Thursday, June 30, 2005

A Review of "Vedette"

Vedette, a flamenco heroine for our times
b y t a m a r a k a y e s e l l m a n ~ m a r g i n

VEDETTE, by Stephen Siciliano and released by iUniverse, enters the realm of the epic novel from the vantage point of a young girl in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia in the days preceding World War II and the rise of the Franco regime. Her picaresque, Gitano-inspired adventures (and misadventures) are written against the politically transformative landscapes of both the Andalusian countryside and the city of Seville. Readers witness the growth of a young, independent flamenca who, born with an intrinsic sense of duende, defines revolution through her honesty, haunting charm, charismatic leadership and capacity for pure love.

From the publisher comes this summary of Vedette:

"Born to a Gothic social order, branded a haunter of men's dreams, Vedette is traumatized when her small town in the magical wetlands of southern Spain's Guadalquivir River is overrun by hashish-smoking anarchists promising free love and a life without sadness to those who would follow them. … Entranced by their flamenco music, their philosophy of revenge and the concrete ability to deliver political results, the young woman joins a movement destined to annihilation and becomes its sole survivor, burdened with the task of keeping its memory and project for a better world alive through conversations with their flamenco shadows. … Transcending political viewpoints, Mr. Siciliano opens a new chapter in the understanding of the Spanish Civil War, opting for a literary interpretation that looks beyond right and wrong to more universal lessons only the passage of decades and the healing effects of time can reveal."

The term vedette (pronounced Beh-DET) isn't precisely defined in the story, but a basic dictionary definition gives us a couple of clues.

In military lingo, it's a kind of boat or person used as a sentinel. The word has its roots in the Latin "vigil," to watch, to keep vigil, to see, suggesting the work of a nighwatchman. Vedette in Old French means "watch tower." These are consistent with the character Vedette, for her role is one of vigilant witness to the injustices leveled against the poor underclass, and her life is spent in the lunar consciousness of the flamenco lifestyle; that is, she's up all night and perhaps at her most lucid then, even when drunk on manzanilla.

In more popular usage, a vedette might be thought of as a "Triple Threat"— a woman who can sing, dance and act; a showgirl. In Portuguese, vedete translates into the slang terms "star" and "big shot." This doesn't imply anything but a vocation risen to the level of celebrity.

However, it's in Siciliano's novel, right from the first page, that the term vedette is given its immoral connotations, which (unfairly?) define our heroine (whose real name is Gloriella) from the earliest years of her existence, in that a vedette is a title for a woman of loose morals. This usage first comes in the form of a lascivious chant from her incestuous and groping father, only to be legitimized by her other "father," Padre Olivares.

" 'It's an outrage of a name,' the priest would say. 'Not a name, but a title. A title given, in fact, only to the most immoral of women!' he pointed out to anyone in town who would listen. And there was plenty of them. Of course, he was a priest and the town of Marisalena was so Catholic that it made more gossip than olive oil and cotton."

By this proclamation, Olivares creates his own monster. Vedette's existence is a kind of torture because she possesses his dreams. She ends up being, ironically, both his greatest enemy and his raison d'etre. That is to say, he can't live in serenity while she's alive, but his life has no real purpose without her in it to define him.

My take on Vedette is a not a character with loose morals, however. There is a certain picaresque nature to her early womanhood that reminds me of Moll Flanders right off the bat. And to be sure, her early experiences as a tool for the sexual satisfaction of her father (and other men, eventually) casts her as fallen from grace (not unlike Dafoe's antiheroine). But, like Gabriel García Márquez's "innocent" Erendira, Vedette has her reasons for being that kind of girl.

Erendira soullessly services the men in her world in order to pay off a debt to her Grandmother. It is as if she is asleep or a ghost during her sessions. Her purpose is noble even if her actions aren't. However, Vedette understands early on that she is no puta; her sexuality exists as separate from her spirit. She is far more pragmatic about her role as a haunter of men's dreams; she uses her promiscuity as an art form, a tool for acquiring the most basic elements of survival: food, shelter, friendship. At the end of their stations in life, both women achieve a sense of spiritual purity by escaping the social and religious confinements that have ostracized them.

The difference between these two young women is one of power, however. While Erendira remains subservient to her Grandmother's crass greed throughout the story (and only in the end does she escape it), Vedette is owned by no one and, therefore, does not need to escape herself. Even the man she truly loves, the torero Paula, she refuses to marry, for she knows inherently that the only person she belongs to is herself.

The whole of Spain is popularly known for its Inquisition(s), but what isn't focused upon with equal fervor are its multicultural roots. In Spain's earliest and perhaps most golden times, the communities which comprised its southern region, Andalusia, consisted of several culturally different groups living for a time in harmony: the Moors (Arabs), the Jews, the Gitanos ("gypsies") and the Christian Spaniards.

Geographically speaking, it makes sense. Andalusia connects Spain with Africa via Morocco. The trade routes meant commerce between people from all manner of sensibilities: Christian, Jew, Islamic. The nomadic Gitanos of Spain (who are presumed to have descended from Indian immigrants) shared in shaping the culture of the times as well simply by the fact of their transience between villages and cities as they sold their wares and performed their arts.

When the Catholics began cleansing the region of nonbelievers, it is believed that the different ethnic groups who were oppressed by this forced conversion unified culturally to protect each other. From this melding of cultures, a new expression, flamenco, a fusion of Gypsy song with Andalusian folk music, flared to life in the Andalusian town of Jerez de la Frontera (so named for its frontierland between Moorish and Christian realms).

Flamenco figures prominently in the growth of Vedette as a charismatic force. She learns the dance and the cante (singing) from a band of revolutionary Gitanos she befriends after fleeing her monstrous father and the threat of convent life where her other "father," Padre Olivares, can't wait to "convert" her.

Flamenco is not simply a form of music, but a way of thinking. Similar examples in American pop culture might include the emergence of the blues or jazz, as well as the iconography and sensibilities of purist Grateful Dead fans, or "deadheads." It's as much a lifestyle and a mindset as it is a form of art.

The time that author Siciliano chooses to introduce Vedette to flamenco is an interesting one; flamenco was, by the 1930s, an extremely old tradition, so when Vedette takes on the task of dancing to palmas at the cafés cantates in Sevilla for payment in food and wine, she is actually entering the flamenco "scene" after its heyday. And she dances to the rich strumming of flamenco guitar, which only became part of the equation at the turn of the 20th century. Previously, instruments such as violins and tambourines accompanied the dancers, but they were optional and not the defining aspect of flamenco.

The spirit of flamenco has endured primarily as a combination of interactive clapping (palmas), vocalization of the woes of the underclass and a combined meditation in dance, where the upper body moves in graceful, sensual form while the feet pound out distinct, percussive patterns that aren't taught as much as felt.

Vedette was a barefoot flamenco dancer, which sets her apart from the modern interpreters of the dance, who use specially enhanced shoes to accentuate their rhythms. Vedette could only be the truly free person she was by dancing without shoes. Her barefoot lifestyle allowed her to be quick on her feet and closer to the earth she loved. Vedette lived as an authentic and sincere naturalist and pacifist who treasured animals, plants and the life force that fueled all that was good in the world. When she is forced into shoes later in the story as part of her internal exile, it comes as no surprise that she loses touch with her flamenco rhythms, or alegría.

Alegría might be defined as the positive expression of flamenco's duende—a spiritual experience characterized as dark beauty erupting from the core of the soul. Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca committed his life to the study of duende and gave the concept its timeless significance. Duende isn't something that can taught or measured in terms of skill; rather, duende is a life force that can only be experienced through the magica of a truly authentic practitioner in the arts.

Vedette is one such artist; in fact, she becomes famous throughout the region for being truly authentic, to the point of being an enchantress, a haunted dancer. Her unflappably positive personality, her natural beauty and her legendary ability to always tell the truth lend Vedette a larger-than-life reputation which she fulfills everywhere she goes while she is a free woman. It is only when she becomes neutered by fascism that the darker aspects of her duende return, such as at the very end, when she writes a final poem honoring her beloved guitarist and friend, the gitano Tomatito.

Las Marismas
One of the places she returns to, time and again, is the marshlands (las marismas) that surround the estuarine Guadalquivir River, or el rio. It's no mistake that someone as enchanted as Vedette baptizes herself in the waters of the nurturing Guadalquivir early in the story. The river is the most abundant source of life in the region, next to las marismas, where water moves in and out from the coast with the pull of the moon. The result is an expansive wetland region of brackish water that transforms into salt-crusted ponds in the summer. Animals and wild vegetation characterize both the river and this fertile delta, metaphorizing the wild fertility and longevity of Vedette's ideas. She frequently returns to the mysterious and everchanging landscape of the tidal flats to hide or to collect her thoughts. It's las marismas that ultimately hold for her the secrets of her duende, embodied by the "flamenco shadows" she consults there during desperate times.

It's this commerce, with both the living and the dead, which comprises the magical realist aspects of Vedette.

Antonia, the Card Reader
Early into Vedette's life, she visits the French Gypsy Antonia of Carmona at the demand of her mother, who wants to learn whether assertions from Vedette's father—that she would haunt and curse every man in her life—were accurate. In the staunchly Catholic community of Marisalena, Vedette's mother makes the journey at considerable risk, explaining that, though the local padres may believe in the cards, the Pope does not. The tarot is read, predictions are made. Vedette learns that she is "from and part of the eternal other side." Her mother leaves the reading convinced her daughter is a witch.

This is the first of three encounters Vedette has with Antonia, and in every case, her predictions are accurate to the tiniest details. In the third visit, it is Antonia who proffers predictions based, not on the cards, but on accurate observations about the coming moral and political reforms within Spain, suggesting the intricate liaisons bridging the institutions of faith and politics at the time. One did not need the mystery of the occult to forsee that future. Its evidence could be found throughout the countryside where Vedette lived.

Fernando Villalon
While traveling the las marismas via Sevilla to Carmona, where she plans a second visit to the card reader Antonia, Vedette gets lost looking for the lights of the city. She comes upon a "lonely rider moving slow," who tells her in a deep voice that "you can rush all you want, but in las marismas you can never move faster than the speed of el rio taking the water to sea!"

Vedette's reaction: the man's words don't make sense and yet they explain everything. That should have been her first clue that this mysterious man might be special.

They travel together for a spell and she learns the man is Fernando Villalon, the "poet of las marismas" and a breeder of bulls. He rode a horse named Clavileño, the namesake of Don Quixote's steed (another tip off that Villalon is extra-ordinary).

Vedette is familiar with his story, having been told all about him by her friend, El Fariz the Moor. She discovers that Villalon, in fact, knows her friend. He gives her points for orienting herself in the marshes and bores her young and impetuous mind with other details about horses, Moorish poets and the salty landscape. Though her lack of attention bothers him, he expresses admiration for her honesty and invites her to visit him on his island in el rio. She mentions how she never sees his eyes under the brim of his hate (a third indicator of something otherworldly at play).

It isn't until Vedette arrives very late at the cortijo of the card reader that she learns from Antonia that Fernando Villalon and his horse have both been dead for some time.

This is not the last we hear or see Villalon. In fact, he and his horse appear several times throughout the course of Vedette's journey, delivering letters from real people, cleaning Vedette up after being raped by one of her captors, informing Vedette when she is desperate for wisdom.
He's a flamenco shadow, just one of many which inhabit the real world of Vedette, Gloriella. As other spirits of the flamenco pass through her life, she comes to converse with them at important moments in the story: the troublemaking Rufian, the sacrificed Pilar from Vedette's early years of rebellion. There is never a question in her mind whether these souls are real; she accepts them as kindred spirits, and they do, in fact, aid in her survival, even if only she can see them.

This is one of the most engaging epic works I've read in a long time, a story which deserves comparison to the great classics, One Hundred Years of Solitude (for the sincerity of its political message and for its marvelous humor) and Don Quixote (for its demands for justice and Vedette's innocent and pure idealism).

I would also compare this novel to another favorite contemporary epic, Texaco, written by French Martinican author Patrick Chamoiseau. The timeless structure of the storyline (we are treated to the undeniable connection between past, present and future) is captured in Siciliano's ability to render, intimately and honestly, the harsh landscape of oppression reduced to its most personal level in a way that is universally meaningful.

Siciliano's personal love for Andalusia shows through prominently in Vedette. His use of the Spanish language to portray an authentic landscape is easily understood even by readers without fluency in the language. Siciliano builds characters who, through their own voices, reveal the kaleidoscopic cultural history of the region. I've learned more about Andalusia, and Spanish history in general, from this book than I've learned in any history class, as a result.

He incorporates little sketches in his book that add another level of understanding for the reader. The different images cast in tiles (azulejos) throughout the region, for instance, display the multicultural influences on Andalusia. Renderings of revolutionary icons used in flags (of moons and suns) support the underlying oppositions in the story: sun/moon, light/dark, "moral"/"immoral" and the like. And his drawings of lanterns in various villages express the underlying differences of each place and how they are made different by the geography and history of the region. Siciliano writes:"[These farolas] are simple trophies yielded by my, ultimately, very costly travels and hopefully reinforce [my] knowledge and affection for that distant land. Each town, no matter how poor, has its own design, yet they are always variations on the same flowery, wrought-iron theme. Some forays I made simply to collect my 'sample,' have a manzanilla and leave."

Perhaps most impressive to me was the way in which Siciliano drew for his readers the portrait of revolution through the lives and experiences of villagers. There is something of a grassroots nature to Siciliano's worldview, as expressed in his own real-life writings, which support liberal ideas, tolerance and peace. His motley crew in Vedette captures all that defines the formation of a political community at the most personal level. There is the cranky but sympathetic Santí, whose constant blasphemies and dour attitude yet inspire positive change. The noble leader Antonio Arleta, whose message of peace evolves over the years, comes too little and too late to their rescue. The valiant and famous torero, Espla de Paula, becomes a convert to Vedette's ways, not only out of love but of reason, after her federation usurps the village. His daughter, Acracia, aka Eva, comes into her own womanhood not as the French-educated princess she is expected to be, but as a pants-wearing militia leader with her eyes on undermining Catholicism's oppression of women. La Condesa is an aristocrat who comes to love Vedette's ideals even as she despises the lowborn ways of the masses. And El Fariz, the Arab complete with camel, the man who bathes himself in the tradition of the desert peoples by scrubbing down with dirt, is the resident keeper of Moorish history and perhaps the best living example from whom Vedette can acquire the Big Picture. These are all characters rendered completely believable because they are beautiful, yet flawed at once.

Finally, Vedette is a book to read as a way to measure our current global condition. The reflections of tolerance, freedom, feminism, idealism and creativity rendered as a political act may be paraded within the confines of this single moment in Spain's history, but their relevance for all of us is undeniably universal.

I must lament that this book was published using the print-on-demand services of iUniverse. My readers know me as a cheerleader for independent publishing, while being more tenuous about lending support to those who would self-publish their work or make it available only through electronic forms which require special technology for access.

I imagine the reason Siciliano took this route has much to do with the fact that his book may not be "sexy" in the eyes of New York publishing. He doesn't have the literary following of a García Márquez or an Allende, for one thing. He isn't writing around a trendy theme (writers of the diaspora, for instance); if anything, he may be criticized for being a white guy writing a story about a nonwhite girl, which I find one of the more irritating presumptions within the ranks of our contemporary literary community. It may be that the novel is simply too long, and that its accompanying timelines of real world events, pronunciation guide and bibliography might be conveyed as too offputting or demanding to average readers (a New-York-only misconception that I wish would disappear; people do have brains and they do like to use them).

For whatever reasons Siciliano holds for choosing the iUniverse route, I have to say I wish he would have found a "real" publisher, for these three reasons.

He could have used the talents of a real editor. There are far too many copyediting mistakes in this book. Please don't let this fact keep you from reading this book.

Siciliano could have benefited from extra promotion the publishing world could have offered his book. Now, while I know it's true that budgets for book tours and promotion have dwindled to hardly anything, and while I know it's become the domain of the writer to actively promote his book (which Siciliano, to his credit, did; it's how I got a copy of Vedette in the first place), there's still more promotional currency to access through traditional publishers than what iUniverse offers.

Finally, while I think it's a much better climate now than it has been in the past, self-published, print-on-demand books still possess the reputation for being amateurish, self-indulgent and of low quality. Despite the copyediting errors I highlight in my argument above, I have to say that this book is written with the deft hand of a real scribe; the craft within it brings layers of sophisticated texture which rule out any question as to its quality as a work of literature; and if there's anything self-indulgent about Vedette, it lingers in Siciliano's pure love for all things Andalusian. This book is not only a novel, but an artful devotion. It deserves respect.

The good news is this: in May 2005, Vedette was selected as one of thirteen "literary fiction" finalists in ForeWord Magazine's 2004 Book of the Year Awards, which focus on sparking the attention of librarians and booksellers by recognizing the literary achievement of independent publishers and their authors. This is one big leap toward validation and legitimacy that the print-on-demand press needs if it is going to bear itself out of the literary ghetto that the New York-centered publishing world has imposed upon it. With excellent novels like Vedette out there, I'm hopeful that alternative options for writers, like iUniverse, will continue to supply them with the recognition they have earned.

He's a certified blogger, penning the entertaining and thoughtful Highway Scribery beat. He's also a poet, a novelist, and a man of political conviction bold enough to put it out there in a politically conservative time when the voices of liberals and free thinkers are belittled or denigrated.

Siciliano wrote Vedette over the course of four years while living in Andalusia. While living there, he enjoyed reading Camilo José Cela's columns and used to see the famous author hanging around Madrid with his young wife. He describes himself, in the back jacket text for Vedette, as "a 19th century man writing his way through a 21st century nightmare. …haunted by this question: Where will the intelligence and kindess come from that can save us?"

Certainly, he grapples with this question through the depiction of La Vedette, Gloriella as she plays, as Siciliano illustrates in the use of this Whitman line from Song of Myself, "not a march for victors only…I play great marches for conquered and slain persons."

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

War is Good.

What the hell does that sign behind him say?  Posted by Hello

Watching an episode of “The Sopranos” on DVD the other night, the scribe learned that “depression is rage turned inward.”

After absorbing Bush’s speech the scribe is now clear on why he sits up five nights a week writing this stuff to an average of ten readers instead of enjoying a re-run of “That ’70s Show.”

To avoid depression

The (p)resident has some set of balls as they say. He continues to link the Iraq debacle to 9/11 and has added a new and tireless insistence we must “complete the mission” (read: mess) he was in such a rush to get going.

The scribe thought the mission was done when he went prancing around on that aircraft carrier in a pilot’s suit.

There’s a million things that could be said about the pack of lies he paraded before our befuddled people last night, but the scribe prefers to take a few seconds and simply key in yet another of the practically daily press releases from (g)ov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office.

From the same date as Bush’s address:

[g]overnor Arnold Schwarzenneger today released the following statement regarding the death of Pfc. Veashna Muy of Los Angeles:

“Losing a member of our armed forces is a painful reminder of the high cost of freedom. Pfc. Muy served his country with unwavering commitment for which our nation will be eternally grateful. Maria and I send our condolences to Veashna’s family who has lost a cherished loved one.”

Muy, 20, died June 23 while traveling on a convoy that was attacked by a suicide, vehicle-borne, improvised explosive device in Fallujah, Iraq. He was assigned to 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, NC.

In honor of Muy, Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff.

Editorial Commentary: Shouldn’t it be “which has lost a cherished love one”? And don’t they claim Fallujah has been flattened and pacified?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Buffalo Chips for Democracy

Bush’s stage-managers have decided it’s time for another “aw-shucks” speech about “folks needin’ to be patient” and about how sending Americans to die needlessly in the desert is “hard work.”

One disadvantage to being ever on-message and stubbornly “staying the course,” no matter how poorly plotted, is that the White House never has anything new to say. Once again we’ll hear how turning Iraq into a smelly, fiery hole of death has somehow been an improvement because Hussein is gone and Iraqis got to (drum roll please) VOTE.

Once again the administration will embarrass itself and the rest of the country with all those buffalo chips about democracy in the Middle East. The speech will be another example of how easy it is to drape yourself in expressions like "liberty," "freedom" and the like while laboring for completely different realities both here and abroad.

If there is any silver lining to Bush’s reelection it would have to be a record of comportment established over time and now difficult to deny. And that record has left believers in the Christian heartland and at Fox News only.

Below is a speech John Kerry gave in the Senate last week following Karl Rove’s remarks deplorable remarks about liberal America.

The “San Diego Union-Tribune” accused Democrats of “hyperventilating” over this idiot’s speech,

but the paper’s editorial board could not be more wrong. The chat was both unbecoming and undignified coming from someone with pretensions of governing for the good of the entire country.

We here at highwayscribery have always held the view these guys are governing for one half of the country while hoping, and God knows how, to eliminate the other from civic life.

But here’s the guy who should have been president if not for another round of dirty electoral tricks in Ohio:

"None of us here will ever forget the hours after September 11... and the remarkable response of the American people as we came together as one to answer the attack on our homeland.... [I]t brought out the best of all of us in America.

That spirit of our country should never be reduced to a cheap, divisive political applause line from anyone who speaks for the President of the United States.

I am proud, as my colleagues on this side are, that after September 11, all of the people of this country rallied to President Bush's call for unity to meet the danger. There were no Democrats, there were no Republicans, there were only Americans. That is why it is really hard to believe that last night in New York... the most senior adviser to the President of the United States [was] purposely twisting those days of unity in order to divide us for political gain.
Rather than focusing attention on Osama bin Laden and finding him or rather than focusing attention on just smashing al-Qaida and uniting our effort, as we have been, he is, instead, challenging the patriotism of every American who is every bit as committed to fighting terror as is he.

Just days after 9/11, the Senate voted 98 to nothing, and the House voted 420 to 1, to authorize President Bush to use all necessary and appropriate force against terror. And after the bipartisan vote, President Bush said: "I'm gratified that the Congress has united so powerfully by taking this action. It sends a clear message. Our people are together and we will prevail."

That is not the message that was sent by Karl Rove in New York City last night. Last night, he said: "No more needs to be said about" their "motives."

I think a lot more needs to be said about Karl Rove's motives because they are not the people's motives... They are not the motives of a nation that found unity in that critical moment--Democrat and Republican alike, all of us as Americans.
If the President really believes his own words, if those words have meaning, he should at the very least expect a public apology from Karl Rove. And frankly, he ought to fire him. If the President of the United States knows the meaning of those words, then he ought to listen to the plea of Kristen Breitweiser, who lost her husband when the Twin Towers came crashing down. She said: "If you are going to use 9/11, use it to make this nation safer than it was on 9/11."

Karl Rove doesn't owe me an apology and he doesn't owe Democrats an apology. He owes the country an apology. He owes Kristen Breitweiser and a lot of people like her, those families, an apology. He owes an apology to every one of those families who paid the ultimate price on 9/11 and expect their government to be doing all possible to keep the unity of their country and to fight an effective war on terror.

The fact is, millions of Americans...are asking Washington for honesty, for results, and for leadership--not for political division. Before Karl Rove delivers another political assault, he ought to stop and think about those families and the unity of 9/11.

Sign Kerry’s petition to have Rove fired and have a great day.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters 17 and 18

Chapter Seventeen (Chapter One ran on April 9, and every weekend thereafter).

At the medical clinic, Jordan signed the promise paper maybe to be used against him in court at some future date. Joya handed over ten crisp Andrew Jacksons. The bloody mess he was merited prompt attention. They took him down a hall to one of those rooms where you’re told to sit on an elevated, cot-style furnishing and quickly abandoned. This he did and not too much later a nurse came in with an intravenous bag that she hung on a steel pole above his head before grabbing an arm, which he promptly pulled back. “Don’t want it,” he said.

“Sir, it’s just a special solution to stabil-”

“Never felt more stable. I just want my nose checked.”

This threw the nurse for a mild loop, although Jordan was left with the impression that such medical shopping was not unheard of in these days of technologically driven, overpriced treatment. The nurse proceeded to a bank of drawers and pulled out a syringe. “What’s that for?” he asked.

“I’m going to give you a tetanus shot,” she responded.

“Don’t want it.”

She explained, somewhat testily, that he was bleeding from an open wound and that to be safe-

“How much is it?” he cut to the chase yet again.

“Well…I’m not sure,” she said, “I give care, I don’t set the prices,” and then she gave him a ballpark figure.

“Forget it. I’ll take my chances.” She shrugged an “it’s-your-life” shrug, returned the syringe to the place from whence it came and left without further attempts to pad Jordan’s bill.

He’d always accepted as rote that whatever was done to him in such situations was necessary and for his own good, yet here was this woman responding to his negatives with the obedience of a drug store clerk. He had rights. He had power!

Minutes passed, another nurse came in. The wait had not been long at all. Jordan mused that they’d deemed him a low-profit endeavor and were moving him through to make room for the richer injured. The second nurse directed him to follow her – and he did – down yet another hallway to what was unmistakably the x-ray facility.

She left him sitting on another elevated cot with crackle-y white paper and shortly thereafter a man in green scrubs and the, by now, all too familiar shower-cap-like hat entered. “We’re going to take a few x-rays,” he stated the obvious to Jordan who, up until that moment, had not considered what capturing irradiated images of his nose would entail. The technical assistant – as he remembered such people being called – moved him over into a dark, adjacent cubby and told him to lie down on his stomach. He covered the patient with a very heavy, body-length blanket which J. knew only too well was designed to protect him from the perils of certifiably dangerous levels of radioactivity. Near his head was what struck him to be the camera lens and he was directed to stick his chin out so that the contraption could get a good shot at his proboscis. This he did. “Raise your head just a little more so the nose protrudes,” ordered the orderly and this he also did, not without thinking how ridiculous he looked and (again) how undignified medical treatment was in general.

There was a loud noise akin to a freight elevator arriving and halting at a loading dock, and then a click. The technical assistant approached, moved some kind of plate around in the machine’s entrails and, with both hands, tilted Jordan’s head a bit and went back to take another shot. When this was done Jordan, somewhat laboriously under the weight of the anti-radiation blanket, rose to his feet. “Where are you going?” said the guy in the shower cap. “I’m not done.”

“Sure you are,” said Jordan, thinking back to his stay at the hospital that ultimately would not treat him and what it charged for the x-rays, which were known to be inconclusive where appendicitis was concerned. “I’ve got eight more to take,” Jordan was told by a voice that shrunk as he departed. “Not at these prices you don’t. I just want to be sure the nose is broken. It looks broken. It feels broken and you’ve got two shots to confirm it. If you can’t, call me in for one or two more.”

There was no response. Jordan came out to the waiting room because he was tired of waiting and informed the nurse of his decision. She said if he could wait a bit longer Doctor Singh would have a look at the x-rays and the nose itself. “Another Dr. Singh?” he wondered to himself and looked at Joya who waved her box of Dãrshãn and smiled contentedly. “You doin’ okay hon?”

“Just peaches.”

So Jordan, feeling rather in command of things despite his continuous run of bad luck, returned to the first room and sat back atop the crackle-y white paper. After a while, an affable doctor of subcontinental origins entered, put some rubber gloves on and pressed the nose in question for a bit.

The upshot was this: Jordan had been lucky. No deviated septum and no broken blood vessels. He was able to breathe and that was always good. Cosmetically he would be left with a little bump as trophy and testament to his survival. It would not dramatically alter, as Joya had worried, the landscape of his face. Jordan asked about nose jobs, a topic for which he possessed no information, and was informed that they were expensive and involved a “clean” re-breaking of the nose followed by a resetting of the same. This business of intentionally breaking bones deepened his concern about the wisdom of certain accepted medical practices.

Under the circumstances, the doctor said, “I rec-o-mmend yu just go awn with yaw life and fowgit abowd it.”

Jordan shrugged and reflected on how neither would be easy. Still, he liked the idea of having come out of the whole disaster with the minimum physical damage.

Psychically, J. knew he’d be screwed up in some way. But that was a concern for the future. Presently, he looked forward to a pleasant ride home with his lovely new guardian angel. “Do you smoke Dãrshãn?” he then asked the doctor.

“I dunt smooke it oil,” the man answered via the sing-songy accent into which his tongue stretched and twisted the English tongue. “It’s nut good faw yu.”

What a difference a few hours can make. Not too long before, Jordan verily feared for his life at the hands of savage gargoyles straight from the underworlds. Now he was heading home in the cool twilight, wrapped in a big woolen blanket long enough to link him with the lovely Joya, whose curves and strong jaw and soft accent were all for his private (visual) delectation. She emptied the last Dãrshãns, one for him and one for her (he thought warmly inside). The hills to their right twinkled with low-lying galaxies of home lights. “What a shame,” he thought to himself, “that houses cannot be fired by starlight.” He lit up and did the same for Joya – always an intimate gesture between boys and girls of a certain age. He decided to take advantage of the strategic position into which the beating had thrust him. “Indian cigarettes, Indian doctor, Indian shop girl…looks like Indian is the day’s theme.” Joya knew she liked Jordan and things had worked out okay, but hanging around him had given her a true sense of just how dangerous the city – life even – could be and it upset her. These sentiments she synthesized into the following response: “I should think beatin’ was the day’s theme.”

Her copilot thought this remark rather out of character. He decided that you’ve got to take a little bad with the mostly good and let it pass. “So how’d you end up hiring the Indian girl, what’s her name? – Sadina?” Jordan excavated, remembering how sexy he’d found her, and thereby did a little prep work, just in case, for the future. Joya knew where this was going and, as was just said, knew she liked Jordan, but had pretty much had her fill for the day. “I hired her because she works cheap.”

“Really,” he dug himself in a little deeper, “and why’s that?”

“Because I let her lick my pussy when she asks.”

Jordan, to cover up the awkwardness that had fallen upon them like the plush velvety night itself, took a long draw on the cigarette only to conclude that Dãrshãns didn’t have nearly enough kick to them.

They hardly talked after that. Joya dropped Jordan off at his car, which sat in front of her store with a parking ticket stuck to the windshield.

Chapter Eighteen

Inspectors Diaz and Thorpe had worked themselves into a nasty mood by striking up a conversation about how dreary it could be making monogamous love to the first woman they had ever bedded down.

Not that they were two-timers. Nope, even if they had wanted to, neither could afford the high cost of maintaining a mistress, nor find a crack of time in the solid wall of responsibility their dutifully adopted lifestyles presented them with.

They were simply wrestling with the overstimulation of sexual desire that both genders are subjected to, through an infinite number of techniques both surreptitious and obvious, every single damn day of their lives. Stringy sandy-haired models with honeyflows pitched intimate clothing, stunning actresses shed their clothes on giant screens, pop pornography, underdressed and well-nourished thirteen-year olds and God-knows-what-else had them in a perpetual state of agitation.

Anyhow, it didn’t matter. The inspectors were married and that was all that could be said as far as the foul mood was concerned.

Meantime they had been making their way to a Korean restaurant where the folks mostly adhered to a self-imposed code of behavior rooted in home country mores.

These Koreans resented local authorities disrupting their timeless proclivities and were not civil when confronted.

Diaz drove carefully because, “certain people that are Koreans in Koreatown don’t drive very well,” which was expressed in this roundabout fashion thanks to his run through diversity classes. The business in the crosshairs of their enforcement efforts had behaved similarly to the French restaurant crosstown. It too had regularly flouted the Smoke-Free Workplace Act and chosen to pay the incrementally growing citations promptly and without grumbling. Unfortunately for Diaz and Thorpe, the proprietress was out on the sidewalk doing nothing in particular when she saw their familiar (and unmistakable) red-and-white cruiser turn onto her street. They saw that she saw them and saw that she ran inside her place to warn all smokers of the coming raid. The big catch to this Smoke-Free Workplace Act, the bête noir of the inspectors’ existence, was that a citation could only be issued if and when a smoker was caught in the act. As such, Diaz and Thorpe more often than not walked into a room with a healthy weave of tobacco byproduct pushing at the ceiling and no one beneath it bearing the slightest evidence of guilt. The most popular techniques of subterfuge were the flat ashtray under the dinner plate, the extinguished butt in the palm-sized tin mint (curiously effective) box, and the vomit-inducing cigarette-and-wet-napkin combo.

So they blew off the Korean establishment and decided to hit another regular scofflaw up the block a bit. What they could not know was that the proprietress who had successfully sussed out their approach was going to call and alert her competitors – six restaurants and/or bars in all – but Diaz and Thorpe soon found out and threw up their hands.

You can pass all the laws in the world, but if you don’t pay someone to ensure they are obeyed, you’ve done nothing at all.

The fact is that these two gentlemen represented the entirety of local efforts for bringing profligate enterprises to heel. The absurdity of this pair chasing smokers throughout a city with thousands of bars and restaurants was lost on them, its obviousness aside.

Much was made of the law when passed by its sponsor on the City Council and those whose support he’d horse-traded for. There was a big to-do with media and fact-sheets and speeches about the health of the commonweal.

Months later, however, during grueling negotiations in the budget committee, nobody remembered any of it and the act’s enforcement was funded with crumbs. But it takes man-hours, equipment, training, uniforms, administrative support – an entire little company – to get such a job done.

And so Thorpe and Diaz where the extent of the law’s expression. And they had just been mocked by a group of businesspeople normally at odds with one another. And to this date they had been successfully thwarted in their efforts to see the letter of the law satisfied to its fullest extent.

They continued driving through the seemingly endless streets; Thorpe, at one point, requesting that Diaz lighten up on the particulars of what went on in bed between he and the little woman, who was barely either thing anymore.

Friday, June 24, 2005

A Free and Peaceful Country

The United States of America. Posted by Hello
“I am looking for a kind society where the human mind and the human heart are the most important elements, not the elbow."
Stefan Heym 1913-2001

Federal authorities raided three San Francisco medical marijuana spots on Wednesday and arrested 13 people. That's what's happening in the picture above.

It was just a week or so ago the Supreme Court gave the green light to such things by denying states the right to regulate such activity without the paternal arm of the federal government putting the squeeze on.

The Feds say the raids had nothing to do with the decision and were part of a long-running investigation of an ecstasy/marijuana ring. One can hope, but the Feds also said prisoners aren’t being mistreated at Guantanamo and that Saddam Hussein was ready to dispense with an American city or two if we didn’t flatten his country and our finances.

This is what happens when you lie. People stop believing you.

In California a Field Poll demonstrated there is support for limiting the use of union dues to wage political battle. This is the purpose behind one of the immensely unpopular (g)overnor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (r) “special election” initiatives.

Special elections, for those of you who don’t live in the Golden State, are what governors that can’t work things out with the peoples’ representatives convoke.

It’s the body builder’s whole reason for being politically. If you doubt the (r)epublican desire to eliminate points of view and political forces other than their own, just remember what Karl Rove said the other day about liberals aiding the enemy after 9/11 etc.

This is how the right wing operates everywhere: link moderation and anti-militarism with weakness and the enemy itself. Hitler, Franco, Mussolini, Pinochet and Nixon all made a religion of tying the tolerant to the extremes of the left and too many innocent people suffered or died as a result.

Don’t let this happen, folks. Were it not for these unions taking the fight to him, the Austrian autocrat would be greasing the wheels of a presidential bid instead of mulling a return to the warm confines of his B-movie production house in Santa Monica.

He is not a friend of “the people” and he is not to be trusted.

And remember, some times this democracy stuff works, because the House backed down from its plan for dealing a death knell to public broadcasting thanks to thee the phone calls, e-mails, and exhortations of those who need an alternative to “Fear Factor” and pop singer competitions.

And finally, this from the California governor’s office:

[g]overnor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Petty Officer 2nd Class Cesar O. Baez of Pomona:

“Maria and I want to join all Californians in expressing our sympathies to Cesar’s family. He made the ultimate sacrifice for his country and we are forever indebted to him for service.”

Baez, 37, died June 15, as a result of enemy small arms fire while conducting combat operations in al-Anbar province, Iraq. He was a hospital corpsman assigned to the 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.

In honor of Baez, Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff."

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Anarchy in the P.A.

Peter Kropotkin, a 19th Century Russian anarchist theorist Posted by Hello
The “San Jose Mercury” reported Wednesday that the police in Palo Alto were preparing for what “could be” a violent protest by 800 anarchists Saturday night.

the scribe, a sometimes anarchist (it’s a very high standard), and full-time sympathizer, thinks that if the police are making preparations, it will most certainly be violent.

Although we’re supposed to be fearful of 800 anti-consumerist peaceniks running through the streets, we are always to be at ease when the police become violent wherever and whenever.

This acquiescence is part of what anarchist theory refers to as the “state monopoly on violence.”

They don’t like the idea that it’s only okay when cops are violent, and neither does the scribe. Like the anarchists, the scribe thinks we should do away with violence all the way around, or spread the right to exercise it around some.

If you think that would be too complicated, you should read the rules governing the stock market.

The Mercury’s Dan Stober and Anna Tong wrote the piece with the usual condescension and lack of understanding. At one point they describe the protestors as “the young people who describe themselves as anarchists” and one paragraph later it’s “Self-described anarchists,” which is a mainstream media favorite.

Why don’t they call them self-described (r)epublicans? That’s certainly what they are. If it were up to the scribe, they’d be called fascists. Not because of all the Gitmo-as-gulag banter banging about, but because the systemic merging of government and corporate interests we are enduring fits the textbook definition of fascism.

The rich backed by the government make an unbeatable team, however small.

The police estimate of 800 is probably an overstatement meant to prepare folks for the potential bloodletting of essentially idealistic, energetic young people with a ken for a better world.

Were there to be 800 of them, we’d be onto something, and the scribe would be on his way up north.

If you’re really interested in knowing a little about anarchism, you can buy the scribe’s book “Vedette” by clicking on the little button off to the side, or click here: to read an interesting review of the novel or click here:

and learn a little from the Institute for Anarchist Studies up in Montreal.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Cervantes. Posted by Hello

"The Family of Pascual Duarte"

Tonight the scribe again invites you over to MARGIN, the web site of magical realism, where you can, first, chop up some chorizo, manchego cheese, pour a little sherry (or vino tinto), and then read his analysis of Camilo José Cela’s "The Family of Pascual Duarte."

Click here:

And be sure to read some of the other articles, short stories, and poems that are part of MARGIN’s wonderful commemoration of the whimsical “Don Quixote” and scribe magnificent, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Bye, bye, Bolton.  Posted by Hello

Flotsam and Then Some

the scribe is back from a week of rest and relaxation, ready to blog, wax poetic, novelize and generally wreak whatever havoc this bit of technology at his disposal will permit.

By the way, if you haven’t had a vacation, you should get one. There’s no substitute for cooling your burners and actually living with full enjoyment and pleasure as ultimate objectives.

A lot more articles about Bush being toast are circulating out there. After a while it takes more than intimidation of reporters, a few “upbeat” press conferences, and cynical stage management to fool people a people who are paying out the nose for gas and interminable war while working more than the citizens of any other western democracy.

Yesterday the Democrats grabbed themselves down there and were surprised to find something. They canned any vote on Big Bully Bolton, our nominee for United States Ambassador to the United Nations, until the White House ponies up some documents that would not only taint their boy, but their Iraq policy as well.

And as we know, the White House doesn’t play pony-up. So it’s not looking too good for the abuser of underlings and, aside from the relief it means for the U.N., maybe some of our many egotistical heads-of-company, both small and large, will learn a lesson too: Those are human beings working for you.

Bush said something like, “The American people know I tapped John Bolton because the U.N. needs reform and he’s the man for the job.”

the scribe thought Bolton was nominated to be an ambassador and not an administrator. You see, it’s the latter that does reforming. The former works to painstakingly follow the ever-evolving and strange rules of relations between countries grounded mostly in– and this is crucial – manners.

Bolton has none and neither does the Bush administration, so screw them both.

Which is what the Democrats did.

On the other hand, it’s looking a bit too late. Where was that cohesiveness before we committed the lives of 1,700 (and counting) Americans and endless billions to Iraq? Where was it during the first-term tax giveaways to the rich, which essentially bankrupted the federal government. Where was it when “No Child Left Behind” was passed in a gauzy haze of bipartisanship?

Where the hell was it?

Now that the country’s broke, overtime rules are weakened, and everything we consume is made in China, Bush can go back to the ranch and work on his memoirs and his library and all the other useless things ex-presidents (except for Jimmy Carter) do.

But wait. Some wacky Dems in the House ‘o Representatives are making a big deal about that “Downing Street memo” thing; you know about it from your daily dose of highwayscribery (“Things You Don’t Know a Lot About,” May 17).

Here’s a link that gets you some info on what they’re up to and a letter these well-meaning characters have sent on to the (p)resident. Some think misleading the American people into a deadly morass is an impeachable offense. Not quite so dangerous as a blow job, but impeachable, nonetheless.

Maybe we can send W. back to his Crawford shithole in shame.

If he has any.

Click here:{785B7379-E26F-4A13-945D-1D32BDCE46B8}

And here, again, is the link to MARGIN, the review of magical realism, and the editor/publisher’s review of the scribe’s novel, “Vedette,” which you can buy by clicking on the button immediately left.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Review of "Vedette"

the scribe writes from a honky tonk bar in the destroyed (by commercialism) former fishing village of Cabo San Lucas, Baja California, Mexico. It's, once again, the wonder of the Internet that from this godforsaken locale he can provide his readers a link to a review of his novel "Vedette."
He and his wife are swill Corona's with lime and shaking with the shivers this thoughtful and kind review by MARGIN editor/publisher Tamara Kaye Sellman. Signing off.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Check this out.  Posted by Hello

Until Next Week.

Okay folks, the scribe is out of here for a seven-day break in Los Cabos, Mexico where the agenda is completely empty save for swimming, sunning, and reading. Not that anyone should care, but the reading list will include Giuseppe de Lampedusa’s “The Leopard” and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ “Chronicle of Death Awaited.”

And speaking of Marquez, the scribe would like to alert you to a special edition of a Web site called MARGIN, which is dedicated to the literary stye/form known as magical realism. It’s located at and is very well tended to by an editor and writer from Washington state.

On June 15 MARGIN will publish a special issue on magical realism in Iberia. the scribe’s “Vedette” will go in for some special treatment. the scribe has also added a review of Camilo Jose Cela’s “The Family of Pascual Duarte” to the effort.

But here’s the editor Tamara Kaye Sellman’s verbatim invitation: “Come witness a Quixote resurrection on June 15, 2005 when we release our latest special theme, ‘Resurectting Quixote: Magical Realism from the Iberian Peninsula.’ Featuring Cervantes’ Knight Errant, of course, as well as Pedro Antonio Alarcon, Antonio Lobo Atunes, Camilo Jose Cela, Paulo Coehlo, Paulo da Costa, Pedro Calderon de la Barca, Perez Estrada, Frank X. Gaspar, Rafael Guillen, Maria Lemus, Federico Garcia Lorca, John Medeiros, Fernando Pessoa, Carlos Reyes, Jose Saramago, Stephen Siciliano, Katherine Vaz, and a host of others, plus a tour of Cervantes’ hometown, a special tribute section and links to dreaming the impossible dream.”

Until next week. Signing off.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters 15 and 16

Chapter Fifteen(Chapter One ran on April 9, and every weekend thereafter.)

Randall would one day declare “no business is an easy business,” and Joya would agree for the business of selling jewelry to the city’s rich or aspiring-to-be-so was not an easy one.Her tools were a series of ready-made chitchats and asides, which she adjusted to the ever-evolving story of American language in a hyper-historical city where yesterday’s papers seemed a lot older than just yesterday. To the casual observer, the use of ghetto slang and hippisms by a blonde cowgirl on the well-heeled ladies she hoped to seduce money out of might seem strange, but that’s what happens in a world where almost everybody is reduced to selling useless things. “Oh, those look absolutely franzy upon you,” she’d invent an expression in that second. Sometimes it took; usually it didn’t – like most of her creations; like those of most creators.

“Hon, those earrings look festive,” was a favorite for her; festivities being an important local preoccupation.

Crazy ring? “It’s not outlandish at all! It’s just reflectin’ a more lavish, sensual Mediterranean intelligence. It’s not Protestant or anything like that, hon.”
Or, “Ah don’t know who he is, but he’s gonna like it and you more than he already does when he gets a gander.”

“Gander.” Customers were left with a sense that their old Aunt Minnie from back east was advising them, except that Aunt Minnie was wearing a mini-skirt that left you curious about the rest of the package.

And that was the game; to make friends with these people who knew she wanted their money. Joya’s point of departure was that each entered in search of seduction; personal, financial, what have you. There were obstacles of a very personal kind to consumer spending and it was her job to help customers overcome them (or undo them herself). She was a micro-economist, a true (if untitled) scholar of the marketplace; expert both in theory and praxis.

Anyway, she was selling a rose-gold ring set in two pieces, that kissed each other when worn on adjoining fingers. It was the kind of design she specialized in. So simple that other, lesser designers wanted to slap themselves on the forehead for not having come up with it. One that grabbed the ever-precious attention of shell-shocked shoppers bombarded by imagery and novelty all along the commercial strip where she rented.

Joya was working a time-tested, “Every one of those skinny little fingers needs a jewel…” when Jordan burst into the store looking like something out of a horror movie entitled, let’s say, Mutant Dawn.

The delicate customer Joya was pummeling gave a gentle “eeek” when she saw him. The ring kiss was broken and fell from her shaking hands. A handful of other girls present, including Joya’s Indian (as in Bombay) shop girl, gasped. Joya lost her cool for a moment because she had lost the sale also. But she quickly regained composure. “Hon! I’m not going to even ask what happened.”

“I appreciate that.”

“Well what on Earth?”

“Could you take me to the doctor? My car’s covered in blood and I’m a little shook up.”

“Well of course you are!” Joya said while imagining how Jordan, in another moment of desperation, had reached into his wallet and come up with her card (which she was beginning to regret having given him), again.

“But hon, I’m kinda runnin’ a store right now, but I guess…alright, gimme a minute.”

And she announced to the three or four disgusted women in her establishment that they should come back with the cards she was handing out to them for a 15 percent discount on all merchandise as an apology for the ghastly interlude to which Jordan had subjected them.

The ladies left with a decent story to tell at lunch. Joya dismissed her shop girl upon whom later discussion will be showered. She flitted here and there, closing the cash register, setting the alarm system and other tasks particular to the running of a small retail outlet. All the while, Jordan bled on her floor, on her counter, and on her patience. Joya was forthright as she fretted. “Ya know hon, I don’t mind helping folks out, but you’re becoming a bit of a pain in my ass.”

This had the opposite effect than she intended as Jordan laughed rather heartily.

Maybe it was the absurdity of the situation, or of his life, or perhaps the deleterious affects of too much adrenaline, but he laughed and laughed as she grabbed a bloody limb and guided him outside before locking the door behind her. They walked toward her car and he laughed some more until, rather imperceptibly, and without announcement, the gasps of laughter became tears and she stopped to stroke his hair, touched by the emotion of it all. “Motherfuckers,” he blurted. “Goddamn Armenian, gang-banging motherfuckers. I kill ‘em.” He tried pulling himself together. “You’re a brave person so you won’t be needin’ ta kill anybody,” she said then, and noticing the slightest hitch in her voice, he looked up to see her barely weeping. She smiled at him with watery eyes that took on the aspect of wavy indigo banners of many messages. “Well what do you expect?” she said and kissed him on the bloody nose.

Joya walked up to a red convertible Cortina built in a time before their own memories. Precious moments were spent as they pulled the manual top down. Things were taking so long that Jordan thought he was going to die from blood loss, which of course he wasn’t.

They got in and the car showed its age with an exceptionally laborious ignition while Joya smiled bashfully. Soon they were into the slow, but ultimately progressing, stream of traffic. When stopped at a red light, Joya turned to her ward for a more detailed inspection of the mess. “Wow, it looks like that’s broken.”


“Well do me a favor,” and she rubbed his leg, “when ya get it fixed, have ‘em put it back just how it was ‘cause it was very handsome.”

“Jesus Christ,” echoed across the chambers of his mind, “was ever a more perfect woman put on the planet?”

At this point (and you hopefully knew this was coming) Jordan decided that he desperately needed a smoke. It was clearly a medical situation and medicine of the personal kind was definitely in order. “Got a ciggy-boo?” he asked his savior.

“Dja think ya should?”

With his face he said, “C’mon man.”

“Well alright,” and she banged the glove compartment, which contained no gloves, but many other items important to feminine survival, and a box of cigarettes that Joya handed to Jordan. “What the hell are these?” he said more delighted than anything else.

“You got hit in the nose, not the eye. Read.”

It was a tiny yellow box with a sunset behind a dome of religious and oriental aspect. “Dãrshãn,” the box read, “Classic Bidis Filter Cigarettes, Vanilla Flavored, Bombay-Los Angeles.”


He asked the creamy girl, “Where did you hear about these?”

“Sadina, my gal at the shop turned me onto ‘em. They’re from India, like her.” And since he was naturally curious about tobacco product and not in the mood to be choosy, Jordan helped himself to a sampling.

What he came upon was a rough, almost cardboard stick, the color of shipping box carton. It was rolled thinner at one end than at the other and tied closed at the filter with tiny white thread.

It did indeed smell of vanilla, spiked with clove. Jordan thought that vanilla from India should be spiked.

It hit very mildly and affected the lungs not at all. The vanilla was strong on the lips, which he felt compelled to lick after each drag. It calmed him just like his own stuff did, or anyone else’s for that matter, save for Capri, which he was convinced, contained no tobacco at all.

He liked it.

Resting in the Coloradoan’s comforting aura Jordan’s presence of mind was mostly restored. “Listen,” he interrupted the calming silence she imposed. “I’d rather not go to the poor peoples’ hospital. I’ve got a new credit card I can ruin.”

“Oh and ahm not takin’ you there. After I saw that place I did a little research for the day when something happens to my appendix.” Jordan asked her if she didn’t have medical insurance. “Hon, nobody in America has medical insurance. It’s the ultimate expression of our rugged individualism. We don’t pay taxes and we try not to get hurt.”

We don’t pay taxes and we try not to get hurt. J. thought Randall could use Joya’s help in formulating his own overwrought thought.

“Ah found a medical center that takes outpatients with a little up-front money and I signed promise to pay the rest, and there’s two hundred dollars I can lend you.”

They rolled on for a moment before Joya broke in again.

“Heck, we don’t want you going to county, they kill old ladies there.”

Jordan felt like vomiting and though he was loath to let her see him doing something quite so unappealing, he had Joya pull over so he could do just that. “You must be in a little shock,” she posited once he was done and he nodded that, yes, he was.

Stabilized anew, Jordan considered her loan and decided the advantages of indebtedness to Joya would far outstrip those to be got with some pernicious and impersonal multinational bank. He thought her generosity to be of an uncommon kind and, as was often the case when in Joya’s presence, found himself at a loss for words during the remainder of the ride.

Chapter Sixteen

Clarisse and Corey were at it again about the baby. She had just come home from another grueling shift of “waitressing” as she called it, and was lying on her back with feet pressed to the wall, legs bent at 90-degree angles, in an effort to get the blood circulating. It was a trick of the trade, the ultimate effect of which remained inscrutable. The lady was in a particularly foul mood because of an invitation she had received. It was to an exposition of her primary rival in the wacky-looking furniture game – Trixie Marie.

The enterprising Trixie was climbing the ladder with astonishing efficacy. Clarisse was stuck somewhere between the second and third rung of the very same ladder. The invitation – sent in all good grace – just about put Clarisse through the roof. She wanted a show, she wanted to stop waitressing yet she couldn’t seem to do a thing about it.

The cause of the present argument between Corey and Clarisse, was not the usual one: the male’s reticence to enthusiastically embrace fatherhood. No. Corey, without malice or manipulation, had suddenly concluded that now was good a time as any. Life was happening. Clarisse’s familiar argument that poor Mexicans had lots of babies without concern for the financial ramifications had made inroads.

This turned out to be a revelation more profound and disturbing than she cared to admit. To wit: their childlessness had little to do with his reticence.

For once Corey had relented in this two-year fertility battle, the possibility of having a baby improved not a lick. To be sure, they were healthy amorous creatures with all their parts screwed on correctly. They liked sex with each other and practiced it with near religiosity.

He wanted the kid! He wanted to make her happy and begin the family as soon as circumstances permitted, which circumstances did not since they still couldn’t pay for the kid.

The lovely apartment in a great neighborhood filled with restaurants they labored day and night to maintain, two cars, clothes to match them, all conspired against the idea. Which was nothing new. What was new, was the fact these considerations had now become Clarisse’s. She wanted the baby, but not the outlying suburb peopled in polyester salesmen that might come with it.

Still, Corey knew a grinding disappointment in his abilities as white-knight-in-shining-armor was beginning to take very deep root in her and this frustrated him.

He was just a guy and nothing like a knight at all.

There are many essay-form books dealing with the emasculation of American men and Corey, if he read more, would have been a fan. Gone were the days, he would agree, when life presented heavy lifting, hunting, and warfare in distant lands against
which a man’s mettle might be measured. The challenge of making enough money to give their women a celebrity’s life without celebrity was the source of much anxiety.

Standards were high and pretty tough to meet without being to the manner born. The generation at the controls was talented, prodigious, and so numerous that mere preparation and hard work played less a hand in the affairs of young couples than ever before. Those who had not been simply lucky were, well, shit out of luck.

These thoughts were running through Corey’s mind as Clarisse carped, when they were interrupted by a phone call. So great was the tension that the couple jumped at the shrill mechanized twittering. “Shit,” Corey said, “remember when they rang like sweet bells?”

She could not for she was just that much younger than him.

Corey answered. “It’s me Randall,” slithered across the fiberoptica.

“Randall…oh, hey! The bum philosopher.”

“Yes, and the world must know it.”

“What’s up?”

“I’ve got a comeback idea to try out on you.”

Corey looked back at his dour-faced wife and turned away. “I’m all ears. I’d love to hear about the addiction you’ve chosen to be felled by, only to rise Phoenix-Arizona-like from the ashes.”

“It’s smoking.”


There was a pause and it is a measure of just how much hardware there is in the world these days, and of how little intelligence there is to drive it, that Corey didn’t hang up. “Care to elaborate?”

“Meet me at the Argentine place. Let’s celebrate with a dinner.”

Corey glanced back at his wife and returned to the phone. “See you in an hour.”

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Clarence Thomas. Marijuana Man?  Posted by Hello

Reefer Madness

For those concerned with the larger meaning of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on medical marijuana the other day the scribe would like to recommend Daniel Weintraub’s piece “Medical marijuana case is more federal overkill” at

It ran in the June 9 edition of the “Sacramento Bee”.

Weintraub’s point is that we are losing our freedoms in this country to an ever-growing and intrusive federal government.

And that’s with the party of “less government” lording over every branch, which only goes to show how good (r)epublicans are at marketing themselves as something as other than what they are.

One can grow weary of twenty-somethings telling you they vote (r)epublican because it’s the party of “individual freedom.”

Weintraub points out how the decision rests largely on the U.S. Constitution’s Interstate Commerce Clause even though the plaintiffs reside in California and either grew their own or got it free from a local source.

For the second time in the past few days we are forced to do what we never thought we’d do here at highwayscribery and positively quote Justice Clarence Thomas who wrote in a special and separate dissent: “[Plaintiffs] Diane Monson and Angel Raich use marijuana that has never been bought or sold, that has never crossed state lines and that has had no demonstrable effect on the national market for marijuana. If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything and the federal government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers.”

Which is Weintraub’s point. But read the piece.

In the same vein a bipartisan measure that would prohibit the U.S. Department of Justice from using public money to raid, arrest, or prosecute patients and providers in states with medical marijuana laws is floundering in Congress.

Rep. Maurice Hinchey, a Democrat from New York, and the zany Dana Rohrabaacher, a (r)epublican from California’s Orange County have introduced the amendment, although the scribe cannot discern from the report he’s using exactly what bill it would be attached to.

The proposal has failed two times before, but you can call your representative and tell them you’d like it to pass because essentially your idea of a free country is one where you can do what you want so long as you’re not crowding out someone else’s space. Call (202) 224-3121 to get the House switchboard.

Remember, what we’re talking about here are cancer patients and the like looking for a little relief from terrible pain. Our government is great at meting out pain while viewing its relief as some sort of socialist soft-soap.

Barney Frank (D-Mass) has been introducing a “States’ Rights to Medical Marijuana Act” every year since 1995. It would move marijuana to a less restricted status within the Controlled Substances Act, which Congress in its infinite stupidity passed as part of the utterly senseless war on drugs and its own people, who are pretty prone to taking them. Tell your reps that bill’s okay by you, too.


A federal court in Spain is going to request permission from the United States to interrogate three soldiers involved in the horrible killing of Spanish journalist Jose Couso (“A Dangerous Place,” March 22).

Not much chance of that happening since Spain is currently governed by (gulp!) socialists and had the temerity to pull its troops from George Bush’s “Coalition of the Willing” after Al-Qaeda mass murdered some 200 of its citizens March 11, 2004 (“Madrid My Dove,” March 11).

The story has no traction whatsoever in the national media and that’s why people don’t understand this country’s crappy relations with others worldwide. If Americans knew their tank gunners were training turrets on hotels known to be stuffed with journalists they might have a clearer vision of our role in the world. Which is why the story gets no traction.

But we are a beacon, you see, a beacon of freedom and democracy.

John Kerry is continuing his quest to get someone in America some health care. Click to see the ad he’s trying to put on the air here: and if you’d like to help, go to and join up or make a contribution.

And finally, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals wants you to call your representative and ask them to support the Sweeney-Spratt Amendment to the House Agricultural Appropriations Bill, which will ensure wild horses aren’t killed so their meat can be sold for human consumption overseas.

If you don’t know who your rep is, go here: and find out.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Bobby. Posted by Hello

Bobby Kennedy

Tonight the scribe takes special pleasure in updating this Web log, for the subject is the memory of the late Bobby Kennedy. June 5th was the 37th anniversary of his assassination in Los Angeles.

the scribe thought it was today, and it is a reflection of our rightward drift and division that so little, if anything, was written on Sunday about this man whom, whatever his political inclinations, gave his life to the country.

In any case, we’ll do this a few days late; the sentiment is no less deep or profound.

Once a guy is dead and not around to defend his own name the enemy tends to do a dance all over their reputation. The Kennedys, Jack and Bobby, were by virtue of their murders raised to the level of saints. In reality they were politicians with all that implies and which left them open for some pretty vicious hits post mortem.

And furthermore, the scribe doesn’t go in much for family dynasties, which by their very nature are anti-democratic. You only need to look at what’s going on now to get an idea.

Nonetheless, the scribe lives his life in the belief that Senator Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign represented the high point of the American experience and that his murder marked the beginning of our decline as a special and enlightened nation which, through its ideas and not its armies, led a democratic revolution around the world.

To go back and listen to Bobby’s speeches from that terrible and tremendous time is to wonder what country they might have been delivered in, because it’s not the America any of us are experiencing. He and his brother the President were the closest thing to social democrats the post-war United States ever produced and both were shot like dogs for their efforts.

His own presidential candidacy featured a discussion about inequality and poverty never, ever repeated in American politics. He took the anti-war movement mainstream and gave it a head of steam and respectability it did not lose until they had killed him.

If you ever get frustrated at Democratic presidential candidates and wonder why it is so goddamn hard for them to just come out against a war they know is wrong, remember what happened to the last guy who tried it.

As they say in Spain, “Haz bien, trae mal” or “Do good, bring bad.”

That he was shot by Sirhan Sirhan is a certainty. That more bullets than the eight Sirhan’s gun could hold were found is also a certainty. That the doorway beam from which two bullets were pried was inexplicably burned by the Los Angeles Police Department is also a known fact. The rest can be left to those with the time to sort out conspiracies; for us it serves as a stark reminder of how the American right wing plays for keeps.

They talk a lot about the bankruptcy of American liberalism, the loss of direction and lack of ideas. They never wonder what the murders of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr., meant in that regard. They were young men, standard-bearers of the left with many years of fight, maturity and leadership still ahead when they were struck down. And they could not be replaced.

We should remember that.

The recently departed Hunter S. Thompson wrote about Kennedy in his classic “Fear and Loathing on Campaign Trail ‘72”. He was addressing the McGovern campaign’s idea of using Bobby’s voice on commercial spots:

“In purely pragmatic terms, the Kennedy voice tapes will probably be effective in this dreary campaign; and in the end we might all agree that it was Right and Wise to use them...but in the meantime there will be a few bad losers here and there, like me, who feel a very powerful sense of loss and depression every time we hear that voice – that speedy, nasal Irish twang that mailed the ear like a shot of ‘Let It Bleed’ suddenly cutting through the doldrums of a dull Sunday morning on a plastic FM station.

There is a strange psychic connection between Bobby Kennedy’s voice and the sound of the Rolling Stones. They were part of the same trip, that wild sense of breakthrough in the late Sixties when almost anything seemed possible.

The whole era peaked on March 31, 1968 when LBJ went on national TV to announce that he wouldn’t run for re-election – that everything he stood for was fucked, and by quitting he made himself the symbolic ex-champ of the Old Order.

It was like driving an evil King off the throne. Nobody knew exactly what would come next, but we all understood that whatever happened would somehow be the product of the ‘New Consciousness.’ By May it was clear that the next President would be either Gene McCarthy or Bobby Kennedy and that the War would be over by Christmas...”

the scribe lived that connection before ever reading the passage. The Stones marked the boundaries of his lifestyle as a young rake, Bobby his political activism as a reformed one.

As a reporter with the “Los Angeles Business Journal” the scribe had to do a story about the Ambassador Hotel where Kennedy was slain. He asked to be taken into the infamous “pantry” where the nefarious act went down. He didn’t stay long.

In 1966, Kennedy gave perhaps his most famous speech to an arena filled with young people in Cape Town, South Africa.

We close tonight with an excerpt from the same:

“[T]he belief there is nothing one man or woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills – against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence...Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.

“It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Let it bleed indeed.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

William Burroughs by Jenny Long Posted by Hello

All Hopped Up

Today is the three-month anniversary of highwayscribery. the scribe has stayed up 50 nights now getting something out there to you all. It was promised in the first post that we’d be taking certain journalists to task with our new toy (“Why highwayscribery?” March 7), but that really didn’t pan out. Once the scribe had to come up with an article five times a week both the need and possibility of calling fellow journalists to task became obsolete.

In the meantime, we hope you have enjoyed the political potpourri, the poems, the poetry reviews, snippets of literature and, of course, that all important manual for metrosexuals, “The Sidewalk Smokers Club.”

As it turns out the blog does not receive comments from readers although we know there are readers by virtue of our hit counter. That’s okay, the scribe doesn’t really have time to respond.

On the whole, the business of the blog has turned out to be more time consuming than expected, but also more therapeutic. There is no substitute for being able to sound off and relieve some of the frustration produced by the repressive, racist, close-minded and, ultimately, warlike times we live in.

Thanks for tuning in.

the scribe would like to point out that the big medical marijuana decision isn’t such a big decision. You know, the way these cases are framed, very narrowly, does not really allow for the development of policy, all the (r)epublican palaver about “judicial activism” notwithstanding.

Still, hopheads need not despair. Things have hardly changed a hair from what they were a day “before the big decision” Some states (still) have established legal provisions for the distribution of medical marijuana, and the federal government (still) opposes those measures.

Justices Rhenquist, O’Connor, and Thomas are not poster children for the sexy highwayscribery set, but hats off to them for remembering their states’ rights pedigree (after that awful lapse in Bush v. Gore). All three dissented on grounds that the individual states should decide what is criminal within their boundaries and all three were right.

It should be noted that Justice Stevens, in his majority opinion, expressed a clear degree of discomfort with the ruling and seemed forced by the case’s parameters into accepting Congress’ jurisdiction as well.

Congress, kiddies, has always been at the heart of this matter and maybe after the (r)epublicans bite it big because of the Tom “DeLay factor” in the 2006 midterms, we’ll begin to see some movement on marijuana, medical and otherwise.

But probably not, for we are from any kind of tolerance where the idiosyncracies and proclivities of our fellow citizens are concern. The (r)epublicans would never reform the country’s drug laws and the Democrats are too cowardly.

To quote the dearly departed Beat novelist William Burroughs, “That vile salamander Newt Gingrich, squeaker of the House, is slobbering about a drug free American by 2001. What a dreary prospect!...No dope fiends, just good, clean-living decent Americans from sea to shining sea. How I hate those who are dedicated to producing conformity.”

Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters 13 and 14

Chapter Thirteen

Fire inspectors Diaz and Thorpe were exiting a local French restaurant where the owner had been issued yet another citation in a long history of them. Never mind that her mostly continental clientele wanted to smoke and that most of her waiters and bartenders (okay, all of them) partook on the job. She was in violation of the Smoke-Free Workplace Act and her obstinate flouting made the eatery a regular stop on the officers’ nightly tour of duty.

Not only did the French place permit its clientele and workforce to smoke; it sold separate cigarettes sitting in an oversized cognac sifter on the bar to any and all takers. And it did so at a handsome profit because drugs, as anyone who went to college and did a basic econ class knows, have what is called a very ‘elastic’ demand. A bum philosopher might say that wild horses couldn’t keep their users away.

Actually, the phenomena revealed more than this already known tidbit about vice. It said something about the economics of freedoms, liberties, rights and other high-flying concepts our Swiss-cheese democracy is purportedly based upon. Every time a law such as the Smoke-Free Workplace measure is passed and codified, a cadre of individualists will come out of their satellite-dished bunkers to complain about how our freedoms are being taken away.

The fact is that freedoms come at a price, and we’re not talking death on a foreign battlefield. We’re talking cash. The Constitution is silent on the specific question whilst the culture is louder than a set of stacked Marshall amplifiers. To emphasize, freedoms aren’t eliminated with parking ordinances, dog-curbing laws, and other niggling legalities with which city councilpeople, county commissioners, congresspersons, and presidents occupy their time.

They simply get a little (or a lot) more expensive, for such are the realities in a country that is run like a business with a preference for the bottom line. And if pricing freedoms upward left some folks out in the cold, the issue was a non-starter because, not only do we not give a twig for the poor, the poor themselves would rather not be identified as such.

And so this is what you had: A French restaurant that catered to the Epicurean tastes of its clientele, passing on the cost of smoking fines to them. The price of escargot and martinis would rise incrementally without truly affecting business because, for the amoral among us, escargot and martinis fall in the same classification of earthly delights that cigarettes do. Free-market-magic.

Fines accumulated by the proprietress under the Smoke-Free Workplace Act were merely a cost of doing business; no different than the license fees, property assessments, zoning changes and other levies, hidden and otherwise, she was required to pony-up for annually, quarterly, weekly.

Anyway, Diaz and Thorpe had cited the woman, a former fashion designer, who smiled cordially and then invited them to a drink. Believing that a restaurateur’s duty was to be on good terms with everyone who entered her calculated little eaters/drinkers/smokers/cocaine-sniffers-in-the-bathroom paradise, she stuck to the role of good hostess. The inspectors, of course, were denied by conditions of their employment to drink alcohol while on the job. They might have stayed all night and stared at the ephemeral beauties present, but they expected no common ground with those gathered, only a sense of being slighted in a subtle, better-than-thou way. In short, due to a series of factors both shallow and deep, and not timely enough to discuss here, Diaz and Thorpe felt inferior and out of place.

By dint of good fortune, hard work, and the inevitable deterioration of the aging process, their appointment as inspectors had run them smack into the same snooty kids from high school that’d gone on to college – or reasonable facsimiles of them.

So they passed on the drinks and walked around issuing seven citations to the most attractive or obviously rich diners, for in their hands was held the ace of absolute state power. And although the clientele’s dress was designed to intimate achievement and polish, the confrontations revealed more brusque natures beneath the Italian-cut outfits. In the early days of enforcement, the savage responses of the wealthy would leave them taken aback; now it heightened the pleasure. The inspectors willingly sought out the insults as proof that, in the end, these folks squatted daily and squeezed out the same offal the peasants they fancied themselves so superior to did.

Citations issued, smiling adieu exchanged, they drove by the Argentine restaurant where an irregular situation had been developing. To wit: sometimes a veritable delegation of sidewalk smokers caucused before the wooden and gold glow of its picture windows and other times, later usually, there were none at all. When you’re a smoking inspector, there are certain things to look for and read into. It’s a specialized field of enforcement. To the extent that more egregious offenders on their beat had been fined into submission, Diaz and Thorpe were now closer to locking-in on the subtler patterns of behavior unfolding at the popular nightspot.

The inspectors concluded that those outdoors smokers had to go somewhere, and that was probably inside where they obviously closed down the joint, smoking, because that is what they do – smokers.

They found our friends meeting in the full-fledged flurry we just left behind. The very size of the gathering (there were other people lighting up, too) shocked and discouraged the inspectors who’d given the better part of themselves to the French restaurant raid. Since they drove around in a marked car and wore uniforms, there was a problem of secret approach difficult to resolve. They opted for the only strategy available, which involved parking their red-and-white ride on a side street and walking past the Argentine restaurant via the sidewalk opposite. They felt a curious desire to observe the chatty group of attractive semi-young people assembled and could think of no other way to camouflage their presence than to light up a pair of cigarettes, a box of which they kept in the glove compartment as rather effective props.

They were Marlboro Lights, a very popular brand and, their mass distribution aside, rather enjoyable smokes: light as advertised, quick burning. It was all in the service of a larger cause and so they smoked – with little pleasure.

It is a mystery to nonsmokers how someone would willfully, at times frantically, do such a thing to themselves, but smoking is the ultimate acquired taste since it doesn’t taste good in the way, say, that French fries do. But when there is a craving pleasant to quell, all things related to the act are gilded with the same glow the quieted addiction is.

Diaz and Thorpe watched for a while and could conclude little more than the fact that Yvonne was “one hot looking bitch” and that one of them would love, “to stuff her.” Not pretty or correct, sure, but these are working-class stiffs speaking on the sly; assuming they cannot be heard by those who might be offended.

Let it be noted that the detectives marked The Club members’ faces in their memories and promised to keep an eye on that sidewalk, to pounce on its indoor smokers the day it was found to be empty.

Chapter Fourteen

Some time later, Jordan stood at the supermarket check-out line for what seemed an eternity. J. was feeling sorry for himself. Before entering the store, a shadowy intimidating drifter of a man had hit him up for money. He gave over four bits. In gratitude the beneficiary of his openness dashed the coins against the showcase window to the store and slinked away snarling.

The encounter had stoked in him a sense of foreboding that was, oddly enough, buttressed by the magazines Jordan was forced to peruse while people purchased shave cream with credit cards. These magazines covered the vanity fair of party life and sexy activities every American who did not shop in specialty stores had to consider while waiting to pony up for their basics. It was a world in which every cover girl – and they were mostly girls – looked great and promised to hold forth inside on their last devastating love, on vacation spots, and on God. These accounts usually involved the identical experience of climbers up the narrow tree to stage and broadcast glory – which is to say not much experience at all. Some went deep into the lives of these girls and the boys whom they invited to abuse and exploit them in exchange for riches. Very old story. There were society parties in New York featuring statuette females photographed with their name and the designer of their dress printed below. There were exotic ocean islands and many figured contract agreements for lush period pieces shot on location in ancient and unscathed environs. How they lived is how everyone wanted to live.

Jordan certainly did not live it. To be sure, his life was not at all bad when compared, say, with the habitual starving-man-in-the-third-world measuring stick. He partied, yes, and he traveled, if not to hotspots, then to lukewarm ones and sort of made money along the way. His was, he thought just then, a pale edition of what supermarket stars in full bloom enjoyed. The inescapable truth was that nothing in the tangible future suggested, despite J.’s hopes and energetic efforts, such an existence wasn’t slipping away forever as he sloppily flopped around from one pesky crisis to another.

An attractive girl behind him smiled as Jordan, in full debate with his self, waved away a thought with a chop of his open right hand.

Finally paid up, he exited the store and looked both ways for the panhandler and saw him slithering along the parking lot’s perimeter. But Jordan did not quicken his pace to the car, rather pulled up and yanked a ready-made from his shirt pocket.

Such jackals could smell fear from across a city space and when they did, one was done for. There are few better ways to confront a potential crisis of confidence, or to at least disguise the approach of one, than through performance of the nonchalant cigarette lighting ritual. For, in addition to the cosmetic adjustment, the chemical payoff served to buck one up (however artificially).

In short, Jordan lit a cigarette to convey coolness and feel coolness. We can assume that it worked since that particular and potential peril petered. He wondered how the great and tremendous men, the Caesars and Ghengises, dealt with things before the birth of cool, which, after all was not even a century young.

As he was getting to his car a swarthy man of indeterminate ethnicity pulled out his large one and began to piss just a yard beyond the hood. He shot – among other things – a sidelong glance that sent a shiver up Jordan’s spine. Like many of his time and place, J. was thoroughly secular and nonbelieving. And although he did not pray at the right hand of the father, he avoided making any definitive stance on the existence of spirits since such things are not truly verifiable – in any scientific way – with the tools of perception currently at our disposal.

Put differently Jordan wasn’t so smart that he couldn’t believe in devils.

He cranked the ignition and guided his hunk of steel, glass, grease and synthetics out of the lot, leaving behind a small oil stain destined to become part of the region’s drinking-water table.

None of which was on Jordan’s mind. He had hit the brakes at the exit when a cranky homeless man walked unconsciously into his path and shook a fist at the driver over this one of many indignities his economic situation exposed him to.

“Devils,” Jordan whispered to himself, fighting off a growing desire to wrap himself in a woolen blanket.

He waited at the freeway turn-on, marveling at the messy air and car cavalcade. How anyone of note might conclude such a configuration represented human progress was beyond his ability to comprehend, and he shrugged, since ultimately, nobody ever asked his opinion when it came to such weighty matters.

He was given the green arrow to turn left, but upon lowering his foot lightly onto the accelerator, he saw a black balloon of a Mercedes Benz float from the right into what was, by law, his intersection. The driver stared directly into his face with black eyes and a scowl. “Devils,” Jordan thought again. The Benz seemed to accelerate through the crossway for a brief moment and Jordan hit the gas only to note a sudden and complete halt in the Mercedes’ progress. J-man’s mind ordered his foot to step on the brake, but in one of those inexplicable occurrences that are as much a part of life as lurking inexplicable devils, the foot, for reasons only it knows, chose the gas pedal instead. The car bucked into the black beast. The damage was to the left rear quarter-panel and of tiny dimension.

All of this was accompanied by the attendant burning rubber screech and k-thunk of fender-benders the world over. “Dammit,’ Jordan yelled out as he looked down at his right foot in disbelief at the cruel betrayal. Initial sentiments were concerned with his lack of auto insurance coverage because if they ticket you for that, you can’t get traffic school. They don’t offer it. It was a consideration calibrated to the goings-on of everyday life, but alas, this moment was not to be run-of-the-mill in any sense for this chapter’s ill-starred subject.

Jordan looked up in time to see three sinister sprites bound toward him in a way particular to the truly young. Their raiment corresponded to current kidswear and was calculated to frighten the bejeezus out of nice and orderly people. Not that Jordan was either, but he was still scared. His window was open and gave the driver a clear line to his head, which he (the driver) took, hitting it with considerable force at the temple. It was the kind of blow that might kill a person; just not this time.

J. was, of course, stunned. The usual slow-motion sense of unreality or hyper-reality, which are part and parcel of such moments, kicked-in so that the empty plastic soft-drink bottle with which another of the thugs was blasting him, seemed like a flee.

Back at the driver’s window, the first tormentor launched a blow toward his chin, but a slight evasion resulted in its landing at the throat, which turned out to be an improvement on the aggressor’s original intent.

Out the corner of his eye Jordan could see a third player in this drama jumping up and down on the hood of his ride, wreaking considerable damage as he did so. People all around were honking horns, although no one dared step out and set some remedy to the matter.

It was the white American’s worst nightmare: being caught on the nation’s byways in some disabled fashion that evened-out (somewhat anyway) the economic advantages held over envious minorities. Thugs of superior physicality and violent tendencies had Jordan where they wanted him and that was not good. This was one of many thoughts racing through his mind as his head, back, neck and car hood were made depositories of an unfathomable rage. Jordan contorted himself enough to stick a foot into the driver’s chest – which qualified as something of a miscue – permitting as it did his nemesis to grab hold and twist him so that his head was vulnerable to the onslaught of what turned out to be a Gatorade bludgeon.

Still, and through a process he could never fully explain to the satisfaction of anyone, Jordan was able to get out of the car and lurch and hop around the crash site a few moments until the immediate peril was seemingly neutralized.

Upon closer inspection, and with a little time to breathe, Jordan was able to affix his attackers to the local Armenian community thanks to the t-shirt of one, which boasted the name of a familiar, ethnically based street gang. He was not heartened. They were, it seemed, very upset that he would deign to engage them in a car accident, as if choice had anything to do with it. J. inspected his body for bruises, of which there were many, while they barked on about the car being a “motherfuckin’ Mercedes man,” invoking some apparent waiver from roadway accidents not extended to lesser models and makes.

Jordan’s stream of “what the fucks?” and “are you guys crazys?” had slowed to a trickle when the Armenian Power gang (that was their name) realized they’d created a scene, a traffic jam, and ensured a visit by the police sure to do them in.

The driver looked at Jordan with an expression unmistakable for anything but what it was: antagonism by ethnicity. When whites discriminate and brutalize minorities, it is done with arrogance, an unconsciousness even, rooted in a sense of superiority, inherited legal advantage, stupidity, and more than a dash of fear. When a member of a minority returns the favor, it is the expression of a deep-rooted sense of being wronged. It is, in short, more vengeful than fearful and Jordan got a taste of this fucking privileged white guy sentiment when the driver suddenly busted his nose into a bloody fountain that speckled the snowy t-shirts of his attackers.

J. had never been punched in the nose before and was ill-prepared to ward off the blow since, even with everything that had happened up up to then, he didn’t suspect humanity capable of such antagonism (towards him personally).

The sight of blood everywhere – though mostly on Jordan’s face and soaked t-shirt – seemed to have a calming affect upon the assailants. Perhaps their lust had been sated. Perhaps it snapped them out of a manic state. Perhaps the reality was different from the violent records and films that had help shape and inform their reaction to the fender-bender.

As the traffic simmered and the horns moaned with impatience and a businessman flashed his cell phone at Jordan from a Cadillac, the kids would have had to be even stupider than they appeared to not realize how big the hole they’d been digging had grown. It was hot. The tar baked. A crowd of onlookers gathered. There was not a tree, a forgiving green lawn, a drop of softness in the whole scenario to soothe Jordan’s sense of just how harsh the world was at that moment. Despite being the obvious victim, he thought the situation all his doing. He deduced that through careless, imperceptible, yet incremental steps, he’d lowered himself out of the financial position his parents had worked so hard to put him in. His cash shortage was the root to which the entire lousy circumstance could be traced. Disdainful of authority and fiduciary matters all his adult life, Jordan now felt for himself the value of money his parents were always talking about it and which he dismissed so arrogantly, because they’d provided him with so much easy access to it. In short, and in that moment, he wanted his mommy and daddy.

“Shit,” one of the gang kids said examining his own bloody t-shirt. “muthafucka givin’ me AIDS and shit.”

A pair of security guards from a nearby hamburger stand arrived and from that moment the worst was over. A Latina woman in a white nurse’s uniform stepped down out of her minivan like an archangel from a B movie, bearing a white cloth which she handed to Jordan with the sentiment that she felt, “so sorry for jou.”

And that helped. A moment later a police cruiser rolled onto the scene. Jordan usually considered the police department as more an occupying army of mustachioed suburbanites than anything else, but was still glad to see them.

What the police saw was a bloody-faced and inoffensive looking white guy with a sheet to his nose and a bunch of rough-looking toughs from the neighborhood sitting coolly on a black Mercedes. It was discrimination time and with good reason. The cops tarried not a moment with Jordan as they bore in on the Armenian Power group – some of whom they probably recognized and probably needed an offense such as this to jail them. The kids were hardly afraid of the officers and rebuffed their initial queries with wise-guy shrugs and smart-aleck answers.

But there are far too many ways of getting arrested in America for such cool detachment to be of much use except in a movie about coolly detached wise-guys and smart-alecks. And that made it simple for the men in blue.

“License,” one of the sun-glassed policemen demanded. When nobody could produce what had been asked for he barked out, “Driving without a license. Cuff ‘em. Call the towing service and tell ‘em to come get daddy’s car.”

These boys had been cruising their own ethnic turf, keeping it pure from others of different background and as such found themselves with a lot of friends surrounding the cordoned-off accident site. A helicopter had stationed itself overhead so that everything said was said at a high volume. – yelled out if you will – which only infused the situation with greater tension. An angry middle-aged man stepped into the fray, informing the police that these handcuffed boys had acted in self-defense.

The cops looked at a forlorn Jordan for only the second time since stumbling into this mess and, although they weren’t buying it, were compelled by prior humiliations at the hands of good defense lawyers to record the man’s testimony.

A female officer handled the duty of interrogating Jordan who presented her with an account most faithful to everything written above. The dreaded question about auto insurance popped up.


Under normal circumstances, a heavy-handed citation would have been issued, followed by years of increased fees from his actuarial. But, mercifully, the lady officer moved onto the question of whether he needed an ambulance or not. With everything going on, Jordan still remembered the expensive ride he’d taken to county medical not too many days before and – although he had a desire to be obliging – answered “No” for the second time in as many questions.

A third cop asked the man who’d defended the boys for identification and soon determined that he was the Mercedes driver’s father. “Get the hell outta here before I arrest you, too.”

The crowd was growing surlier at the increasingly one-sided nature of this curbside justice and the cops decided to wrap things up downtown, as it were. “Get lost,” the lady officer told Jordan, who could have sworn it almost came out tenderly. J. went back to his car and settled behind the wheel. “Devils.” The plastic bottle lay there on the floor. He grabbed it and stepped out. Approaching the rather chastened trio leaning handcuffed against their beloved Mercedes Benz, he waved the bottle in its owner’s face. In response he got a question. “What are you gonna do about the Mercedes man?” Jordan, with the full complicity of law enforcement, slammed it bottom-down onto the hood, leaving further memento of their unfortunate rendezvous. “You don’t do this to people over a stupid car,” he screamed above the helicopter din. “It’s steel and glass, not bones and blood. Think about that while you’re sitting in jail,” he finished, fairly certain the porous epidermal layer of the local criminal justice system would perspire these rats back onto the streets in a matter of hours.