The Rogue Voice


March 01, 2008

Bye-bye honkies

Hoisting bullwhip and handcuffs, the bayou dominatrix smirks derision at me as I go to work.

I go back to the windows, noting there’s a sale on edible condoms, including all-new flavors boysenberry and crème de menthe.

Window Washing Across America
Bye-bye honkies
Episode 30

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.

The Climastroke 350SL, a hypoallergenic, dishwasher-safe, odorless vibrating dildo with ribbed shaft, oscillating tip, silicone clit stimulator, and flared base “ideal for harness use” has for too long been obstructed from the people of New Iberia, Louisiana, behind a haze of rain deposits, dead bugs, and unidentifiable fuzz coating the windows of Acadian Adult World. With the holidays fast approaching, it’s a shame that New Iberians have been denied a clear view of the boxes of Climastrokes, and the garish dominatrix mannequin standing next to them in camouflage teddy and hunting boots. It is my job to change that, to make the glass unnoticeable. I’m a window-washer and it’s my first job of the day.
Hoisting bullwhip and handcuffs, the bayou dominatrix smirks derision at me as I go to work. Countless parallels and metaphors of decline and dishonor begin to amass themselves in a heap around me but I don’t waste too much time rehashing the past. I am where I am, at the bottom of my country’s compost heap, for good reason, illuminating smut with a few pennies in my pocket. If there’s a silver lining it’s that this early the chances of being seen by fellow members of the human race are relatively low. With the streets practically empty I can probably get through the job with little or no attention.
But in life, it’s just when you start to think this way that you look in the glass and see the reflection of someone or something that tells you it’s not your day for being left alone.
He keeps moving down the sidewalk. He’s on the opposite side of the street, an old fellow in baggy trousers and faded army field jacket. He rows the air with a hand and drags a leg, in a stride from the ‘70s. His message is clear, audible, well-enunciated, and direct—very cut and dried. I like that he makes his point and moves on. I can live with that. I go back to the windows, noting there’s a sale on edible condoms, including all-new flavors boysenberry and crème de menthe.
He’s back though, this time from the other direction, rowing and dragging, bopping the head like a cobra. Not a soul comes out to see what the racket is. It’s just he and I. He’s around sixty, sporting a nappy beard and a sooty Afro under a ball cap. His walk and lexicon suggesting he’s suspended in an episode of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In or The Flip Wilson Show. I look around for help, but at the same time I’m relieved no one has witnessed this scene. Foreseeing a long day of street confrontations, I decide to nip things in the bud — to let him know he’s not messing with some chump. First I look to make sure no one is watching.
“Hey!” I yell at the stranger. “Hey, you’re fucking with the wrong guy!! Alright?!”
This must do the trick because as soon as the guy hears this, he ducks into an alleyway without a word. It allows me to go back to my windows. “How did you like that, honey?” I ask my dominatrix through the glass. “Don’t think he will be bothering me any more, do you?”
Unfortunately the owner of Acadian Adult World is standing there, hands on hips, watching me.
“Just clean windows, alright? We have enough troubles in our industry without people making a scene.” Concerned employees from a Dollar General across the street come out to investigate the commotion. The porn-man waves them off and, before I can explain, he’s gone back into his store. I finish up while keeping a lookout for the street-loon, almost hoping he reappears so I can clear my name.
His head pokes out from around the alleyway and now he shows me a little disposable shaving razor, yellow and plastic, which he slices through the air, grinning. With the other hand he holds up a Black Power fist — knuckles outward. He chuckles and hisses words I can’t make out. There’s nothing I can do. Periodically, he ducks away only to reappear a few moments later and show me his razor and fist while hissing his hatred. He keeps it up the entire time I wash windows. Afterwards I go inside to get paid.
“Windows look great,” says the owner.
“Thanks,” I say. “This is the first porn shop I’ve done.”
“Adult novelty store.”
“Oh. Sorry”
“Yeah, I wasn’t sure about you when you were out there yellin’ but man these windows are clean as a whistle.”
“About the yelling. There was a crazy black man out there yelling first. Maybe you could tell me about him. Older man? Wears a field jacket? I’m not from here.”
“Yelling?” says a heavily tattooed woman coming out from a back room. She could have been the mannequin twenty years ago. “Someone’s yelling? What kind of things?” she asks.
“Racial things,” I say. “I was minding my own business when he comes by and starts yelling. Loud. I can’t believe you didn’t hear him.”
“No, couldn’t have been,” her husband says, clutching her around her thick waist. “We don’t have no racial problems around here, nothing major at least. You must have done something to tick him off.”
“He was holding up a Black Power fist and wielding a disposable razor,” I say.
“Nope, nobody like that around here,” says the woman. “Of course, if you give people trouble, they are going to give you trouble. You gotta leave people alone.”
“Yes,” the man agrees, starting to hand me the twenty dollars we’d agreed on. “Don’t bother anyone and no one will bother you.” Then he pulls back the twenty. “Hey, you sure you don’t wanna do a store trade? I’ll give you a deal on a artificial vagina. Give you one at cost.”
“I better not,” I say. “I need the money more.”
Janet, the day-bartender at Sancho’s is a tall drink of water with strong long legs in frayed cutoffs, a short checkered shirt tied up over a flat belly, and a straight mop of brown hair pulled back into a pony-tail. She has a nice smoky, flawed beauty to her — big glistening eyeballs, a chipped front tooth and a tiny scar on the chin I want to chew. For my afternoon beer I choose her establishment, a nightclub stuck between a wrecking yard and a car dealership. It’s your generic dance club, and this time of day only its little bar is lit up by a stream of sunlight from the doorway. The dance floor, stage, and tables wait around in darkness. Janet is a welcome respite from New Iberia and the man outside who hadn’t let up and had continued to follow me around, taunting me at moments he knew it was impossible for me to respond. He’d grown more emboldened throughout the morning, really having fun at my expense.
“So how you like New Ibeer-ya so far?” Janet says, popping the top of a bottled Bud and placing it in front of me. She leaps up onto an icebox behind her and sits on it and puffs from a cigarette.
“Louisiana as a whole isn’t what I was expecting to tell you the truth, Janet.”
“Whatchu mean, bey-bey?”
“I guess I thought it would be like that movie “The Big Easy,” or the books of James Lee Burke. I got it in my mind there would be roadside shacks where you could stop, and some greasy zydeco band would be in there playing and a chef would go out back and kill an alligator and make stew out of it. So far the whole country has been a disappointment that way. In Texas, for instance, I never once found a bowl of chili, and the one high school football game I saw left much to be desired. Hey, what can you tell me about this guy in the field jacket that keeps going around yelling at me?”
“Texas be a itty-bit backward doin’t it? A bit squay-ah.” The sweetie pops me another and puts it in front of me. “I got diss one bey-bey.” She jumps back on her icebox, lights another cigarette. Smooth tanned calves tucked into little white tennies. I could see her wading through swamps, catching crawdads with her bare hands.
“Yeah, I guess Texas was a little square,” I say. “There was one stretch where I went two weeks without seeing beer. Dry counties they call them. I was glad to see that in Louisiana they even sell beer in the Wal-Marts.
“Yep. Dass right. Dass Lou’siana fo you.” She beams and snaps her fingers. “So whatchu want you ain’t found in Lou’siana?”
“Well I like that music. I thought it would be everywhere. The food too. Right now though I’m more concerned with this man outside. He’s got a Bic disposable razor he keeps waving. Is he harmless?”
“What kinda food you lookin’ fo exactly?”
“I don’t know. Gumbo, jambalaya. Something.”
“Dey’s several places you could go fo authentic Cajun dining but dey all a bit expensive. See now, I cooks all dat stuff —gumbo, jambalaya, etouffee, andouille. But I’m a Cajun woman, see, and I cooks like a Cajun woman. When Cajun women cook, dey throw things around. My fiancé sneaked up on me the other day and I liked to bust him over the head with a skillet. I told him, ‘Don’t you be sneakin’ up on no Cajun woman when she cookin’. He don’t know no betta. He from up east. Anyway, whatchu think of the people so far?”
“A little guarded. You’re the first person who’s really talked to me. Also I’m worried about this wacky bastard in the field jacket that keeps cursing and yelling at me. I don’t need any incidents. You must know who I am talking about.”
“You got to get to know Cajun people,” she says, lighting her third cigarette. “Dey a good people once you stay in town fo awhile. Come back here tonight and I gar-ahn-tee you, you meet all kinda good people. And dey’s a band playin’. One of the guys, I think he play that kinda music you talkin’ bout — with the washboards and the ‘cordion? I could ax him.”
“Maybe I will.” I stand and drain the Budweiser. Just as I am about to say goodbye, the broad beam of light that has been streaming from the doorway vanishes, and standing where it once was is the silhouette of one of the biggest sonafabitches I’d ever seen. He ambles down a walking ramp a good 6-7, and silo-width, wearing a heavy New Orleans Saints jacket. There’s something about his movement that isn’t right, perhaps homicidal, and makes me glad I’m leaving. He has shaggy black hair, a mangy goatee and lamb-chop sideburns. His dull, lazy eyes give him an unfeeling look.
Janet already has another popped beer in front of me. “Iss on me,” she says, winking and motioning me to sit, the corners of her mouth twitching nervously. “One more ain’t gone kill you.”
I sit back down and take a slurp, though I didn’t know what I was expected to do if the mammoth started something. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. There were no openings on him. He was a solid block from head to toe. In a struggle, I would be just big enough to amuse him and small enough for him to maul. But hell, there was a free Bud in front of me.
“Can I help you?” Janet asks the giant. There is a delay in his response.
“I…fown deez in de par…kin’ lot.” He shows Janet his open hand, the size of a catcher’s glove, his fingers the size of small hot dogs. Floating in his palm like little lost baby-teeth are four or five cigarette butts. “You … think you could gimme a light … ma’am?”
Janet tosses him a book of matches like she’s tossing meat to a lion and backs away. She sits back on her icebox and looks at me and I shrug. “You want anything to drink?” she asks him. “Or you just wanted a light?” There is again a dead pause.
“I leev … ova dere … in Saint Mar-tins-ville,” is his answer. He lights up another one of his butts.
Janet waits for a follow up. “You live in Saint Martinsville, and…?”
But he just sucks on the butt. Janet tries to resume our conversation, trying to get me to stick around, but every time she tries, he interrupts.
“I works … at de tat-too … parlor,” he says, a pile of spent matchsticks growing on the bar. He’s not done. He butts in again and again: “I leev wiff ma … un-cle … and his waff. Dey only makes me pay … twenny dolla … a monf. I’m a laff-guard too … at a swimmin’ poo.”
Janet keeps slipping me Budweisers, growing more agitated with each of the big idiot’s pointless statements.
“I leev ova dere … in Jeane-rette. I tink my uncle waff … sleepin’ round on ‘im. I’m gone git me … a Mousse-tang. I’monna move … to Bout-tie. I work … at a restaurant … I’s the chef.”
Janet has enough. “You live in Saint Martinsville, you live in Jeanerette, you movin’ to Bouttie where you gonna buy you a Mustang, and you a chef and a lifeguard and a tattoo artist? Boy youz a lotta things. What tattoo parlor you work at?”
“Huh? … Oh, I don’t know de name.”
The phone rings and Janet springs to answer it, and I use the opportunity to slip out. My protectiveness only went so far. Five and a half beers under my belt, I look both ways for the razor man before stepping out into the blinding sun. The coast was clear.
The Orphanmaker RT67 Classic, a lightweight, low recoil .405 caliber hunting rifle with aluminum alloy receiver and Assailant IV riflescope nightvision sighting, suffers quietly behind dirty glass and iron bars at Bayou Outfitters of New Iberia. It is the feature item in a window display that includes camouflage blinds and binoculars, two-way radios with GPS tracking, and T-shirts that say “I Shot Bambi’s Mom,” “Gut Deer?” and “If God Didn’t Want Us To Eat Animals Why Did He Make Them Out of Meat?” Behind the dirt and bars, along with the high-glossed walnut stock of the “trim and deadly” Orphanmaker, these items have gone unappreciated by the citizens of New Iberia for much too long. With deer season just days away, it is tragic really. Then a window-washer comes along to save the day, albeit a window-washer past his midday limit for beers.
At least he’s a distance away this time, out near the street. But his voice carries and still he waves his little yellow double-edged razor. “DIG IT WHITEY!” he laments. “SUPERBAD! MALCOM X!”
I ignore him, keep my back to him. I’m almost done with Bayou Outfitters, then I’m out of New Iberia.
“YOU BETTER RINSE THEM WINDOWS, HONKY CAT! WHAT IT IS?” He shows me his Black Power fist again. That’s when I get an idea.
Looking first for witnesses, I quietly set down my squeegee. I take a few steps forward. I then show him a different kind of fist. With it, I demonstrate clobbering motions through the air —overhand rights mostly. It gets his attention. His dancing stops and he sticks his head out and squints for a better look. He really pipes down. I’ve found the language he understands. For good measure I show him a few more simulated blows. All goes well, until I hear a voice behind me.
“Just a minute,” says the owner of Bayou Outfitters into the receiver of a cordless phone. He’s a squat fellow dressed boot to cap in leafy camouflage. “My window-washer is out here threatening people.” He tucks the mouthpiece under his chin. “What’s going on out here? Why all the yelling?”
“Right there.” I point, but the man is gone. “You can’t see him but there’s a man that’s been yelling at me all damn day. Racial things.”
The woman who owns the flower store next door comes out.
“What’s going on out here?” she says, pale with alarm. I repeat my alibi to her and the gun storeowner. They both peer out at the street.
“Well what did you do to make the guy yell at you?” she asks.
“Nothing. I think he’s just got mental problems.”
“Well I don’t see anyone,” says Bayou Outfitters. “You can’t be egging people on. It’s not good for business.”
“Yes, please keep it down,” says the flower-storeowner. “And will you do my windows next?”
Halfway into her windows:
“YOU BETTER RINSE THEM MUTHAFUCKIN’ WINDOWS WHITEY! FO SHO I’M ONNA SLICE YOU UP JIVE TURKEY, CAN YOU DIG? FUCK YO MAMMA!” He’s jumping up and down, spinning and flailing his arms, doing jumping jacks and Kung-Fu moves, very excited. The gunstore owner comes storming out.
“Hey, Jesus already.” Into the phone receiver he says: “Huh? Oh, my window washer is still out here bugging people.”
“Now what?” says the flower lady, coming outside clutching a bunch of red roses. “What this time?”
I point just in time for us to see the man’s tail end hobbling quickly out of view, but without his ‘70s shuffle.
“There he goes,” I say, feeling vindicated. “That’s the one.”
“Well what did you do to set him off?” says the gun man.
“Set him off?”
“Yeah, what’s wrong with him?” says the flower lady.
“That guy you are having your little problem with.”
“Listen, I don’t even know him. I’m not even from here. He’s just nuts I think.”
“Hey, that’s no way to talk about people,” says the gun man. “Have you been drinking? You smell like it and your eyes look a little glossy. Why don’t you go sleep it off somewhere and leave people alone?”
“Alright,” I say, get my money from the flower lady and hurry out to the Plymouth. I couldn’t get out of New Iberia fast enough.
Driving east for the outskirts, I hear not far up the street a commotion over car horn blasts and the “cheep!-cheep!” of screeching tires. I then come upon the scene, at the entrance to a supermarket parking lot. It’s not pretty.
My friend has at bay a burgundy Cadillac with Nebraska plates. From a low-crouched, defensive stance, he blocks them from exiting while tossing his razor from hand to hand. Inside the Cadillac, a silver-haired couple trembles in horror while slapping at door-locking mechanisms. The driver, on the verge of coronary arrest tries backing out and dashing for an opening only to be cut off by the lunatic. The woman waves her hands frantically in the air and shrieks. They both look around for help from the town like I did, shocked that the man was allowed to roam the streets.
Finally, the driver punches it into reverse and guns it across the parking lot for another exit where he gets onto the street and hightails it out of New Iberia, tires squealing.
“BYE-BYE HONKIES!” says my man, waving, then hoisting his Black Power fist. “BYE-BYE!” He tucks his razor into his field jacket pocket and continues up the street, rowing a hand, dragging a foot, rowing and dragging. §

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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Lefty Grove

He looked mean, had this scowl, and he was tall and rangy and rawboned, looked like a buzzard on that mound.

He had that aura, a big vulture, and he awed you.

The Big Lefty

By Murray Franklin as told to Dell Franklin

It was common knowledge Lefty Grove was the meanest man in baseball, and there were a lot of mean bastards around who’d cut your throat for any kind of edge. Grove’s own teammates feared him, because if you booted one and cost him a game, or a shutout, he’d give you a look that would kill, and there were those who said Grove hated to lose more than he liked to win.
He was the best pitcher in baseball for nearly 10 years, winning 30 games one year and leading the league in strikeouts and everything else year in and year out—a “stopper.” He looked mean, had this scowl, and he was tall and rangy and rawboned, looked like a buzzard on that mound, and I guess he came up the hard way on the railroads in some dirt-poor mountain town near the Maryland-West Virginia border. He hated all hitters, and you didn’t mess around with him up at the plate.
Now even though he had this reputation of being tough on teammates, if you made a big play for him, or got a big hit in a tight game, he’d give you a nod of approval, and that little nod meant more than all this hugging and kissing you see with these modern players. And if you were his teammate and somebody on the other team knocked you down, Grove was the first guy to retaliate, and word was — “nobody messed with Grove.” He was a special case.
The first time I faced him was in spring training. Grove was an old man by then, around 40. Had snow-white hair, had put on weight.
He was used by the Red Sox mostly as a spot starter and reliever. He no longer threw hard enough to scare people, but still, he had that aura, a big vulture, and he awed you. He acted like he owned the field, owned the game, and you were some interloper, and everything he did on the mound was effortless grace and perfection, like Williams hitting. A legend.
A couple of my teammates told me Grove had been washed up for years and couldn’t get off the mound anymore. “Get yourself a hit, kid,” Schoolboy Rowe told me. “Bunt him.” Jim Tabor was at third for the Red Sox, and he was slow as an ice wagon, and Jimmy Foxx was at first, looking like death from a hangover, needing a shave, a mess. So I stepped in there. Lefty glared in, looking bigger than I Imagined. He threw me a fastball and I dragged it down the third-base line and ran like a bat out of hell down the line. As I crossed first base, Foxx never made a move toward the bag. He stood there, arms folded, watching me fly past. When I got back to the bag there was a hush on the field and in the stadium. Our first-base coach wouldn’t look at me. Foxx sidled up, arms still folded, stinking like a distillery, with those big arms, biggest arms in baseball. He talked to me out of the side of his mouth. “Jesus, kid, what the hell you doing?” Over at third, Tabor stood near the bag, the ball sitting untouched between home and the bag, a perfect drag bunt. He was staring at me, too. Foxx told me, “Nobody bunts Grove, kid. It ain’t done.” Now I had to look at Grove. He was halfway between first and the mound, scowling right through me. He growled and turned around and finally took the ball from Tabor, who shook his head, as if to say, “Boy, is that kid stupid, a real rock.” All the guys in our dugout were having a big time falling all over themselves, and the guys in the Boston dugout were quiet and grim, like they were waiting for somebody to stick my head in a chopping block.
“You’re hittin’ a thousand off Grove, Franklin,” Dizzy Trout yelled from the dugout. He and Rowe, pitchers, were jostling each other. I kept my head down, took a small lead, while Foxx toed the bag and smacked his glove. “Lefty don’t forget,” he said. “Better hope he’s gone before you get up again.”
Sure enough, they left him in there and I came up again, and there’s Lefty, glaring at me when I stepped into the batter’s box. I played it meek and kept my eye on him, knowing I was going to get knocked down and deserved it for being stupid and listening to guys like Rowe and Trout, pitchers playing a trick on an ambitious rookie. So I braced myself to take one on the backside and Grove floated in a slow curve, down the middle. Strike one. Well, he’ll get me now, I thought, he’s setting me up.
“Hey bush!” somebody yelled from the Boston dugout. “Drag another bunt!”
“Dummy!” yelled another guy.
I got ready to duck again and he floated me another slow curve down the middle. Everybody in both dugouts were laughing. I got out of the box, stared out at Grove. To hell with him, I thought, I don’t give a damn what he does, I’m hitting. Next pitch he comes in tight with a tailing fastball and I rip it off the fence in left and pull into second base with a double. I stand on second, proud as a peacock, and Lefty’s got the ball back. He steps off the mound and gives me that tiny nod, no smile.
“Thattaway to swing that bat, kid,” he growled. “You don’t need to bunt.” §

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

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Life in the cage

‘I ain’t a racist. But my personal beliefs don’t matter. The bottom line is that I can’t cell up with another race. My people will discipline me, put me in the infirmary.’

In California, institutional racism has led inmates of different races to not get along and fight each other over territory or matters of disrespect. It seems almost impossible to change how things have been running for generations.

Illustration by Gene Ellis

Can’t we all just get along?

By Tito David Valdez Jr.

For decades, California prison officials have orchestrated housing placements of prisoners based on race. A California inmate challenged this unwritten policy in 1997 and a decade later the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Johnson vs. California that race could no longer be a factor when housing inmates. The decision has brought on much anxiety and controversy within the California prison population.
I was in the dayroom where about two hundred prisoners passed time by exercising, playing dominos or socializing. While walking to the water fountain, I heard two inmates conversing during their workout.
“Yo, Malcolm. You see that shit on our institutional video system about cell integration?” asked Tre, a light-skinned buff African American inmate in his early thirties, as he finished up a set of burpees.
“Yup, they aint putting no honky tonk redneck in my cell, playing that country shit. Them white boys are nasty Jerry Springer trailer trash motha fuckas. Putting photos of their cousins up on the wall. They into that shit, homey,” said Malcolm, a dark-skinned African American in his forties, beginning a set of burpees.
“I feel you. I ain’t gonna be comfortable having a white boy in my cell, makes me think about his people who enslaved our ancestors. Shee-it, he try to step up in my cell, I gonna whoop on him, fo’ sho’!” said Tre, wiping sweat off his forehead.
“Yeah, knock his ass out. You gonna go to the hole but you come back with respect,” said Malcolm, drinking water from his cup.

The decibel level was off the charts with the racket of changing gates, radios blasting, prisoners’ chattering, and guards yelling out orders on the intercom system. I walked over near the white inmates’ tables, overhearing their opinions on the racial integration policy.
A white inmate named Brad, who lost his single cell because of overcrowding, expressed his views to another inmate. “They ain’t moving no monkey ass negro in my cell.”
“I hear you, dog. I wouldn’t be able to sleep, having to hear a loud ass talking all the time about baby mommas and rapping to jungle music. I’ll bomb on his ass the moment he steps into the cell,” said Mark, a corn-fed, bald-headed white guy with a swastika tattoo on his neck.
“That’s the only option, holmes. If you refuse a cellie, they take you to the hole anyways.”
“Why are they trying to change what has worked for the last fifty years? Doesn’t make any sense. If the wheel ain’t broke, why fix it?” asked Mark.
“I’m leaning towards conspiracy. They need to build more prisons so they want to push us all to the breaking point. They’ve already taken our weights, conjugal visits. They want us to protest, go off, like Attica.”
“Damn, it would be torture having to wake up to that silly Do-Rag and smell that nasty ass shit they put in their hair,” said Mark.
“Holmes, look at the bright side, when it is dark at night, their teeth will light your way to take a piss. They glow in the dark,” Brad said, laughing.
At 6:30 p.m., the usual time for chow release, two unit guards were opening the cell doors of three different inmates, escorting them to the administration unit office. I looked out my window, curious. The only time they call inmates past six p.m., after business hours, is to give them bad news, like a family member died.
At chow release, which ran late at 7 that evening, I caught up with Brad, who was one of the inmates called out.
“Brad, what did they call you to the unit office for?” I asked.
“Cell integration policy, holmes,” he said, with haste and spite.
“Really? What did they say?”
“They are screening people, interviewing.”
“Tell me, what’s the criteria, are they getting ready to implement the policy?”
“Yeah, they said in about three months. If a prisoner is affiliated with a gang or prison disruptive group, they will probably not be affected. Anyone non-affiliated, they got problems. I’m not affiliated, so it’s going to affect me.”
“I don’t get it, man.”
“Here’s the bottom line. If a non-affiliated white guy is selected to live with a Negro, he has two choices: Either refuse the cellie and go to the hole, or bomb on the guy and still go the hole.”
“Why can’t he just choose to live with the black guy and try to get along, for a day or two, till a white cell opens up?”
“Hey, holmes, prison isn’t a perfect world. There are unwritten rules. White inmates as a whole won’t accept one of their own living with a Negro. Anybody that crosses that line is going to get hurt really bad by his own race.”
“I get it now. But, what will you do, man, if you go to the hole? You will lose all your knick-knack stuff you have accumulated over the years.”
“Rather lose the material things than my front teeth. I’m just going to go with the flow. I’ll first refuse. If they try and force someone on me, I’m bombing on him.”
At evening dayroom, I caught up with Sleepy, a Latino inmate with a bald head and tattoos on his body, standing by a bulletin board listening to his walkman. I wanted to know how he felt about the integration policy.
“Sleepy, what is the word with the integration policy?”
Taking off his headphones, he replied, “It ain’t going to work, holmes.”
“I agree, but it seems like CDCR is going to enforce it. They’re mandated by the Supreme Court and a settlement agreement. They’re already screening inmates.”
“Check this out, the CDCR has done nothing to prepare us for such a major change. When we go to chow, we still sit in our own areas segregated by race. Our phones are segregated. Showers, too. How can they expect us to just integrate overnight?”
“Like, what will happen if there is a racial riot between two races?” I asked.
“Exactly, homey. If we get into it with the blacks, and one of us is housed with a black, that’s an automatic cell fight. Either he will bomb on me or I’ll have to bomb on him. The CDCR has never revealed to us any plan for this type of situation.”
“I see you talk to blacks from time to time. I know you ain’t got nothing against them.” I said.
“I ain’t a racist. But my personal beliefs don’t matter. The bottom line is that I can’t cell up with another race. My people will discipline me, put me in the infirmary.”
Numerous states and federal prisons nationwide racially integrate inmates into the same cells. As a result, inmates are more united, wearing prison blues and standing together against prison officials to fight against oppressive prison conditions.
In California, institutional racism has led inmates to fight over territory or matters of disrespect. It seems almost impossible to change how things have been running for generations.
One evening after chow, two unit guards came to my cell and I was escorted to the unit office. Captain Shields, a white officer who looked like the typical television homicide cop with walrus moustache and beer belly, had my file in front of him.
“Mr. Valdez, you are here to be screened for cell integration,” he said, filling out an application at the top with my name and prison number.
“Alright, where do I sign to refuse?”
“Believe me, you don’t want to refuse,” he said sternly.
“Why not?”
“Anyone who refuses will be taken to the hole and lose their privileges. You don’t want to lose your television and radio, do you?”
“Look, I’ll be honest with you. I am not a racist. My best friend, who is free, is a black guy. I just can’t live with another race in prison, my people for one won’t tolerate it.”
“Oh, so you are afraid of what your people will think,” he said with sarcasm.
“Yes, very much. Word going around is that anyone who cells up with another race will be attacked.”
“Have you ever been involved in a racial riot?”
“Yes, in the Los Angeles County Jail, against blacks, April 1995, Super Max Facility.”
“I’ll have to verify that. Why were you involved? I see here that you are non-affiliated.”
“No choice. Had to defend myself. You either stand up and fight or be attacked. And they don’t just throw punches, they have makeshift weapons or place bars of soap in a sock.”
“OK,” he said, looking down at his list of questions. “Could you live with a race other than blacks?”
“No. Nobody but my own race.”
“Come on, how hard can it be to live with someone of another race? There are inmates right now living in four man pods in the dorms, integrated racially.”
“There is a difference between a dorm and a cell. A dorm is an open area. A cell is a tiny space; it’s one’s own sanctuary.”
“If I was in your shoes, as a non-affiliated prisoner, I wouldn’t find a problem with it.”
“OK, let me put it to you this way. Are you married?”
“Let’s move your wife out of your bedroom, put an upper bunk above your bed, and move in Mike Tyson, or O.J. Simpson. A total stranger, convicted felon, someone you know has attitude and is capable of royally kicking your ass. Would you feel comfortable living like that in such small quarters? It’s already hard enough to find a good cellmate of your own race.”
“I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable, but…”
I interrupted him. “Every race has their own beliefs, culture, ideology. You give me a cellie from India, he is going to be cooking curry all day, a stench I can’t stand. Give me an Arab cellie, he might like to play Middle Eastern music out loud, which I don’t really care for. It’s very wrong to force someone to live with another race in such small quarters.”
“So are you refusing?”
“It’s not refusing. I’m just explaining my situation. You are going to put me into a situation where I’ll have to defend myself.”
“I believe you are mistaken. A lot of inmates will choose to comply rather than refuse and go to the hole.”
“That’s your opinion. You don’t live here, I do. I’ve heard that other California prisons have already tried to implement this policy with no success. Inmates are resorting to violence in protest.”
“Alright, based on the interview, I am going to approve you for cell integration. Any questions?”
“I object entirely, and I want you to put that on my application.”
I left the captain’s tiny office, which wasn’t any bigger than a cell, angry, since he made an arbitrary decision. From my experience, the 602 appeal process doesn’t work and takes months to even get a response.
Tyrone, a tall buff black inmate entered the office. I could hear him talking to the captain, sitting directly in front of him.
“OK, Mr. Jackson, you are here to be screened for cell integration,” said Captain Shields.
“Captain, I’m a racist and you ain’t going to put any white boy in my cell, you got that?” he said loudly, pounding his fists abruptly on the desk.
Suddenly, an alarm sounded in the unit office, the intercom speakers relayed, “Code one, code one, unit office, code one.” Five guards immediately stormed into the office, grabbing Tyrone and handcuffing him, escorting him to a holding cage outside.
“What happened, captain?” asked Officer Ritz, a white man in his early fifties wearing a CDCR baseball cap.
“I thought he was going to attack me. He had that look of hate in his eyes.” §

Tito David Valdez Jr. writes from the minimum security Correctional Facility in Soledad, Calif. Listen to his radio segments on prison life on the nationally syndicated program, “The Adam Carolla Show.” Visit David can be reached by email at, or by mail: Tito David Valdez Jr. J-52660, CTF Central E Wing Cell 126, P.O. Box 689, Soledad, Calif., 93960-0689. Visit David’s MySpace at or go to for information on David’s case.

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Hold on, Code Pink!

Editor’s note: Each week we receive emails from a friend of Dell’s whose views on Iraq and the military lean so much to the right we usually just hit the delete button. But Ray forwarded the following “Open Letter” by Marine Corps Captain Richard Lund, responding to Code Pink’s protests against campus recruiting at U.C. Berkeley, and we decided to reprint Capt. Lund’s compelling challenge. The original letter was published in the October 10, 2007, edition of the Berkeley Daily Planet, and is apparently making the rounds in email forward schemes, as you can see below, which begins with a note from Alan.

“The Marines are a class organization. I respect the hell out of them. This letter confirms their noble character, integrity, courage and dedication to protect the rights of all of the citizens of our country. In stark contrast to Capt. Lund, the protesters in Berkeley reveal themselves to be emotionalist-subjectivist idiots. They are unappreciative and undeserving of the protection they receive from our military. How can they be a product of an esteemed institution of higher learning like U.C. Berkeley? There is something truly wrong with our educational system.

An Open Letter to Code Pink

By Capt. Richard Lund

While the protest that you staged in front of my office on Wednesday, Sept. 26, was an exercise of your constitutional rights, the messages that you left behind were insulting, untrue, and ultimately misdirected. Additionally, from the comments quoted in the Berkeley Daily Planet article, it is clear that you have no idea what it is that I do here. Given that I was unaware of your planned protest, I was unable to contest your claims in person, so I will therefore address them here.
First, a little bit about who I am: I am a Marine captain with over eight years of service as a commissioned officer. I flew transport helicopters for most of my time in the Marine Corps before requesting orders to come here. Currently, I am the selection officer for the northern Bay Area. My job is to recruit, interview, screen, and evaluate college students and college graduates that show an interest in becoming officers in the Marine Corps. Once they’ve committed to pursuing this program, I help them apply, and if selected, I help them prepare for the rigors of Officer Candidate School and for the challenges of life as a Marine officer. To be eligible for my programs, you have to be either a full-time college student or a college graduate. I don’t pull anyone out of school, and high school students are not eligible.
I moved my office to Berkeley in December of last year. Previously, it was located in an old federal building in Alameda. That building was due to be torn down and I had to find a new location. I chose our new site because of its proximity to U.C. Berkeley and to the BART station. Most of the candidates in my program either go to Cal or to one of the schools in San Francisco, the East Bay, or the North Bay. Logistically, the Shattuck Square location was the most convenient for them.
Next, you claim that I lie. I have never, and will never, lie to any individual that shows an interest in my programs. I am upfront with everything that is involved at every step of the way and I go out of my way to ensure that they know what to expect when they apply. I tell them that this is not an easy path. I tell them that leading Marines requires a great deal of self-sacrifice. I tell them that, should they succeed in their quest to become a Marine officer, they will almost certainly go to Iraq. In the future, if you plan to attack my integrity, please have the courtesy to explain to me specifically the instances in which you think that I lied.
Next, scrawled across the doorway to my office, you wrote, “Recruiters are Traitors.” Please explain this one. How exactly am I a traitor? Was I a traitor when I joined the Marine Corps all those years ago? Is every Marine, therefore, a traitor? Was I a traitor during my two stints in Iraq? Was I a traitor when I was delivering humanitarian aid to the victims of the tsunami in Sumatra? Or do you only consider me a traitor while I am on this job? The fact is, recruitment is and always has been a part of maintaining any military organization. In fact, recruitment is a necessity of any large organization. Large corporations have employees that recruit full-time. Even you, I’m sure, must expend some effort to recruit for Code Pink. So what, exactly, is it that makes me a traitor? __
The fact is this: any independent nation must maintain a military (or be allied with those who do) to ensure the safety and security of its citizens. Regardless of what your opinions are of the current administration or the current conflict in Iraq, the U.S. military will be needed again in the future. If your counter-recruitment efforts are ultimately successful, who will defend us if we are directly attacked again as we were at Pearl Harbor? Who would respond if a future terrorist attack targets the Golden Gate Bridge, the BART system, or the U.C. Berkeley clock tower? And, to address the most hypocritical stance that your organization takes on its website, where would the peacekeeping force come from that you advocate sending to Darfur?__
Finally, I believe that your efforts in protesting my office are misdirected. I agree that your stated goals of peace and social justice are worthy ones. War is a terrible thing that should only be undertaken in the most dire, extreme and necessary circumstances. However, war is made by politicians. The conflict in Iraq was ordered by the president and authorized by Congress. They are the ones who have the power to change the policy in Iraq, not members of the military. We execute policy to the best of our ability and to the best of our human capacity. Protesting in front of my office may be an easy way to get your organization in the headlines of local papers, but it doesn’t further any of your stated goals.__
To conclude, I don’t consider myself a “recruiter.” I am a Marine who happens to be on recruiting duty. As such, I conduct myself in accordance with our core values of honor, courage, and commitment. I will never sacrifice my honor by lying to anyone who walks into my office. I will never forsake the courage that it takes to restrain myself in the face of insulting and libelous labels like liar and traitor. And, most importantly, I will never waver from my commitment to helping individuals who desire to serve their country as officers in the Marine Corps. §

Captain Richard Lund is the United States Marine Corps selection officer for the northern Bay Area.

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The beginning of a great career in writing

She throws her hair back over her almost bare shoulders and smiles, and smiles, and smiles.…I smile back and say what they’ve trained me to say: ‘How are you today?’

It’s a whole cascading sea of flesh overexposed to the universe — mad and frantic, desperate for freedom, for coupons that double, for organic pickles and tampons on sale.

Photos by Stacey Warde

By Larry Narron

The minute I sign in on the time sheet it begins. I move around the front desk and start making my way toward the registers. They’re all there, waiting like they’ve been there for a thousand years, pushing their hulking carts like tanks past the conveyer belts — sweating, shaking, cursing as they fumble with their car keys and go digging for their checkbooks. It’s a whole cascading sea of flesh overexposed to the universe — mad and frantic, desperate for freedom, for coupons that double, for organic pickles and tampons on sale.
I readjust my name badge and tuck in my shirt, and try to tell myself that I’m still going to make it as a writer. It’s like a mantra: This is the beginning of a great career in writing, this is the beginning of a great career in writing….
The manager looks at me like his hair is on fire. I rush in to relieve him from the register, and before I can say anything they are all scowling with sagging faces full of fury.
I smile at them. “How are you doing today?”
“Where’s the batteries?”
I move the barcodes over the machine and listen to the sound it makes.
The items slide down the second conveyer belt where they are packed into bags by the hanging hands of anguished teenagers, rejected by prom queens, by Stanford, by everything.
Here comes another one of these ex-sorority types from Santa Barbara with her short blonde hair glued to her skull and a personal jet waiting for her in the parking lot.
I try to smile at her. “And how are you doing today?”
“I want two hundred dollars cash back,” she says without even looking at me. Her credit card gleams as she swipes it. The thing looks like it’s made out of solid gold, like the earrings that dangle just above the shoulders of her mint-green coat.
I am calm and collected as I hand her the receipt. “Have a great day!”
She frowns and just gives me this hard, accusing look. “Aren’t you going to ask me if I want help out?” she says.
“I said, ‘Aren’t you going to ask me if I want help out?’”
I look down at the end of the second conveyer belt and the teenager has tears in her eyes as she rolls them and disappears to another part of the store. I look into the lady’s cart and see the solitary plastic bag packed half full: a pregnancy test, some condoms, and a seventy-five -dollar bottle of vodka.
“I’m sorry. Would you like some help out today?”
She shakes her head and rolls her eyes at me. “No. That’s not the point. I just thought that you people were supposed to ask. I just thought it was part of your job, that’s all.”
“I’m sorry. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“Yes,” she says flatly, putting her hands on her hips. “You can get your manager for me.”
Still smiling, I pick the phone up and call him on the loudspeaker.
He comes over, already furious with me. He nods and nods at the woman, putting his hands in his pockets and taking them out again as she tells him that I am absolutely the worst grocery store worker she has ever seen in her life and that if I don’t get some better customer service skills she’s going to sue my manager, personally. My manager apologizes and gives her a gift card.
She snatches it from his hand. “You’re a good man,” she says to him. “I’m not saying that you’re the problem.”
But she storms out of there just the same, leaving her cart and swinging the plastic bag over her padded shoulder as she walks out, the sound of her high heels clicking on the floor muffled by the low crackle of machines, the squeal of broken shopping cart wheels and the screams of children.
The manager glares at me. “You ask them if they want help out with their groceries,” he says. “I don’t care if they’re a little old lady or not.”
He’s still standing there behind me, watching to make sure I don’t mess it up for the company as another customer steps up to the belt. This one’s about six-four with short black hair slicked back over his huge head. His heavily -muscled arms bulge out of his sleeveless motorcycle jacket and are covered with tattoos of naked women. A thick blue vein pulsates from his hairline down to his cheek. He’s got one lazy eye that just stares off, dead, into space; the other is looking directly at me.
The man sets two gallons of milk and a carton of eggs down on the belt.
I force a smile. “Hello!”
The eye looks at me.
I scan the items and put them into two paper bags and hand them to him.
“So you’re total comes to…$6.13.”
He hands me a wad of bills and tosses some change at me. I gather it up and put it in the till and hand him his receipt.
My manager is still standing there behind me.
I look at the man with the dead eye and the vein in his face. "Would you like some help out today?”
He scowls, says nothing. The vein pulsates, ripples up beneath the hairline; the eye stares. I can see his muscles flex obscenely as he walks out of the store with his milk and his eggs.
I look at the manager, but he just looks back at me. I know he understands, but he will never admit that he understands. That would be bad for the customers, and even worse than that, for the company.

“Break time,” he says.
I almost knock him over as I step out of the check stand. He’s in there in no time to take my place. I’m running as fast as I can for the front doors, dodging small children screaming for balloons and old drunks laughing at me for reasons unknown as I try to rip the name badge from my shirt so no one will think that I can help them find something.
“Excuse me,” some lady says somewhere behind me. “Do you work here?”
But I pull the name badge free of my shirt and leap through the front doors just in time.
The parking lot is insane: Little kids are running between the cars. Shopping carts are hurled toward planters and spin out of control, smashing into trees. Old men in electrical chairs buzz slowly through traffic, raising aged fingers with the apathy of old elementary school crossing guards who think they have no real reason to live.
The security guard is the only one who isn’t moving. He just sits there on the curb in front of the grocery store and stares into the parking lot.
I pass him as I run between the cars, people smashing their sweaty fists against their horns, wishing it was my face. I make it to the street and almost get myself killed trying to cross.
I go into the gas station and finally get my cigarettes.
Once I’m back in front of the grocery store I light up.
The security guard is still there sitting on his ass.
“Can I get one of those, man?”
I toss him one, saying nothing.
I take a few puffs, thinking to myself: 7,892 more of these things and I'll have a good case of lung cancer.
And maybe a short story published in a magazine.
I”ll die a horrible death but I’ll have a short story in a literary magazine and people will talk about me forever. I’ll be there with the greats, with Thomas Wolfe.
The security guard smiles at me. “One for the road, man?”
I toss him another cigarette and go back inside.
At the register the manager stands there without any customers, glaring at me, wiping a pool of sweat from his forehead.
“You’re late again.”
“Sorry,” I say to him. “You should see it out there.”
“Put your name badge on,” he says, stepping out of the register. “People will think you don't even work here.”
He runs off to some office somewhere to talk to some of the corporate people I have never seen.
“Hello. “
I look up and there’s this girl in a yellow sundress.
She’s leaning over the conveyer belt and putting her avocados down carefully. She throws her hair back over her almost bare shoulders and smiles, and smiles, and smiles.
At me.
I smile back and say what they’ve trained me to say: “How are you today?”
I take her money, and her hand is so close to mine as I take it from her, and I try not to think about all the other hands that have touched those paper bills. Only hers. I don’t say anything to her, just smile back, this time for real, and as I hand her her bag full of avocados she stands there for a minute.
Like she’s waiting.
But I don’t know what to do: There are people buying things on all sides of me, and children screaming for toys, and the whisper of the country music thirty feet over my head makes me feel nauseous and takes all my courage away.
She walks away.
But then, at the end of the second conveyer belt, she turns and smiles at me again. And just stands there.
I violently rip a piece of register tape out of the machine and just look at it there, not knowing what to do, not knowing if I should ask for her number or give her mine, not knowing anything at all.
“I need twenty dollars cash back.”
I look up and see him—the football star, a thousand feet taller than I am, no bags under his eyes, his smile invincible, his face devoid of any human flaw, his eyes holding the confidence of knowing that his future is perfect, and one that nothing can ever change.
I grab his box of Trojan Magnum Large Size Condoms and scan the barcode.
He smiles at the girl at far end of the register, standing there with her avocados and her hopes and her happiness. She smiles back at him, and I realize it’s him she’s been smiling at, him she’s been waiting for.
The kid swipes his credit card and blows her a kiss.
She even pretends to catch it.
I feel like throwing up, but instead I hand him his twenty dollars and his condoms. “Have a great day, buddy!”
“Whatever, fag,” he says friendly enough.
He doesn’t even look at me, just smiles at the girl and walks up to her. He offers to carry her avocados for her and she takes his Magnums and tucks them neatly into her little purse.
I watch them walking away, hand-in-hand, the girl smiling up at her football star.
She passes through the doors and out of sight and I feel doomed forever again.
But at least the day will be over soon enough.
I finally make it home to my apartment later that evening. The typewriter is sitting there, calling me. But my mattress is calling me even more. I look at my answering machine and am reminded once again that no actual people are calling me these days, only automated voices trying to sell me subscriptions to quilting magazines.
I drop my keys on the floor and nearly collapse in my chair at the desk. I stare at the keys on the typewriter, the blank sheet of paper. I don’t know what to write about. I’m twenty-three and everyone tells me that at this age you don’t have anything to write about, that you haven’t lived.
So I just sit there and think of all the things I want to do with my life.
Finally I just roll off the chair and crawl over to the mattress. I don’t bother turning off the light before falling asleep.
The next morning I wake up early and call in sick for work.
It’s the manager who answers the phone: “What do you mean you’re sick?” he says. “You think this is a goddamn holiday?”
“I got food poisoning,” I tell him. “The meat department’s full of rotting animal carcasses.”
He hangs up on me.
I sit down on the kitchen floor and begin laughing to myself, feeling rested, feeling pretty damn good, even a little proud. The company will suffer, the customers will be in agony, but I take all the comfort I can in the fact that, among other things, the girl in the yellow sundress will most certainly enjoy her avocados.
I smile as I think about her now, and walk across my room and sit down in front of the typewriter.
For a while the blank page just stares at me. I don’t know where to even begin, but I’m not as bothered by that thought as I usually am. I’ve got a few ideas rolling up there in my head, but I’m not too sure of an ending, or a middle, or even a beginning. So I figure I’ll just think about the girl and her avocados for a while until something comes to mind.
Even some of the greatest writers weren’t all that great from the beginning; even the best of them had to start out somewhere: Hem had Africa; Hunter had Las Vegas; my buddy Jack had the Road. Me? I’ve got the grocery business, I’ve got checkstand #7. I’ve got the avocado girl coming through my line half-way through one more monotonous day at the register.
I’ve gotta think of a beginning. I say it over and over: Let there be a beginning, let there be a beginning, let there be a beginning . . . §

Larry Narron is a freelance writer who begins his career with this first published story. He lives in San Luis Obispo.

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Jesus rides shotgun

Harold pops prenatal vitamins, speeding up Highway 101. Ninety-five. One-hundred. Hundred-and-five. Six dozen red roses sit beside him on the seat.

He strips butt naked and sneaks outside to fire up the tractor, using a chain to drag off the limbs, piling them in an empty pasture.

By Sherry Shahan

It’s 4 a.m.
Only Harold and the mice are active. He’s nude, leaning into the digital camera. Soon he’ll put his image beside Jesus on the corrugated steel walls. The latter eight-by-ten glossies were downloaded off
Harold squats beside his computer. He swigs cooking sherry while filling out loan docs.
Monthly income: $50,000. As soon as escrow closes he’ll own this two-hundred-acre ranch.
Then he and Jesus will move from the barn quarters to the main house — No mice in the French Tudor.
He fires off faxes to his banker, realtor, wedding consultant, and follows up with phone calls, leaving messages about maximizing productivity. How do people who sleep all night ever get ahead?
Harold caresses the slinky gold foil on the gift box, imagining the gown inside. Seafoam green. Silk and beaded. Beautiful. Just like Sarah. The second present isn’t wrapped — an onyx box with an angel carved on the lid. He shuffles through the stack of photographs, choosing a shot of him leaning against the Cadillac Escalade, licking an ice cream cone. Strawberry, Sarah’s favorite.
The photo goes in the onyx box with the cellphones — all of them programed with his number. She’ll want to call him. Thank him. Her concert schedule is safe inside a professional--size Frigidaire. Yesterday the appliance ruled the tack room. That was before evil forces tampered with the controls and melted six gallons of sherbet. So he moved it into the living room, cramming the vegetable crisper with prenatal vitamins.
Harold pictures himself on tour with Sarah. Asia, Europe, North America. Tonight she plays the West Coast, San Francisco. He soaks in a hot tub listening to her new CD, “You take my breath away….” His Camcorder is propped on a towel in the sink.
After clipping his nails, he snips the tags off his Armani suit. He knows Sarah will love the linen jacket, classic fit. The Escalade is parked in the breezeway, new-owner sticker on the windshield. The dealer agreed to hold his check for 30 days. By then he’ll have more money than, as the saying goes, he knows what to do with.
Harold pops prenatal vitamins, speeding up Highway 101. Ninety-five. One-hundred. Hundred-and-five. Six dozen red roses sit beside him on the seat. He steers with his knees, aiming the camera at billboards, truck stops, his watch. Won’t Sarah be thrilled he’s recording their courtship?
At Candlestick Stadium, the parking attendant points to the VIP lot. (His laminated business card works every time.) He clutches the roses, scans the fans, and prays for the poor souls in the nosebleed section. Sarah’s gifts stay in the car with Jesus.
Some guy stops him at the gate. “Ticket, sir?”
Harold notes the Puma sneakers; definitely knockoffs. “She’s my fiancee.”
The guy smirks in that minimum-wage-lackey way. “Is that right? I thought she was married to that composer dude.”
“Where’s the VIP entrance?”
“Gate 6. Just follow the signs.”
A guy stops him there too. This one has a tattoo of a snake on his wrist, a slithering bracelet. “You on the list, man?”
Harold flashes his business card.
“What’s this?”
“VIP Pass.”
“You gotta be on the list.” Harold knows a disciple of Satan when he sees one. “Shall we pray?” The guy fingers his walkie-talkie. “Code X.” Security surrounds Harold faster than he can say Our Heavenly Father. He drops to his knees, looking up with a righteous smile. “Good evening, gentlemen,” he says, reaching for his wallet. “Is it possible to buy a—”
“Hold it right there!”
Now Harold is face down, his cheek kissing asphalt. “Sinners, join me in thanking the Almighty for our blessings….”
“Another nut case,” the fattest guard says, then helps him up. “Come on, buddy. We’ll walk you to your car.”
Harold brushes himself off. “I have a right to buy a ticket.”
“The concert’s been sold out six months.”
“I have zero-interest credit cards. Best-Buy. Home Depot. The works.”
“Sold out friend. End of sentence.”
Harold films security all the way back to the Escalade.
He slides inside, turning the camera on himself, a close-up of capped teeth, marine-green contacts, virtuous smile. Then he props Jesus on the dashboard. Fifty-thousand people cheer.
Sarah is on stage, singing like an angel:

I have been ready at your hand,
To grant whatever you would crave,
I have both wagered life and land,
Your love and good-will for to have….

After the concert, they hit the road. Sweet, sweet Sarah. Soon we’ll be together. Very soon. Harold makes a note to buy engagement gifts: Diamond pendant, bracelet, earrings. He calls the caterer, florist, videographer. Gets bids on a helicopter pad. Sixty-grand. Peanuts.
He pulls into the breezeway at sunrise, plucking petals off the roses. She loves me. She loves me not. Yes, she will always love me….
Jesus Christ, if there isn’t an eviction notice on the door: FIVE DAYS TO VACATE. It’s signed by Judge Miller, the same Evil Force who presided over his divorce. No visitation rights. Unstable. Non-med compliant. Vicious words, like flames, singeing his soul.
Harold prays for the judge and his ex-wife, agents of Lucifer. Our Father who art in heaven….
Inside he bolts the doors, seals the jambs with duct tape, sculpting a silver figurine with the rest. I’ll just stay put until escrow closes.
He opens The Book of Mormon and removes the photos of his children. Luke, Mary, Eve. He goes online and orders a tuxedo with satin lapels for his son, the best man. He buys lace dresses for his daughters. Flower girls.
While he’s at it he hires an arborist to cut down the eucalyptus trees lining the driveway. Stupid things shed year-round. He’ll replace them with palms. No branches or messy leaves. Sarah will approve.
“Are you crazy?” The old man who owns the ranch shouts through the door. “Those trees were thirty-years-old! “
Later that night Harold checks the Burn Permit. He strips butt naked and sneaks outside to fire up the tractor, using a chain to drag off the limbs, piling them in an empty pasture. Then he siphons gas from the tractor. No pockets. No matches. Damn it to hell, anyway. He hadn’t considered the stumps. Big around as the Escalade. Dynamite should handle it. Tomorrow night.
Harold hasn’t slept in a week. Invigorating! Suddenly he’s famished. He douses cereal with cooking sherry, guzzles vitamins, and stuffs the Restraining Order in the kitchen sink. Then he dials his ex-wife. The number you have called is no longer in service…. Slut!
He Googles her. Nothing. Tries her maiden name. Nil. Skims the church website. No listing there either. His fingers do the walking, settling on Hunt Agency. “My ex-wife kidnapped my children,” he says into the phone. “They probably left California. Certainly I have pictures. Retainer? Absolutely. I’ll send a check right away.”
Harold faxes off photos of his children and puts them in the onyx box. Sarah will be such a good mother. He downloads adoption papers and fills them out. He’s signing her name when he hears voices. Polite voices.
“Harold? Are you home?”
Harold squints through a pinhole in the cardboard taped over the window. It’s Dr. Gordon, his psychiatrist. The church bishop is with him.
“We’d like to come in,” Dr. Gordon says. “Make sure you’re OK.”
“Why wouldn’t I be OK?”
“Bishop Glenn has a doublewide mobile on an acre. Rent-free, Harold. In exchange for care-taking.”
“The barn’s fine for now — escrow closes soon.”
“We’d like to visit a while. Talk about old times.”
“I’m on a long-distance call. Come back around six. I’ll make dinner.”
Harold notices the difference in their voices when they whisper to each other.
“Wonderful, Harold. We look forward to it. See you later.”
“Mr. Williams? I’ve located your family,” the investigator says into the receiver. “You’re a lucky man — it rarely happen this quickly.”
Thank you, Jesus.
“They’re in Independence, Missouri.”
Harold knows all about Independence. It’s the place of the prophesied Temple of the New Jerusalem. The Second Coming of Christ.
“I’m sure you’ll mail a check immediately.”
“Yes, of course. Bless you, my brother.”
Harold checks MapQuest. It’s 2,425 miles to Missouri. Estimated driving time: 36 hours, 9 minutes. Today’s Saturday. If he drives nonstop he’ll be there early Monday. He packs quickly. Tuxedo and lace dresses. Sarah’s gifts. The Book of Mormon. Jesus rides shotgun.
“There’s another way,” Jesus whispers when they hit the freeway.
At the airport Harold tosses his credit cards on the counter. “Independence, Missouri,” he tells the agent.
It’s comforting to know he’ll see his wife and children at church in the morning.
Dear Lord, I promise that your joy will be great when I bring these souls unto You…. §

Sherry Shahan is a published author from Cayucos who has written 30 fiction and nonfiction children’s books. This story, originally published in Confrontation from the University of Long Island is reprinted with her permission.

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Breakfast in Big Sur with 'Shirley MacLaine'

‘But of course, he has his deals. He’s duty bound to his customers. Fifteen minutes could mean fifty-thousand dollars. Does he want me to have him sacrifice fifty-thousand dollars?’

By Dell Franklin

We were sitting in a quaint cafe in Big Sur—eaves-dropping on a mother/daughter conversation taking place a table over. The mother looked to be in her 70s, petite, well-preserved, with a silver helmet-like hairdo. The daughter was a hefty, freckled redhead who resembled a high-strung, middle-aged Shirley MacLaine.
“I’m so busy,” she told mom. “It seems, my God, it seems like I have to do everything down at the office. The more I do, the more they expect me to do, the more they let me do. I’m overwhelmed.”
“You must learn to delegate your authority, dear,” advised mom, daintily sipping coffee. “You know that.”
“If I don’t do it, well, it doesn’t get done right, if at all. I’m snowed, just snowed. Look, I’m president, I’m a Lioness, and everything comes back to MY desk. I must take responsibility. Every month we have to…oh look, like, this golf tournament we’re pro-moting. What I want to do, I want our members runn-ing around in these huge sombreros. That’s our theme, Cinco de Mayo, and I think it’ll draw local media attention, and who knows where that will go…?”
“A wonderful idea, dear.”
“MY idea, mom. But, of course, I have doubters.”
“Oh, there’s always doubting Thomases.”
“But I’m president, and I wanted to be president, and they wanted me to be president….”
“It’s a thankless job, honey…you knew that going in.”
“But it pays well, so…”
“But few people want such a hellish job, dear.”
“Somebody’s got to do it, mom!”
While Shirley talked, she ate, displaying a hearty appetite. The mother nibbled tiny morsels and sipped. The daughter rambled on.
It was early February and she was booked with nonstop events until June and then there was a huge convention down in L.A. that month! $350 just to rent a small space! Lions and Lionesses from everywhere coming out of the woodwork! She had no idea the job would be this demanding. She’d been president of the chamber of commerce and this was twice as hard, twice as hectic, twice as burdensome, twice as time consuming!
“I try to get to bed by ten, mom. But I never make it. I’ve got to get my run in, so lately I’ve been getting up at five in the morning, before I go to the gym to get in my weight work.”
“Five in the morning? Since when? Poor thing. It’s still dark out. Somebody could run you over.”
“In Carmel? No way.” She ate, drank, sighed massively. “I never get to bed before midnight. I’m working on an average of four hours sleep a night. My phone never stops. Never.”
“Do you realize you’re looking more and more like Shirley MacLaine every day, dear?”
“Yes. People keep reminding me. I’m flattered. The older I get, the more I seem to look like her, and people say I actually ACT like her. You know, kind of snippy and…abrupt, I guess. No nonsense, please!” She flashed a longsuffering smile, tinged with pride.
The mother nibbled and sipped. Smiled fondly at her daughter. “So how’s Jeff doing?”
Shirley rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Mom, do you really want to know?”
“Of course I do, dear.”
“Well, he’s really pissed me off this time.”
Mother sipped, sat back, waited.
“He took a hundred-thousand dollars out of our joint account and used it for a down payment to buy a condo for his daughter from a previous marriage. Lisa. Spoiled rotten and never hold a job in her life. I blew my top.”
“I don’t blame you.”
“I mean, she thinks she’s got it coming…so…entitled. And it’s MY money, too. I mean, we’re married, aren’t we?”
Mom nodded with gravity, slowly, wiping daintily at her mouth with a napkin. I glanced at my longtime lady companion. We were eating, exchanging glances and the occasional smirk.
“I don’t blame her for being pissed off,” my girl whispered. “I’d be pissed off, too.”
“Maybe the guy’s got so much money it doesn’t matter. I mean, they’re from Carmel,” I whispered back,
“I’m sure they’re millionaires. Still, it’s the idea. He didn’t even consult her.”
Shirley MacLaine was going on about this husband. According to her, she gave everything in the relationship and received nothing in return. He made no sacrifices, she did. His business, his comings and goings, were more important than hers. This was a real bone of contention. She was growing angry.
“We almost had it out the other day, mom. I mean, I was close to leaving him.”
“You don’t want to, honey. You want to try and make this one work.”
“Mom, we’re both busy, granted. We hardly see each other. Like two ships passing in the night. When we do see each other, we bitch at each other. We’re both overloaded, stressed to the max. So, I told him this, told him we needed to hash things out, have lunch, have a long talk, to see if we could get our relationship back on track, before it was too late.”
“Good idea. Communicate. It was wise and mature of you to suggest the meeting, dear. I’m proud of you.”
“So we meet at the Fish House. I waited. Forty-five minutes, I waited, and then I see him pull up in the parking lot. And what does he do? He sits there for fifteen minutes and talks on his goddamn cell phone! The prick. The bastard!”
The mother, previously unruffled, showed her first sign of emotion: shock. “That was rude. Very rude.” Wrinkles of concern and chagrin emerged on her exquisitely made up face.
“Humiliating is the word, mom. Total lack of respect.”
“You must stand up for yourself, dear.”
“Well, he finally comes in, and I want to know why I have to wait forty five minutes for him to show up, and then he yaks on the phone for fifteen minutes, while I’m sitting twiddling my thumbs. But of course, he has his deals. He’s duty bound to his customers. Fifteen minutes could mean fifty-thousand dollars. Does he want me to have him sacrifice fifty-thousand dollars? I was so mad…well, couldn’t talk.”
I leaned close to my girl, and she offered her ear. “This guy sounds like a real prize, ey?” I whispered. “And you think I’M bad. Can you imagine me sitting in a car while you’re in a restaurant, gabbing away on a cell phone?”
“You don’t HAVE a cell phone. You’re incapable of even operating a cell phone, remember?” she whispered.
“What a pair, ey?” I whispered. “I’ll never hurt YOUR feelings for a lousy fifty-grand! And I’m a pauper.”
Now the daughter was talking about Barbara Jean. It soon became evident Barbara Jean was her aunt on her mother’s side. Barbara Jean had taken no bullshit from her three ex-husbands. She was now 76, alone, content to cohabitate with multiple pets.
“She’s where you get your Shirley MacLaine,” mom said. “Everybody’s always said she reminded them of Shirley MacLaine.”
“Oh, I know. She told me, well, she told me she used to leave an egg in one bowl, next to an empty bowl, and leave it there, and she warned her husbands, if they didn’t shape up, she’d switch the egg to the other bowl, and when she did that, it meant she was kicking their asses out.” A giddy giggle emanated from her like a tinkle, and I glanced over, and she seemed dreamy-eyed, far away. “I guess I’m like Barbara Jean, mom. Everybody says I am. She takes no shit from anyone.”
“She was always the feisty one of us girls, honey.”
“Fifteen minutes on the goddamn cell phone while I’m sitting twiddling my thumbs. You think Barbara Jean would allow THAT to happen, like I did?”
“Oh no…”
“She’d put that goddamn egg in that other bowl but quick!”
I leaned forward, giving my girl an ear. “She does remind me a little of Shirley MacLaine,” she whispered.
“Listen,” I whispered. “Shirley MacLaine never had a role like this. I mean, I thought YOU had issues, but not anymore.”
When we came in, the pair were half way through their meal. When we left, after finishing ours, they were working on at least a dozen coffee refills and Shirley MacLaine was still going strong. §

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

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The McCain mutiny

In Election 2000, John McCain talked directly to the people, not to special interests, party hacks and moneyed contributors. It was enough that he was un-scripted and unpredictable…

…Flash-forward to 2008 and McCain seems to have aged into an angry ghost from a Dickens novel.

My brief flirtation with John McCain

By Max Talley

In our speeded-up, information-overloaded 21st Century, names as recent as Alberto Gonzalez and Donald Rumsfeld seem to be tied to a dark ancient era we’d prefer to forget. But let’s go way back to the year 2000 when George W. Bush and John McCain fought for the Republican nomination. On the Democratic side, Al Gore trounced Bill Bradley by being just slightly less annoying, slightly more animated in debates as dull as those between a math teacher and a science teacher.
At the time, the most interesting candidate by far was John McCain. Here was a guy who said what he felt, was off-the-cuff, actually funny and outspoken to the degree that a team of advisors trailed after him to deny or explain whatever he’d just shot off his mouth about. While other candidates traveled in guarded, isolated bunker-mobiles, he was on the “straight-talk express,” giving reporters unparalleled access to his philosophy.
Remember that the Al Gore of 2000 was a very different creature than the Nobel Prize-winning, global-warming, anti-war Renaissance man of today. In short, he was a pedantic politician who lectured like a lisping college professor who knew everything and needed to talk down to you.
So in that terrain, with the waxen, charisma-challenged Gore, and the dumb-ass son of a president, George W., clearly over his head but riding a flying carpet of major Republican money, McCain was the outsider, the maverick. Many Independents and Democrats (like me) considered supporting him. No, we hadn’t investigated his ultra-conservative history. It was enough that he talked directly to the people, not to special interests, party hacks and moneyed contributors. It was enough that he was un-scripted and unpredictable.
When McCain beat Bush in the New Hampshire primary by 19 points, the shit hit the fan. If you back a rat like Karl Rove into a corner, things are destined to get ugly. And they did. As soon as the candidates moved to South Carolina, voters got inundated with robo-calls saying that McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child with an Asian woman, that his stories of war torture were exaggerated. Insane rumors spread and distorted through the South until he was basically considered a brain-washed Manchurian Candidate, a Trojan Horse bearing a liberal platform that might include inter-racial dating quotas, mandatory gay marriage for heterosexuals and abortion-on-demand for all, not to mention the banning of the Confederate flag!
McCain was utterly crushed; his campaign fell apart soon after that.
It took him months to forgive Bush for that smearing, but for the Rove squad, the smear was just a warm-up before the Florida travesty later in December. Gore didn’t help himself by picking Joe Lieberman for VP, a man who added nothing to the ticket. Worse, Gore wouldn’t let Bill Clinton campaign for him, fearing moral fall-out from proximity to President Blow-Job. Then, in the debates, Gore refused to slam W. on his many glaring weaknesses. Yes, the 2000 election was stolen by Bush, but it was stolen from a candidate who worked pretty damn hard to give it away. You add Ralph Nader into the mix, and the countless moderates, liberals and Greens who said, “There’s no difference between Bush and Gore” (How do you feel about that profound wisdom now?), and you have an American populace that helped screw itself.
My fling with McCain was over before he was trounced, and I supported, well, voted for Gore, but the McCain of 2000 would have been a much better president than Bush.
Flash-forward to 2008 and McCain seems to have aged into an angry ghost from a Dickens novel. At 71, he looks a decade older than his age. He shuffles along, hunched and sunken into himself with a pained smile that resembles a sneer. He squints and leans forward when questioned, his hearing aid malfunctioning. There is no warmth or humor when he says “my friends” anymore. It rings out like a warning, a veiled threat. Yes, McCain is a war hero and we honor his service and sacrifice, but Americans didn’t elect General MacArthur or Patton president, for good reasons. It didn’t give John Kerry a free pass, and it won’t for McCain.
Only now, the Manchurian Candidate urban legends seem less absurd. You’ve seen the photos of his full-frontal embrace with Bush in the 2004 campaign, and George giving him a kiss like Michael Corleone — or Judas. That wasn’t the McCain of 2000. He’d been body-snatched, rendered a pod-person! Now he wants to stay in Iraq for 100 years if necessary, until we achieve “total victory.” Those words are similar to MacArthur’s on the Korean War — just before he was relieved of command by President Truman. The only McCain position I still believed in was his consistent stance against torture. He recently voted against a bill that would outlaw waterboarding and re-align America with the provisions of the Geneva Convention.
Watching this grudge-bearing shell of a man become the Republican candidate has given many Democrats confidence that the 46-year-old Barack Obama, running on a message of hope and change, will decimate McCain in November’s general election. (Hillary? Well....)
There is no reason to worry about the man himself. He has spurred a McCain Mutiny among conservatives who despise him and among the independents and liberals who have wised-up since 2000.
However, there is good reason to dread the Republican fear and smear machine that is already assembling around McCain to further mutate him. That is the nightmare any Democratic candidate faces. It’s the same machine with bottomless funds that pushed W. (and Nixon) through twice. The machine that “Swift-Boated” John Kerry, that scares off minority voters through “caging” tactics, the machine that extends all the way up to the Supreme Court. The machine that took a wrecking ball to McCain in 2000, but will now re-build him in exchange for the last independent vestiges of his soul. This machine does not represent average hard-working Republicans. It is a servant of the richest 2 percent of the populace, the biggest oil companies, defense contractors, media owners and the rabid evangelical wing determined to alter the Constitution toward their own myopic moralistic vision. George W. Bush? John McCain? A sack of manure? This fear and smear machine is undiscriminating. It is a launch mechanism with a lot of thrust. Who their guided missile is, is irrelevant. §

In the interest of fairness, after this one-sided attack, Max Talley will take on the spineless Democratic majority in Congress in a future commentary. Elected in 2006, they have served as passive bystanders watching the slow-motion car crash of the current administration. Isn’t it time for the weak, ineffectual Senate leader Harry Reid to step down?

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Bush and Bukowski: Hail to the chief

‘These drinks are on the biggest shit-head and worst president in the history of the country!’

I’m not wasting George Bush’s money on those who do not support my magazine. Even a drunk has his pride and standards.

By Dell Franklin

Being the owner and publisher of a literary journal, I know exactly what to do with the $300 George Bush intends to send me to stimulate the economy: I’m going straight to the bars and spread the wealth and get drunk.
Running a magazine is a losing proposition. I’ve never had more fun and suffered a bigger financial disaster. Most journalists in the old days were chain-smoking drunks who hung out in pubs. I’m just a drunk. For many years I was a bartender. So what better way to uphold my image than to start my binge out in Morro Bay at the Otter Rock cafe? Why? Because they advertise with me. Why should I spend my new-found windfall in an establishment that will not sponsor The Rogue Voice?
Besides, the Otter Rock has food. A drunk needs fuel for stamina if he wishes to complete a day and night long $300 binge; though there is the strong possibility I will take along Ben Leroux, the 300-pound window washer who writes a column for me, and the bearded runt, Stacey Warde, our tormented editor. Since they are poor, why not treat them, even if I do have a way of making them feel like beggars?
Anyway, in the Otter Rock there will be some fishermen and local swine who once habituated Happy Jack’s, a notorious dive where I tended bar for eight years before it was sanitized for the yuppies. I’d go in there for old time’s sake, but since they don’t advertise with me, I’m not wasting George Bush’s money on those who do not support my magazine. Even a drunk has his pride and standards.
When I raise that first crackling mint-fresh hundred-dollar bill in the Otter Rock and twirl it around like a magic wand, there is a good possibility I will indulge in a resounding imitation of Mickey Rourke in the Charles Bukowski movie, “Bar Fly,” and bellow: “A round for my friends…and that guy in the corner, with the patchy beard, smoking generic cigs, the poor bastard doesn't look like he has med-ical coverage—medicate him with a shot of Jack! Another round for my friends!” And I will repeat this mantra until the first hundred is spent and we can find somebody to drive our drunken butts to Cayucos, where, in Schooner’s Wharf—whose owners run an ad in my paper—the second hundred donated to me by Generous George will be twirled in the air.
“Another round for my friends!”
“Here here.”
“That broke real estate guy in the faded silk shirt. Give the poor bastard one on me. Gotta spend money. Gotta stimulate the economy. Gotta help America get going again. Another round for my friends!”
The Schooner is a handsome joint with a second-deck ocean view.
Locals are togged out in Hawaiian shirts, surfer shorts, hemp sandals, while tourists might belong to a down-south yacht club. So be it. We will want to sit at the bar, not a table. We will switch to high-end straight booze, glasses brimming over, and savor the ocean and sunset, mellowness settling in.
Oh yes.
Goddamn right.
Ecstasy, brother, as the Rogue crew enjoys its own brand of celebrity status and hero-worship.
Special pleasure is taken when a recovering alcoholic born-again Christian bone-head who led cheers at Yale football games and weaseled out of ‘Nam buys our drinks. “These drinks are on the biggest shit-head and worst president in the history of the country!” I will bellow, and those along the bar will nod and hoist their glasses and bottles in a toast to ineptitude.
When that second hundred is gone, our staff will be seriously impaired and hovering between the delicious Golden Glow aspired to by all dedicated boozers and the first signs of blackout stage. This is the time to retreat across the main drag to the darkened confines of the Old Cayucos Tavern, which runs an ad with me, and where grunt laborers and those disenfranchised from the wealthy trappings destroying the character and charm of our little beach burg will be hunched over beers and shots, sourly discussing the broken economy while serenaded by country western, preferably Johnny Cash.
Well, we will play Al Green and Marvin Gaye and wave that last hundred in the air. “Another round for my friends! And that guy in the corner who needs a haircut and is suffering from unemployment depression—a shot of whiskey!”
During the spending of this last bill, not much will be remembered. This is a good thing, possibly, especially when massive hulking window washer Ben Leroux, a former gridder and hoopster from Northern Idaho, acquires a demented glint in his eye and begins to feel persecuted at being poor, downtrodden and womanless. Watch out, folks!
And so, with the last $20 remaining from the country's dwindling coffers, I will buy one last round for my friends and hail George Bush for the only constructive, worthwhile and humanitarian move he’s made in the seven-plus years it took him to ruin the country: bankroll a well deserved and necessary binge for three Army veterans, malcontents, non-believers and dissidents who wouldn’t have a beer with him if he were the last person on earth!
P.S. If I get $600, we get us some hookers. §

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

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At that moment, at the train station

She wore a skirt for the occasion,
but I thought of the elderly, erudite
Chinese man I had spoken to on the
trip South, as we dozed off and on.

The train stopped I don’t know where
to discharge an unmanageable drunk.
Was I touching your thigh then, or
listening to the nice man snore?

We had a German librarian's ceramic
flask from which we sipped warm vodka
as the train trundled North. She sat,

naked & beautiful, on the small wet tiles,
a little dazed, homesick, as she said
later, neither happy nor un-

—Todd Young


Just fur and bones, couldn’t even walk
I fattened her with dog food and oatmeal
At first, she was frightened
the sound of her dish scraping the cement
I coaxed her by touching the dish
rubbing the sides of her mouth

In a few days, we were walking the railroad tracks
I snapped my fingers, she moved in close to my right leg
She trained me to snap for her
soon we were running the farm trail
out past the cotton field

She ran ahead like a coyote runs
stopped where the pipe cuts over the canal
stood there tail wagging, waiting to be carried
I held her limp in my arms
used her for balance to cross

At night she slept on the doormat
tail curled over her nose
I could always hear her breathing there

Last week found her in the ditch,
a bullet lodged her spine
“There’s nothing I can do” said the vet

I stayed outside with Girlie that night
Held her head in my hand
Tension in her breathing. Spasms each breath
Sometimes she’d whimper, lick my hand
Slowly the moon crossed the sky. The night turned cold

Just before sunrise, she died
I cried a little. Dug a grave by the railroad . . .

Sometimes when the wind blows at night
it sees Girlie’s just outside my door

—Ivan BrownOtter


Padilla unloads mangy herd of Mexican
cattle in the field.
Meaner, horns long and sharp
for bloody battle, lean from a diet
of prairie weed, looking more
like cattle did years ago
on the plains
than cattle now—
-sluggish, pampered globs
stalled year round for State Fair judges to admire, stall-salon dolls, hooves manicured
and polished, hide-hair blow-dried, lips
and lashes waxed.
I ride down the dirt road
on Sunshine (my bay mare)
and she smarts
away from their disdainful glare—
-come in, try to lasso us,
try to comb our hair.
I admire my ancestors, Ilano vaqueros,
who flicked a home-made cigarette in dust,
spit in scuffed gloves, grabbed one
by the horns, wrestled it down,
branded it, with the same pleasure
they enjoyed in a bunk-house brawl.

—Jimmy Santiago Baca

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Letters and comic

Disturbed by Duane
Dear Rogues:
I read this article [Duane Hagabee’s “People can be SLO rude,” February 2008] with great interest, especially since I have worked with the homeless here in SLO. I was disturbed by two pieces of information presented in the article.
1. Homelessness. There is a basic ignorance among average Americans about the causes of homelessness. We should be aware that a very high percentage of the chronically homeless (and I am not including the homeless who are in need of our help because of temporary problems such loss of employment or illness, and the inability to pay for medical services, etc.) are mentally ill. I have heard estimates made by governmental agencies of as high as 75-85 percent who have one sort of mental disability or another. Another category is physical disabilities, although we tend to be able to provide better services for the physically handicapped than for the mentally handicapped. The mentally ill sometimes react in ways that are inappropriate.
2. Our “Bible Belt” heritage is an interesting one. When I see references to “Christian farmers” and “Christian electricians,” I sense an exclusionary attitude. Does the writer suggest that if I do not share his definition of “Christian” (and if I find reprehensible his view of the homeless) I am not a true citizen of this “Bible Belt”? Then again, from what I know of the “Bible Belt,” maybe I should be happy I am not a member.

Jim Wilson
SLO, Calif.

Let’s go hunting, Duane
If I pick up a Rogue Voice and there’s nothing in it by Duane Hagabee, I put it back in the rack. So I was happy to read Duane in the February issue and liked his article on rudeness in SLO town, even if I’m a north county rancher and don’t have much use for sissy SLO town. I agree with Duane that these homeless parasites are too fat. My only complaint is that my wife, Abigail, read Duane’s article and was upset that he claimed yoga started in Malibu. She says he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Abbie goes to yoga class three times a week and has for years, and the little woman can bend herself into a pretzel. She says some Indian with a strange name started yoga. I can’t pronounce the name, but I don’t think he’s a Salina or Chumash. We ran that rabble and their medicine men out of here a long time ago. I’m talking about first generation Kibblings. Anyway, we’re hunters, and I still want to take Hagabee wild pig hunting, if he’s “game” enough.

Warren Kibbling
Paso Robles

Laugh out loud
Dear Dell:
Your recent story, “Everything my kid touches...” [February 2008], was really funny. Thanks for brightening my day!
While sitting in a Morro Bay coffee bar, enjoying a latte with a friend, I grabbed a copy of The Rogue Voice and settled in, to recharge my batteries. I was pleasantly surprised to actually find something I enjoyed reading. I embarrassed myself by laughing out loud a few times, startling the other customers. Your dad sounds just like mine, only his catch phrase was always moron or idiots. We thought it was an endearment back then. He didn't have much luck with us learning the family business either!

Dawn Ferrini
“It is easier to go down a hill than up, but the view is from the top.”

Too many blows to the head
Dear Rogue Voice:
As an admitted soccer mom who drives her boys to and from matches, and also Little League, it is obvious to me after reading Mr. Franklin’s senseless and illogical article on helmets [“Pussies rule,” February 2008], that he has taken too many helmetless blows to the head. His old roughneck neighborhood in Compton bores me. I would like to ask him why parents should risk head injury to their children when they don’t have to. And while we’re at it, why let your children roam the streets unsupervised in the new world, where creeps and perverts abound? Don’t take candy from strangers? My lord! Sorry, it doesn’t work any more. My children have all worn helmets while riding their bikes and play-ing Little League, and none of them have turned out as depressed outcasts — according to Mr. Franklin’s description of modern day kids. Parents want to be involved with their children. We only have them for so long! They can still play in the streets, as long as the streets are safe, and in our little suburban neighborhood, Mr. Franklin, the streets are safe.
The only sensible statement in his entire is his confession to being a “borderline idiot” after his sister brained him with her baton. I wonder: Did her two successful boys wear helmets?

San Luis Obispo

Dell responds: My sister has long since ignored any advice I’ve given her and made it a point to live as far away from me as possible so I’d have no influence over her kids whatsoever, so 1 suppose, unfortunately, the poor things wore helmets.

Bonehead inspiration
Dear Rogue Voice:
I’ve seen and heard just about everything in my lifetime, but I’ve never observed so much fervor and heartfelt determination to adolescence as the people who write for The Rogue Voice. My, will you never grow up? Have you been so sotted in your lifetimes that you can’t reason the value of wearing a helmet and protecting your head? I have three beautiful grandchildren, which is why I moved to Cayucos two years ago, and to get away from people who promote stupid ideas like the one Mr. Dell Franklin offers in “P-ssies rule” (excuse me, but I agree with Mr. Hagabee about spelling naughty words). I want my grandchildren to grow up without unnecessary head injuries, with all of their senses and God-given smarts and talents intact. Sheesh! It’s hard enough to bring children up these days without them getting silly ideas like the ones you promote in your “magazine.”
As a fit granny, I like to go for long walks on the beach, roam the awesome antique stores, talk to my friends and neighbors who came to Cayucos to get away from the kind of rough characters you seem to want to glorify: reckless skateboarders, pot-smoking surfers and drunks who have no regard for their — or anyone else’s — lives. They practically run you down on their bikes and skateboards, and make snorting noises as they whiz by out of nowhere and scare the wits out of you, which is bad enough, but they don’t even wear helmets, which says a lot about their parenting, and where they most likely get their inspiration: That’s you, Mr. Franklin. Please consider the impact you have on this world, and the messages you’re sending to our children. Do you want to have some poor child’s broken head on your conscience? Do you want our children to grow up thinking it’s okay to run down old people on their skateboards? Do you really want them to grow up and be like you? Mr. Franklin, you’ve done a fine job of encouraging the worst in our children. Just because they wear helmets doesn’t make them “p-ssies.”
Judging from the content of your “magazine,” though, I’d guess the people who work for you have probably taken a few too many lumps of their own and are paying the price for not wearing a helmet, and that’s a shame because you seem like nice people when you’re not foaming at the mouth about “p-ssies” who rule, and it’s also reason enough to think twice the next time you want to publish another story promoting unsafe and irresponsible behavior. I don’t mean to belittle you, I just want to point out that there’s a better way. You can find out very easily by getting help from people who never had a head injury. Just ask around, get people’s opinions, before you write something. Or, the next time you want advice on what to write, look me up. We’ll go for a walk on the beach and talk. I’ll bring my Pomeranian (I know you love dogs) and you can bring your dog and we can chat about stories that will actually help and not hurt people.

Nellie Watson
Cayucos, Calif.

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