The Rogue Voice


April 01, 2008

Corporate America

We’re fencing ourselves off from one another everywhere, in gated communities, building up barriers. It’s a fear that pervades the country.

To me, art is a life-and-death matter.

Rogue of the month
Donald Archer
Artist, provocateur, philosopher

By Dell Franklin

The first thing you notice about Donald Archer, a small, white-haired man in his early 60s, are incandescent eyes set in the high, intelligent forehead of a Greek philosopher/artist. Socrates rising from a turbulent sea of ashes? These eyes flash with anger when the subject of the Bush Administration’s thrashing of the U.S. Constitution is brought up, along with the hijacking of the country by major corporations. While discussing these subjects, the eyes zero in like lasers. He becomes animated. An artist who once taught at the Academy of Art in San Francisco for seven years, he has since managed to survive selling his paintings for well into the thousands at outdoor festivals throughout the state for more than 20 years.
“I sell, in order to paint,” Archer tells you. “I don’t paint to sell. I think commercial success can kill the artist — his creative freedom — if he’s trying to fulfill his own or others’ expectations. Gearing yourself to success, guessing what the public wants in order to sell, is death. To me, art is a life-and-death matter.”
“Living 24/7 with a passion? The mind never ceasing…?”
“My mind does cease — through meditation. It’s my spiritual nutrition. It’s my nature to live with a passion.”
Archer, a Cambria citizen since 1992, has also penned political and social commentaries for the New Times, Rogue Voice, and other periodicals, and his artwork is featured on his web page ( A skilled writer, he puts down his ideas in concise, staccato sentences, building momentum while hammering home points. He always seemed a master of syntax and emotions, but over time found himself seething, fulminating over the con-tinued lies and infringements on our freedoms in America — to the point where his voice felt strangled. He was unable to put down in words what was clawing away at his heart and mind.
“I felt that staying in that psychological space — researching and commenting on political ills — was becoming toxic, subtly poison, to me.”
He became concerned with not only the country, but his general state of mind, his very survival. “I felt my energy could be better used in more creative ways.”
So, for his own salvation, this scenic painter whose Big Sur landscapes remind one of Impressionist Paul Cezanne, turned to what might be termed statement art, protest art, provocative art, a poignant and brutal onslaught of political and social commentary lashed upon 29 canvases in a siege of white heat that pretty much salvaged his soul and unleashed his disgust against the criminals who had wrecked his country.
“You did twenty-nine of these canvases in a very short time. How was that?”
“The energy was limitless. I was able to channel my anger into creative action. The release. Often I’d awaken in the middle of the night to jot down ideas, or get it down on the canvas.”
“In a sense, you’re possessed.”
“It’s all-consuming.”
“How do you come down? I mean, do you have a beer, a shot of booze?”
“I’m not a teetotaler but I like and drink wine, occasionally a beer. I don’t like the idea of paying for something to calm me down. I meditate. This way I have control over what I’m doing, and I’m not being controlled by outside sources.”
“I cannot imagine not boozing it up a little after writing a inspiring piece.”
He just smiles.
“What bugs you the most about what is going on in this country?” I ask him.
“I think it’s the building of fences and the general isolation we impose on one another. What got me going was this fence my neighbor built. An ugly fence. Why? We’re out here, on this beautiful hillside, and now there’s a fence. We’re building a fence along our borders. We’re fencing ourselves off from one another everywhere, in gated communities, building up barriers. It’s a fear that pervades the country. If we fear each other, how can we expect to understand each other and get along, especially if we’re separated from each other? This fear has been driven home day after day by the Bush Administration to the point where we are controlled by the fear.”
“Is it bordering on fascism?”
“I’m ill at ease using loaded terms that aren’t clearly defined. If you define fascism as Mussolini did — as the intimate cooperation of government and corporate interests curbing democracy and silencing dissent, as well as manipulating the public through fear and appeal to blind patriotism, militarism, and nationalism — I think it is. These guys are about photo-ops with flags in the background and a new slogan each month to stir up the fear, keep it going. And who bankrolls these people? The corporate-financial-military-industrial-petroleum-media complex.”
Archer’s newest paintings — State of the Union — jump out at you with their fervor, yet they are complex and require continued observation to catch the furtive drippings and daggers he uses to expose what has taken place the past seven-plus years.
“As an artist, do you feel responsible, say, like the Russian and Polish poets during the cold war, to expose the poison?”
“I don’t think an artist can separate himself from being a citizen. I’m a human being. Art itself gives me the juice to express myself as a citizen.”
“Does your social conscience inspire you as an artist?”
“My social conscience gives me energy and, to that extent, inspiration. I don’t wait for inspiration. I keep working. Working supplies the juice, the inspiration. I’m a full-time painter. If I don’t keep at it, just lay around waiting for inspiration, there’s no juice.”
Archer, along with his lady, took a train trip back and forth across the country and from memory, not photos, produced a prolific batch of paintings that captured cityscapes of Chicago and New York, among others. These paintings convey, not explain, luminous quality of light reminiscent of Edward Hopper.
“There are art books all over this place,” I say. “Who are your favorite painters, the ones who influence you? I see books on Cezanne, among others.”
“I suppose I was influenced by a lot of artists, especially when I was young. But after a while you find your own personal vision, and leave all that behind. But yes, I keep these books around to study the structure of painting, and to get inspired sharing in the discoveries of individuals who have traveled a similar path, among other things.”
“And music?”
“Beethoven’s piano sonatas would be hard to live without.”
Despite the anger, conviction, the need to make some sense of what brews so torrentially in Archer, he is a calm man, relaxed, very articulate and profoundly thoughtful. He does not cloak his ideas and opinions in high-brow mumbo-jumbo. He is a person you could talk to for hours. He is also a lecturer, and feels blessed he can survive and -even thrive on his art, without having to work at jobs that steal time from his creative process. A free thinker steeped in individualism, he does it his own way.
“I’m troubled by the dumbing down in this country by TV (he has none) and the deadening of thought by so many electronic distractions. The way things are, it reminds me of “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley.
“Maybe we’ve already been there,” I say.
He agrees. There is no arrogance in Archer. One comes to the con-clusion that he is one of those people who cares deeply about the country, and the earth, and that his contribution is grand, which makes him, in his own way, a credit to the race. §

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

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Life in the cage

When you were on the outs, didn’t you ever want to be a rogue, a rebel, break the rules, like steal something from work?

Being in here aint no different than being free. Everyone in the world is hustling and when you doing wrong, you already know the consequences.

Another day, another hustle

By Tito David Valdez Jr.

California Mens’ Colony, Medium Security, 1999

I started off my day, just like any other morning, with hundreds of hungry men walking anxiously up a flight of stairs, single file in our prison blues, to enter the large chow hall. At the end of the cafeteria-style line, plastic trays slid out of a rectangular hole, simmering with the day’s slop.
I sat down at an unoccupied table to eat my entrée, which consisted of bland powdered eggs, oatmeal, two thin flour tortillas, pinto beans, and mystery meat, which was supposed to be sausage links. Two miniature packets were provided as condiments: a taco sauce and state-issued coffee.
“Hey dog, can I get that taco sauce?” Jamie, a white lanky inmate in his late forties with a tattooed bald head, hollered at me from his position in line nearby. He was known for his dragon breath from drinking too much coffee and chewing tobacco at the same time. “You know I’m poor, dog,” he added in an effort to make me feel sorry for him.
“Nah man, I’m going to use it on my eggs, give it some flavor,” I replied.
“Can I get your coffee, dog?” He asked, sounding like a transient trying to bum a dollar.
“Sure.” I tossed the packet of state coffee to him in hopes he would just leave me alone. He caught it. I could hear him begging other inmates at the next table as he worked his way up the line. “Hey dog, can I get your coffee…?”
One of the three empty seats at my table was soon filled by Sleepy, a youthful Chicano with tattoos all over his body —symbols of criminality and rebellion. His prison blues were freshly pressed; he smelled of Mennen aftershave lotion. His prison boots glimmered with a spit-shine polish.
“Hey homey,” Sleepy said, “that vato Jamie, he sells those coffees. He doesn’t drink them. Gets a dollar for thirty packets.”
“Really? I always see him with a coffee tumbler in his hand, I assumed he drank coffee.”
“Nah, he drinks nothing but jailhouse pruno. That’s one of his hustles to pay for his alcohol habit. He is a beggar without a conscience. Man, he never brushes his teeth. Have you ever gotten close to him?”
“I already know, man. Just look inside his tumbler, the stains…looks like the bottom of a riverbed, full of algae.”
“Yeah holmes, he is on biker status,” Sleepy chuckled.
A kitchen worker named Spanky approached us from the back of the serving line and handed Sleepy two items.
“Here homey, for the spread tomorrow night on the yard. Two onions. Just get me a mackerel at the cantina on first draw,” said Spanky, an overweight bald-headed young Chicano wearing a kitchen apron.
“Horale. Can you get me some tortillas?” asked Sleepy.
“Yeah homey, but you know I got to charge you. Dollar for twenty. I don’t have a pay number, and this is my hustle.”
“I’ll take care of it.” Sleepy put the onions in his pocket.
“That’s a good deal — twenty for a dollar. The canteen sells them ten for a dollar-fifty,” I said.
“Yeah homey, I always deal with Spanky. If you ever need onions, tomatoes, cheese, bell peppers, oranges or ketchup, you know, for making pruno, he is the man.”
After our meal, we walked out of the chow hall together and noticed three guards talking with a black inmate inside a holding cage, stripping him out. He was on his way to the hole.
“Sleepy, can you see who it is?”
“Yeah, that one mayate…they call him Pookey. He’s the vato I buy my gambling tickets from every weekend.”
“Oh yeah, I know him. He always wears the do-rag and lots of jewelry. I didn’t know he ran the gambling pools.”
“He probably got busted for one of his many hustles, someone probably ratted him out,” said Sleepy.
“Every man has to have some kind of hustle in here. Pay numbers are low, even for those who work a full shift. How can a man survive on just eighteen dollars or less a month? I sure can’t,” I said.
“You know what my work supervisor told me homey, who has worked here for the last twenty-five years?”
“The rate for prisoners’ pay hasn’t changed since the 1970s. Still seventeen cents an hour. Ain’t that a bitch?”
I first met Pookey when I arrived at the California Mens Colony, a medium security prison in San Luis Obispo, California. He stood up on a bench of the bleachers facing the baseball diamond while nearly thirty inmates approached him to obtain something he was passing out.
He was in his late thirties, always wore a do-rag on his head, African American, tall and lanky, a chain smoker.
“Get your TV guides, just a Top Ramen soup!” he shouted with a raspy voice.
Inmates rushed him like paparazzi, Top Ramen packages in hand, dropping them in a laundry bag in return for a piece of paper typed with information on both sides. I approached him with curiosity.
“Excuse me, what kind of TV guide are you selling?” I asked.
“My friend, you must be new here. Here, take one on the house,” he said smiling, exposing his missing three front teeth.
I glanced at it, seeing that it was nothing but a computer printout of television programs for the week, printed on a copy machine.
“How much do you charge for this?”
“A soup a week, or pre-pay me and get four weeks for only three Top Ramen soups. I deliver each week’s issue right to your cell, if you subscribe.”
“You must make a killing!”
“I get by. Just trying to get my hustle on. Do you like porn?”
“Yeah, what do you got?”
He opened up his legal folder, pulling out three manila envelopes, each had a different magazine: Hustler, Barely Legal, Swank, and Cheri. “For you, my friend, all three, just ten dollars,” he said with a smile resembling Eddie Murphy. “Do you got any coffee,” he asked.
“In fact, I do, two jars of Folgers. I’ll be back.”
Within minutes, I returned, buying the magazines with the coffee. I rushed to my cell and hid them under my mattress.
Later on that evening, right after dinner, I saw Pookey on the yard, hustling something else.
“What are you selling now?”
“You know those two jars of coffee you gave me?”
“I broke them down and am selling dollar shots. I can make ten dollars out of a five dollar jar.”
“That’s brilliant! You got to show me more of your hustles. I find it interesting,” I said.
“Let’s take a lap around the track. I’ll show you all the hustles that go down in this joint. Just observe and listen.”
We entered building three and in the shower area there was a white guy washing clothes in a bucket. At first glance, anyone would think he was a gay boy. He looked feminine, thin, delicate.
“You see that white boy over there,” said Pookey, pointing to him. “They call him Maytag. He will wash your clothes for fifty cents an item. Skid-marked boxers, one dollar. You won’t ever find me washing a motha fucka’s boxers, but he don’t have no shame. He pulls in a good hustle, about two hundred dollars a month. Lazy motha fuckas around here won’t even put their dirty clothes in the laundry bag to send it to the institutional laundry each week.”
“Damn, that’s a lot of money! Not even the few privileged inmates in PIA [Prison Industry Authority] make that much!”
“You’re right! They work their asses off all day, like slaves, and make about a hundred a month making license plates, boots, and furniture.”
We walked outside of building three and saw an older white man, digging through the huge trash bin. The bin reeked and flies could be heard buzzing around.
“That’s Hillbilly Bob. He looks for potato chip bags and the plastic wrappers from the hoagie rolls we get in our sack lunch. He makes jewelry boxes and women’s purses, sells them for twenty dollars each. Inmates send them to their daughters or wives.”
“Are you kidding?”
“Check it out.” We walked toward an older overweight Mexican national inmate nicknamed Wesos, who was listening to ranchera music on his Super III radio while drinking coffee and sitting at a table. He had four beautiful jewelry boxes and two purses for sale. Each item shined like expensive jewelry as the setting sun reflected in its recycled material.
“He sells them for Bob, on commission. He amigo, what you want for those?” asked Pookey.
“For you, twenty dollars, my friend. You buy two, only thirty,” he said in broken English.
I picked up a jewelry box to see the craftsmanship, original, handmade from nothing but trash. “Excellent work,” I said to Wesos, putting the box back on the table.
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” said Pookey.
We continued to walk around the track and entered the dimly lit recreation shack. Inside, we found Brad, a white inmate with long hair, resembling a stoner, who was painting a nude woman while glancing back and forth at a page from Playboy magazine. A Super III radio blasted the rock band AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” The room reeked of cigarette smoke.
“Brad here sells these original paintings on the internet through a third party — an art gallery — for five-hundred dollars a piece,” said Pookey.
“Wow, how does he get that much? People in society can buy something like that for ten dollars at a Wal-Mart or Kmart,” I said.
“He gets that kind of action because they are autographed by Charles Manson. You see at the bottom corner, Brad simply stencils in the name ‘C. Manson’.”
We exited, walking around the track. A black inmate approached us wearing light blue hospital scrubs.
“Yo Pookey, you still want to see the dentist tomorrow?” said Malcolm, who was about 6-3, 250 pounds, looked like a college football player.
“Yeah, put me down. I’ll take care of you later,” replied Pookey.
“Alright homey, be looking out,” said Malcolm.
“What’s that about?” I asked.
“You know, getting to see the dentist or any doctor around here takes about three months. I gots a toothache right now. I gave him five bucks, he puts me on the list to see the dentist right away.”
“Good to know. Does he deal with anyone other than blacks?”
“Homey, he deals with anyone who has green. You gots money, he will even bring you band-aids, cotton swabs, anything you can think of, directly to your cell.”
Along came another inmate, a short blond-haired white guy named Rick, carrying several items, hidden underneath his jacket.
“Hey Pookey, here’s your ice,” said Rick, as he reached below his jacket, pulling out a plastic bag.
“Thanks, man. Take care of you later.”
“Alright man, don’t forget, you owe me three,” said Rick, reminding him.
“I got it, don’t trip.”
“What’s that about?”
“I hook him up with dollar balls of coffee. He brings me ice from the main kitchen every evening. He only charges two dollars a week. Nothing like a cold soda with ice while watching a prime time sitcom. You dig?”
“Alright homey, I’m out for the night. Talk to you later,” said Pookey.
On the way back to my cell, I laughed out loud, thinking of Hillbilly Bob. He made a living committing crimes while free and in prison he had been reduced to making women’s purses.
After about six months at the Mens Colony, I observed the hundreds of hustles of many men. I learned that the most profitable and best hustles were those kept secret, but even those were exposed because in the joint everyone knows each other’s business.
I met up with Pookey, after the evening chow, in building three, first tier.
“Yo Dave, see all those motha fuckas standing next to Cedric’s cell, cell 119?”
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“Dead giveaway. They all fronting Cedric off. They forget this aint the streets, po-leece see everything that on around here.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look now, white boy Ray, he is bringing his color television set to Cedric’s cell. It’s like the homeboy shopping club. Traffic in and out of that cell all the time.”
“OK, I get it. It’s like a crack house.”
The top hustlers in the game were easy to spot. They tried to be low-key but always openly displayed their royalties, wearing bling: Rolex watch, gold necklaces, rings with diamonds, expensive designer sunglasses, clothing and tennis shoes the average inmate can’t buy in the prison vendor catalogs. They went out of their way to say, “Hey, look at me, I’m cool.” Such blatant in-your-face attitude catches the eyes of opportunistic guards or jealous inmates who would rat them out for an extra roll of toilet paper. The best hustlers basically tell on themselves.
“Yo Dave, I want to show you the kingpin of all hustlers. The man is right here, hanging with us in the joint. See that big black guy smoking a Cuban cigar, surrounded by the entourage of men?”
“Yeah, isn’t that the rap label producer?”
“You got it, Suge Knight, founder of Death Row Records. He is selling a dream to all us niggas that anyone from the ghetto can be a superstar. He no different than a preacher man or politician.”
“Yeah, but Suge is a multi-millionaire.”
“So is minister T.D. Jakes.”
Three months later, I caught up with Pookey on the yard.
“Did you hear what happened to Cedric? I heard he got busted.”
“Yeah, goon squad hit his cell. They found a DVD player with twenty porn movies, cellphone, cash, even women’s panties…heard he was playing the female art instructor up in Education,” said Pookey.
“Wow. How can someone accumulate that much stuff under the radar?”
“It’s all about hustling, homeboy. Manipulation. We all human. Everyone has a price or weakness. When you were on the outs, didn’t you ever want to be a rogue, a rebel, break the rules, like steal something from work?”
“I’ve been very tempted.”
“In life, you got to takes the risks if you want to get ahead. You can’t get ahead in here if you relying on a rat ass state prison pay number. Shee-it, a closed mouth can’t get fed,” he said, his body animated, speaking with his hands.
“You got a point.”
“Being in here ain’t no different than being free. Everyone in the world is hustling and when you doing wrong, you already know the consequences. But you ain’t thinking you going to get caught. You think you are special, invincible. The world is yours, like Scarface said.”
“You know man, from all the hustles you have shown me, I gotta give respect to Hillbilly Bob and Maytag. They got honest hustles. Doing something positive and productive. Just like you. Everyone else, they are sealing their fates, getting busted is the only outcome.”
“People forget where they are at and how they got here. That brings me to the oldest hustle in history,” said Pookey.
“What’s that?”
“See Tanisha over there?” I looked over and saw a very feminine long-haired African American queen standing by her cell door. She wore altered jeans made into shorts, cut high in the crotch, custom halter top white blouse, red lipstick made from Kool-Aid, her chest pushed out showing off her implants.
“What does she charge?” I asked.
“Don’t know, never went there, but damn…she got ass.”
“Yup, looks just like a woman.”
Two months later, four goon squad officers were in Pookey’s cell with a K-9 dog, a German shepherd. In just minutes, the dog came out wagging his tail, a high-priced Michael Jordan athletic shoe in his mouth. An officer grabbed the shoe, giving the dog a treat and started tearing the shoe open with a knife. He discovered a medicine baggy full of white powder. The officers gave each other a high five. The dog barked with excitement, started going in circles, chasing his tail. His trainer gave him another treat.
An hour later, they walked out of the cell with four plastic bags full of property. Cellblock Officer Ruiz, locked up all of us in our cells and spent four hours taking inventory of the rest of Pookey’s property, carefully placing it all into cardboard boxes. Pookey had about 300 canned tunas, 200 sodas, and 500 Top Ramen soups, among other things.
After dinner, the dayroom and showers were open. I caught up with Sleepy, who was waiting in line for the shower.
“Horale, holmes. Another one bites the dust.”
“What’s the word?” I asked.
“Same shit as always. He had cash money, cellphone. Heard he was hustling the female dental assistant up in medical.”
“I always thought Pookey had a positive hustle. I never made him out for being that guy.”
“He just bumped up his game. Trying to come up. You know, when you think about it, we always fuck everything off ourselves in here. We don’t even get oranges, honey, or sugar anymore, due to the pruno makers.”
A white inmate named Rod approached me, interrupting our conversation. He was about 5-4, balding, mid-50s, and wore bottle-thick glasses, which magnified the size of his eyes.
“Hey Dave, I heard you type up 602 administrative appeals. Can you type this for me? I’m appealing a disciplinary write up where I was found guilty of ‘staring at female staff.’”
He handed the papers to me. I looked at the write-up; his arguments took up about three pages. His defense was that he was cross-eyed and on Thorazine, a powerful psych medication.
“Yeah, I can type it up for you. One dollar per page.”
“You take stamps?” §

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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A Clean Cut

The evening sunlight was thin and the air cool as my father slammed the rear door of the station wagon.

I gripped the couch pillows underneath my legs and squeezed them the way I had seen my father squeeze his hand springs.

Photo courtesy of Stacey Warde

LEFT BEHIND He was packing. I wanted to go with him. I wanted to spend a weekend, as he had, hunting rabbits and sleeping outdoors. Photo: Author Stacey Warde as a boy with his father Jim Warde who soon after cut ties with his young wife and two small children.

By Stacey Warde

My father was packing the station wagon. He was putting away the last of his camping gear. Finally, he shoved his work boots in between two boxes and was finished. He looked a long time at what he had packed. He often went hunting but had never taken me with him. I was four years old.
“Can I go with you, dad?”
“No,” he answered gruffly. “I may not be coming back.”
He was 24, a construction worker. He was big and had muscles solid as the old truck he drove to haul dirt. I remember his strength. He whipped me hard once when I lied and told him I didn’t throw mud on his surfboard. I never lied again — at least not to him.
Another time I watched him punch his fist through the wall when he was angry with my mother. He was in the bathroom, shaving. I stood in the doorway and admired him as he stroked his face with the razor, wiping it clean of shaving cream, his arm muscles rippling with each sweep. His narrow waist, which was still so much larger than my own, was wrapped in a towel. His stomach tightened as he called to my mother and asked her where his Old Spice was. She didn’t know. That’s when he threw his razor in the sink, cocked his arm back close to his side, clenched his fist, and, like the hammer of a rifle, let it spring through the wall. I left the room quickly.
Now, he was packing. I wanted to go with him. I wanted to spend a weekend, as he had, hunting rabbits and sleeping outdoors. I would never have gone with anyone else, not even my mother. With my dad I felt safe. He protected me.
The big mean kids down the street used to put on scary masks to frighten me. My father told me that if they didn’t stop, he was going to let them have it — and showed me how by pounding his fist into his hand, making the sound of raw meat dropping on a cold kitchen floor. But I couldn’t stop being afraid of those masks — ugly green, old ladies’ faces with blood and bulging eyes. I didn’t have to be afraid for very long because when the big mean kids saw who my father was they stopped scaring me and tried to be my friends.
It was getting late, drawing closer to my bedtime, the time when my father would turn out the light and tell me to go to sleep. The evening sunlight was thin and the air cool as my father slammed the rear door of the station wagon. It would be dark soon. We went into our apartment where the curtains were drawn and little light shone in the stillness.
My father dragged himself into the bedroom where my mother waited. I seldom went in there. I sat on the couch in the dark quiet of the living room and looked after my father into the even darker hallway where he had disappeared. Behind the door they were quiet, not like the time I had heard my mother screaming and then laughing.
I had rushed in to see if she was okay and saw my father pinning her naked to the bed with his massive arms. “What do you want?” my mother had asked as if she was about to laugh. I guessed that it was some kind of game. I wasn’t sure if she wanted me to join them. I couldn’t speak. “Go in your room and play,” she said. I stood frozen. Finally, she had to get up. I stared at the dark triangle balanced like a pyramid turned upside-down above her thighs. “Go in your room and play,” she repeated, shooing me away and closing the door.
Now, there was only quiet, except for an occasional creak in the wall and ceiling. I gripped the couch pillows underneath my legs and squeezed them the way I had seen my father squeeze his handsprings. I felt lonely in the stillness and dwarfed by the increasing darkness. The silence was like the edge of a razor blade; I could feel its edge cutting cleanly through my insides. I knew how razors worked.
Once, I reached into the bathroom waste can for one of my father’s used blades, its blue-black squareness lay flat against the bottom of the can and shone brightly. I picked it up, grasped its edges and bent it back-and-forth with my fingers. They tingled as the blade sliced through the skin. I was surprised and scared to see blood trickling like syrup from my fingertips. Then my fingers started to hurt, and I began to scream. Now, it was my insides that hurt. I felt like screaming but held it in.
I screamed a lot in those days, mostly because of nightmares. Dreadful monsters, usually oversized creatures tall enough to touch the ceiling, came after me in the darkness. They were ferocious and hungry. One night I heard my mother calling me gently while I was sleeping. I looked behind the headboard of my upper bunk and saw a saber-toothed tiger wearing my mother’s sweatshirt, staring me in the face and coming to eat me. I screamed until it went away and my real mother appeared.
I was growing more restless as the waning light outside had nearly ceased penetrating the heavy curtains in the living room. Then I heard a door open. My father, moving like a shadow, crossed the room and went to the front door. My mother walked slowly behind him, leaving the small length of the room’s space between them. I jumped off the couch and ran to the door as my father flung it open. My mother ordered me to come back.
“I want to go with daddy.”
“You stay right there,” she said, pointing.
I started out the door with my father. He turned and told me to stay.
“I want to go, daddy.”
“No,” he said.
My mother came to the door and took my hand. She pulled me inside the house as I tried to wrench myself free. I was straining to get a look at my father. I watched him get into the car. My mother slammed the door of the apartment and I lost sight of him. I began screaming.
My mother let me scream. She didn’t try to fix the pain or tell me to hush. I pulled the curtain back and saw my father warming the car in the driveway. I yelled, “Daddy, daddy!” knowing he couldn’t hear me, and cried louder. I could hardly see him through the blur of tears as the car pulled away.
I heard water running in the bathroom. It wasn’t time for my bath; I hadn’t eaten yet. But my mother called for me. She was kneeling next to the tub. The water splashed loudly. I stood crying in the doorway. My mother motioned me to come. She reached for me and held me tightly. She had never hugged me this way before, not as someone who was afraid. I cried harder. And she cried, too. §

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

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Window washing across America

The birds in these towns sing with more conviction than birds in neighboring towns.

I pull away from the curb and into the gloom of downtown Jeanerette. I feel like I am going off to war.

Sugar Towns (episode 31)
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.

Towns have souls. Some towns have nurtured souls that cradle you when you cross the city limits, causing you to look for excuses to stay. The birds in these towns sing with more conviction than birds in neighboring towns. Other towns have unfinished souls that flop around in purgatorial suffocation. You want to hurry through these towns — cruise swiftly through their fevered air, past their brutish birds and distant people. Then there are towns like southern Louisiana’s Jeanerette and Franklin with sad, abandoned souls that make you want to turn and pretend you’d never seen them. They are stained little towns that moan in the middle of the week under a whiskey miasma heavier than Los Angeles smog, a haze from burning cane, sugar money that’s gotten away.
I park alongside a decaying curb in front of the first Jeanerette business I see, a defeated old second-hand store that one would ignore were it not for the handmade OPEN sign leaning in the pane of its cracked, taped window. The air is hard to move through as I get out. It drags and pulls.
The front door doesn’t budge, but a feint bell tinkles which brings out the little white crown of a woman’s head from a curtained back room. I wave and she disappears then returns with a set of keys. The primarily bald head of her husband floats in the doorway of the back room, eyes blinking behind spectacles. Waiting, I survey the ratty inventory of the store — shelves with dusty colanders, glasses, and silverware, an obsolete baby seat, cheap useless toys that no one will ever buy. It shames me that I am about to ask these people for money, but that’s how I roll.
“Well hello,” the woman says, like she’s been waiting for me. She lets me in and locks the door behind us.
“Hi,” I say. “I’m in Jeanerette today washing windows. Thought I’d see if you want these cleaned. I understand if you don’t.” In a show of respect, I give Jeanerette my best French pronunciation: zjon-a-RETT.
“Would I want my windows cleaned? Well sure I would. I can’t believe you stopped at our little old store. No one ever does.”
She introduces herself as Mary Ellen and her husband as Eldon. If Eldon shares her excitement he hides it, keeping most of his face hidden behind the curtain. Mary Ellen asks my name and has me repeat it, first and last, and says it back to me. Then she asks me questions about my situation that when compared to the questions I typically get, sound almost scripted in their specificity. The word “why” never comes up. It’s as if Mary Ellen has the background and has been waiting for the details, catching each one of them with her darting little blue eyes. She asks me if I knew the couple that came through here a couple years ago on bikes washing windows. She describes them and I tell her they don’t ring a bell and remind her that I better get to her windows if I am going to make any money today. I ask her if five dollars is all right, though I probably should get ten.
“Sure, sure. We’d love it. But only if you do one more thing for me.”
“What is it?” I say. I don’t commit because if you’re not careful, a woman who owns a shop can have you up on their roofs, down in their basements, under their cars to do a little favor on the side which leads to another and another …
“When you are done, will you please take a minute to show me where you’ve been on the map? You see this row of books?” She points to a shelf behind her. “All maps and travel books. I used to be a schoolteacher, you know.”
It takes me about ten minutes to finish Mary Ellen’s hopelessly pocked, nicked windows. She watches from behind the counter while Eldon pokes his pink noggin out for occasional blinks.
I put my things back in the Plymouth then before going back in remember the atlas I’d been scribbling into for the last three months. I grab it and wait for Mary Ellen to come unlock the door.
Inside, I spread the centerfold of the U.S. out on Mary Ellen’s counter and show her the dots and circles I’d drawn around towns, and the roads traced in pen beginning on the coast of California and ending last night in New Iberia.
Along the route, Mary Ellen’s gnarled little index finger follows mine. We stop in northern Arizona where I tell her how I lost my cat at a Taco Bell, then we’re off to New Mexico where I tell her about the beautiful, quiet Navajos of Gallup. In Santa Fe there was the Wal-Mart I got evicted from. In Texas there were old Chisolm Trail towns and barbecue towns and even a town on the gulf where my car nearly got flooded in a Blue Norther. Mary Ellen makes a fuss over every town, over every bend in the road, moving her little crooked finger back and forth over the land.
“Oh I can’t get over it. I hope you are writing about it.”
“I’m jotting some things down. After dark I don’t have much else to do.”
“You know most people would never risk coming into a little town like Jeanerette, and by the way it is Jeanerette (JEN-rett). When you go in you’ll see. I want you to remember that the people of Jeanerette are as good as any, but it’s very sad you see. We have third generation welfare here. We survived sugar beets and corn syrup, but not Fruit of the Loom. They employed all our women and then when they just up and vacated, we were left with a town of men that knew nothing but the streets. Well, you’ll see when you go on in. Some people like to blame it all on a certain race of people because it’s easier. But nobody wants to be on welfare.”
The lower lids of Mary Ellen’s eyes start to puddle and I use the opportunity to fold up the atlas and move toward the door.
“Anyway, I’d tell you to be careful but I know you know what you are doing. I wish you could stick around for a while. Just remember not to worry about what anyone thinks. It’s your time to wander.”
Mary Ellen locks the door behind me and stands behind the still murky glass. Eldon comes out and watches me get in the Plymouth and together they wave as I pull away from the curb and into the gloom of downtown Jeanerette. I feel like I am going off to war.
For the first time since Gallup, where desperate, marinated Navajos traipsed the streets scratching for booze-coins, I roll up the windows and lock the doors of the Plymouth before getting out. The brisk, confident, purposeful walk I normally have is forced here and I find myself bypassing many of the meager businesses, afraid perhaps that their bad luck might rub off on me. Nearing the town’s main intersection I start to make out a shifting cluster of bodies outside the doors of two adjacent saloons. In flux, the cluster grows, divides, vanishes then regenerates with wild limb movements and raspy laughs.
I cross the street where catty-corner from the saloon there is another second-hand store, this one four times the size of Mary Ellen’s with enough glass to feed me for the week if I can get the job. It is very poorly lit inside, and it takes some exploring to locate the owner sitting behind a glass case tall enough to conceal her. I clear my throat and she looks up defensively from a romance novel, until she sees something about me that relaxes her. I say hi.
“They still out there doin’ their thing?” she asks.
“Who?” I say though I know exactly whom she means.
“You know. I guess they would be.” She chortles.
She’s peeking in my door, sniffing out the boundaries. That’s how we do it. We drop a “they,” “them” or an “’em” and watch the reaction. We stick our head in and snoop around — see if it’s all right to continue. If it’s your door being peeked through, you have two choices: lock and deadbolt it, or step aside and let the person through. Choose the latter. It’s quicker and besides, the person is coming through anyway. I make a last attempt at distraction by re-pitching the windows for twenty dollars, but this one isn’t going to be sidetracked. She’s coming through.
“Some people blame it on Fruit of the Loom,” she says. “But Fruit of the Loom doesn’t make ‘em go from bar to bar all day long. It doesn’t make ‘em live in the streets. I mean look at ‘em.”
I don’t want to, but from where I’m standing my only view is the intersection and the two tragic bars where skinny grinning men, young and old, fluctuate from one to the other, ashy-skinned, baggy rags hanging off their bones, cigarettes dangling from blue lips, eyes electrified with red juice. Some are just brilliant white teeth in dark doorways.
“There’s a lot of ‘em moving into town now too. What they do is win a lawsuit or something, come into some money then think they are better than you. There’s a Pentecostal Church for ‘em out there.” She waves her romance novel in the direction of where I assume the country is — the cane fields, bayous, and substandard housing. “They used to stay out there with their own but not any more.”
I watch an old-timer in a torn brown jacket stagger out to the gutter. He sits down in it and using the curb as a backrest, stretches his legs into the street, crossing them at the ankles. He lights a cigarette and stares ahead. Meanwhile, behind him two younger men transferring saloons, bump into each other, stop, hug, and play-box. The man in the gutter says something to them over his shoulder that causes them to double over in laughter and they say something back to him that causes him to toss his pack of cigarettes over his head. It lands at their feet and they each take a cigarette then pocket the old man’s smokes and run off with them into the saloon they’ve decided they need to be in. The old man gets up and chases them.
“Only time you meet decent people any more is at weddings and funerals. I’m glad to be leaving Jeanerette.”
“I’m saying I would have you clean the windows but we are selling the store and getting out of here. We’re thinking about Saint Martinsville. I mean, wouldn’t you?”
“Wouldn’t I what?”
“Wouldn’t you move?”
I look again at the dirge outside. “Yeah, I guess I would.”
There’s tightness in my throat as I drive out of Jeanerette. I don’t know why. Every town had its problems. Maybe it was the “ette” on the end of Jeanerette’s sweet little feminine name that reminded you of something delicate or lacy. On the outskirts I see an abandoned house sliced down the middle by an overblown tree. It has turned the wooden porch into a rickety V but it doesn’t stop some of ‘em from sitting on it with bags in hands, pulling, laughing, stopping to glance at the Plymouth going by.
Franklin has to be better but, being only fifteen minutes away, it can’t be. Here, a cane plant fills the brown sky with floating bits of husk. Big green and yellow trucks with inverted triangular cages full of cane, cough black exhaust into the rusty air. Overworked men walk along railroad tracks with lunch buckets and downcast eyes, and a prison work-gang in orange jumpsuits cuts yellow weeds along another stretch. When I get to the downtown, I see that like Jeanerette, Franklin also has two saloons, only instead of being adjacent, these two are directly across the street from one another. Here the men do not slither and wheel from one to the other like they did in Jeanerette. They skip like daddy longlegs, or triple-jumpers or coal-walkers across the street, toes barely touching the asphalt, two steps and they are across, dodging cars, exchanging information on the run, hand-slaps, cigarettes, grins, grins, grins or intercept a buddy and take him where you are going and what is going on in there. They go from hole to hole like this — exposed spiders running for safety.
After a few unsuccessful tries at Franklin’s mostly white-owned businesses, where proprietors sit guardedly behind counters, much like they had in the shops of Gallup, I flee downtown and find an area away from all this — a little shopping strip across from a boarded-up supermarket. I do my usual thing of parking away from it so as not to let anyone see the California plates. It’s getting late and I’d like to leave these impoverished sugar towns with a little more than the five dollars I made in Jeanerette. I start off at a clothing boutique owned by a black woman. She’s dressed in a loud red dress and wide-brimmed hat from her product line, which looks to target the pre hip-hop black woman. As she listens to my offer, she chooses to keep her eyes glued on a spot on the floor down and to the left.
She agrees only to having the insides done, which I find peculiar, but decide not to question. I go to work on her windows, trying a couple times to lighten the thick tension in the store with small talk but she doesn’t respond. She watches me from behind her counter, arms folded.
“You can get that one a little better,” she says.
Relieved to see that she has a good, dry sense of humor I let out a loud laugh. But when I turn I see she is serious. I thought I had done a damn good job on that window.
“I say that window you just did, it don’t look that good.” She still fixes her eyes down and away in the area where cowering animals sometimes look. “You could do it better.”
It’s a tiny window, so I start over. It takes a minute then I’m on to the next one.
“That’s better now.”
I stop and take a moment. We’re at the point in the deal where I usually tell a person to go to hell and walk away from a job. If she was a white woman and I wasn’t in the South, I might do just that. But I’m not confident of myself in this store. I feel restricted and lost. I force a quick smile and say “thanks.”
“You can do them mirrors there too,” she says. “For what you askin’ you can clean them mirrors.” She refers to a hanging set of five small, badly-smudged diamond-shaped mirrors . I measure the squeegee up to one of the mirrors and am glad to find it doesn’t fit.
“Can’t do ‘em,” I say.
The woman digs around under her counter and comes out with a bottle of Windex and a roll of paper towels and sets them on the ledge beside me and returns to her station behind the counter and resumes her supervision.
“Now you can.”
Trembling, I spray and wipe down the little mirrors when what I want to do is drop everything and leave. But I am afraid to do it here, to this woman, to cross her. I finish and go collect my pay. Though I never get a flash of eye contact, I get a two-dollar tip.
Driving out of Franklin, the cane smog slowly lifts and the land opens up into yellow, nondescript fields. They’re trying to tell me stories, it feels like — not all of them, but certain fields. They leap out at me with a yellow heat that gives me the shivers. Then slowly, the smell of burning stalk weakens and the fields give way to nice yards and houses, some even lavish, and I think to myself “this must be sugar money” and drive a long way without stopping. §

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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Hippie hypocrites and Boomer bullshit

When I spotted kids wearing Army surplus field jackets patched with peace symbols and North Vietnam flags, I left my own well-worn Army issued field jacket in my beat up car.

At Golden Gate Park, hippies languished everywhere, and dogs chased balls—the only sign of energy and ambition.

By Dell Franklin

Coming up from L.A., my first stop was San Francisco. I’d read and heard about the hippie culture, the new movement, free love…and parked my car amid the hive of activity in Haight-Ashbury and began, walking around. When I spotted kids wearing Army surplus field jackets patched with peace symbols and North Vietnam flags, I left my own well-worn field jacket, the only remnant of my military war-drobe, in the smooth-running, beat-up 1954 Chevy station wagon I’d bought for $100 and planned to drive around the country, sleeping on a foam mat in the back upon arriving at a destination to my liking.
It was May of 1967, shortly after my discharge from a 30-month Army hitch overseas. As an aspiring writer, I carried a spiral note-book on which I would report what I’d see and hear.
The street leading to Golden Gate Park was packed like New York City at rush hour, but nobody seemed in a hurry, as though a desultory torpor had overcome every individual shuffling along. I was bombarded by sensory saturation: Incense burning from stores, marijuana smoke wafting in a thick haze from alcoves and windows of old Victorians plastered with psychedelic art and the latest slogans, the twang of electric guitars screeching. I stepped around threadbare flower children sprawled in clumps on the sidewalk. Teenage panhandlers hit me up casually, almost insolently, for “bread,” and when I told them I was dirt poor they smirked, and I immediately felt the alienated fool, self-conscious of my military haircut, baggy lumberjack shirt and sneakers. A clown.
Intimidated by the costumed gadgetry and irreverent clubbiness of the scene, I scuttled off to Golden Gate Park, where the same crew languished everywhere, dogs chasing balls the only sign of energy and ambition.
Returning to my wagon, I found a guy in patched bell bottoms, knee-high soft boots, vest with peace button and mountaineering hat lounging very comfortably on the fender and hood, eyeing me with an appraising, challenging expression. Along the sidewalk, smoking, sat his friends, all of them staring at me as I took the key to my wagon out.
I nodded to the man slouched on my vehicle, and he nodded back, looking me up and down. “These your wheels, dude?” he asked.
When I nodded, he managed a lizard smile. “You don’t mind my resting on it, do yah?”
I pondered this question. The wagon was one of the worst looking clunkers on these streets, and there were a few dilapidated VW buses and vans, but mine looked like a getaway car in a bank robbery. “Well,” I said, “it’s not a Mercedes, ob-viously. If it was, and you were sitting, on it, and I objected, I’d be a territorial, materialistic asshole, right?”
“Right on, my brother.” He smiled, hopefully.
“On the other hand, if I object to your sitting on this piece of shit, I’m a truly troubled person, right?”
He began rolling a cigarette. He finished, offered it to me, and I shook my head. He lit up. “So, are we cool, dude?”
I felt this guy, and the entire mass of this unruly bunch were stealing my thunder. I’d began dressing in rags back in the 1950s as a junior high and high school student. I wore T-shirts until they fell off my back. I hated new clothes, liked being the only kid in school who looked like a perennial slob, and it drove my parents, both dandies who’d worn rags during the Great Depression, half crazy. My best friend on the high school baseball team, a black guy named Walter Jones, dressed like a prince and called me, very affectionately, “Ragman.” I enjoyed my role, my identity. Still, I’d never taken to costumes and regalia. That’s what I felt this was, in Haight-Ashbury. There seemed this pressure to look like them, be like them, or hit the road. Perhaps they viewed somebody who looked like me as an intruder, maybe a spy, a narc, or an outsider groping for some sort of niche in this tight-assed world of lost souls.
“I don’t know yet,” I said.
He sat up, just a little, inhaling, holding the cigarette between his forefinger and thumb. I spotted a tattoo on his chest.
“So what’s the problem, bro’?”
I shrugged, said nothing.
“You uptight, bro’?” You seem edgy, nervous. Relax, bro’. I ain’t threatening you. Just bein’ comfortable. It’s all about sharin’ what we have, man. It gives off good vibes, man. You dig?”
“Sure. I don’t mind sharing. I ain’t got much, but I’ll share it. But I kinda like to be asked first, you know.”
He scrutinized me closely, squinting. “You been in the Army, in ‘Nam?”
“So you weren’t forced by the criminals to kill anybody, right?”
“I got lucky.”
“You believe in the war?”
“It’s bullshit.”
“Right on, bro’. You got some good karma, kept you outta that bullshit. You ain’t got murder on your conscience, you know.”
In his own way, I felt him trying to manipulate me, gain the upper hand. He lay back, again comfortable, asked me if I wanted a bean. A bean? He winked, told me I looked low, depressed, needed a boost. I told him no. I’d never done drugs. Didn’t I smoke weed? No. But weed, like booze, or tobacco, was from the earth, man, natural. I shrugged. They were all peering up at me from the sidewalk, the curb, the alcove of the nearby Victorian.
Where I grow up, in Compton, like this guy, they tried to bend me over to their way of thinking, and living. At a huge high school, where half the enrollment was black, a peer-pressure driven racism was virulent.
“Nigger lover,” I was called by white teammates, and guys I’d grown up with at our all-white junior high. I was start-ing shortstop as a sophomore, and, Walter Jones played second base. We were tight. Always sat together on the bus for away games. He was cool, relaxed, I was high-strung, hard on myself. We played catch together, played pepper together, worked on the, double play, and sometimes he rode me the mile to my home to the white section of town on his bike, and I did the same for him. Brothers.
That was 1960. Briefly, visiting my dad’s store in Compton shortly after my discharge, and going to McDonald’s for lunch, I ran into Walter. He hardly said a word to me, was aloof, tried to shake me. Married. Two kids. Blue collar job. A Muslim. Wanted nothing to do with whitey, he explained, and walked off. I was hurt. Bad.
“I don’t know where you get this murderers bullshit,” I said.
He slowly lifted himself off the hood, sat up. “If you let them take you, let the criminals round you up, and you end up killing, in an unjust war, what else are you?”
“Too poor to leave the country. Too poor to buy your way into the National Guard. Too scared to go to jail for your principles.”
He continued sizing me up, still trying to bend me, probing, perhaps, for a vulnerability that would sway me to his way of think-ing, capture me as a true believer, like some sort of guru or evangelist. I’d been through all that, too. And, in a way, he was testing me, and I began to resent his violating my space, so blatantly trespassing upon my private property — in a sense showing me up and attempting to present me as the problem and, perhaps, the enemy. Like a bully from the block, he had his crowd behind him.
“I want you off my fucking car,” I heard myself' growling in a too ominous voice, unrecognizable to me. Gritting my teeth, suddenly wild with rage, I was confused, adrift, fitting in nowhere, flagellating helplessly, not wanting to return to college and its assembly line of diploma graspers leading to a good job, marriage, children, fulfillment, the burden, the trap. I was also angry that all these people were getting laid, and I wasn’t, because while straight girls found me odd, unappetizing and without any semblance of a future, hippie chicks found me boring and square. Seething at the dismal hopelessness of my plight, beaten down from three years of Army life, I stepped closer to the man, still perched so insouciantly on the hood of my car, smirking at my miserable confusion.
“Come again,” he said, while his crew perked up all around me. He finally sat up. “You got a problem with me, dude?”
“Yeah, I got a problem listening to fuckers like you calling the poor saps getting hauled off into the Army murderers,” I growled again. “Now you get your spindly ass off my car before I drag you off and beat on you, motherfucker. I mean NOW!”
He sprung off the wagon. Stepped around me. “You’re a troubled dude,” he said, calmly, pityingly, in that zombie tone of voice. “Too bad. You’re all uptight.” He flashed me the peace sign, eyes twinkling behind rimless pink sunglasses. “Peace, brother. We’re all in this together. I hope you find peace and happiness, and love. Life can be good.”
They crowded around after I got in the car. I was trembling. Christ, I was no fighter. I was a dove. Realizing suddenly that it would be a long, long time before I saw any kind of light at the end of the tunnel, I drove off. I drove all over America.
So many years later, after living in San Francisco in 1968 and part of ‘69, and working as a bartender in an L.A. beach town through-out the 1970s and ‘80s, I watched as the long hair, beads and orna-ments and zombied out jargon was replaced by white shirts and ties and custom salon cuts; a shiny new car instead of an old decaled VW bus; and the children and wife behind the traditional white picket fence in the traditionally white affluent neighborhood, far away from the Black Panthers, who were left to their burning ghettos, and I had to laugh out loud at the love generation, the so-called revo-lution, the movement.
In time, their indulgence, of themselves and their offspring, the bloating, and emptiness, the tight pony tails in some cases being the last reminders of the great flirtation with Bohemia and communal lifestyles, became an affront to their ancestry trekking across the country in a downtrodden dust bowl to scavenge at any job for chump change. And, of course, their very hedonism and casual con-sumption and wastefulness led to the self-righteous right-wing poli-ticians in collaboration with the sanctimonious religious funda-mentalists to hijack the country and turn it into the paranoid, warmongering, greed-crazed, pill-ridden, obese, debt-plagued mess it is today.
The long aspired to American Dream was achieved. My father, too.
During high school, my parents moved us out of roughneck, melting pot Compton to a new safe white suburb in Orange County, and I was instantly bludgeoned by the empty sterility of it all. Neighbors seldom conversed, but disappeared into garages. Gardeners mowed lawns and trimmed hedges. Pool cleaners circulated like locusts. No-body walked to school together, or played in the streets. I was lost, and, mysteriously, for the first time, troubled, and depressed in a way I did not understand.
Perhaps this version of the American Dream, essentially, was what the hippie movement was fighting all along, and who could blame them? But they bent. Oh, did they bend, like flimsy elastic. Later, much later, when it was in fashion, they called themselves Baby Boomers, or, Boomers, as they sipped trendy white wine and went to spas and shrinks and played the music of their youth, oblivious to the ruination of their fatuous existences. Hippies and Boomers.
When I drove around the country, back in 1967, the hippies were in little pockets everywhere. In some places they were despised, showered with venal hostility. Their philosophy was, as they put it, “right on.” Their intentions were exemplary and inspiring. The entire movement was worthy of Gandhi’s blessing. But they fell prey to an America that was too easy, a path too accessible, and a trove of riches too irresistible.
For all they attained, they lost. §

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

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We slept in the van, drank cheap beer, and generally rode this out for a month or so until one morning I woke to find the water in my dog’s bowl had frozen over.

He wore corduroy Ocean Pacific shorts every day and always left the top button open, suggesting easy access to his treasure below.

By Hannah Day

Initially, my wanderlust took me from sunny Southern California to the majestic forests and hip beach communities of Santa Cruz. My stay in Santa Cruz was interrupted by a clinging boyfriend who suddenly appeared—having secretly followed me up the coast. With a little talking and a lot of kissing, he convinced me to keep him along for the ride, a journey that would be full of unusual experiences. We decided to check out a Grateful Dead show at Boreal Ridge, not far from the North Shore of Lake Tahoe. The Dead were playing for one day only, my 20th birthday, at a ski lodge. I pulled out a map and headed northeast up Highway 80 to the top of Donner Summit.
The boyfriend, Tim, was a construction worker who convinced me that money would not be a problem because he could pick up a job anywhere he went. He stood a couple inches shy of 6 feet, was well-built with large biceps, a nice head of auburn hair, and a smooth tanned chest that he loved to expose. He wore corduroy Ocean Pacific shorts every day and always left the top button open, suggesting easy access to his treasure below. This practice also relieved the pressure of his newly forming beer belly.
We arrived a few days before the show at a lodge that was equipped with a small ski lift and a concrete strip that ran down one side of the main ski run. During the hot summer months, the owners ran carts like large skate boards down the strip lining the side of the hill. Riders sat on the contraptions and used a hand brake to slow themselves at the bottom of the run. This was the lodge’s way of making money through the lean summer months. The posters that covered the windows of the ski lodge read: One Day Only — Trip and Slide with the Grateful Dead. I was where I was supposed to be. As Ram Das said, I was “here now.”
Tim hustled a couple days’ work from the crew that was building the stage and setting up the sound system. I tried to get them to hire me too but they declined my offer. Anxious to get me working, Tim taught me his trick: I should go to the swap meet and buy a set of leather bags, the kind that hangs from the waists of construction workers. The belt should have at least two compartments for nails and a hook on which my hammer would hang. I needed to buy the bags used so I wouldn’t look so green. The hammer had to be a Vaughn framing hammer. Apparently, buying the wrong kind of a hammer could send a signal that I had no experience.
In exchange for labor Tim received some cash and a backstage pass, which he was happy to give me, as he wasn’t too impressed with the Dead. I’d seen many shows by that time but had yet to get backstage. I put on my favorite worn out jeans and a tie-dyed tank top and was surprised to find I was the only tie-dyed person back stage. Bob Weir was talking to a very pregnant and beautiful young girl. Mickey Hart was playing air drums. I must have been staring at him too long because his drumming began moving slowly to the right, further and further away from his face. He continued playing the drums in the air as his outstretched arms pulled my stare away from him. He shot me a cute grin so I didn’t feel so bad about my girlish gawking. Suddenly, Jerry opened a door, breezed past me, stepped on my cigarettes, and squished them. A friend later asked me, “Jerry actually stepped on your cigarettes?” “Yeah,” I replied. “So what did you do with the pack?” he asked. “Smoked ‘em, what else?” I wondered if my friend would have created a shrine to honor the magical pack.
When I rejoined the crowd in front of the stage I found my boyfriend had gotten extremely drunk and by the third or fourth song he was jumping up and down and acting ridiculous. He jumped about spilling beer on the heads of this intimate group of dedicated followers. He didn’t seem to realize that this event was akin to a religious experience for most of us. During one song, Jerry was peering over his eyeglasses, like I’d seen him do so many times before. But today, he was peering at me, paternally shaking his head from side to side. He seemed disgusted with the drunken fool I was with. I felt ashamed.
When the show was over, the crew packed up and went home. Tim and I spent the following weeks living in my van in the forest. The area was peppered with large boulders and tall Douglas Fir. It had all the splendors of nature a person could want. Patches of wild flowers grew on the forest floor and surrounding hills. The air had been sweet that summer, though the seasons were beginning to change. The altitude made for a dry climate but we were blessed with several clean water sources. Donner Lake and its tributaries were nearby.
I spent the days hiking with my dog and enjoying the foliage that was beginning to transform. As time passed, we ran out of food and money. This created tension between us and as the tension increased, I began to think of the Donner Party and wondered how far we were from their camp. This surreal moment motivated me to hustle two gallons of gas to make the 30-mile drive to Reno.
In Reno, I found a pawnshop willing to purchase some of my simple jewelry. With the few dollars I raised, I found a swap meet, bought the leather bags and a Vaughn hammer, filled my pouches with nails, and headed off to a construction site at the far south end of Virginia Avenue. The men at the site were charitable, and gave me a job sweeping sawdust out of the newly framed buildings. Tim worked as a framer. They let us act as their security guards at night in exchange for our camping on-site. The security job required nothing but our constant presence. We slept in the van, drank cheap beer, and generally rode this out for a month or so until one morning I woke to find the water in my dog’s bowl had frozen over. It was too cold for us to continue living outside. We headed south the next day.
The stretch between Reno and Vegas is a mother. There are Indian reservations, secret government operations, and small towns populated with people who, for the most part, were as broke as we were. Each town might not have a gas station but it almost always had a bar. Tim sold some of his possessions in one tavern and I sold some of my tools in another. We eventually made it south to Tucson. We arrived at dusk and I offered to mop the floor of the local taco joint in exchange for two burritos. Arizona was warm and dusty and I found a construction job the next day performing “pick-up” work. Pick-up work meant that if there was some part of another crew’s job that didn’t get finished properly, I would complete it, pick it up.
With no money for gas, I hitchhiked to the job site each day. After a few weeks, we had enough money to rent a tiny aluminum trailer in a small park. Unfortunately, I had to leave my dog tied to the trailer during the days when I went to work. My dog wasn’t accustomed to being away from me and he barked all day long. Eventually, the park manager came out to complain. He was a scroungy looking guy in his mid-50s, dressed in old blue jeans with no shirt. He had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. His crude, lifeless military tattoos had spread into large unidentifiable black smudges on his forearms. He had an impressive-looking long-barreled side arm hanging from his brown leather belt. He told me something terrible might happen to my dog if I couldn’t keep him from barking. The manager stroked his gun as he threatened my dog. He told me he used to be a cop. Of this, I had no doubt.
I looked into the fenced area surrounding the manager’s garbage pile of a home. He had his own dog, who would roll about all day long playing fetch with a 10-pound bowling ball.
“How long you had that dog?” I asked in reply to his threats.
“Well, I had ‘im for goin’ on …” he stopped talking and looked me straight in the eye. Apparently, he understood what I was getting at. He turned and walked away. My bluff gave me the upper hand, but only for the moment. The next day I moved out, taking with me my beloved dog and my god-awful boyfriend. Someone told Tim there was work in a new town called Laughlin, Nevada, so we headed back north.
At that time, Laughlin was nothing more that five casinos, one tiny gas station, and a ferryboat that took gamblers across the Colorado River from Bullhead City, Arizona. We parked the van on a little sand peninsula that jutted out into the river directly across from Don Laughlin’s Riverside Casino. The peninsula was surrounded on three sides by tall bushes and trees with the front section open to the river. Compared to the last few months, living outside on this sandy, warm peninsula was paradise. The dog ran free and the river kept us clean and satiated. At night, we’d sit around our campfire and gaze dreamily toward the hotel casino towering above us, wondering what we’d do if we had a pile of money.
Our limited funds ran dry quickly and before long we were stuck again with no gas to help us wander. One morning, I took my bags and hammer and bummed a ride out to a construction site that I had heard about seven miles west in the Nevada desert. It was a small site so it was easy to find the boss. He was tall, fat, and grumpy looking. “How’d you git here,” he asked, “I don’t see no car.”
“I got a ride from Bullhead,” I replied.
“And what-a-ya think you can do for us,” he asked.
“Whatever you need,” I smiled, “pick up work, light framing, cleanup, whatever.”
There was a very large pile of 2 x 6 wood stacked neatly on one side of the dirt lot. Each piece was about 12 feet long. “You go move them pieces from here over t’ there!” he commanded.
“OK, sir, you got it!” Off I went, piling two or three boards at a time on my right shoulder. I’d wrap my right arm around the wood like a bundle and balance them with my left arm out in front of my body. I carried all those big sticks several hundred yards across the lot. There was a lot of wood but I was eager to show them how sturdy I was. After a few hours, I had moved every last piece from one side of the lot to the other. I was hot and tired, but I felt proud.
“OK, now what do you want me to do next?” I asked. It felt great to be working again.
“OK, now you move ‘em all back over t’ where you found ‘em.”
My heart sank. “What’s that?” I asked.
“You heard me! Mov’em all back over t’ where you found ‘em!”
I spied a forklift across the lot. “I know how to drive that fork lift,” I said softly. “How about I use the fork lift to move them back?”
“You think you’re gonna git smart with me, you little piece of shit.” Ouch, this was beginning to hurt, and I was becoming concerned for my safety. We were seven miles out in the desert and there were but a few men on this site. None of them were anywhere near me and the boss. “Maybe I better get going”, I responded. “Where can I pick up my half-day’s pay?”
“We don’t pay quitters!” he shouted. I looked him in the eye and sized him up. He was mean and ugly, inside and out. I didn’t feel I had much option other than to walk away. So off I went, back down the dirt road, out to the open highway, and over the seven miles back into the town. I was home to my peninsula paradise before dark.
After that day, I felt I’d have to get creative if I was to continue living in this tiny oasis. The desert can be a brutal place. I met a tall, 60-something year old man who had white hair and beard and boasted that at one time he had been the owner of the first seamless gutter machine on the West Coast. I liked him immediately and enjoyed listening to his stories. He let me know how I could survive out here in this desert town. He explained, “First you gotta come up with enough gas money to drive into Kingman. Once you get there, you find the only Texaco station in town. Over by the cigarette machine, you’ll find a metal rack with free coupons to the Edgewater Casino’s all-you-can-eat buffet dinner. Take a whole bunch of ‘em but leave a few so they don’t know what we’re doin.’ Then, you go to dinner at the Edgewater each night and smuggle out enough food to feed yourself in the morning. Now, don’t get caught or you’ll ruin it for everyone.”
He continued, “Now back in town you’ll need to come up with a little bit of change. Maybe you’ll find some in a pay phone, slot machine, or on the floor of a hotel lobby. Once you get some change, you go over to the Riverboat Casino. It’s the only casino in Laughlin that has penny slots. Now be real careful and you’ll turn your bits into dollars for gas to get back to Kingman for more coupons.” Sounded simple enough.
For the next month or so that is what I did. Each day, I filled my belly at the Edgewater and lined my purse with foil or plastic so I could smuggle out enough food out to feed my dog. Life was good until one day when Tim became particularly agitated.
I don’t recall what set him off…it never did take much. He was driving my van late at night and we were miles outside of town. He pulled over to teach me a lesson and I jumped out and ran like hell — through the black desert and into the night. I ran and ran with him chasing me all the way. When I gained a little ground, I cut right and hit the sand. I’ll never know if he saw me there and changed his mind or if I had successfully blended in with the landscape. I held my breath until I sensed he had walked away. I slept alone on the cold desert sand that night. At dusk, I headed back to the highway. I walked a few miles closer to town and saw my blue van. The driver’s door was open, the stereo was blasting, and there was my dog. I snuck up so quietly my hound dog barely noticed me. When he did, I hushed him with soothing maternal commands. Tim was there too, in front of the van with his back to me. He was pissing all his beer out over the edge of a little cliff. My timing was perfect as I jumped into the driver’s seat, started the van, and drove off like a maniac. Tim barely had time to zip up his pants. I drove back to our peninsula; left his belongings stacked neatly beside the fire pit, and pointed the van west. Having temporarily satisfied my wanderlust, it was time for me to head home to California. My trip had come to and end…for now. §

Hannah Day is a freelance writer who lives in South San Luis Obispo County.

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Tax Burden

‘Dey’s a war goin’ on … dass why dey’s bein’ so hard on you…’

Basically, my financial I.Q. registers somewhere in the category of idiot

By Stacey Warde

I’ve run into trouble before but nothing like the trouble I’ve run into with the I.R.S., the government agency whose duty it is to collect our taxes.
They’re coming after me pretty hard. I owe lots of money, half of which is accrued penalties and late fees.
My take home pay for 2006 was less than $15,000, and is even less for 2007. I don’t have much wiggle room but the I.R.S. wants to take all my earnings, leaving me with nothing. If they have their way, I’m left with few choices: I can go hungry, turn criminal, flee the country or kill myself.
I’m doing what I can to finagle some breathing room and work out a solution. I don’t fancy myself an expatriate, fugitive or a bank robber and I sure don’t have the guts to put a gun to my head.
But I have no idea how I’m going to survive if every penny I earn is taken away from me. Frankly, I don’t think anyone earning less $15,000 a year should be taxed, but I’m willing to contribute somehow. God knows I want to be a good citizen. I want to give my share to the common good, to maintain our national security but more importantly to buttress education, the arts and sciences, to ensure that everyone has access to healthcare, to support people who need a lift now and then, to provide a safety net for others like myself who have nothing.
Basically, my financial I.Q. registers somewhere in the category of idiot, and because I’ve never liked working for anyone but myself, I got into a jam by not paying my quarterlies. Oops. I know, big mistake and irresponsible.
Still, I need help not a bludgeon to the head. But in this country, things don’t always work that way. We like to hurt people who make mistakes; we like to make them pay for their stupidity. When it comes to real criminal behaviors like those committed by the Bush administration, we give them a pass. We call the evil good and the good evil.
I’ll admit I got into this jam all on my own, not through ill will or malice but through pure and simple financial imbecility. But, in this country, if you don’t make money, lots of money, if the bottom line isn’t your primary goal in life or if you don’t know how to turn a spreadsheet into gold, and you’re unable to add to the coffers, you don’t belong here. You’re less than zero. You eat the scraps, live in a trailer park, and drink Bud Light.
Like plenty of Americans, I have no assets, no money, or even a retirement account. No health insurance or means to make an end. And things are just getting worse. Money’s tighter than ever, and the I.R.S. is breathing down my neck, dipping its collection powers into my meager wages and slim banking account, leaving me with a dollar and some change, because “dey’s a war goin’ on.”
I wish I could say that I got into this mess because I’m a tax protestor, or because I’m opposed to the war, or because I oppose taxing the poor, or because I don’t want a penny of my earnings going into the construction of another prison, but I’m not that bold. I wish I could say that I haven’t paid my taxes because I don’t agree with the administration’s policies and the way they have squandered public monies by waging an illegal and disastrous war. I wish I had the courage to do jail time for refusing to pay my taxes on account of my opposition to the most corrupt administration to ever hold office. But I’m not courageous, just financially illiterate. I’m like most schmucks these days, simply trying to get to the end of each month with a little money in the bank for food and keeping a roof over my head.
I don’t have the stomach for jail. I like being a free man. But I’d rather go to jail than be bullied into a corner. If I ever go to jail for not paying my taxes, it will be because of my own stupidity, not for malice or greed or the flagrant violation of U.S. or international law. I’m not as bold as that, not as connected, or protected as those who make the decisions to wage war, raise taxes, find the loopholes to avoid them, and squander the national treasury, making themselves and their friends rich off the backs of the poor, while people like me make do with less and less, or simply go without.
I’ve made my bed and I’ll sleep in it but I couldn’t believe what Ms. Gunner, my taxpayer’s advocate, an independent arm of the I.R.S. designed to help people like me who get themselves into dire straights, said when I asked her why the government comes down so hard on poor people and not on the big money makers and tax evaders who run the country.
“I’ll tell you why,” Ms. Gunner said from her office in the deep South.
“All right, Ms. Gunner, why is the government coming down so hard on me?”
“’Cause dey’s a war goin’ on … dass why dey’s bein’ so hard on you….” They need every dime they can get their hands on, she said. Gotta have money to support the war.
“Yeah, but they used to be so nice, I mean, I thought they were trying to put on a newer, friendlier, happier face.”
Before Ms. Gunner could say anything, I swear I could hear the wheels of her brain clicking, trying to spin out the words that wouldn’t come: That was before George W. Bush, and the mean-spirited people he surrounds himself with, took over the White House. That was before Congress made it impossible for the struggling working class to declare bankruptcy because of uncovered medical bills and the financial malfeasance of CEOs who wiped out their pensions. Instead, she spoke like a diplomat: “Thass befo’ the war. Now dey’s a war, and dey’s gotta be hard on people.”
“So they have to crack down on poor people.”
“Dass da way it is.”
That’s the way it is in the U.S. When the rich and powerful control the national treasury, when corporate powerbrokers and wealthy crooks pull the purse strings, these men and women who have no respect for the environment or the dignity of other human beings, when they call the shots, people who have little or nothing pay for it all. The government comes down hard on the little guys. We’re the ones who pay, even when we don’t have the means to pay. §

Stacey Warde is editor of The Rogue Voice. He accepts inquiries from financial wizards who know how to tame the I.R.S. He can be reached at

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Sketches of San Francisco

The bar was in an uproar as I played my only card. Even the barmaid tried to calm me down by buying me a drink.

Rocco and I would not let the French Navy buy one drink. We bought them shots of vodka and gave Russian toasts as we downed them.

The French Navy

By Talmadge Jarrattee

On a foggy weeknight, after stumbling all over the city by foot and taxi, aimless and deliciously drunk, Rocco and I ended up in North Beach with the French Navy. The watering hole had most of the qualities a good saloon needs: poor lighting, a long, well-worn bar with dependable, padded stools, and a few scattered tables and chairs, a fairly decent crowd, and a stocky 30ish bartender with a walrus mustache, black eyes and an Irish brogue.
We found stools in the middle. There was a mix of young and old, various colors and accents as we looked around. Seated beside Rocco was a black woman dressed preppie. To our surprise, she spoke in a proper British accent. She was on holiday from London, had been in San Francisco a few days and loved it, loved this bar because it had an international cast. Her name was Irma. She was pleasant, conversational, owned a large-featured face with jovial smile lines and laughed easily, displaying slightly protruding front teeth.
Rocco and I noticed right off that the Irishman was stingy with the Skyy vodka, packing our undersized rock glasses like snowcones and quick-spurting in less than a shot of booze while charging us an ex-orbitant price when he should have recognized us as professional drinkers with serious needs who were willing to tip big.
Rocco tossed him a fin and we eyed him up as he snatched it off the bar with hardly a nod of thanks and immediately visited other patrons, most likely regulars. Then four young men came in dressed in dark blue coats, dark blue pants, dark blue ties and funny looking caps with red tassels hanging down. They sat to my right at the bar and or-dered pints of beer and commenced talking in French. I’d been to France.
France did not have bars and pubs like we had in the U.S.A and in the British Isles. They had quaint, smoky bistros and sidewalk cafes. Only in Cherbourg did I find a real bar, down on the waterfront, but it was well-lit, like an American diner.
I entered this bar by myself during a hitchhiking tour of Europe. Took the lone remaining stool, for the place was packed in the late spring evening. The crowd was comprised of dockworkers and fishermen wearing heavy clothes and berets, ball caps, watch caps, and they smoked and jabbered in French, though I heard some Spanish and Italian and recognized some mustachioed Turks who eyed me up with dangerous, reproving eyes.
Nobody talked to me. The barmaid was fetching, and I tried to buy her a drink. She very politely informed me in broken English she could not allow me to do so, and immediately I drew the ire of several tough mugs sitting at the middle of the bar. They gestured fiercely at me, cursing in their language. Two men beside me tried in French to explain the problem I had caused. I countered with my hacked up Italian and Spanish and realized it was against strict ritual for me to buy the barmaid a drink. I apologized profusely to her. Still, the mugs at the middle of the bar flashed me threatening looks, and growled, shaking their fists with menace, booming at me anti-American cracks. As they rose and came toward me, I trembled with fear, knowing there was only one way out: I whipped off my hooded sweatshirt and stood shaking my fist and bellowed at them to step into the street with me for mortal combat. Knowing I could be beaten to death by a mob, I foamed at the mouth and moved toward the mugs, waving my arms wildly, growling like a mad dog. The two men beside me blocked my path and, excited, concerned, begged me to sit back down, gesturing toward my vacant stool.
“BULLIES!” I roared. “I don’t know your fucking traditions! Fuck you bastards! I’m a mercenary! I’ve killed before; I’ll kill again!”
The bar was in an uproar as I played my only card. Even the barmaid tried to calm me down by buying me a drink. Now the tough-looking mugs who had threatened me were pleading with me to calm down. Everybody in the bar was squeezed into my area in an attempt to control the berserk, fulminating American psychopath. The two men to my right managed to sit me back down. There was a new beer before me, then a shot of Calvados. Strong stuff going straight to my head. I sent some Calvados over to the two mugs who had threatened me. They came over and we shook hands and they hugged me. They were Turks and managed to communicate with me in fractured Spanish. More drinks were lined up before me. I drank. I was suddenly toasted by the crowd. I toasted back. “VIVA LE FRAWN-CEE!” I yowled, and the mantra was repeated over and over.
Later, when the bar closed, and we were all outside, I was invited by some regulars to an after-hours bar down the alley. I went. A gay bar with a floor show of gorgeous female impersonators dancing. Lots of yowling and howling and embracing. I was treated with respect and admiration reserved for celebrity. Only two Algerians who didn’t know any better tried to pick me up, but my comrades from the dockworker bar set them straight. A great night, all in all, and I loved the French.
Now I turned to these youngsters in blue uniforms. “Frawn-cee?” I asked.
“Qui. Navy. Parley-voo Frawn-cee?”
“Oh no. Parley-voo Englaise?”
“Oh no.”
“Parley-voo Espenole?”
They shrugged.
“Parley-voo Italiano?”
A wee bit, they indicated, thumb and forefingers inches apart. I tried my fractured Italian. We made some headway. I suspected they were rural types and more accommodating and friendly than Parisians, who can be abrupt and rude, but, once they get to know you, can be equally charming and warm. I managed to find out that indeed three of these kids were from the country. I related my experience in Cherbourg, and they responded with enthusiasm, nudging etch other, though I’m not sure they understood a word I said. I insisted on buying them beers when they tried to buy Rocco and me vodkas. I got my way, explaining that I, too, had been in the military and had little money.
Then I tried to explain to them how although I loved the French I had difficulty liking Parisians and found them snooty. The three hick frogs agreed with me and jostled the fourth member of their crew, who was a Parisian! He took it in good humor, lifting his mug to me.
“Viva Le Frawn-cee!”
We clinked glasses and drank. Then I introduced them to Rocco and Irma. “Rocco, this is the French Navy! Allies! Charles DeGaulle! Viva Le Frawn-cee!”
They all shook hands. Rocco bought them a round. The Irish bartender returned his change. Rocco did not tip him. When he thought we were not looking, he snatched a twenty dollar bill from Rocco’s pile and tossed it in his tip jar, I rose and yelled at him, told him to pull that twenty out of his jar. He said he thought it was a tip. Rocco who has gangster vintage from Jersey, and is a strapping man, gave him a look. The French Navy became aroused,, gesturing with menace at the Irishman, who reached in and plucked the twenty and returned it to Rocco’s pile. Both of us moved our piles closer to our bodies. Then we turned to the French Navy and implored them to cease defending us so we could continue our relationship as drinking pals. Still, they were aroused, and it took another toast to mollify them.
“Cin cin.”
“Save us from ourselves, 9/11 has made us a crazy people.”
I nudged the rural frog beside me. With my thumb I lifted the tip of my nose and cast my face in a supercilious pose. “Pareeee!” I announced, and the three rural types roared with laughter and slapped my back and imitated me, mocking their Parisian compatriot, and for some time between swigs and toasts, we repeated this gesture, until the Parisian threw up his hands in defeat and admitted he was a snob.
Somehow, Rocco found a young studious looking American college man who spoke fluent French. He came over to do some translating. By this time, of course, nobody was making much sense and I had on the Parisian’s cap with tassel and some tourists from Jersey had be-friended Rocco and the Brit and wished to buy shots for our allies and now most of the bar was crowded around us, pointing and laughing and soon joining in as the French Navy and I sung the French national anthem, which I trumpeted from atop my bar stool, so said Rocco the next day.
Rocco and I would not let the French Navy buy one drink. We bought them shots of vodka and gave Russian toasts as we downed them.
“Par-EEEE!” I shouted, turning up my nose, and my friends laughed, and laughed, and turned their roses up and yelled until two of them were passed out face down at the bar and the others were wandering in blind staggers toward the restroom to puke, and somehow we all shook hands and the next thing Rocco and I were trudging down Columbus looking ravenously for food, and ended up in some burrito place, Rocco handing me a burrito, which I gnawed on until two shore patrol sailors from the French Navy spotted me and came over to ask me in French about something, and, when I asked Rocco why they were bother-ing me he laughed and took the tasseled cap off my head and handed it to the shore patrol sailor and we went outside and pointed down Columbus to the bar, hoping they’d find the French Navy.§

Talmadge Jarrettee runs a homeless shelter in Santa Cruz and moonlights as a bartender at one of the city’s popular dive bars.

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Poetry for April Rogue

You were great

At the slaughter
The way you shot
The women and children
And torched their straw huts
That was awesome

And you were great
In the courtroom
Getting all those families
In their hovels and shacks
To have to move
So the developers
Could take over

And you where great
Getting all those
Employees to
Hold on to
Their company stock
When all along
You were going to bankrupt it
That was genius

And you where great
When you told
The town folk
She was a witch
And they burned her
At the stake
That'll teach her

And you were great
When you found loop-holes
For the insurance company
To deny people health coverage
And raised the premiums so high
They couldn’t afford it
That was brilliant

And you were great
Making your case to congress
That dropping atom bombs
That would kill hundreds of thousands
Of innocent people
Would actually save lives
Your logic was infallible

And you were great
In the gang beat down
When you kicked
The unconscious man
In the head
How courageous

And you were great
When you deregulated
The airlines, the energy companies
Closed the mental hospitals
And gave tax cuts for the rich
that’s winning one
For the Gipper

And you were great
In the slave trade
The way you packed em in
Like sardines
And breed em like cattle
And whipped em
And hung em
If they got
Out of line
You’re a real humanitarian

And you were great
When you rounded up the Jews
And shoved them into ovens
Wow you made
Lampshades out of their skin
And soap
How practical
Hey you almost
Ruled the world

And you were great
When you strapped
On the bomb
And blew up yourself
And the people on the bus
You’re a true martyr
Hope you’re enjoying
The virgins

—David Ochs

falling apart...

i can feel myself
falling apart


through the limbs of an old tree,


branches breaking...


twigs flying, and birds
lots of birds


as they dart

the spaces
inside of me.

—Ibrahim Ahmed

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