The best and worst
By Stacey Warde
I’m a mess. Just look at me. Scary, isn’t it? The holidays bring out the best and the worst in people.
Prison does that too. The Army, dive bars, homosexual truck drivers. All these things conspire to turn us into beasts, sniveling saps or decent individuals.
It’s all in how we cope, how we deal with the situation. This holiday edition is full of the best and the worst.
With Christmas in the air, we thought we’d turn to Marshak and publisher Dell Franklin, not your model citizens, for one view of the holiday.
It’s 1967, Christmas Eve, and the surly pair, recently discharged from the Army, descend from their apartment over a dive bar in Long Beach to loose themselves on the public.
It’s not a pretty picture, even with the holiday decorations and the revelers attempting to cheer themselves amid a rash of bitter complaints from the freshly released G.I.s.
As happens with nearly every holiday, no matter how repugnant its excesses, there’s always a silver lining, a sloshed neighbor with a bottle of good cheer, for example, or a kind-hearted woman who wants to dance.
But will it make a difference? Turn to page 13 for Dell’s Personal Worst episode, “In the Vegas Room,” to find out.
As I mentioned, prison is another one of life’s testing grounds, where men treated like animals are supposed to rehabilitate themselves before they too are loosed on the public.
Imagine, though, what it must be like living with a cellmate in a space the size of a gas station bathroom. Things are bound to get dicey. Men deprived of even the most basic luxuries—snacks, privacy, women—will connive, cheat and steal, if they must.
They’ll come to blows if they’re being disrespected. It’s not like they can move out and find a new place if things aren’t going well with their cellie.
If an inmate suspects his cellmate of rifling through his personal goods, or if his roomie refuses to shower and smells like a dead rat, what’s a guy to do?
He can try to swing a deal with the building clerk who assigns cells to each inmate. But that also carries its share of risks, as you’ll see in Tito David Valdez Jr.’s “Cellmates from hell” on page 6.
When prison conditions deteriorate enough to force action, you can bet inmates will raise a stink, as they did nearly 40 years ago at Attica Prison in New York.
The 1971 prison riot resulted in 39 deaths; 10 of them were hostages held by the inmates. Officials claimed falsely their throats had been cut but an investigator later determined they had been killed in the hail of police bullets during an attempt to wrest control of the prison back from the disgruntled inmates.
Reporter John Winthrop was at the scene 36 years ago and offers his retrospective on the 1971 prison riot in his commentary, “Attica, plus 36,” on page 5.
Amid the hullabaloo of Christmas, the violence of prison and the carnage of war, we look for solace and a place of quiet to settle our minds. It isn’t easy, but if we work at it we can slip in a moment to pause, reflect read and write poetry.
After last month’s publication of war poems by the late Noah Charles Pierce, we heard from former Marine infantry platoon leader Nathaniel Fick, author of “One Bullet Away,” a Dartmouth graduate with a love for poetry and the arts, and headed for Afghanistan to teach counterinsurgency tactics.
He sent us a copy of a recent review he wrote for the Poetry Foundation on a collection of works written by poets who have felt the sting of war. As Fick notes, war can be a great catalyst for reflection but seldom affords us that luxury.
See “Until the shooting stops,” starting on page 19, Nathaniel’s own reflections on poetry, which he read while on a return plane to Afghanistan where he will teach Afghan and NATO troops counter-insurgency tactics.
If you find the time, we recommend you pick up a copy of “Dead Boys” for the holidays and settle in for some good reading.
Dell Franklin reviews the book, a collection of short stories by Richard Lange, a former student of Morro Bay High School, and freelance writer living in Los Angeles. See “Dogged by life” on page 18.
If you’re worried about your diet, wondering what to eat during this festive season, think you’re getting fat and shouldn’t eat anything, check out “Iris and Jim,” dieters extraordinaire, starting on page 23.
Author Sherry Shahan offers a close-up view of the finer points of not eating in her fictional account of a dieter’s romance.
We heard the New Times has been calling our advertisers, offering them a better deal. Here’s what you get: a lot of great movie and show listings and news content that puts the Zzzzz in snooze.
Recently, a woman seated outside Jim Ruddell’s Smokehouse in Cayucos complained there was nothing to read in New Times any more.
“Now that other paper, The Rogue Voice, it’s always got something worth reading. It’s worth picking up.”
The choice seems clear: advertise in a paper that no one reads or put your money into something people value? You decide.
Meanwhile, cheers to you during the holidays, drink up, have a hot toddy, pause to reflect, be naughty and nice. Peace. §