The Rogue Voice


February 01, 2008

Old School

Back in the day, If you were seen being walked to school or dropped off by your mother, well, you were a “momma’s boy.” Life was miserable.

Photo illustration by Stacey Warde

Pussies Rule
By Dell Franklin

Wherever you look these days, especially in the suburbs, you see children wearing crash helmets. Some even wear them while walking around. I can’t imagine wandering the streets of Compton, California, where I grew up, wearing a helmet—whether on foot or a bike.
My father a former big league ballplayer, was proud to have faced the most fearsome fireballer in the game, the great Hall of Famer Bob Feller, without a helmet, but with only the cloth cap and its Detroit Tiger insignia on the front.
“Not wearing a helmet separates the men from the boys,” he said, when helmets were brought into the game in the 1950s.
Of course, dad was beaned in 1942 and hospitalized overnight with a concussion, but he was back in the lineup the next day, head swathed in a bandage, because he did not want to lose his shortstop position and loathed the idea of being considered soft—a “pussy.”
In those days, real men ruled. Today, pussies rule.
I recall feeling like a pussy wearing a helmet in Little League, but the umpire told me I could not play without one. Later, in high school, I was beaned by a hard-throwing future bonus-baby, and the helmet possibly saved my life. The impact of the ball smashing this helmet an inch from my ear sounded like a bomb exploding inside my skull, and I had a concussion, was out cold a few seconds, but, though scared, remained in the game, because I was a Compton boy, and we frowned on pussies.
I know without a doubt that any kid who rode around on his bike in Compton with a helmet would have been the recipient of physical and verbal torture; his bike would be taken and mangled and his helmet crushed and his reputation ruined, marked as a “pussy.” If you were seen being walked to school or dropped off by your mother, well, you were a “momma’s boy.” Life was miserable. And there was no end to it. This was possibly a bad thing.
But maybe it was a good thing. I recall receiving my first haircut during Army basic training. It wasn’t a haircut—they shaved you bald. A sadistic, sarcastic sergeant stood nearby to make sure all your shorn locks were gone, and he inspected heads.
“Hey, troop!” he snarled at one kid sitting in the barber chair. “I don’t see no nicks or scars on your ugly skull. Where’d you grow up—Beverly Hills? Miss your mommy? You a goddamn sissy?”
I was proud to have several nicks and scars. Dad said, “If a kid doesn’t have a few nicks and scars on his head by the time he’s 10, well, he’s lived a sheltered life, and he’ll end up a pushover.”
I suppose, these days, kids are pretty much indoctrinated into wearing helmets, like putting on a pair of pants. They are also shuttled around by parents who want to keep their kids off the streets and safe from danger, and every game in which they participate is organized, supervised, and more or less controlled by parents who possibly wish to keep their children shielded from bullies, or from alliances formed to ward off bullies, or where teams might be chosen and bonded into rivalries so virulent and grudging that small gang-like skirmishes arise and create a neighborhood cohesion that could be considered a brotherhood.
My question is: What is the mindset of children growing up wearing protective gear, who have too many toys and are over-protected and shuttled around and organized and supervised and vigilantly controlled? Do they resent doting and the stifling of independence? Do they give up on sports early because they’re weary of coaches and parents, and retire to dark rooms to play video games, surf the Internet, and talk on cellphones? Does overprotection and underexposure stunt social and survival skills and precipitate a need for danger and adventure, which, unfulfilled, produces rebellion, discontent, non-conformity, anger, emptiness, depression, and a propensity to escape a life made too pat, too easy?
Is this why our parks, playgrounds and streets seem empty and lifeless, without the joyous shouts of fun and games, some of which are invented by children left on their own, without toys, and parents? Our parents told us to go play and come back for dinner and don’t take candy from strangers; we fell off bikes and sprained, broke and razed limbs and chipped teeth; we dealt with bullies by bouncing rocks off their heads. There was an unspoken pact to never back down, and some of us went on to be pretty good soldiers when called upon. There was some pain and dissension. Perhaps it prepared us for the unpackaged world, where things never went the way they were supposed to.
But, then again, maybe what goes on today prepares these kids for the pre-packaged world.
In any case, these helmets should be outlawed—if for any other reason they’re so huge and make the kids look geeky. You’ve got a skinny little body, on top of which is perched an oversized helmet, and it bobbles and bobs around above their scrawny necks and sparrow-like shoulders. Because these helmets are designed to protect not only their heads but most of their faces, it must be difficult to see. Pretty soon helmets will have two tiny eyes glowing out of slits, and there will be an aerial on top, so the kid can be tracked 24/7. Wee voices will emit from the helmet in robotic monotone. Kids will walk down the street, and the only to recognize any of them will be by their helmets, but if all the helmets look alike, nobody will be able to tell one kid from another, so that the companies that manufacture these massive enclosures will be forced to produce styles and models similar to automobiles, so that those in the neighborhood who own the most expensive cars can purchase their kids the latest state of the art crash helmets advertised on TV, in comic books, and websites.
Sometimes I think the authorities, helmet makers and parents take all the fun out of life. Just think how less fun it would have been for my sister when she brained me in the head with her baton if I’d been wearing a helmet. This particular incident was one of the highlights of her rather stormy childhood. It helped make her the strong, indomitable woman (college professor and mother of two grown boys) she is today. And perhaps turned me into the borderline idiot I am today. §

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

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People can be SLO rude

In SLO we are a casual people that scoff at formalities such as using turn signals.

Imagine how I felt when the bum, who was quite fat actually, not only refused my fries but knocked them aside with his grubbies.

By Duane Hagabee

In SLO we have a good attitude about life. We wear an outward expression of gratitude for our rolling green hills, unique downtown, excellent restaurants, and breathtakingly smogless weather. We are a casual people that scoff at formalities such as conventional introductions, stuffy clothes, hurrying, or stress-related behaviors such as using turn signals. To behave in such a way, to wear the dreary existence of typical city life would show a real ungratefulness and be, in a word: rude.
I never had reason to be concerned about rudeness in SLO until this past Holiday Season when, during a time of cheer and goodwill toward men I started to sense an undercurrent growing in the very community I was born and raised in. It started the day before Thanksgiving, at the Madonna Plaza. We had just finished a family outing to Best Buy and I decided to treat my beautiful wife Bethany and my six kids to McDonald’s. While we ate, I spotted outside a Homeless American sitting up against a newspaper machine. He was speaking to himself through a grubby beard while gesturing with hands pitch black from dirtiness. Being that the Holidays are supposed to be a time of forgiving those who trespass against us (i.e. sleeping on benches and scaring your kids) I decided to reach out, and to the delight and awe of my family announced that I was going to give the man something—not the boring dollar bill that everyone gives, but half of my extra-large (Super Sized) French fries.
If you are a father of a boy you can imagine how I felt going up to the man with my young sons Tad and Tanner trailing along. As their hero and role model, they looked up to me to show them the charitable responsibilities that as men of SLO they will one day bear. Well then, imagine how I felt the very next second when the bum, who was quite fat actually, not only refused my fries but knocked them aside with his grubbies then groaned and pointed to a cigar box by his side that read “Plese Help” before going back to blabbering to himself. You see what I mean? Rude. Something kids don’t need to see around the Holidays.
But the homeless weren’t done humiliating me and my family. The very next day, determined to show my kids what true SLO compassion was, I loaded them all in our Ford Expedition EL for a new family tradition I had decided to start. We Hagabees would begin volunteering at the homeless shelter for the annual Thanksgiving dinner so the kids could see what it was like to feed street people for a day.
Well evidently it’s not only the homeless that are rude, but also those that work with them. For I, a local business owner was stopped at the door by a social worker-type who told me there were too many volunteers already—more people serving food than there were to eat it. At that point I would have normally felt a sense of community pride, but it’s kind of hard to feel anything but degradation when you are standing in front of a g-d homeless shelter with your family on Thanksgiving Day, your collective thumbs-up-your you-know-whats, while all the volunteers inside the shelter are looking at you through the windows like you are second-class citizens. Then, amongst the hefty SLO bums sitting at tables feeding their faces (all of whom I recognized from downtown panhandling incidents), whom do I see but the one who’d refused my fries at McDonald’s. He was going to town on a turkey leg, really gagging on it while shoveling globs of stuffing into his face, still talking a mile a minute to himself. Boy, he really had it out for me, didn’t he? Making people look silly seemed to be his forte. Also, can someone tell me why the SLO homeless are so plump? They don’t look to be starving.
All this rudeness from the homeless got me thinking about other forms of rudeness I’d been a victim of, and took me back to the times I’d treated the kids to McDonald’s after family outings. The help it seemed, refused to pronounce simple phrases like “one-forty-nine is your change sir” in clear English. No matter what your change was they always mumbled something like : “foty-niney-twunny” which must be as close to forty-ninety-twenty as they can come – the only three numbers they know maybe. You’d think, with their minimum wage about to go up in 2008 that they could learn to mumble a few new words. But no, your change could be a twenty-dollar bill and what do they say? “Foty-niney-twunny.” Ask them if you can have extra pickles and “foty-niney-twunny” is what you get. Ask them where the bathroom is and they point and mumble “foty-niney-twunny.” Then, in Espaniel they tell their hombres in kitchen staff to spit in your Big Mac.
Just a few days before Christmas came the clincher. That was the day I knew we had a problem with rudeness in SLO and I had to write something about it. I was at the intersection of Higuera and Chorro, about to make a left turn because I had to drop some last-minute Christmas cards off at the post office, when down the street, near the Firestone Grill, I spotted a postman gallivanting my way. Full of the Christmas Spirit, and thinking not of myself, but how I could simultaneously free up USPS man-hours and downtown parking while also making a 3:30 p.m. tee time, I stopped the Expedition in the intersection and waved down the mailman. He took a while getting there, hunched over like he was, either out of shape or lazy—that was OK, I wasn’t in a rush and the light was still green. I asked him if he might take the few cards and he agreed and waited while I began addressing, sealing, and stamping the last of them. There was a honk behind me and thinking someone had recognized me, I turned to the long line of cars and smiled and waved. The driver was in a work truck so he may have laid some concrete for me in the past. But after I unloaded my cards and took off, he honked again and in my rearview I saw that he was not waving, but flipping me his middle-bird. Then another driver followed suit. That is how rudeness starts—with just one Scrooge. The next thing you know, you have an entire county that is nothing but R-U-D-E, rude.
Alas, it is not only strangers and the working class that can be rude. Sometimes the rudest people can be your own friends. Couples that Bethany and I dine with rarely pass up a chance to brag about having a little black kid in their family though they know that Bethany and I have been trying to obtain one for quite some time. I have even made it public in my articles. That doesn’t stop our “friends” from rubbing it in every chance they get. Over the holidays, I can’t tell you how many dinner parties we went to where whole walls of houses were devoted to pictures of a mulatto niece, nephew, or illegitimate grandchild. Then at the dinner table, you can’t get through a meal without them bragging about how they love their little black so-and-so just as much as their other…blah, blah, blah. Whoopdee-freakin-do. They think they are so much better than you.
Even family members can be rude to each other. I have snapped at Bethany several times during our 20-year marriage over things like letting her weight get out of control, when we have an agreement to keep her at a size six. I have, a time or two, come home early to find her elbow-deep in a bucket of chicken and a tub of potato salad, which is a form of familial rudeness. You see, everyone is a little inconsiderate from time to time and Bethany and I are no exception. But you know what? We work at our relationship in couples counseling, for preventative purposes.
That doesn’t give people the right to be rude to public figures just because they don’t know them and don’t like the balanced truth they write about. In each of my articles I just try to advocate the simple, casual SLO Life, and what do I get for my efforts? I get some Bay Area transvestite going around in the last issue of The Rogue Voice claiming to be my long lost brother, probably wanting some blackmail money. Sorry. Duane Hagabee does not reward rudeness, and it might behoove this dragon-queen to remember that I golf with some of the finest attorneys on the Central Coast that with one scratch of the pen can (after a DNA test) have this man, woman, or whatever it is, on trial for extortion.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I’m perfect. Duane Hagabee has been known, perhaps in a moment of negligence, to say something rude. For instance, as a reader informed me in the last issue of The Rogue Voice, I have been inaccurately referring to the New Times as a Christian paper. Well, I researched it and it turns out the reader is correct, and I apologize. The New Times is my favorite paper, and the best-written paper in the county and I do not want to offend them. At the same time, I can’t understand why a paper would not want to be known as a Christian paper if it could be. Just like I don’t understand why Christian farmers and Christian electricians wouldn’t want the endorsement of Jesus, who was the Son of God. I would certainly like to get the phone numbers of any such electricians or plumbers because quite frankly I am getting tired of staring down the heathen butt-cracks of the ones I have now. And if the Central Coast truly is the Bible Belt of California, why don’t we use it in our media more to promote tourism? I will make a couple phone calls.
The same reader that pointed out my oversight against the New Times showed her own true brand of Atascadero rudeness by insinuating that she knew more about writing than me. It is a typical mistake of amateurs to think that people want to read about other peoples’ “experience” and all their deep, dark secrets. Ever heard of J.K. Rowling and a little thing called “Harry Potter?” She made it all up in her head and, except for the Bible, it is the best book ever published, and has been proven so by its sales. And furthermore, it is rude of anyone from Atascadero to tell anyone from SLO how to interpret literature, when the most popular reading material up there is the Easy Ad.
It is also rude to imply that Santa Cruz is more diverse and tolerant than SLO. If your idea of diversity is 14 percent surfers, 14 percent drug addicts, 14 percent beggars, 14 percent drug-addicted beggar-surfers, 14 percent raccoons, 14 percent trash, and 14 percent Oakland gang members trolling the Boardwalk trying to hit on my wife and my oldest daughter then OK, you win. Santa Cruz is your cup of tea. No taboos? What about their taboo against bathing? Not the cleanest people in the state.
And to claim that there is no ethnic food in SLO is blatant rudeness. I almost went through the roof when I read that one. Soul food is plentiful at AMPM’s and 7-Eleven’s where there are wide selections of pork rinds and malt liquor. Thursday night Farmer’s Market is a rib-eaters dream. Canned beans and instant rice can be found in any of the dollar stores throughout our community, and organic, locally grown spinach can be substituted for greens.
Isn’t it equally rude to suggest that Pakistani food is better than Indian food? Are some people too good to eat at the Indian restaurants we have in SLO? The two countries share a border so why can’t they share food? If it is simply curry one is after, one may go up any street with motels on it around dinnertime. I smell it all the time when I drive down Monterey Street. Just go to the front desk and hold out a bowl.
As far as Yoga being excluded from public school curriculum, I must admit ignorance, as my kids attend private school. But I can attest to the benefits of Yoga, a form of spiritual exercise that was originated in Malibu in the early ‘70s. My Bethany has been a student for years and her newfound flexibility has (without going into detail) enhanced our sex lives, making intercourse more pleasurable for me. Quality sex relaxes me and allows me to better focus on the business of keeping our community economically vibrant. So I agree there are benefits to Yoga, though I wouldn’t count on it coming to Atascadero any time soon.
I hope this article has been an eye-opener for my fellow SLO’ans. It is further my hope that in 2008 we can get back to our roots of kindness and politeness—that the homeless, the workers, the Pakistanis can all pitch in and try harder to assimilate. Then again I have my doubts. The day after New Year’s, after some of us had made resolutions, I was downtown at a four-way stop when I spotted that man again—the homeless one who thought my fries weren’t good enough for him. He was approaching the crosswalk and even though I was late for a luncheon at the Embassy Suites, I waited for him and waved him through. But the ingrate just shook his head and said no. Even when I tapped on my horn and smiled and invited him again to cross, he refused and began screaming at the skies for me to leave him alone and just drive. So I got angry. I yelled out the window that he was very rude for not crossing. That’s when I saw a friend of mine, Jim, a fellow broker that I was about to lunch with, also at the intersection in his Escalade, watching the whole thing. It didn’t make me look very good. §

Duane Hagabee is a model SLO’an, a principal in Hagabee, Hagabee & Hagabee, who writes a regular column for The Rogue Voice to offer our readers a more “fair and balanced” view of Central Coast life.

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New York scramble

I had to make a sober effort. So, I shouldered my way through the pedestrian horde, searching for that silly bird.

‘Frank Costello, the Mafia boss, got hisself shot in the lobby of his hotel last night. My buddy, Carl, the doorman over there ... he seen the whole thing!’

Photo courtesy of Bert Silva

An illustrator’s memories of gags and gangsters

Who wants to be a gardener or a taxi driver? Who wants to be a tax accountant? Weren’t we all artists? Weren’t our minds better than that? Better to suffer this way rather than the other.
—Charles Bukowski

By Bert Silva

The shooter would later be identified as Vincent “The Chin” Gigante. His intended victim entered the lobby and walked towards the elevator. The hulking gunman, hiding in the shadows, aimed his weapon at point-blank range. “This is for you, Frank!” he said, and fired. Hearing those words, Gigante’s well-dressed target turned and dodged a split second before the slug entered at the left side of his neck, just missing the carotid artery.
Frank Costello, infamous as “Prime Minister of the Underworld,” fell to the floor. The shooter, certain he’d killed the Mafia boss, escaped out the lobby entrance. On the way to Roosevelt Hospital, Costello too believed he was going to die.
The following day was fairly successful for me. Sam Bierman, editor of Crestwood Publications located on W. 22nd St., bought three cartoons from my batch. And the humor editor at True magazine, one of the big ones, held out a gag for consideration. I decided to reward myself and wandered over to a favorite tavern, place called Costello’s (no relation to Frank) on Third Avenue near E. 45th St.
Taking a stool at the bar, I ordered a Lowenbrau draft. I felt comfortable there, a watering hole long popular with New York cartoonists.
I found myself lured to that tavern frequently. I drank, gabbed with other cartoonists I met there, and looked over the original art that hung on the back wall. There were framed contributions by New Yorker magazine cartoonists, including Charles Addams and Cobean, a favorite of mine. I saw the place as inspiration for a novice like me. So, I kept on _ paid for Lowenbrau beer, and tried not to worry about what possessions I might next forfeit to the pawnbrokers.
Dominating the wall above the half-dozen mahogany booths appeared the careless outlines of two large shaggy dogs, said to have been drawn by James Thurber. I learned from longtime customers that Thurber had often occupied the rear corner booth, willing to take on anyone in reasonably intelligent argument.
I remembered a friendly woman, slim and middle-aged, who turned up every so often. She once bragged to me of her unique association with the great humorist. It had to do sadly with Thurber’s increasing loss of eyesight. The lady told me she sometimes escorted Thurber to the men’s room whenever he needed to go. It was a service she appeared to be exceedingly proud of.
It was late afternoon when I hoofed it across town and through Central Park to our hotel on W.72nd St. Mara and I rented a studio apartment on the seventh floor overlooking Columbus Avenue _ thirty dollars a week. We were lucky, considering that a block away the rents were in the thousands. I walked through the lobby to the elevator and there was Tommy, the building maintenance worker, waiting, worked up about something. Tommy was a black man of indeterminate age and quite thin. He usually wore khaki pants and blue chambray shirts that were a couple of sizes too large for him. He liked to talk, and today appeared about to explode if he didn’t find someone to listen.
“Man, you heard about it? It’s all over the papers, big headlines!” His scuffed shoes, almost danced in place as he stabbed the button for my seventh floor. “The shooting, you know ... right down our street, around the corner. Frank Costello, the Mafia boss, got hisself shot in the lobby of his hotel last night. My buddy, Carl, the doorman over there ... he seen the whole thing!”
It sounded bizarre. I didn’t know yet whether to believe everything Tommy told me.
“They didn’t kill him though ... not that time. Gawd a’mighty!” Tommy eyeballed me closely, as if looking for some appropriate response. The old elevator lurched upward. “You must’a seen that Mafia bigshot around somewhere ... at them Kefauver hearings on TV maybe.”
“Well, sure …” The elevator jolted to a stop. But the janitor blocked the exit, not wanting to lose me.
“I … I got to warn my buddy, Carl. He’s the doorman over there at the hotel where that Costello was shot. I know he seen it all, ‘cause they told about that in the paper ... him being a witness. I got to warn him not to blab nothing more to the police.”
I was suddenly impatient for the overstuffed chair in our apartment. I had walked miles that day covering the cartoon markets.
“Trouble is, Mr. Weinberg won’t give me no time off. I just know he won’t.”
“Well, look, Tommy, I have to be going,” I said, making an effort to wedge past him.
“Maybe I’ll just sneak over there. It’s only a block more or less. Don’t you think I should, huh? I got to make Carl realize that shooter might come back to shut him up for good. He seen it all, you know.”
“You do whatever you think best, Tommy. Now, I really have to go.”
The next day sizzled. The vaporous heat and humidity knocked Mara and me flat on our backs. We lay on the bed naked and drenched in sweat, inert as cadavers. A siren wailed in the distance, grew louder, then faded away. We heard sirens around the clock, grim reminders that day and night people suffered _ all the casualties of this tumultuous, intense city. It was hard out there. Even the cops had recently begun walking their beats in pairs. Strange, but you sort of got used to it.
Most mornings I set up my art board on the dining table, while Mara dressed, then hurried off to the theater district to read for play directors. I enjoyed watching while she got herself ready. I liked how her raven-black hair glimmered with reddish tints when the light was a certain way. She had such a broad mischievous smile, gleaming white teeth—a petite, curvy body. I thought she was gorgeous. I knew men tried to pick her up. But she had a lively temper, and never hesitated to use it. I hoped it was enough. It was a precarious life. And maybe we had developed a mild schizophrenia. That way, we could ignore harsh realities and pursue our own self-centered dreams.
But shit happens. I thought about the clerk in the delicatessen across from our apartment on Columbus Avenue. He was back behind the counter, still unable to shave. Three Puerto Rican juveniles had sliced his face and throat with their knives, grabbed the cash in the register and fled. Now, two weeks later, the clerk was back on the job, the ugly scabs revealing where he’d been cut. Life goes on, most people doing the best they can.
We let George out of his cage that scorching day. It was recreation for Mara’s yellow parakeet to get out and flitter about the apartment. Only, this time we forgot about the open window. In a flash, the bird darted out into the stifling haze seven floors above the chaos of pedestrians and auto traffic on the street below.
“Bert, it’s George … he’s flown away!” Mara shouted. I leaped up and raced to the window, scrabbled onto the fire escape, forgetting my nakedness. “Oh, poor George!” Mara cried.
I tugged on jeans and T-shirt and searched again out on the fire escape. Climbing back inside, I said, “I’ll go down and check out the street.” But I already figured it would be a hopeless gesture. I rode down alone in the elevator and hurried out to the corner _ and nearly asked the cigar-smoking vendor at the newsstand if he’d seen a small yellow bird. Of course, the man would laugh his bald head off. The Blarney Castle tavern across the street offered a temporary solution. Still, I had to make a sober effort. So, I shouldered my way through the pedestrian horde, searching for that silly bird. I wandered up and down both sides of the block, feeling like a damn fool, then gave it up. Returning to the apartment house, I walked into a mad scene in the lobby.
“You old tightwad, you gonna fire me ... that’s all right!” Tommy blurted out. Weinberg, the manager, crouched with his arms braced against the door jams of the open elevator. Tommy, in his loose-fitting khakis and blue shirt, faced him, maybe five feet between them. “Just ‘cause I took off a few minutes to see my buddy, Carl, down the street ... I had to warn him about not blabbing no more to the police, get hisself killed.
“You don’t care anything about that, but it’s all right!”
“You were paid to stay on the job,” Weinberg growled.
“OK, go ahead ... you fire me without no two weeks notice. But you better give me the wages I got coming ... that’s only fair, Mr. Weinberg, sir!”
“I told you,” the manager said, his face red as a brick ... “I do all my bills at the end of the month, and you know that. You’ll get a check then.”
“I gotta have it now ... I’m entitled!”
“Go home,” Weinberg ordered. “I’ve got things to do.”
“I want what’s coming to me!” Tommy yelled. He took a step forward, then another. His clenched fists jabbed the air. His thin body shook as if possessed.
Weinberg turned suddenly, reaching behind him. I stood in awe as the manager heaved the five-gallon bucket of water. It soaked the startled janitor from head to foot. And I realized that the bucket was put there earlier, made available for just this kind of situation. Amazing!
Tommy was dumbfounded, sputtering in protest as he wiped his face. “What th—? you ... you crazy, man ... plumb crazy, that’s what! I gonna get you for this!”
Tommy started backing out of the lobby. “You wait, you just wait ... you’ll see, by gawd!” Hugging his water-soaked shirt, Tommy retreated out the entrance and disappeared into the city crowd.
I walked up to Weinberg. “That was a hell of a shitty thing to do,” I said.
“I’ve got a hotel to run, if it’s any of your business ... which it isn’t.” He seemed so cold-hearted, his expression contemptuous. “You going up?”
“I’ll take the stairs, I think.”
“Suit yourself,” Weinberg said, and stalked away to his office down the hall. The door slammed shut behind him. I stared for a moment at the puddles that darkened the floral-patterned rug. Then I entered the elevator and rode it to my floor.
I found Mara in the apartment staring out the window. “I looked everywhere, sweetheart, but I’m afraid he’s gone.”
“Let’s leave the window open,” Mara said. “Maybe George will fly back.”
“Sure, babe, who knows...?” I crossed the room and held her close.
The days passed, Mara looking to score an acting role in a play, while I drew my weekly batch of cartoons. It was frustrating because I hadn’t yet found a personal style. Sam Bierman, the editor at Crestwood Publications, asked me when I first showed up in his office, “Whose work do you like best? Copy him. It’s the quickest way to get published. But don’t copy Gallagher. Everybody copies Gallagher.”
So, we struggled, Mara and I, nearly always short of money. And I learned how enterprising she could be. Sometimes Mara went to the little market a half-block down Columbus Avenue, purchased a cabbage for a nickel and two potatoes for a dime. She cut up and boiled the three vegetables in a pot on our two-burner stove, and we dined _ on fifteen cents.
Returning late one afternoon, Mara said, “Guess what happened?” Concerned, I looked up from the drawing board. I always worried about her out there in the city alone. “I walked out of this rehearsal hall on West 45th St., and one of the actors told me to look up at a certain window. So, I did and there was a man up there, maybe five or six floors up. The actor said it was Lawrence Tierney, who used to play gangster parts in the movies. He sits in a chair at that window all day long with a bottle ... drinks and watches the people down on the street.”
Sure, I remembered seeing Tierney in the movie “Dillinger” when I was a teenager. “Sad way to end up,” I said.
Mara took off her coat and stared at me for a moment. “What’s the matter?” she asked.
“Oh, I was just thinking. It’s kind of depressing ... about Tierney, isn’t it?”
I wondered if I was headed that way myself. We were still so young though, but Mara and I did go out to the bars a lot _ whenever we had the money. It was like we needed those drinks to feel more confident about ourselves. It was too easy, getting high and feeling grand about future success. My life actually seemed like a paradox _ so much discontent, violence _ not on the other side of town, but practically on our doorstep. And here I was trying to make a living drawing gags for the magazines. What the hell was I doing?
After a meager supper a few nights later, I was finishing another batch of drawings to show the editors on Wednesday “look day.” Mara put down a play script she’d gotten hold of. “I think I’ll call my producer friend,” she said.
I had learned about him the night we were caught up in the mob that swarmed his movie premier at a theater in Times Square. The epic was titled “The Vikings,” featuring major Hollywood stars. Mara knew the producer in Germany. She had acted in one of his pictures as a telephone operator, spoke one line.
Mara used the phone down the hall, guessing correctly that he would be registered at the Algonquin Hotel. They made a date for dinner on Friday. I told her what I thought about it. “Go for it,” I said. “This could be your last big chance.” I decided she should make the most of this, even though it probably meant losing her. She had struggled for years, doing little theater, low budget films, acting bits in television.... She deserved a real break.
Friday evening she returned late. “It was the same pitch ... I kind of expected it,” Mara said. “You do for me, and I’ll do what I can for you.” And she turned him down. Mara had this peculiar morality. She was certainly no angel. Yet, she apparently refused to trade her body for acting opportunities she desperately craved. Mara chose instead to remain with a starving cartoonist. Go figure.
In early June Mara got a sudden call to join a summer stock company beginning a tour of the resort circuit. It wasn’t “Broadway,” but at least she’d be acting on a stage where she needed to be. The tour would last the next three months. In no time at all I missed her and wasted too many hours in the bars.
The empty birdcage ended up in a local junk store where I sold it for a buck and a half. At the Blarney Castle on the corner, Old Crow was on sale for fifty cents a pop. I thought of it as a jolly wake, however late, for Mara’s ill-destined parakeet. And whom should I find in that shady tavern but our old maintenance friend.
“Tommy … how the hell are you?” I said.
“I’m doing OK, man.” He looked it too. Gone were the baggy khakis and work shirts. He was hardly recognizable, dressed in a lightweight grey suit and black and gold striped tie. His black oxfords sparkled. Tommy sipped Scotch whisky while he brought me up to date, first telling me he eventually got his check from Weinberg. “And what do yuh think…?” Tommy said, “that ol’ bastard offered to take me back! And I sure told him what he could do with his stinking job.”
We laughed about that. Then Tommy went on about how his friend, Carl, helped get Tommy employment at the apartment house where he works. “That Carl, he’s practically a celebrity, after being right there when Frank Costello got shot.”
“I’m really glad for you, Tommy.”
“Yeah, I get a better salary … and good tips too, not like it was with you cheap lowlifes at Weinberg’s place.”
“So, what about Costello … you see much of him?”
“Oh, yeah … he comes and goes.” Then Tommy glanced around the bar and leaned close to me. He explained that maybe the heat was off of the Mafia boss. The gossip, and what they wrote in the newspapers, seemed to tell that some kind of peace was agreed on between Costello and his ambitious rival, Vito Genovese. The word was Costello would retire, keep his gambling operations and legit business interests. With that said, Tommy finished his drink. We shook hands, and he ambled out into the sunshine.
A week later, as I walked over the bridge in Central Park back to the apartment, it hit me! I had saved a bundle while serving in the army overseas in Korea. During a thirty day leave back home, my father persuaded me to invest in life insurance. “At your age the low premium is a bargain,” he said. I had forgotten all about it. The parent company was here in Manhattan. I immediately swung around and headed for the bus stop at 59th St., and to a phone booth nearby. In a battered directory I looked up the “Continental Life Insurance Company” located downtown on Wall Street. I felt sure they would cash me out. My cup runneth over. Now I could find a better apartment for Mara and me _ and get busy drawing some good gags. §

Bert Silva is a regular contributor to The Rogue Voice. His “Bottoms Up” illustration accompanies Letters. His cartoons have appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Playboy Magazine, The National Enquirer, and other publications. He is the author of “Butt Busters” (

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Washing windows across America: Bayou Teche

It has always been my contention that once you’ve walked into the wrong dive, you keep walking all the way to a barstool, careful not to make any sudden movements for they excite bikers and rednecks like rabbits excite hounds.

In her eyes is the alluring self-assurance that belongs to society’s flawless. They are eyes that are used to looking over the shoulder and seeing happy men.

Bayou Teche
Episode 29

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.

Nickels, dimes and pennies are what I have to drop on the counter at Victor’s Cafeteria, but it adds up to forty cents and that’s enough for a cup of Community Coffee. A hefty waitress behind the register counts up the coins.
“You good, bey-bey,” she says and hands me an empty Styrofoam cup.
I fill up with coffee, sugar, and cream, and begin the walk out of Victor’s. It’s a long trek out of these old, deep dining halls with the chow-line in back, and the locals sitting at tables silently sipping black coffee, watching but not watching who passes, and I feel I’ve been here before.
Out front, I cross New Iberia’s empty Main Street, then an empty city parking lot, and sit on a steel bench facing a stagnant river. This is the Bayou Teche (pronounced ‘tesh’) and this early its motionless black surface beams with a sneaky yellow reflection. I sip coffee and watch the water and listen for movement, a gator I hope. But the bayou is soundless. The coffee starts to aid a head and stomach in recovery.
From what I remember, the root cause had been a gas-powered leaf-blower. As landlord, Wal-Mart wasn’t the best, sometimes sending workers out after midnight to clean parking lots. This was all the motivation I needed to walk to a nearby gas station, purchase two cans of Old English 800, transfer the contents to a plastic soda cup and sip through a straw while traipsing two miles to a dive-bar I’d seen earlier that day. In daylight the dive had given me the willies, and darkness didn’t lend it any flattery. It was next to a porn-shop, which is never good, and a row of choppers outside is usually a sign to stay away. So I went in. Pierced bikers went mute and 30-something classic-rocker types took tense gulps from bottled Budweisers. It has always been my contention that once you’ve walked into the wrong dive, you keep walking all the way to a barstool, careful not to make any sudden movements for they excite bikers and rednecks like rabbits excite hounds. I took a stool at the end of the bar where everyone could have a nice look at me, made myself at home, ordered a Bud, and to show I was a regular guy, went to the jukebox and fed it a couple dollars. A Stevie Wonder CD dared me but I wasn’t that dumb. I played Tom Petty and Aerosmith. When I got back to my stool, the bar had gotten a little emptier and the attractive bartender, who had at first been civil, wouldn’t look at me. “This is bad,” I thought, guzzling and watching bikers leave one by one to rumbling choppers outside. “They think me a narc or they don’t like my face.” Resigned to the fact that I would never know which, and convinced an ambush was being set up for me outside, I settled into some serious drinking — just me, the barmaid and two delinquent-eyed men in camouflage ball-caps. Five bottles later, and reasoning that a guy shouldn’t die with money in his pockets, walked directly to a 24-hour market and presented the last of my coins. Sipping more Old E and stumbling toward Wal-Mart, I kept to the darkened areas behind buildings where I could both hide and freely piss. God bless Old E. It had always been there for me — a loyal friend, a cheap date.
The bikers and rednecks must not have been that interested in me because here I am the next morning on the Bayou Teche both ambulatory and alive, with yet more coins from an early-morning excavation into the rotting crevices of the Plymouth.
Fine vibrations start spreading across the bayou’s surface, and I get excited at the prospect of seeing a gator. But vibrating too is my bench, and a high-pitched buzz is approaching from up the bayou. As the buzz gets louder, two motorboats appear, a man aboard each, standing and steering. In tandem, they charge down the bayou with white sheets of spray fanning out behind them.
They whiz by in a flash and, after going under a drawbridge, disappear behind a bend. They leave the sleepy bayou with a rolling surf that climbs the green banks and rocks floating plants. I sit and listen to the foliage slosh and patiently work its way back to stillness.
But before it can settle, the buzzing returns and the two boats are back up the bayou, letting their motors out. One of the men hoots as they vanish in the other direction. It’s not over. They race the best-of-five, two Cajun boys having a hell of a time at 8 in the morning up and down Bayou Teche. Something about this scene too, and that drawbridge especially, seems familiar.
With few stores open, it’s still early for windows, so I wander through an historic district canopied by ancient oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. There are white antebellum mansions preserved as historical sites or bed and breakfasts, and I know them, I think. I know the people who have lived in them, don’t I? From where, dreams?
I come upon a public library and take a seat in front of a computer, click onto the Internet and snoop around. It’s a way to waste time. After my pixel fix, I roam the aisles, and in a regional section find three shelves devoted to the works of author James Lee Burke. It’s then that I remember how I know New Iberia. It is the setting for Burke’s novels about the Cajun cop, Dave Robicheaux. He writes about that bayou, that drawbridge, those homes I just passed, and that cafeteria where I got my coffee this morning.
Near the front door, I spot a wire rack holding multiple Burke paperbacks. They have round orange stickers on the bindings, which in many libraries means they are for sale — usually for about fifty cents. I pick out two that I haven’t read and take them to the checkout counter. Advancing in line, I listen to a librarian mocking the titles and names of authors that patrons come to her with, while another librarian sits idle behind the weather section of USA Today.
“It cold in New Yolk City right now,” USA Today says to her co-librarian who ignores me as I set down the two Burke books. “Twenny above in Novemba.”
“Coooh. Dass cold,” says counter lady.
“You could evva leeve in a place like dat?” says USA Today.
“Say could you evva leef in a place like dat?”
“Like whatt?”
“Like New Yolk City.”
“If you put a goo-won to ma head maybe.”
“I say you have to put a goo-won to ma head first.” She makes a pistol with her thumb and forefinger, puts it to her head, and pulls the hammer twice. “You know, a goo-won. Bang, bang. Whatchyou want sir?”
“How much are these James Lee Burke books?” I show her the books with the orange dots.
“How much dey is? Sir, dees lie-berry. Dees not booke-stowe.” She says it with the same aggravated, disgusted look I’d gotten from perturbed women back in Lafayette. USA Today puts down her paper and together they start laughing and snorting and coughing. “You thought you was in booke-stowe but you in lie-berry.”
“He tink he in booke-stowe,” USA Today announces, drawing two more portly librarians from the aisles to come out and get a look at me. The four of them gather in a laugh circle.
“In some libraries …” I start to explain, then stop. Nothing but drywall behind the eyes. Flat. I leave the books on the counter.

Once Main Street wakes, I get a few jobs. The first is a little Italian restaurant with many sweaty, mildewy French panes that take a while to do. Then there is a clothing boutique. The two jobs put me around $20 before 11 a.m., which is good. It means lunch at David Robicheaux’s hangout where the waitresses are fat and call you bey-bey, two things I like in a dining experience. Walking to Victor’s, my starved brain cells and frazzled stomach anticipate the Cajun morsels Burke writes about — etouffee, po-boys and jambalaya.
Finally I’m in line with the lunch crowd, a wayward extra in a Burke whodunit, holding a tray and a glass. A smorgasbord of steaming mystery food waits under heat lamps and plastic sneeze guards. I don’t recognize any of it from Burke, but what do I know? I slop onto my plate what they slop onto theirs. I sit down and start sticking forkfuls of it into my mouth. Greens, I knew that for sure. Not so great. Next, smothered okra. Bad. It was southern home cooking more than Cajun. The only thing I finish are scalloped potatoes and a glass of Coke. It’s a disappointment, but that big waitress comes around a couple times and asks me if everything is all right and calls me “bey-bey.” That gives the meal a better taste. I wish more waitresses did that.

With some food in the stomach, senses sharpened, and the town’s main streets conquered, I can begin the process of hunting out side streets. I no longer have to look at a map or ask directions because I’ve developed a skill which, as far as I know, is of use to no one but the nomadic window-washer. Standing at the end of a street, looking down it while concentrating, I can tell if there is unseen commerce beyond.
Exploring one such street I come to a tiny beauty salon with two windows and a glass door caked in a year’s worth of mud and bird shit. Inside, standing behind two chairs, are a pair of clean-coiffed, waspwaisted women snipping at heads of hair. One is an older Leslie Caron from the musical Gigi. She is friendly and smiles. The other, an undernourished Zsa Zsa Gabor, huffs when she sees me.
“Hello,” I say. “I could clean these windows for you. Five for outsides or ten for both sides.”
Zsa Zsa puts her nose in the air and pushes some air through it. She seems like one of these difficult Cajun princesses I’d come to know back in Lafayette, so I prepare as she and Gigi mull it over.
I interject: “I’d just go with the outsides if I were you. Your insides don’t look that bad.”
It’s not good business practice, but I go out of my way to avoid doing insides. One reason is that people like to look over your shoulder while you are working inside, and point out “spots.” It is a form of entertainment and amusement for them. As a nomadic window washer, you don’t need such scrutiny. Secondly, with nowhere to fling excess water from your squeegee, you are forced to use more rags and be tentative about where the water lands. People love to show you a drop or two you left on the floor. Lastly, and most importantly is that women who own small boutiques and salons can be highly creative at manipulating you into side jobs like rearranging furniture, plucking cobwebs, killing spiders, dusting mantles, sweeping up hairballs, replacing knickknacks, fixing broken doorhandles, vacuuming, scotch-taping flyers, designing window displays or re-decorating entire lobbies. I’ve been bamboozled into them all. The danger however of doing only outsides is that they sometimes try to claim they misunderstood the deal, expecting you to include the insides. So I reiterate the price for the ladies. Five dollars for the outside — ten if they want both.
“Should we?” Gigi asks Zsa Zsa.
“Hmmff,” says Princess Gabor. “Guy befo, he do both sides fo eight dolla, ‘an he do it twice.”
Gigi looks at me.
“Twice?” I say. “Why twice? Once should be good enough.”
“Naw, naw, naw,” says Zsa Zsa. “Ah mean he come back two week later and do it again.”
“I don’t believe you,” I say. It’s irritable hangover talk that comes out on its own. I’d be lucky to make it through the week in Cajun Louisiana.
Zsa Zsa drops her client’s mane and comes to the counter with her snippers — the kind with the little hook for the thumb, and points them at me.
“You callin’ me a liar?”
“It just seems strange you would pay a guy eight dollars to come back a second time, instead of paying him four each time, or five for that matter.” Gigi watches us uncomfortably. “Seems a strange way to do it. Where is that guy by the way? Maybe you should call him.”
I don’t stick around for the fallout. I’m already out the door, laughing a half-drunken laugh to myself, with Zsa Zsa on the porch behind me sputtering nasty Cajun French. I hear her hawk up a loogie and spit like a man. I keep laughing, both at her absurdity and my timely quip. I was on my game. This little private joke continues a ways until I remember that I have to come back up this very street to get back to the Plymouth. Then I’m not so giddy. Zsa Zsa would have more than enough time to contact the rednecks and bikers from that bar last night, all of whom I imagined part of a vast Cajun mafia that specialized in making Yankee intruders go away for good. It happened in Burke books. Now I had something to really laugh about while searching for isolated pockets of businesses along this long boulevard.
It’s odd to come across a bank on such a street, but I do and set down my things, go inside and follow a path of velvet ropes. Banks are a waste of time — the last places that want to enter into a business relationship with an unlicensed, uninsured hacker. But they are always air-conditioned and quite often have cookies and other treats left out. Standing in line, I look down, not at anything in particular, when I start to feel a happiness for which there is no explanation — a oneness with my world. It takes a while before I am able to perceive what it is. Before me, wrapped in green corduroy is the most splendid gluteus maximus I have ever laid eyes on.
I’m not the kind who stares at women’s asses. I prefer to get my looks on the quick and imprint an image that is filed into an ever-growing storage bank of ass visuals that began around the age of 12. But the work of art before me entrances me in a way that has me stopping to consider the existence fate, purpose, miracles, intelligent design.
Ever so dovelike does the upper shelf of this marvel swoop from tight lumbar muscles into a gentle plateau before effortlessly bifurcating into two brash, flourishing hills. Happily, the little individual rows of green corduroy wind and play along the hillsides as they bloom into mirror symmetry, pushing the parameters of purity until they blur with licentiousness. Then, as if to reassure the rows of corduroy that all is connected, the hills reunite under a sweet evening where they tuck into thick, meaty hamstrings. A day past ripeness, the hills swell as nature’s bounty — a place for a lucky man to park and live quite happily the rest of his days.
When I hear its owner speaking, I don’t look up initially. I somehow want to keep the masterpiece booty its own separate entity, free of association with a face, be it beautiful or hideous. But finally I look up and show the woman a stupid, slobbering grin.
She is a light creamy chocolate, and one of society’s average — far from beautiful yet far from comely. But in her eyes is the alluring self-assurance that belongs to society’s flawless. They are eyes that are used to looking over the shoulder and seeing happy men.
We stand for a few seconds and smile about her ass. What else is there to do? She gives me a moment before repeating her words.
“They’re callin’ you over there.”
“They’re calling you.” She points to a teller. “I’m waiting for something else. You can go ahead.”
“Oh alright,” I say. “I’ll go ahead of you then…” But my feet are stuck. Maybe I’m still a little drunk. My mouth begins moving on its own accord.
“I just want you to know… I mean I hope it’s alright I tell you … ” She giggles and tugs the arm of my T-shirt, guiding me toward the open teller window.
After a standard pitch to the teller, I hear only a muffled response. For all I know, I get the job. My attention is on the velvet ropes, where obstructed behind customers somewhere is that rump of redemption, that fanny of felicity, that trunk overflowing with its glorious junk.
As I am leaving, its owner is called by a teller, and I watch the corduroy hills rustle away, crowns rising and falling to the rhythms of the cosmos. She flashes me one last smile over her shoulder, and we know what it’s about. It’s about that hump attached to her backside and the power it holds. If harnessed properly, it could end wars, mend racial conflicts, feed the hungry, cure diseases, unite the world.

A half hour out of the bank, still in a state of blithe rapture from the derriere, I come to the point opposite the salon of Gigi and Zsa Zsa. I know because I hear Gigi across the street calling for me.
“Alright! We’ll do it!” She waves a five-dollar bill from the porch of the salon.
I cross the street and start in on the outsides. I’m in my own world, trying to hold on to the image as long as I can. Like all visions of beauty, its vidvidness would start to fade soon. I think about going back after it. But beauty like that was meant to beheld in passing.
Then I smell cigarette smoke behind me and it is Zsa Zsa standing on the porch. She hawks up another loogie and lets it fly out into the parking lot. “Cooh, dass a lotta money fo windows,” she says, blowing a plume in my direction. “You betta do them sills good. No drips, kay?”
After the two windows are cleaned I do the inside of the door, which is customary, then reach for a five-dollar bill that is laying on the counter. I say goodbye and thank you to Gigi, and head out the door.
“Whaw?” says Zsa Zsa. “Ain’t gone do inside too?” She addresses her clientele and Gigi. “Boy only gonna do one side fo five dolla. Coo-hoo-wee.”
I stand in the doorway. I have the lines all ready — a stockpile of insults, sarcasms, perhaps an unflattering impersonation. You have time to practice them, walking the long boulevards of towns. You have time to rehearse a good comeback or two over and over in your mind. But looking at the faces of Gigi and the two clients with their wet, pinned hair, I see there’s no need. They are uncomfortable, embarrassed, tired. They’d had enough of Zsa Zsa for one day. So had I. §

Ben Leroux continues to ply his trade as a window washer and writes from his home in Morro Bay. He can be reached at

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Riding on the Peace Train

‘The revolution, it’s in the café cars, on every train across the country. The old men, listen to them. They talk about overthrowing the government.’

Dennis Kucinich dares imagine a world without war, where people actually intend good, rather than ill. He puts civility back into public discourse. But in America he’s a pariah.

The American Revolution starts here

By Stacey Warde

I hate traveling the holidays. It’s safer to stay home. I’m tired, cranky. One thing, though, keeps me feeling OK about hitting the road while suffering the rush of frenzied shoppers and the maddening, marauding stupidity of being in a hurry: A trainload of supporters for Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a Democratic presidential candidate, will leave with me early in the morning, making a pitch for “Strength through Peace on Earth,” a solid holiday message.
Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner, Train 774, leaves the San Luis Obispo station daily at 6:45 a.m., and rolls south to its final stop in San Diego. My stop, Santa Ana, a frequent destination for me, close to the home where I grew up and where my parents still live.

I buy my tickets online but pick them up at the station a day before departure to avoid the rush. A volunteer at the SLO station directs me to an automated ticket dispenser. The place is already a madhouse. With his help, I punch some buttons and activate the machine. My information comes up on the screen.
“You’re Stacey Warde?” asks the volunteer above the din, peering over my shoulder, as if he knows me.
“Yeah.” I turn to look him over, making sure he isn’t going to sucker punch me. I don’t know why I feel this way, when people seem to know who I am before I know who they are. I’ve never in my life felt as paranoid or careful as I have in the last seven years of dictatorial rule from the far right. But fear has its deleterious affect on a nation whose leaders have no regard for humanity. It turns us into monsters and begins with a sudden mistrust and soon we’re cowering or cutting peoples’ throats. This guy appears harmless.
“I’m David,” he says and as he puts his hand out I remember him, a filmmaker from Morro Bay who’s worked on the Texas Legacy Project, interviewing the Lone Star state’s best-known politicians. We talk about the Peace Train that is supposed to arrive in San Luis Obispo later this the afternoon with Dennis Kucinich and his supporters, who will then walk a short distance to Mitchell Park for a rally, before leaving in the morning for a run to Los Angeles, where the crew will get off Train No. 774 at L.A.’s Union Station and gather for another rally on Olvera Street.
I think about attending the Mitchell Park rally but have too much to do to prepare for the next day’s journey. I’d love to hear Kucinich even though I’m not inspired to consider him a viable candidate for toppling the Old Guard in Washington. Still, I hold Kucinich in high regard for being the only politician with the balls to read in Congress the articles of impeachment against Dick Cheney, who should have been arrested a long time ago. If I can’t make the rally, I figure, I’ll have the opportunity to talk to him directly on the train.
“So, is Kucinich really going to be on the train today?” I ask.
“He was supposed to, but he couldn’t make it,” David says. “His brother died unexpectedly and he had to cancel the trip. But the peace ride’s still going on.”
A Kucinich fan interrupts our conversation. “Is Dennis going to be on the next train?” David explains the sudden tragedy.
“Oh, that’s too bad,” the man responds, and adds with a wink and a laugh, “maybe his wife could take his place.”
David informs the man that she’s where she’s supposed to be, by her husband’s side. Kucinich’s wife, a tall striking, statuesque redhead, has been a big draw for Kucinich, and supporters will be quick to tell you how beautiful she is. The man walks away, disappointed.
I look at David and we both shake our heads.
“The train’s great, isn’t it?” I say, glad to have my tickets and parking pass in hand.
David leans in closely and says: “The revolution is taking place in the café cars on trains all across the country.”
“The revolution, it’s in the café cars, on every train across the country. The old men, listen to them. They talk about overthrowing the government. They’re disgusted with Bush. They’ve had it; they’ve had enough.”
I’ve sat in on a few parties myself in café cars, so I know what he’s talking about. People have a way of speaking their minds after they’ve had a few drinks on the train. Maybe this ride with rebels would be just the thing, even without Kucinich.

At 5:30 a.m., I’m on the road, the full moon infusing the early dawn with a warm purplish luster, and pulling at me like an unquenchable woman. I don’t want to go, yet the possibility of riding on the Peace Train compels me, lures me away from the comfort of home and a warm bed. I hope to find something new—political enlightenment. At the train station, the holiday travelers jam themselves into the ticket line, and sit restlessly on benches or mill around the train, waiting for the doors to open. A big crowd, the largest of any I’ve seen yet at the start of the line, gather to board the train.
Are these all the Kucinich people? Is he that popular?

Traveling by train, you can relax, and avoid the aggravation of driving L.A. freeways. You meet unusual people, watch flush-cheeked mothers pound Bud Lights as their children scramble up and down the aisles, screeching and panting, pushing on doors, while old men eye young women sitting alone with their computers and iPods, heads bobbing to the music in their earphones, oblivious to all except for the occasional dude who struts the aisle and nods and smiles at everyone.
Every day the Pacific Surfliner from San Luis Obispo to San Diego rolls furiously along as commuters dig into purses and bags, pull out food and drink, books and magazines, bottles for their babies, cellphones, computers, every contrivance you can imagine, and settle in for the scenic ride, a movie on the laptop, the adventure of meeting someone new, or simply to take a long nap.
It’s a swirl of activity from start to finish, with stops and starts, and people getting on and off and making small talk, or running down to the café car to buy alcohol and get spun while the Amtrak train lumbers along the beautiful and terrifying California landscape: Open meadows spread down to the Pacific Ocean where only the well-heeled are free to roam; and graffiti-filled corridors pass in flashes through the train windows, where L.A.’s homeless pitch their filthy mattresses and try to catch a few winks between passing trains and roaming thugs.
Riding Amtrak, you get to peek into people’s lives and backyards. For some reason, commuters speak more freely on the train than on the street. They actually look you in the eye, even if they don’t always smile. Thugs, gang-bangers, businessmen, college students, harried mothers, and bemused elderly couples ride the train. Surfer dudes and chicks, voters and congressmen, old men talking about revolution, they all ride the train. People speak their minds on the train.
When I don’t feel like talking, I peer into people’s backyards, some tricked out for horses and trails, others broken down with the detritus of suburban living—rusty cans, plastic, scrap metal and sunken, unused cars. You see all the neighborhoods with their tired streets, and their residents—homeboys, suited businessmen, children kicking their hopes with balls and hoops and bicycles, the American Dream. Our rail system, as neglected and raggedy as she is, is the best way to travel in the U.S. and is probably the only truly democratic space in the whole country. It’s no wonder our federal government hasn’t given the public railways the uplift they so desperately need.

In the seven years that George W. Bush has governed, I’ve never been more broke, or felt more hopeless and restless for change. I’m convinced that something went dreadfully wrong in the U.S. when Bush took over. Nothing has been the same since. Our world took a turn for the worst. My quality of life has deteriorated to the point of despair and hope feels remote. I’m ready for a radical change. I’d like to see the Old Guard get the boot. I’d like to see Bush and Cheney stuffed upside down inside of a dunking tank for a taste of their own medicine. But I doubt that Kucinich will be the one to do it for us, even though I like his guts.
Dennis Kucinich quickly found a solid base of support in SLO County, connecting with progressives like Pamela Marshall, publisher of Information Press and with individuals who support HopeDance Magazine—independent, homegrown publications. They advocate sustainable and peace-driven solutions to local and global problems. They’re often at the frontlines of protest against violence, consumerism, war and corporate-driven values that promote greed, consumption and waste. Their efforts are a stark contrast to the money and pervasive cowboy conservatism that dominate here.
Kucinich had planned to make his pitch to this small but active band of supporters seeking to stop the war in Iraq, impeach Bush and Cheney, and end our addiction to oil. The L.A. Times has variously described him as a “far-left” Democrat, whose policies and ideas verge on the “absurd,” and who is a believer in “UFOs.”

As soon as the train pulls out of the San Luis Obispo station the conductor begins his round, walking through each car to check tickets and destinations. Outside, thin clouds turn pink as the moon yields its evening glower to the rising sun. Children gaze in wonder as their parents fluff the morning newspaper. The distant fields turn golden. I fight the urge to sink into my seat and nod off for some much-needed rest. But I’m too curious. I’ve at least got to take a look at the Kucinich crew, if not mix with them.
I peer up and down the train looking for signs of progressive liberals. They’re not as easy to spot as you might imagine. Liberals can be as elusive as conservatives. You never know which you’re going to meet. I look for the obvious signs: books with liberal titles or magazines like the New Yorker, the Nation, and best yet, T-shirts that show the faces of Bush and Cheney behind bars with the words, “I have a dream.” I look for progressives carrying hemp bags, wearing rainbow-colored shirts, munching on veggies and covered with buttons, mottos and pithy political statements. I’m disappointed when none materialize.
A few grey-haired folk wearing red long-sleeved shirts with white lettering pass me and enter through the doors of the forward cars: “Kucinich for President…Get on Board the Peace Train!” I can see through the windows of the doors more red shirts, placards and blue balloons, and the flurry of activity I’d expect of a political rally. Each time the doors open, the raucous noise of political hubbub can be heard: “Bush,” “Cheney,” “Iraq,” “Impeachment,” “Peace.”
The conductor offers a hint of recognition as he comes to collect my ticket. “Oh, hey,” he says, “how you doing today?”
“Great,” I answer as he pulls my ticket.
“Santa Ana station,” he says, placing a colored tag above my seat.
“Hey,” I say, “are the Kucinich people on the train this morning?”
“Yeah,” he responds, turning his head to the forward cars, “they added two cars to accommodate them.”
“Can I go up there and sit with them?”
“Sure can,” he says. “Have a good trip.”
Before venturing forward, I run downstairs to buy a cup of coffee from the café car. I half expect to see old men plotting another grassroots American Revolution but instead observe a pretty young woman listening politely to a loud, overweight and overbearing, red-in-the-face alcoholic woman nursing a can of beer, ranting about late trains, and unfaithful, abusive boyfriends. The pretty one nods and doesn’t say a word. It’s too goddamn early to be that drunk and riled, I think. As I listen, another woman, who has already met a few of the Kucinich travelers, takes her place in line behind me and says she has trouble pronouncing his name: “Kook-an-itch? I still can’t say it right.”
“It’s Koo-SIN-itch,” I respond.
I return to my seat where I pop open a travel-sized bottle of Bailey’s and spike my coffee, sitting back, taking in the sights, sipping, satisfied, unconcerned with Kucinich or his supporters, wishing the dreamy moment of quiet isolation and the sweet alcohol flavor of my morning coffee will last forever.
As we roll along, I peer out the window at the open spaces of south SLO County. The green and loamy sea of ag land beyond Grover Beach and below the Nipomo Mesa reminds me of an era captured by photographer Dorothea Lange and author John Steinbeck, when California had become a place of golden dreams for the poor and uprooted, and people dwelled in hovels or dilapidated cars, attempting to create new lives. By the time we reach Guadalupe, the train is nearly full with the same familiar, sad faces of this earlier Depression, full of hope and despair.
At each stop, Kucinich believers carrying their placards, balloons, a harmonica, and noisemakers rustle themselves off the train to meet people of like mind who have come to meet them at the local station and hug and briefly chat, to spread the good and bad news, and show some love before the conductor politely waves his arm and urges them back: “OK, gotta keep her rolling folks. Time to get back on the train.”

In America, fear rules. I’ve noticed this in friends who feel so completely demoralized by our current political crises that they can’t move. They refuse any longer to hope in leadership that values human life, or makes policies that benefit not just the rich few but the entire commonwealth. They’ve given up and turned all their hopes into one long cynical snort: We’re fucked! It’s over for the United States.
Oddly, Kucinich represents the other side of this very same cynicism that has turned him into an afterthought and an amusing anecdote in Election 2008. To many, he’s an annoying little man with as much substance as anyone who believes in UFOs. Yet, he speaks in a voice familiar to my own (although I can’t say I’ve ever seen a UFO). He speaks truth to power. He confronts the corporate brokers of trade, thought and production, telling them that their polluting and plundering of the world’s limited resources will come to an end. He promotes peace rather than war as the best means to national security, prosperity and good health. He dares imagine a world without war, where people actually intend good, rather than ill. He puts civility back into public discourse. But in America he’s a pariah.

The moment I enter the Kucinich car, the air is immediately fresher, easier to breathe, better circulated than the commuter car I’ve been occupying. It’s an older, woodsy, more luxurious car with plenty of leg space. Right away I make friends with a woman who introduces me to Bill, “the significant other” of Jeeni Criscenzo, president of the North County San Diego chapter of Progressive Democrats of America who helped organize the Peace Train run from Oakland to Oceanside, where Kucinich, Bill later informs me, was to meet with American troops and win their confidence, to show them, like any good American, that he supports them. Bill takes immediate interest in my visitation, tucking a copy of The Rogue Voice under his arm. He tells me Jeeni couldn’t make the trip because of illness and he’s taken her place. We try to talk but he’s too busy with the demands of the rally, getting on and off the train, shaking hands and wishing people well. It’s a frenzy of singing, blowing, hooting and rushing to the next stop.
Between stops, as the train churns on again, a string of red shirts tromps through the aisle of each car, up and down the train, blowing their noisemakers, wishing commuters a Merry Christmas and singing “Peace Train” by Cat Stevens, who now goes by Yusuf Islam and experienced America’s appreciation for Muslim converts when the feds refused him entry into the U.S., told him to get back on the plane and go back where he came from: Now I've been happy lately, Thinking about the good things to come, And I believe it could be, Something good has begun…. The irony of Yusuf’s lyrics escapes me, yet I’m sure, as much as I embrace their passion, I won’t be joining the chorus: Peace train sounding louder, Ride on the peace train. Hoo-ah-eeh-ah-hoo-ah. Come on the peace train….
I’m caught in a whirlwind of activity and foot traffic, turning this way and that, as campaigners rush through the narrow aisles in their busyness to spread the Kucinich message, jumping on and off the train, running errands, and buying coffee. In the bustle, Bill hands me a Kucinich button, which I self-consciously pin to my sweater, thinking now I’m no longer an objective observer. I’m a participant.
The button feels like a giant beetle on my chest. I’m not used to wearing them and like to show my support in other ways. I try not to be too loud with my person when it comes to politics. To avoid the jostle I stand away from the aisle, taking a place between seats, and suddenly I’m introduced to people in the forward part of the car. “Everybody, this is Stacey. He writes for a magazine.”
“Ooh, maybe Stacey would like to lead us in a song!”
I stare, horrified, at the woman who wants me to lead choir, while other eager faces wait for my reply. “Uh, yeah, no you don’t want me to lead.” I note the disappointed responses and know that I’m still not quite part of the group. I’m an observer, participating from a distance, knowing that when I leave the train, I’ll wonder if my vote really makes a difference, whether those who support Dennis Kucinich or any of his sensible solutions will continue to press for reforms and progressive ideas when he drops from the race, or whether they will lose heart and turn bitter and never vote again….
When I return to my seat, I know it’s over for me. I can’t do it, and remove the Kucinich button from my sweater. At the Union Station in Los Angeles, the ralliers scramble for their belongings, whooshing themselves and their balloons and placards off the train for the march to Olvera Street for their next extended stop. As the train leaves the station, it’s no longer the Peace Train but Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner again, next stops Fullerton, Anaheim, Santa Ana…. I drift off for a much-needed nap haunted by thoughts of Hillary. §

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

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Everything my kid touches turns to shit

We hoisted football-sized boul-ders on our shoulders, and on the run, shot-putted them at the cabin for direct hits that exploded like sonic booms on the aluminum roof.

Dad would whisper in my ear, ‘The guy’s been a pet all his life. Your mother always defends him, because he’s married to her sister, but the man’s worthless as tits on a bull.’

Photo courtesy of Dell Franklin

A confessional from the Summer of 1956

By Dell Franklin

My father, after playing professional baseball from 1938 until 1953 (he missed three seasons during the war) started a wholesale leather and shoe findings business in Compton, California. He had a small warehouse between a liquor store and insurance company near the downtown. By 1956 he had the place going pretty strong and was dropping hints that I might want to go to work for him so I could add to my allowance and learn a work ethic while helping him out.
I had no desire to work. I hated my chores and did such a poor job of mowing the lawn that dad called me a “goddamn butcher,” and informed all those who cared to hear that “everything my kid touches turns to shit.”
Most loathsome, it turns out, I had to go to work for him.
I started not long after my friend Rex Cutler and I were coerced into the Boy Scouts of America and soon ran afoul of the authorities. All we wanted to do was play ball. We were 12, turning 13 that summer, and we had to go on this big camping trip at Lake Arrowhead with about 100 other scouts from neighboring cities. Rex and I hated tying knots and bending to conformity among aspiring out-doorsmen and goody-goody scout masters. We hated these pricks. We made fun of them. We didn’t like the idea of wiping our tender asses with bark or pine cones after taking a shit in the woods.
So, dreading a nature hike, after which we would set up camp at some remote outpost and have to deal with prowling bears, which had already raided our camp, tossing around trash cans while we quivered in our miserable pup tents, Rex and I decided to desert, vowing to find a highway below the mountains and hitchhike home to Compton, where we could return to our precious hooliganism and play ball.
On our way off the beaten trail, Rex and I discovered a cabin with an aluminum roof. Inside this cabin were adults, whose shiny Plymouths and DeSotos and Fords were parked outside. We heard them partying inside to cornball modern classics crooned by Rosemary Cloony,and Perry Como.
“What a buncha fuckin’ dorks,” Rex said. “Let’s bomb ‘em.”
At first we lightly spattered their roof with a hailstorm of pebbles, drawing the dorks and their ladies outside, where they peered about as we hid on the high ground behind foliage. When they went back in, murmuring among themselves, we waited a while and then bom-barded the roof with jawbreaker-sized solid rocks, provoking the heroic male dorks to beat the brush in search of us, all of them discussing what they were going to do to us “little delinquents.” By this time we had climbed a tree a few hundred yards up from the foliage, and again they retreated to their cabin mumbling and disappointed and sour, their partying ruined.
We waited a while, let them get going again (a few of them carried hi balls and beers as they stalked us) with their Hit Parade tunes, the gabble and jibber-jabber rising, and hoisted football-size boul-ders on our shoulders, and on the run, shot-putted them at the cabin for direct hits that exploded like sonic booms, tearing jagged holes through the aluminum roof and crashing into the cabin.
While terrorized women squealed and scurried about in the yard, the dorks set to chasing us through the woods. Little athletes, made of wire, we lost them. Skirted the little town of Arrowhead half a mile away, and crept through the woods just off the main road which was now being patrolled by a squad car and those driven by the dorks. We darted back into the woods, walked miles and miles, in the darkness and finally, exhausted, hitched a ride down the mountainside to a small town where Rex got a shop owner to call his mother and explained we were homesick and hated Boy Scouts. She came and took us home.
That evening, of course, the victims of our tyranny contacted the scoutmaster, a too-earnest and humorless man, who was aware of our absence and made a special trip down the mountain to show up at our doorstep, where, when confronted by my father, I, like a good Boy Scout, confessed my sins. Dad, after apologizing profusely and promising to cover the damage to the cabin (along with Rex’s mother), informed my mother he was taking charge of me, and putting me to work in his store, where I would work the rest of the summer “like a slave, jumping at every command,” until I repaid my debt for my vandalism and mayhem. I was screwed. No ball, and a whipping.

Dad opened his store at 7:30 in the morning, so his shoemakers could get in early and buy their goods before opening up their own shops. I was introduced to them (mostly Italians) as “my kid, Snaggletooth,” since I’d fallen off a bike earlier that summer and busted off half a front tooth. “Everything he touches turns to shit.”
“Why yah got him in here then, Murray?” they’d ask.
“Because if he does damage in here, I can keep an eye on him. I don’t know what the kid’s gonna do out in the streets. If he keeps breakin’ up other people’s property I’m liable to be in the poorhouse and my family starves. You gotta keep your enemies close, Sal.”
What he had me doing at first was sweeping the aisles and front floor and stocking the shelves. Once in a while, if he was waiting on a customer up front on the long table, where he stacked and boxed items and wrote out invoices, he’d shout out: “Meathead! Get me six 11/11 half heels.” Then he’d mutter to his customer, “I’m tryna keep it simple, not overload the kid.”
Dad blew his top at me in front of his customers from time to time, especially when I put half heels on the whole heel shelf, which infuriated him when he went to fetch something he wanted and found it missing, or in the wrong space on the shelf. So he relegated me to sweeping and fetching and hauling boxes of merchandise to the cars of his shoemakers, all of whom were understanding of me and told me they would look forward to the day when I ran the business like my dad.
My dad’s right-hand man, Russ, was married to my mother’s sister, an out-of-work musician who had made a lot of money before the war and had been big time in Chicago and New York City, but was now down on his luck and serving time in dad’s store. He had a delivery route in Orange County, where he had a home with my aunt and cousins, and had opened up some accounts out there. Dad told my mother that “all musicians were worthless and that Russ was the most lazy, undependable, irresponsible Irishman he’d ever come across.”
All true, but a great guy, a charmer, and a storyteller par excellence. Dad, a crazed hustler, always moving, busy, lightning quick, tried to push Russ, but to no avail. He had one speed—slow. Dad would whisper in my ear, “The guy’s been a pet all his life. Your mother always defends him, because he’s married to her sister, but the man’s worthless as tits on a bull…only reason I hired him is because he can’t find a job doing anything else. All he can do now is play the piano in a dive. If I don’t hire him, his kids starve.”
Among other things, dad informed me, the lovable Russ was a “chronic complainer, a hypochondriac, and the biggest goddamn prima donna I’ve ever seen in my life, and believe me, playing pro ball 17 years, I’ve seen ‘em all, Dell.” Then he’d wink at me, and form a shit-eating grin.
“You’re not gonna take after your Uncle Russ, are you? Or your mother’s goddamn worthless family of freeloaders and bullshitters?”
“Nah, dad, I wanna end up like you.”
After a couple weeks into the summer, dad accused me of being a “clock-watcher and a day dreamer,” because I repeatedly “cocked up orders.” But dad’s exasperation with Russ was so overwhelming that it sort of placed me temporarily in the background. Nobody could com-pare to Russ in being a worthless human being, not even me.
Finally, one afternoon Russ closed early to beat traffic while dad was on the road, and left me to fend for myself—all hell broke loose.
One of dad’s biggest accounts, from out near the desert, had come in for a big order, and there I was, a 12-year-old kid, all by myself, not knowing my ass from a hole in the ground. Together, I and this crusty, gnarled old shoemaker, loaded him up as best we could, writing down on a notepad what he took out, and when the guy called dad and told him what happened, dad fired Russ.
While dad looked for a new right-hand man, he took me aside. “Now that your buddy Russ is gone, your corking off days are over. I know it was you distracting him, getting him to tell you stories all after-noon while I’m gone making deliveries. I know exactly what’s going on in my store alla time, buster, and I know what’s getting done and what’s not getting done, and when I get back from my deliveries I can look around and know you didn’t do a goddamn thing I told you to do while I was gone, because you were too busy sitting on your ass in the office drinking cokes and getting that worthless freeloader to tell you his goddamn bullshit stories. I know you, boy.”
The kid taking Russ’s place (Russ found a gig playing piano, singing and telling jokes and stories in an Anaheim nightclub) was the son of one of dad’s shoemakers who needed to get his kid a job. Ludy. I took one look at this guy (he was around 20) and tabbed him “Ludy the Loony,” and “Ludy the Loser.” Ludy was fairly strong and eager. But, since he was visibly simple, dad started him out stocking, sweeping, and carrying orders out to cars, while I had advanced to actually fetching and packing orders at the big table, a show of trust and added responsibility. He told mother I was actually im-proving a little, while mother chastised him for hiring Ludy, claim-ing the “poor thing was retarded.”
“You’ve gotta have flunkies,” dad explained to her.
Dad managed, through kindness and patience, to turn Ludy into a flesh and bones robot, politely asking him to fetch such and such an item, and Ludy, only able to do one thing at a time, was like a remote control toy. If the pace in the store got feverish and de-manding, and dad mindlessly gave Ludy too much to do too quickly, it was disaster. Still, dad reacted to Ludy’s fucking up with rare under-standing. Ludy wore new baggy jeans crumpled up on his black Keds, and a white T-shirt, cigarette packs rolled up in the sleeves. Some-times his mouth hung open. I couldn’t talk to him. He drove an old Ford on which he worked and got himself greasy, and one time dad sent him on a delivery of one item to a shoemaker three blocks away and Ludy was lost for hours, never found the shop (the shoemaker called and called—an emergency!), showed up at closing time with ice cream on his face.
I began lurking among the shelves and hurling, from long distance, little ladies toplift heels at Ludy, nipping him on the flank, and the poor kid yelped and jumped as if stung by a bee, dropped the heels he was fetching for dad and dashed up front squealing and jerk -himself around like a dog trying to bite his flea-bitten ass. Cus-tomers recoiled with distaste while dad took me straight to the office and threatened to break me into a thousand bloody pieces if I did not put a stop to tormenting poor, unfortunate Ludy.
I took my ass-chewing like the miscreant I was, behaved like he wanted me to and then some for almost a week, before sailing with some zing an over-sized men’s leather heel at Ludy’s flank, and this time he went berserk, drooling all over himself, his eyes went wild, as he grunt-ed animal sounds. He grabbed a broomstick and came after me, and I dashed out the front door and out-ran him down the boulevard while dad wrestled the broomstick from Ludy and stood cursing me, waving a fist, threatening to break me into a thousand bloody pieces. He fired me that night after a whipping.

But he rehired me a day later after a discussion with mother, who felt I was “really too young for a serious job.”
“Bullshit,” said dad, as I listened at the keyhole to them arguing about me, which was common. “Listen, the kid has only paid off half of what he’s destroyed. We can’t let him skate on this, Rose, or he’ll skate on every goddamn thing he does the rest of his life. And believe me, deep down, I wanna cut my losses, and get rid of him before he cocks up something else, because everything he touches turns to shit, believe me, but he owes me, and the smartass, he knows exactly what he’s doing, the devious little bastard, he knows goddamn well I’ll fire him, like he wants me to, and I probably should, before he sabotages our goddamn livelihood, but it’s a matter of principle with me, Rose, so the worthless kid goes back to work.”
So I returned to work. Immediately I decided to toss a curveball at my ex major leaguer dad. Instead of being a perennial fuck-up, I picked up the slack for Ludy, who mercifully quit, nearly losing dad a customer (Ludy’s dad). I conscientiously went out of my way to not only do things right, to work hard and fast and learn quickly, but to trade in my wise guy know-it-all attitude for a Boy Scout impersonation, so that many of dad’s customers were pleased and complimenting him on my intelligence and maturity.
Dad hired another shoemaker’s son, a dud, a fruitcake, but I left him totally alone.
And everything would have probably worked out for the remainder of the summer if it had not been for one Augie (Big Schozz) Bovoloni. Augie was this short guy with a long body and huge head of curly hair and a monstrous hooked nose and two crazy darting black eyes. The size of a jockey, and a horseplayer to boot (like my dad), he was a cash customer always in debt and married to a fat woman at least twice his size who had hatched ten kids and never stopped carping at Augie, who had a small shop in Culver City.
Dad referred to Augie as a “Sad Sack.” Always whining. Always looking like he’d just saw his dog run over. Business was always bad. Poor Augie. A talented shoemaker, said dad, who, when requested, made beautiful shoes and boots for rich folks. Augie even complained to me, “Little Murray, you’re such a good kid, workin’ for your wonder-ful dad. My kids, they won’t work for me, little Murray…”
“My name’s Dell, Augie.”
“Little Dell, my kids, they hate me. They don’t do nothin’ Augie tells ‘em to do. My wife, she turned ‘em against me, little Murray, because she hates me, too. Your daddy, he’s my best friend. I wish I had a brother like your wonderful dad, little Murray, but my brothers, they got their own lives, they live back east, they don’t care what happens to Augie…”
This guy, if you let him, he could drive you nuts. He had these huge intense eyes that saturated you, so that you wanted to run from the poor bastard. He’d be in the store, and I’d be in the back, stock-ing shelves, trying to stay away from my dad and Augie and the intensity of all his in-a-hurry, complaining and boring shoemakers up at the big loading table, and Augie’d find me. “Ohh, Little Murray, such a good boy. Look at those things on your poor feet. Those are rags, they got tape holdin’ ‘em together. Goddamn tennis shoes, they’re drivin’ the shoemakers outta business, those sneakers, Little Murray. Why you gotta wear them ugly things, when they fallin’ off your feet...?”
“I’m an athlete, Augie, I play ball in ‘em. They may not look good, but they fit good. I don’t hafta worry about polishin’ them or being filthy, I can run through puddles and creeks and if they stink, I dry ‘em out in the sun…I like ‘em…”
“But they got tape on ‘em, Little Murray. Your dad, he’s in the shoe business, and his kid, he wears cheap sneakers with tape keepin’ ‘em on his feet. What you think all his customers gonna think when they see you wearin’ them rags with tape holdin’ ‘em together...?”
“I don’t care what they think, Augie. I care about my feet and playin’ ball.”
“People think your daddy is poor, and he works so hard. …Little Murray, your daddy, he is my best friend, so little Murray, what I am gonna do, I am gonna make you some good shoes, nice shoes, shoes last you for years, you don’t got to put no tape on ‘em.…”
“I gotta go up front, Augie, dad needs my help.”
He followed me up front, where it wasn’t much better, with him still fawning over me and telling my dad what a great kid I was, my dad knowing for sure that was bullshit, but going along with Augie since Augie was his loyal customer, who would never ever under any circumstances buy from any other wholesaler in the country, and now dad was even bragging to these grimy characters that I was really working out and learning the business and would someday, if I chose, inherit and run the business.
I persevered this bullshit. But Augie, he wouldn’t let up. He’d pigeonhole me every time he came in the store, telling me how great I was, then squeezing my biceps and telling me how I was strong and would be a big powerful guy someday like my lionized dad, and then one day he comes in with these goddamn boots. Ankle-high boots, gor-geous boots made of supreme leather. Fruit boots.
He presented them to me up front while dad and about twenty shoemakers looked on. “Your boy, he deserves nice boots, Murray, look at those rags he’s wearin’…”
“The kid wears rags, Augie. I can’t even buy him new shirts. I don’t know what to do with him. He won’t wear new things or nice stuff.”
Augie insisted I try on the boots. Dad gave me a look. I took off my filthy, smelly, ragged sneakers and slipped into the boots. A per-fect fit. I felt a shiver go up my spine as Augie beamed and my dad turned away, not wanting to see the expression on my face.
“Look at those boots, huh, Murray. I make ‘em for your son.”
“Beautiful boots, Augie. You’re a craftsman.”
“Your son, he’s my son, too, Murray. I do anything for him.”
Now I had the boots off, slipped back into my sneakers.
“Murray, the kid’s wearin’ them sneakers again! They got tape on ‘em. He won’t wear my boots. Why won’t he wear my boots?”
I started sneaking to the back of the store. Dad glowered at me. “You can wear those boots for a little while,” he said, miserable.
I went to the back of the store, tying the laces of my sneakers. Brand new laces secured on the shelves of the store. Holding the sneakers together, like binding. Meanwhile, Augie whined and harped on, crushed by having to see his unworn boots on the front table. I’d had enough. I had to put a stop to this sonofabitch, or there’s no telling how far he’d go. I found the big push broom and snuck up along the shelves. There was Augie, still carrying on, his baggy pants crumpling up at his ankles, hiding his skinny ass. I raced forward and shoved the end of the broom up that skinny ass as hard as I could and Augie shrieked and went straight up in the air, landing feet first on the table full of orders. He grabbed at his ass and shrieked again. He waved his arms, his enormous eyes circulating around like crazed orbs. He shrieked again, jumped off the table and secured the long window-opening pole and came after me with it. We blasted the wooden poles against each other, like two sword fighters in movies. My dad tried to get between us. Shoemakers spilled out into the street. I tossed down my broom and followed them in a dead sprint. My dad and Augie gave chase. Nobody could catch me. I was well down the street. Dad fired me for good that night, cutting his losses.
Augie came back in the fold. Nobody else but my dad would put up with him. Dad kept the boots in the garage. §

Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He still wears raggedy tennis shoes. He can be reached at

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