body.” Boxer had a cool smile on his face as he stuck out his chest and pulled his pants up. Like he was proud of himself.
    Carlos picked up the body without anyone’s help, but Micky grabbed its feet when they were already in the air. The club was silent and black, like a funeral home, much different from when they had arrived. A car was parked outside the back exit. Carlos prayed that no one would see him placing the body in the trunk of the car from the street. As Micky closed the trunk, Carlos noticed Boxer’s uncle in the drivers seat, driving it away, like a garbage man drives away so many other people’s trash.
    Soldier Boy sat at the club’s bar, next to the dance floor. Lonely Boy would be a better name for him at that moment, sitting alone in the empty club, Carlos thought.
    He was doing a line of speed or coke. Carlos sat next to him.
    “I got to go home,” Carlos said, hoping his voice didn’t shake.
    “Relax, Holmes,” Soldier Boy tried to calm him, placing one of his hands on Carlos’s shoulder. He had a grin that reminded him of Boxer’s grin from a few minutes before, the look of smug satisfaction, of a job well done. Killers, all of them.
    “I got to go,” Carlos said. Soldier Boy nodded. He walked back into the apartment where they had killed the fat man and came back with a set of car keys in hand. He nodded to the door, telling Carlos without words, “Let’s go!”
    Carlos followed him outside to the same car they had arrived in. But the drive back to his grandma’s house seemed much longer. Carlos kept thinking about the dead man lying in his own blood at the bottom of the tub, only now he could hear what the man had said before Boxer shot him, “Please, I didn’t mean anything by it.” It was too late to take it back, any of it. Carlos felt sick thinking about it. He didn’t have the same feeling he had had the first time he helped Boxer kill. He was proud of what he did back then, so long ago. They had become real gangsters together. Real killers. But there was no pride that filled him now. There was no brotherly feeling for Boxer, or for the guys who helped kill that little fat man. Carlos felt numb.
    Soldier Boy pulled up in front of his abuelita’s house.
    The front light was on, which Carlos didn’t notice. He got out of the car and slammed the door, not saying a word to Soldier Boy, not even turning around to watch him drive off.
    Carlos’s abuelita opened the door to let him in before he was close to it, as if she had a sixth sense about when he was going to be arriving, always at the door to open it. He walked in not saying a word, his face paler than his light-brown complexion should’ve been.
    “Mijo,” she said. Carlos turned to face her, but he could not look at her. He stared at the floor. She pulled something out of his hair with her hand, looking at it with her fingers.
    Carlos looked at it too. There was blood between her fingers.
    He looked at her to see if she knew what it was. Tears filled her eyes. She knew what it was. He looked down towards the floor wishing he were dead. He couldn’t face her anymore. Walking to his room, his own tears started to run down his face. Not tears for the dead man he helped kill, because he had no doubt that the man knew he was playing with monsters of the worst kind, but selfish tears. Tears for his own family, and most of all for his grandmother, knowing he had broken her heart one more time. §

    Antonio C. de Baca is the recipient of an honorable mention for fiction from the PEN American Center. He can be reached at
    Read "Getting out (Part I II and III) here:
  • Getting out (Part I)
  • Getting out (Part II)
  • Getting out (Part III)

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    Rogue of the month: Jack Joyce

    If you have ethics and integrity, you don’t need someone to tell you the right thing to do. ‘You can’t be controlled by what somebody else thinks of you.’

    ROGUE MEISTER Rogue Ales founder Jack Joyce is a businessman of the first order, I noted. No nonsense. Gets right to it.

    DRINK UP Jack takes a hit off his tea, mentions jail time he served as a boy….

    Jack Joyce
    Father of a Rogue Nation

    Story and photos by Stacey Warde

    After our first year of publishing The Rogue Voice, friend and supporter Scott Meigs brought over a fat bottle of beer, labeled appropriately enough, “Rogue Ale.”
    Time to celebrate. And we did. “Goddamn that’s good beer,” I said after my first taste.
    A light flashed, and thus began a series of calls to the nation’s largest microbrewery located in Oregon.
    “I’d like to speak to Mr. Jack Joyce,” owner and head honcho, I told the woman answering the phone.
    “He’s not available right now. Can you call back?”
    Finally, after several calls and emails over the next few days, Jack Joyce answered the phone. “I’m in the middle of a meeting right now, call me back in the morning.” He hung up.
    Busy guy, I thought, as I put down the receiver and marked my calendar to call the owner of Rogue Ales once more the next day.
    “What do you want?” he asked after I introduced myself. Man, this guy’s direct and blunt, isn’t he? Businessman of the first order, I noted. No nonsense. Gets right to it.
    “Well,” I struggled, looking for the right words, “I edit a magazine I think you’d enjoy and may even want to support….”
    You mean, advertise? he challenged. “I’ve got my own publication. We don’t need to advertise. Why should I advertise with you?”
    “Let me send you copies of our magazine, if you like them, we’ll talk, OK?”
    “Do it,” he answered.
    Gruff, to the point and open to dialog, Mr. Jack Joyce, a former executive and attorney with Nike, opened the door to what would soon become a symbiotic relationship between an established rogue enterprise and an upstart rag from Central California with nothing to recommend itself but its own surly roguishness.
    In our next conversation, Jack warmed to the subject. “I love your paper,” he said. Soon publisher Dell Franklin was on a plane to meet the man and swill a few of his fine microbrews. When Dell returned, he said: “You’ve gotta go up there. It’s great. Portland’s great. The pub is great….”
    And Dell had an agreement, made over beer and a handshake, with Jack to feature the only advertising Rogue Ales places in a print publication.
    When associate editor Amber Hudson and I arrived at the Flanders Street pub in Portland’s booming Pearl District last September, Jack sat in casual dress at a tall table by the window with some suits, doing business. He nodded a welcome and kept to the business at hand.
    Hungry, and just off the plane, we found a table in the dining area, ordered beer and chili. Moments later, a slight man with formidable bearing and graying beard and steady eyes—and an uncanny resemblance to one of my uncles—stood before us and presented a closed fist in a kiss-the-knuckles greeting.
    “Glad to meet you,” he said. “I’ve got some other business to take care of. Let’s get together tomorrow afternoon. Enjoy your meal.” And he was gone.
    Our first day in Portland, the mercury rises to 93 degrees, good drinking weather, and we spend most of our time in the cool refuge of the Flanders Street pub, sampling a variety of delicious, refreshing Rogue beers, going on a tour of the distillery where rum and spruce gin are handcrafted and served. We belly up to the bar, bullshit with the locals, make ourselves at home. The atmosphere is friendly, welcoming, a beer drinker’s paradise with plenty of good eating.
    When we meet Jack the next day, the sun continues to beat down on Portland’s sweltering streets. We sit at a table outside the pub, cooling ourselves with beer under the shade of a tree. Jack drinks iced tea.
    “I don’t like to drink beer before I go the gym,” he says, lighting up a cigarette. (“It’s funny isn’t it?” one of his employees said later. “He works out religiously and smokes.”)
    We ask him when he first realized that he was a rogue, someone who, as contributor Steve Bird likes to say, “has the balls to step out and do what he thinks is right,” regardless of what anyone else thinks.
    “My dad worked for Southern Pacific Railroad,” Jack starts. “We lived in the compounds owned by the railroad. The local townsfolk wouldn’t rent to railroad workers. I realized then that if people didn’t like me, I couldn’t worry about it. I never could be controlled by what anybody else thinks.”
    “How old were you when you realized this?”
    “I was about 4 or 5 years old.”
    He takes a hit off his tea, mentions jail time he served as a boy for laying into a bully with a rake. He learned from his father afterwards that he’d “attract more bees with honey. My dad always set the guidelines, by his example, just from the way he was—never made a big deal out of it—for integrity and for what was right.” Now, Jack says, “I talk straight to people, regardless, no matter who they are.”
    Then, as a young attorney, he went to the slammer for refusing to represent a man he knew was guilty of rape. “I wasn’t going to represent a person like that,” he says. “I spent three days in jail because of it.”
    If you have ethics and integrity, you don’t need someone to tell you the right thing to do, he says. “You can’t be controlled by what somebody else thinks of you.”
    And that’s the way he runs his business.
    “We do everything counterintuitive,” he says. “If the brewing world does 12-ounce bottles, we do 20-ounce bottles, or jugs. We do it our way. You can’t worry about what other people are going to say. If you have a quality product, and if you’re guided by your own personal ethics and integrity, it doesn’t matter what the herd says.”
    Equally important, he adds, especially for rogues, is that “you’ve gotta have a good sense of humor. You’ve got to be able to laugh at yourself.”
    He never had a boss until he started working with Nike as an attorney. Consequently, things didn’t always go well with his immediate supervisor, who did things by the book.
    “I probably got fired two times a year” in the six years he worked for Nike, he says. Each time, he says, “My wife and I’d go to Hawaii for vacation until the owner, Phil Knight, would call and ask, ‘Hey, Jack, what’re you doing?”
    He’d return to his job, where his peers showed their admiration. “They thought I was being courageous, but it’s probably just that I didn’t know any better.”
    Phil Knight, in fact, played a big role in shaping Jack’s views as a businessman. “He didn’t look at the world the way other people looked at it,” Jack says. “He wasn’t putting all his money into advertising, at least while I worked with him, but into putting shoes on people’s feet.”
    Additionally, Knight backed disgraced Olympic ice skater Tanya Harding when the world had other ideas about her attempt to terrorize another competitor. “He wasn’t influenced by what other people were saying.”
    Another influence, Jack notes, was Norm Kobin, the first lawyer he worked for as an attorney. He had his own style and way of doing things, Jack says. “He had a cigar in his mouth at all times. It was never lit, he never smoked it, he just chewed it while he was in court and he wasn’t too dignified about it either. He’d drool all over it and chew it down. But you could never underestimate him because in court he was always prepared….”
    A waitress comes to the table. “Hot, isn’t it?” I say.
    “I don’t mind. I like being outside. Can I get you some more beer?”
    “Sure,” I say.
    “Jack, more tea?”
    He’s OK, he says, tipping his glass. The waitress turns inside to get our beer. “You know what a ‘mensch’ is?” he asks.
    “Funny, you should ask. We just ran a story about another attorney, Ilan Funke-Bilu, a Jew and a rogue who isn’t afraid to stand alone, or go against the tide. We subtitled the piece, ‘A mensch among men.’ A mensch is a regular guy.”
    “A mensch,” Jack intones, “is a stand up guy who can be trusted. He does what he says he’s going to do. He’s not afraid to say or do what he thinks is right.”
    We toast the mensch and the rogue who goes his own way.

    PARTY GIRL Associate editor Amber Hudson accompanied editor Stacey Warde to the Flanders Street pub in Portland’s booming Pearl District last September to sample Rogue Ales and Spirits.§

    Stacey Warde is editor of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at

    Rogue Nation
    To find out more about the fine beers and spirits from the brewers and distillers at Rogue, and to learn how to become part of Rogue Nation, visit the website:

    Meet some of our previously featured "rogues" here:
  • Mandy Davis
  • Casimir Pulaski
  • Jim Ruddell
  • Steve Tross
  • Lori Lynn Melton
  • Long John Gallagher
  • Billy Hales
  • Ilan Funke-Bilu Hales
  • Big Lou
  • Ed Frawley

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    Your port of sunlight

    Whether ridiculing innocent Christians, fat ladies, successful people, or struggling Cal Poly students, the Rogue Voice never passes up a chance to mock, mock, mock.

    Consider me your port of sunlight in the storm of pessimistic liberal propaganda—your SLO sentinel, standing guard over the Rogue Voice’s assault on values, much like FOX News stands guard over television these days with fairness and balance.

    Illustration by Martin Shields

    Your port of sunlight

    By Duane Hagabee

    I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that much of the Rogue Voice readership did not “get” my piece in the September issue, entitled “In defense of the SLO life.” Furthermore, it wasn’t any big shock when the Rogue Voice contacted me and asked me to respond to some of the letters that had come in. After all, this is the same readership that takes to such articles as: “Piranhas eat penises,” “Shower time,” “Moms and hos,” and “I’m my own girlfriend.” Not to mention such forgettable poems as “Fungus,” “Pussy Hair,” “Existential Oil,” and “Happy May Day, All You Pinkos.” Funny how everyone in my Edna Valley neighborhood “got” my article and said it was by far the best thing in the Rogue Voice, and even had me read passages aloud at our Neighborhood Watch meeting. But for those who may not have had a Cal Poly-level education, I will use this opportunity to re-explain myself. It’ a shame really, because it’s time that could be better spent writing about more upbeat things, like wine-tasting, or the upcoming Wiggle Waggle Walkathon—subjects that seem to continually slip past the Rogue Voice.
    First, and most troubling, was that one reader speculated that I was a liberal. God help me, no. I in fact come from a family of Goldwater and Reagan Republicans, as can be seen through the Hagabees’ dutiful participation in SLO capitalism for generations. Certain simpletons must have gotten confused when they read about a conservative like myself who, while supporting land development and decency, also from time to time enjoys experimental sex with his gorgeous wife. It further baffled them to learn of a man both affluent and white, with everything he could possibly hope for in life, that also sets aside time to spend in the company of a minority friend or two be it a Chinese, a Spanic, an Afromerican, or a Gay.
    I admit that my wife Bethany comes from Democrats. But like any good SLO woman, she changed her politics about 19 years ago when I slipped 14-karat gold band with channel-straight baguette diamonds under her nose. Bethany has voted Republican ever since, except for 1994 when we both voted Perot. Isn’t that so indicative of SLO couples though? Always doing things outside the box? Maybe that’s part of the problem—trying to put a walking contradiction like myself into a box. Not to burst your bubble, Rogue Voice, but Duane Hagabee is the guy who shows up at the board-meeting in Van’s and Levis!
    Sadly and predictably, many readers could not refrain from directing various cheap shots and vulgarities my way, calling me (in alphabetical order): banal, bizarre, bigoted, class-conscious, crude, elitist, and freaky, while simultaneously labeling me a “ruse” separatist that objectifies minorities and is incapable of critical thinking.
    I had to look up the word “ruse” because such impractical words were not part of the Cal Poly curriculum, where true critical thinking is taught. I found that it means “ploy or stratagem,” which doesn’t make any sense. But it didn’t make any sense either when one reader heartlessly referred to me as a part of the human anatomy found in a person’s rear end, which I will not repeat. Rather than volleying another crude slur back at this person, I will simply offer a writing tip. When using swear words, try abbreviating by blocking out key letters, leaving something to the imagination. Instead of the word you spelled out, you could have written “a_ _ hole” or “a—hole” or “a*#@ole” or better yet “b-hole.” We do this in the Hagabee household. Say there is a dirty word we are tempted to use, we make a substitute such as “s-h” or “poop” for “sh(?)t.” Or, we use “fudge” for the “f-word,” and “g-d” for “G-D.” We get the point across without the use of profanity. I remind my kids that naughty language is associated with low intelligence and low-class behavior and abbreviating your swear words can help you in getting jobs and gaining admission into certain clubs and institutions of higher learning. In fact, abbreviating swear words wouldn’t be a bad practice for the Rogue Voice to get in the habit of.
    If you are wondering if those words hurt me, the answer is yes. I have feelings too, and just because I am a successful commercial real estate developer and pillar of the community who lunches with city councilmen and plays golf with local media personalities, doesn’t mean that I am made of stone. I also don’t appreciate my kids having to go to school and hear other kids say: “I hear your daddy’s a freaky a!*#hole.” Private school is hard enough as it is.
    Yet I would gladly accept all the dirty, nasty, malicious swear words in the world over the ultimate slight, which occurred when one reader questioned my authenticity, implying that I was satire. I have already suggested to Dell Franklin and Stacey Warde that they add a glossary to the back of the Rogue Voice, listing some of the more difficult words from some of the more educated writers, because apparently some people don’t know what words like satire mean. In Duane Hagabee’s glossary, “satire” is defined as “a literary work that uses mockery or ridicule to expose human frailty.” I hope people re-read my article and compare it with the other articles in the Rogue Voice, for ridicule and mockery are entirely their department. Whether ridiculing innocent Christians, fat ladies, successful people, or struggling Cal Poly students, the Rogue Voice never passes up a chance to mock, mock, mock.
    Is it satire when Doug and Anne of Cayucos take time to express their revulsion about the glorification of alcoholism in a local paper that is available outside the very antique stores where they shop? Is it satire when a caring local preacher selflessly phones Rogue Voice advertisers to inform them of objectionable material in the articles? Is it satire when those advertisers then write in and demand to know why the Rogue Voice is writing about piranha penises? Is it satire when a lovely ranch woman from Colorado scolds Rogue Riffraff for failing to notice that their trash gets picked up regularly and that if they want to strap their Rossignals to the top of their Blazers and drive up to Sierra Summit they can, and that when they get back the people in SLO will be waiting for them with big SLO hugs and our famous ten-second SLO smiles? Is it satire when a respected doctor like Steve Stainsbury puts a fat tub-of-lard like Michael Moore in his place and reminds us all that if Canada can’t do it, then we can’t either? Then I guess Duane Hagabee is satire. You see what I just did? I used satire. Satire is basically reversible psychology on the reader.
    Evidently there were also readers who took exception to my use of the pronoun “it” when referring to small black children. This was my own fault, as I forgot to include important background information about why I do this. It happened one evening in Albertsons while Bethany had a black baby in her arms, squeezing the guts out of it like she does. I made the mistake of saying “time to let the little girl go, Bethany.” Well, it turned out the thing was a boy and just my luck, this was the one time the father of a black family was actually present with his family, and this gentleman, who was very tall and muscular and had tattoos, asked me if I was calling his son a girl, and then called me “mother-f’er.” It left me with an uneasy feeling and bad dreams for weeks and even caused me to buy pepper spray for my keychain. Ever since then, I have been careful not to be gender-specific when referring to children of colored skin, yet I never get credit for my cultural sensitivity.
    People also dwelled on my use of the word “negro” saying it was disgusting and offensive. It would be nice if just once, someone explained to white men how they are supposed to keep up on all the changing n-words in society. Just as one n-word becomes acceptable, another one becomes forbidden. A good example was that radio show host who got fired for saying the n-word “nappy.” Then everyone jumped down the throat of that comedian Michael Richards over a few slips of the tongue, completely failing to mention all his great work as Kramer on Seinfeld. I know how he feels. The people that called me a racist toward blacks totally overlooked the fact that I allow my oldest daughter to date some of them. My father, Duane senior used “negro” and even “nigro” quite often, and he was a very good man that made a lot of money in real estate. So I apologize for myself, and the rest of the white men in America, for being victims of political correctness.
    It also appears that I was a bit too graphic in describing the avant-garde nature of Bethany and mine’s sex life when I disclosed that Bethany occasionally performs oral sex on me while I am operating a motor vehicle. Readers could not fathom how a couple so deeply rooted in the values of SLO could be so inconsiderate as to risk other SLO’ans inadvertently catching an eyeful. I am afraid that in this instance, I owe an apology—not only to my wife but all of SLO. I again left out important information by failing to explain that Bethany and I own the 2007 Ford Expedition EL with the 5.4 liter Triton V-8, four wheel drive, five-link rear suspension, and tinted windows, which at over six-and-a-half feet off the ground, is one of the tallest vehicles on the road and very difficult to see into unless you are a trucker or a bus passenger, and truckers and the type of people who ride buses have seen much worse.
    I must remember that we live in a day and age where only certain people can write about sex in their articles without catching heck for it. I must remember that we live in a time when a man can’t even go into an airport bathroom stall to relieve himself, without worrying if he is improperly tapping his shoes. How is a man supposed to close business deals or make political policy when he can’t relieve himself? You see, your preoccupation with sex really gives you all away and exposes you as liberal hypocrites. I know all about your little stereotypes and jokes about conservatives being sexually repressed and only liking the missionary style of sex. Is this what you do while you are out trying to save your Snowy Plover or running your medical marijuana clinics? While mixing your organic teas, do you make up labels to stick on people? I don’t doubt it for a minute. I think you just like to hog up all the progressive sex for yourselves.
    But enough time wasted on the Negative Nellies who tried to ruin my article. Fortunately, there were enough Positive Pollies to balance it out, such as the ever-vigilant Doug and Anne of Cayucos, whom my heart goes out to for the loss of their beloved Cayucos Breeze. It was such a nice paper, packed full of positivity and now it has left hundreds of Cayucans paperless (unless you want to count the Rogue Voice). The good news for Doug and Anne is that now I will be writing for the Rogue Voice on a semi-regular basis, and you will be able to go to the newsstands, pick up a copy, and thumb right past all the irrelevant drivel until you get to my byline: Duane Hagabee. Consider me your port of sunlight in the storm of pessimistic liberal propaganda—your SLO sentinel, standing guard over the Rogue Voice’s assault on values, much like FOX News stands guard over television these days with fairness and balance.
    There was also Warren Kibbling of Paso Robles who wrote in. I don’t know you, Mr. Kibbling, and frankly sir, you scare the s-h out of me. Yet you fascinate me with your rugged brand of Paso conservatism and unabashed talk of weapons. I can only picture you as a large, broad-shouldered man with rough hands and a musky North County odor, a man not unlike our American pioneers, willing to defend what they’d rightly claimed, even if it meant bearing arms against pesky ground squirrels. Or Indians. I look forward to hearing more from you in the months to come. Though firearms frighten me a bit, and I’ve never fired one, rights are rights and if a person owns something and has paid for it off the sweat of his own back or his employees’ backs, whether it be guns, property, boats, stocks, or summer homes, he should be able to do with it as he pleases.
    While Doug and Anne and Warren Kibbling are refreshing voices, no response touched me quite like the one sent in by Jeff Bohrer. It’s guys like him that really motivate me to continue writing about the SLO Life. While Jeff could be any one of these sluffy labor-types you see shuffling and shamming around construction sites, pretending to work while draining the pockets of some innocent homeowner or development firm, you know he has something special. You know that when you drive by one of these sites, calculating lost revenue, as I like to do, that amongst the freeloaders is one gem with the potential to rise above the pack and truly grasp the spirit of being SLO. I think that person is Jeff. Reading his letter, I almost feel as though he is part of the Hagabee family.
    I want to tell Jeff about a dark period a few years ago that I don’t normally like to talk about. The market was down and we Hagabees weren’t doing that great, and things were so bad that Bethany had to stop shopping at Scolari’s, and instead had to go out late at night incognito to Food 4 Less for our groceries. Our two Shih Tzus went from bi-monthly groomings to quarterly, and most shamefully, our kids were sent to school with Radio Shack cell phones that didn’t even have roaming. I don’t know if people can put themselves in the shoes of a family having to go through that, but I think Jeff Bohrer can. And if we can rise above the hard times, so can he.
    The only issue I took with you, Jeff is that you referred to yourself as a loser and as being lazy. By your pledge to put down your rocks glass for good and get on board the “SLO Train” you are so much more. All you need now is to apply yourself. It’s like I tell my kids—either get off the potty or poop. It appears that you are ready to do one or the other, and Bethany and I would like to help you in any way we can. Though I wouldn’t hire you to do any work on my property after what you’ve revealed, I would after an extensive background check consider hiring you to caddy for me. It would be part time, but you would get to see where I live and meet some of the people from the country club. Not to brag, but from my deck, using a 7-iron, I can get on 12th green in one stroke. Just being around that environment, Jeff would be the next big step for you in shedding the bitter sourness of the Rogue Life for the sweet, fruity nectar of the SLO Life.
    CONCLUSION: Now that I have addressed most of the questions about my article, with the exception of Bethany’s involvement in a breastfeeding activist group called Milk Moms, our relationship with a local lesbian couple, and my views on the growing graffiti problem threatening our way of life in SLO—things that I will address in the future—maybe in future articles I will be able to focus on more optimistic subjects. I’m sorry if I rankled a few feathers and stepped on a few toes, but sometimes that’s what the truth does. §

    Duane Hagabee is a Cal Poly graduate and CEO of Hagabee, Hagabee, and Hagabee, a real-estate development firm in downtown SLO. Duane and his lovely wife Bethany have not missed a Farmer’s Market in 12 years.
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    The interview

    The city needed to record his feelings before the developers continued. Recording his feelings would be a show of good faith on their part and might appease the town liberals.

    The whiskey was as good as it was strong, without aftertaste, and she wondered about the price of the bottle.

    The interview
    For a well planned development

    By Peter Brown Hoffmeister

    Fedya pulled out the kitchen chair for her with the thin arms of an old man who had never stopped working. Bending over, Emilia set her briefcase on the linoleum and eased into the oak seat, scooting the chair up to the edge of the table. She placed a yellow legal pad, two sharpened pencils, and a tape recorder in front of her. Fedya returned from the pantry with two tumblers, a bottle of whiskey, and a pitcher of water. He poured half a glass for each of them and then offered her water.
    Emilia shook her head.
    Ice, city councilwoman?
    No. Thank you. She pulled the glass nearer to her but only out of politeness. She had no intention of drinking.
    They were in the back of the store, above Broadway, in the commercial district. It was well known that the old man had lived above his store for thirty years, but no one was interested in that. It was illegal but there were more important issues to discuss. The city needed to record his feelings before the developers continued. Recording his feelings would be a show of good faith on their part and might appease the town liberals.
    Do you mind if we start?
    Fedya took a sip of the whiskey and nodded. He smiled with his eyes. He did not smile with his mouth. When he smiled with his eyes, his face wrinkled like lines on a map.
    Because he was watching, Emilia put her glass to her lips and tilted the liquid until it touched the edge of her mouth. She smiled at Fedya and returned her drink to the table. Then she pressed play on the tape recorder and picked up one of the pencils.
    Let’s start at the beginning. Do you know all about the planned development?
    Yes. He rubbed the rim of his glass with a veiny finger.
    And do you think it’s a good idea? She leaned forward and pressed her pencil lead against the surface of the yellow paper.
    Fedya took a slow drink, tasting it carefully, then let the alcohol run down the back of his throat in drops like medicine titrating into the bloodstream. He tilted his head to the side as a curious dog does. I could not say.
    You could not say? Emilia imitated his syntax.
    He shook his head as his eyes closed, revealing new wrinkles above his cheekbones. No, I could not say.
    Hmmm. She paused, not sure of what to ask next. So you can’t tell me about your feelings on the development?
    Fedya put his glass to his lips, drank the remainder of his cup, and returned the empty vessel to the table. He said clearly, No. I am sorry.
    The councilwoman wrote words then, on the legal pad, but they were words without meaning, phrases to buy time, and she considered carefully her options. This is why people do not always win, she thought to herself, why they rarely receive what is best for them. They do not understand who is for them and who is against them.
    Her pen slowed, then stopped. She had to keep the interview going somehow, it was her job, so she said, Could you, maybe, tell me something you’ve been thinking about lately?
    Fedya took in a deep breath, like smelling a memory, and refilled his glass. Because his guest’s glass remained at that time in a perpetual state of half full, without the addition of water, without the subtraction of drinking, he filled the remainder, pouring from his bottle until the whiskey reached the rim.
    Thank you, she said, happy to voice gratitude rather than needing to form another question. She picked up the drink carefully, mindful of spilling it, and took a small sip, a sip to keep the drink from spilling over. The whiskey was as good as it was strong, without aftertaste, and she wondered about the price of the bottle.
    Emilia noticed then that the hands of the old man were skinned by a translucent paper, revealing the veinwork underneath, and the blood came to the ends of his fingers as he tightened his grip on his glass. He did not bring his glass to his lips now, his mind having traveled somewhere else, but his fingers closed and opened on the tumbler. His eyes looked of loss and she hesitated to interrupt him, watching his lips as they opened but did not produce any sound. She wanted to leave him to his memories, stand up from the table and wander around his small apartment. She wanted to understand how he passed his time alone, passed thirty years without a wife. She wanted to open every drawer in his apartment, rub the antiques with the ends of her fingers, press the ammunition casings in her palms, lay on his firm bed and look at his ceiling. But she feared being rude.
    There is something I have thought of lately. His voice was quiet, as if from a distance, and she leaned forward so she would not miss any of his words, as a devout Catholic leans forward when a priest begins his response during confession. He did not look at her as he spoke, but at the wall next to them, an old brick wall from an earlier construction, mortared dirtily, sticks visible between the cracks. That is how they mortared walls in the old country.
    He did not continue.
    After a while, she could not help her anxiety and she tapped her glass in a nervous pattering rhythm. If you don’t mind me asking, she began, but she slowed her cadence, worried she might be sounding rude. She began again, Mr. Kleschev, what is it that you have been thinking? She did not notice that she had changed her syntax once again as people often do when speaking to foreigners. She made the mistake of believing the old man was another.
    The old man smiled at her again with his gray eyes, eyes the color of a dirty sidewalk. He rubbed his hands over the stumble of his face, making a rasping sound. It is something of long ago, in Russia, he said.
    It was now her turn to smile with her eyes, to say that she wanted him to continue with the story. She smiled with her eyes and took another drink from her glass.
    Fedya stopped the slow rasping of his face. Hmm, well it is this. I have thought much about this. They always said when I was young that the histories are written by the victorious. You know this saying?
    Yes. I was taught something like that in school. She did not write the phrase now, her pencil replaced by the whiskey glass in her right hand. She drank his words and the whiskey together.
    Good. Yes. Fedya eased some of his drink into his mouth where it snuck around his tongue like a thief. His voice was not emotional, but was as if ice covered a field. He began again, I know now that the histories will not always be written by the victorious. They will not. And I know this because I will write a story some day, a day in the future when there is time and when people are willing to listen. He paused to finish his drink, then refilled the glass slowly, carefully, pouring as though he were pouring coffee over a white tablecloth. He looked older than eighty-five, caught in his remembrances, and she was not in the room with him any longer because he was not in the room himself.
    Emilia took a long drink from her glass unconsciously. Much of her drink was gone and she did not think about it.
    The darkness stayed until eleven in the morning during that month. It did not get light until eleven and then it was dark by two o’clock. I did not know any different because I was only six years old and expected the darkness to come with the cold, and I thought that all places on earth were the same.
    The army came into town while it was still dark. I do not know if it was nighttime or not, only that it was still dark. There was no light, but the light of kerosene lamps. I remember that well. I was standing against my mother’s leg, leaning my head against her, and I remember she kept pulling my hair until it hurt, but I did not say anything. I knew that it was not a time to complain about simple things. It was not a time to complain about the pulling of hair.
    I remember the shadows on their faces from the lamps. When they spoke to her, they spoke roughly, using words I was not accustomed to hearing in the presence of women. I had heard men speak this way before, yes, when they were angry, or drinking, but these soldiers spoke roughly to my mother and she told them not to speak to her that way in front of her son. She did not say that my father was gone. She said only not to speak to her that way in front of me, and she said many times that I was six years old. I heard her many times…
    The city councilwoman had not meant to drink during the interview. The drinking had not been purposeful then, but rather unavoidable as she listened to the story. The old man had refilled her glass twice, pausing the narration out of politeness as he did so. He drank as well, his tongue easing in the romantic way of drinking. And the romanticism was necessary.
    Emilia was quite tipsy and becoming drunk when she left the apartment, and she checked her mirrors for police officers as she drove herself home.
    Her house was dark. She had forgotten to leave the motion light on and she did not feel safe in her own driveway. She fumbled with the keys, then turned the lock and went inside, flipping on a number of lamps and overhead lights. Attempting to sit comfortably on her white couch, she tried reading a magazine, then switched on the TV. The faithless noise of the box agitated her and she stood up. She could not enjoy being alone at that moment and so she stepped out onto her back porch. The porch light illuminated her planter boxes along the south fence throwing shadows against the cedar slats. Emilia walked over to the box of flowers that were laid out in clean patterns by height and color. At the corners, she saw the Echinacea opening on three-foot stalks, stamens like blood coming to the skin, petals like knives. §

    Peter Brown Hoffmeister teaches English and lives in Eugene, Oregon, with his wife. He is the recipient of a 2006 Oregon Literary Fellowship for fiction.
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    Washing windows across America: Noble hacker

    Why there is a big toy-train store in Angleton, Texas, I don’t know, but there is, and a jolly red-faced owner inside, playing with toy trains.

    I shift in Frank’s doorway, unsure whether to stand, lean, come in, or put my hands in my pockets. The situation brings back military memories of submission for survival.

    Noble hacker
    Episode 26

    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.

    Episode 26

    Don’t tell this to an established window-washer, but almost anyone can do his job. It’s special only in that few people wish to do it, and like most jobs, can be mastered through a combination of observation, imitation, repetition, and bullshitting. Any monkey can pull it off really. The premise is simple. You have a dirty window, now make it clean, monkey.
    Acceptance of this, combined with a healthy fear of becoming stranded in an obscure southern town, has afforded me an unintended level of competence in window washing. In some towns I am even treated as a kind of hero because I know how to do one thing—get a window clean, then leave. The leaving is a big part of it. If we knew when to leave, we could all walk away heroes once in a while. Don’t let these secrets out. Once enough monkeys learn them, we have trouble.
    It is these types of thoughts I am left alone with during the morning hours between dawn and 10 a.m. while occupying a bench in a dark, soggy park in Angleton, Texas. I have little to do but watch pecan-stuffed squirrels run across lumpy lawns while thinking thoughts of madness.

    At ten o’clock, the commercial world awakened, I take my gear from the Plymouth and start walking. The first business is a dusty old drugstore with shelves of faded and obscure products—more of a drugstore museum than a drugstore. In the center of the store is a table of old men gathered around a game of dominos. I address them as a group.
    “I am in town washing windows today, and—.”
    “This is a non-op store,” one of them says. “But go back and ask Frank. He’s German, so he’s cheap. But try anyway. And tell him to hurry up. We’re waiting on him for dominos.”
    Back in the office I repeat the pitch to Frank, a tall, square-jawed senior, sitting at his desk.
    “Your price is good—very low,” Frank says and looks me over. His office walls are plastered with military photos and awards.
    “Because it’s early,” I say. “I hike them up as the day goes on.”
    “I like the way you present yourself. You ever served?”
    I debate whether to lie to Frank. There’s a good chance he’s a warmongering Texan looking to grill me on my politics, but there’s an equal chance he’ll help me out if I’m a veteran.
    “Three years back in the ‘80s,” I tell Frank. “Germany.”
    “Infantry? Airborne?”
    “Supply Clerk.”
    “Why only three years?”
    “I wasn’t your best soldier. Many people advised me not to re-up.”
    “Doesn’t matter. You served.”
    Frank motions toward his walls and the framed discharge papers of his, his father’s, and his son’s. He tells me that when he was a Navy man in San Diego, he remembers street signs that read: DOGS AND GI’S NOT ALLOWED ON SIDEWALKS.
    “The country’s caving in, you know?” he says.
    “I guess so.”
    “When a man from Enron can steal millions and escape jail, yes it is. Since you served, I want to show you something. I don’t show this to anyone.” He reaches into a drawer and produces a framed photo of his father from WWII and hands it to me.
    “I’m thinking about having you clean my windows,” he says as I handle the photo. “I’m sizing you up. You served and you seem like a hard worker.”
    “OK,” I say, handing him back the photo. I shift in Frank’s doorway, unsure whether to stand, lean, come in, or put my hands in my pockets. The situation brings back military memories of submission for survival. Frank just stares at me.
    “But it’s a non-op store,” he says. “Maybe next time you’re in town. Doesn’t matter you didn’t see action. You served.”
    It goes that way with pitching. Pitch your ass off, have someone on the hook, and at the last second they let go. You can try modifying your pitch if you like, but it usually has little effect. It’s just another way for the monkey to feel like he has a special way of influencing people with words.

    By eleven o’clock, most of Angleton’s shops still haven’t opened, and with maybe two cars on the streets, there’s really no reason. The ones that are opened, like the woodshop I wander into, are unmanned and silent. Large bay doors are wide open, expensive tools are laid out, and a small pile of cash sits on a desk. For five minutes I stand and yell. No one comes.
    Just down the street, the same thing happens in an old city building—a darkened shack full to the ceiling with shelves of city records. If I wished, I could grab armloads of manila folders and leave town with them quite easily. I stay a few minutes and enjoy the dark, cool privacy.
    Across the street, I find a business both open and manned. Why there is a big toy-train store in Angleton, I don’t know, but there is, and a jolly red-faced owner inside, playing with toy trains. He looks up from one of them with a merry squint and leads me outside where we look at his 20 or so small French panes. I measure my 12-inch squeegee up to one, and it just snugly fits. I give him a good price—fifteen dollars.
    “Oh yes,” he says. “It’s very affordable.”
    “Well it’s early,” I explain as I start going to work.
    “Does it get more expensive as the day goes on?”
    “Definitely. I’d even charge you less, but you have all these panes.”
    I soap up a few panes, then clear one with the squeegee, and after each swipe, turn from the glass, and whip-snap my arm and wrist downward, splaying residual water onto the sidewalk. I then dab the squeegee blade with a rag and move onto the next pane.
    “Why do you flick it like that?” asks the train man. “I never seen that in a winda-washer.”
    “It’s a style I’ve developed. Instead of wiping the blade each time with a rag, I just flick it then dab. I don’t have a lot of rags, so the flicking saves me rags.”
    “You’ve really got a system.” He goes over to my bag and removes my brush. As he looks at it, I feel a prickling sensation along the back of my neck. “You have to special-order something like this?” he asks.
    “It’s a soft-bristled brush,” I say, taking it from him and dropping it back in the bag. “It’s the thing to use.”
    “And this squeegee,” he says, handling my 18-inch squeegee. “This is some operation you got here.”
    “Well, equipment is important,” I say, snatching the squeegee from him. “Mine is just starting to get broken in.”
    “You’re fast too. You’re almost done.”
    “You get fast after a while,” I say. He was right. I was becoming a quick little monkey.

    Moving on through Angleton I don’t hike the prices much, the little town having its share of boarded-up storefronts and weed-sprouting sidewalks. But I do get five-dollar jobs at the hardware store and the Red Cross office, then a ten-dollar job from a daycare center run by two young black women. I zip through their windows and when I’m done, knock on the glass, interrupting story time. One of them comes out with the dough as the kiddies watch.
    “Damn, you fast. And no streaks.”
    “Streaks aren’t my problem. It’s the drips that gather around the top of the window up there.”
    “Yes that’s right, drips. That’s what they’re called. Look, there’s one that I missed.” I reach up with a towel and dab away a few droplets of water that have trickled from the top moldings.
    “Drips huh? Hmm, I always thought it was streaks.”

    Late afternoon, I drive out to the edge of town where the mini-malls are usually found. It’s the hour of day I can take my time if I want, and if there’s a bar in town, stop for a beer. I can also walk away from a potential job if I get a bad vibe or if someone has an attitude or starts nagging. I don’t find any bars in Angleton, but I do find the one thing every town has. The Vietnamese-owned nail salon. When you’ve gone into over a hundred of them like I have, you know the ropes.
    Before opening the door, I take a deep breath, knowing it may be my last for a while, and start going through the salon, hunting for the one or two English-speaking members of the organization—usually an adult son or daughter in their twenties.
    I find them—a brother and sister—and on the exhale, while using the universal sign language for window washing, I let go the pitch. I do this with the eyes of four white-masked Asiatic women glued on me, along with the indignant glowers of four prudish white ladies whose nail-jobs I am diverting attention from.
    The brother and sister begin discussing it, volleying back and forth in their native tongue, which is a good sign, but it also forces me to take in another breath, which results in coughing and running eyes.
    Listening closer, I forget about my coughing and eyes and try to determine if I am hearing things. If this is an actual language, it is the most startling I’ve ever heard—a dissonant garble of chicken-gobbles, yelps, twangy arias, deep, guttural whispers, unpredictable howls, cat-hisses and facial spasms. It makes any dialect of Vietnamese I’ve heard, sound timid.
    As the brother and sister debate, a disheveled old woman sits at a back table, using her fingers to pick at the carcass of a large red fish on a plate. Watching intently, she tries to get up and intercede, but each time she’s ordered back to her table by the kids, where she resumes with the fish. She is five feet tall, in a flowered mumu, and her lips and fingers glisten with fish oil.
    Finally, there is a pause in the violent family dialogue, and the son comes to me smiling.
    “Yes please, you clean our windows. Sank you.”
    Outside, I twist the brush atop the wooden extension pole, and the squeegee atop the black plastic one, and begin working. Buying that plastic pole had been one of the better decisions of my life. It saved me countless hours in changing attachments. Sure, it was a little cumbersome, but I’d found a way to carry the poles in my duffel, so that when it was wrapped over my shoulder, just the tips stuck out.
    Through the glass, I see the old woman watching me, not happily. Repeatedly, she tries to escape her table and make it to the door, each time her children catching her and sending her back muttering to her red fish. But finally, with a little persistence, the cagy old broad gets past the kids and does what she’s been wanting to do, and that is come after me.
    “Watch out,” the kids warn me, laughing while chasing her. “Watch out. She is a-crazy.”
    The kids try to corral her, but she is nimble and fast, and slips past them. She looks into my bag then peers down into my bucket and starts shrieking. Clucking, she runs inside and comes back with a box of cleaning products—bleach, Pine Sol, ammonia, Windex, toilet brush, and rubber gloves, still clucking. The son and daughter howl with laughter as the woman tries to hand me the box.
    “Maybe you put little Pine Sol in bucket to make her happy,” the son says to me. “She think your water in bucket too dirty.”
    “It’s out of the question,” I say, as the old woman starts to unscrew the top of a bottle of Pine Sol, and I get between her and the bucket. “Tell her it’s just silt on the bottom of the bucket. The water itself is not that dirty. Besides, the water’s not as important as the equipment you remove it with, like a good, worn squeegee. I’ll show you all.”
    I put some water on a tall pane, then go to take it off. When I do, the wooden pole, which I’d bought in Flagstaff, snaps in two. One too many uses.
    After sealing my bucket, I run out to the Plymouth for a roll of duct tape and when I come back, the kids are laughing again as the old cur is battering the glass with my splintered half-pole and squeegee. I feel the prickle on the back of my neck again, and go stand over her. She stops and looks up at me for a second then unintimidated, elbows me aside and goes back to her antics.
    “Better tell her to give me back my pole,” I tell the kids. “I’m not crazy about people touching my equipment.”
    “She is a-crazy!” they laugh. “So, so crazy!” They bark at her in their language, but the woman waves them off with gobbles and squabbles as she continues to butcher the windows. Finally the daughter wrestles the pole from her and hands it back to me.
    “You have to ‘scuze her,” she says. “She is a-very crazy a-woman.”
    They take the ancient woman back into the salon and sit her at her table where she goes back to picking at the fish carcass, as if nothing had happened. The white ladies, intent on their nail-art, have hardly noticed.

    I decide to make my last job a ten-dollar one at a mini-mall dry cleaners. Aside from the pole breaking, it had been a near-perfect day, with interesting characters, just enough money, and not too much work. As I lay my duffel on the sidewalk and unzip it, I think about how nice it is having a specialty like window washing. Every monkey needs to feel special now and then, like he’s mastered something.
    I reach into the bag and without looking, toss the brush somewhere over my shoulder. While it is in the air, I grab the squeegee with the left hand and stand straight. Extending my right arm, I wink at the female attendant inside just before the brush handle falls into my open hand, right side up. It’s all second nature when you know your equipment.
    Time for a little entertainment. After a quick dunk of the brush, I give the glass a thorough scrubbing, followed by a behind-the-back interchange of brush and squeegee. With the right hand, I now twirl the squeegee like a six-shooter before putting it to glass. Starting in the top left hand corner, I use it to pull off the first strip of soapy water, all the way across to the opposite corner where I tip it back a few degrees and let a little water trickle down the side. I then pivot backwards, and using the trademark Ben Leroux Flick, splash the excess water onto the sidewalk.
    After a few flicks I see that an elderly couple with a little grandson are standing behind me, watching while licking ice cream cones.
    “Look at this guy, honey” gramps says. “He’s got the job down doesn’t he?”
    “I wish he’d come to our house next,” says grandma. They laugh. “My, look how clean he gets those windows.”
    “Gramma, I wanna be like him when I grow up’” says the little boy. “I wanna be a winnow-washer.”
    “Well, keep watching this man then. He’s a professional.”
    No one notices the red van that pulls up a few stores down, until the passenger side door opens while still moving. A man leaps out and strides toward the store toting like a pole-vaulter, a long silver telescopic extension pole with a green rubber handle and a green wooly sponge-apparatus at the end. Within seconds, this tool belt-wearing man, in his early sixties perhaps, uses his contraption to swab one, two, three full-sized panes. Store to store, he goes, leaving no visible signs of excess water.
    Meanwhile, from the driver’s side a younger man emerges wearing a tool-vest shrouded in squeegees, ropes, rags, and other clattering tools. While talking into a phone headset, he shadows the older man, effortlessly clearing each pane with one, two, three whips of a three foot-wide squeegee. The team goes this way from pane to pane, no towels, no flicking, applying virtually no pressure, doing four stores in ten minutes.
    As they near the dry cleaners, I do the only thing I can do, which is ignore them and go back to my methods, hoping to win back my audience, which has gone silent now except for the crunching of ice cream cone.
    “Hey partner,” says the older of the two window-washers. “What are you doing? I never seen that before.”
    “Nothing,” I say.
    He looks into my duffel bag, really sniffing around. It seems to amuse him. He calls his son over and they begin picking up tools and commenting on them as if appraising antiques.
    “This’s my son Pete,” says the man as they examine my brush. “Pete’s a three-time southeast regional speed-washing champ. Lost at nationals last year to a guy from New York. A Frenchman always wins world.”
    “Friggin’ frogs,” says Pete and walks back to the van.
    “You need better equipment, my friend. You got a basic old Ettore squeegee and an old dime-store brush. Are you trying to make things hard on yourself?”
    “It gets the job done.”
    “We use the Turbo 6000 System,” he says, showing me his belt of metal loops and pockets, which hold color-coordinated, ergonomically sound squeegees, scrapers, brushes, micro-fiber towels, and a cylindrical holster for holding the T-shaped wooly sponge.
    “I mean look at this rubber,” he says, running his thumb along the tattered blade of my squeegee, toying with the mangled edges. “How long have you been using this blade?”
    “Three months. It’s just getting worn in.”
    “Worn in? Rubbers don’t get worn in. They get worn out. We change ours every day. Your windows look fine though. You must be good.”
    “I just press hard. And I’m good with the rags. My only problem is drips.” I show him what I mean by drips.
    “What you are talking about is not drips,” he says. “It’s crying—or tears. Tapping should help that. Now watch.” He uses his doohickey to lather up one of my windows, then with my squeegee, clears a strip. Afterwards, instead of flicking or wiping, he lightly taps the blade on a yet-to-be cleaned pane. My audience ooh’s and ah’s as he demonstrates his tapping skills.
    “You know,” he says, handing me back my squeegee. “I’ll be retiring soon, and my son’s gonna need a partner. Think about going into business with us. We’ll teach you tapping, fanning, the S Method, the L Method—all that. We can tell you are of a professional caliber.”
    “I’m on the road right now. But thanks.”
    “Ah. You’re a hacker.”
    “Yeah, someone who works under the radar. No taxes, no license or insurance. It’s not derogatory. It’s kind of a noble thing. We all do a little hacking.” He grins and hands me a business card and tells me to think about it. Then he and his son drive off in their red van.
    After the dry-cleaners, anxious to try out tapping, I decide to look for one last job, and get one at a car-stereo dealer about to close up. A few minutes into the job, the owner comes out, worried.
    “What’s going on out here? Jesus, is somebody knocking?”
    “I’m tapping,” I say. “It’s a technique.”
    “Well don’t break anything.”
    I don’t break anything but I never get the art of tapping down, and the drips keep coming and tapping just makes it worse. I go back to my old ways of flicking and using the rags, and calling drips “drips” instead of tears or crying.
    Walking back to the Plymouth, I see another hacker coming my way—at least he has all the signs of a hacker—tools sticking out of an orange bucket, dressed in rags, sucking a cigarette butt. I feel bad for him because I know what it’s like to arrive in a town on the heels of a hacker that’s already gone through and sucked out all the window-washing dollars. I think maybe to cheer him up I’ll give him the business card and tell him about the opportunity with the son and the father.
    But as we get closer, I change my mind. He doesn’t give me a very friendly look, and I find that I don’t have any special feelings for him either. We’re just two hackers, two monkeys, passing each other by, sizing up each other’s equipment. Glancing into his bucket, I get some satisfaction from the fact that his tools look more pitiful than mine, like outdated relics from a window-washing era gone by. §

    Ben Leroux continues to ply his trade as a window washer and writes from his home in Morro Bay. He can be reached at
    Read more of his Washing windows across America series here:
  • Evicted From Wal-Mart (episode 9)
  • Santa Fe Pride (episode 10)
  • 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)
  • Peripherals (episode 23)
  • God, giving and the Gulf (episode 24)
  • Blue norther (episode 25)

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