Friday, July 29, 2005

Energy Swill

So now there’s an energy bill. Another big “victory” for Bush to chalk up and don’t say the scribe didn’t warn you that, despite many prognostications to the contrary, these guys don’t lose much.

The night before a “free trade” agreement with Central American countries was passed. Tom DeLay held the voting open into the wee hours while the White House bullied (r)epublicans, against sending American jobs to countries where the environment and labor rights don’t count, into being "for" it.

You will remember how just a few months ago DeLay’s head was on the chopping block for being a crook, but this is what happens when a sleepy, decadent, and disengaged people hand over all power to a deceptive, criminal, corporate political party.

Remember Karl Rove? The guy who sold a CIA operative down the river for political purposes? Well, as John Kerry noted in an e-mail blast two nights ago, he was off to a fund raising event instead of packing his bags for a departure in disgrace. As background music you had the enormous (r)epublican noise machine demanding his opponents apologize to the warm worm.

But we were talking about the energy bill, which is really a tax bill covering energy companies. There is little or only token talk of conservation. There is no mapping out of a future plan for the country, no signposts, goals, or rationalized purpose. Just a big boat load of tax breaks designed to further weaken the government’s ability to perform services that benefit us all. Tax breaks given under the tired reasoning that, if we give these economic monoliths more wealth, they’ll become vibrant entrepreneurial players whose dynamic research and development efforts will lead to breakthroughs and lower prices.


They don't want lower prices. The money will mostly line the pockets of CEOs who already make up a class of rich unparalleled since the Golden Age of the trusts.

Fascism, as technically defined, is nothing more than a convergence of corporate, military, and government resources for the purposes of enriching the enriched. The last of these three is the only one empowered to force a different, more equitable, arrangement.

A whorehouse, a satrapy, that’s what these people have turned our beautiful democracy into.

Those who bought their flag-draped cant deserve to suffer the consequences. Those of us who didn’t, don’t (but will).

Energy swill.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Featuring Rafael Serrano

Tonight a poem and art by Rafael Serrano. The Cuban-born superstar’s verses are soon to be published by a small press associated with Mandarin Gallery in Chinatown, Los Angeles. He will also be performing there soon. Stay tuned.

"Spartacus Che"

Night Passage

Enchanted thoughts without reservations and things that wouldn't last yet we love so well.

Accordions without a Tango to play, in spite of those we cherish without shame.

And the night could only exist in your imagination filled with reasons to regret.

I know of no one else predestined to survive in the court of unreasonable justice, presided by buffoons and officers of destiny.

My love fell silent, and my doubts inspired by thinkers with forbidden fruit for inspiration grew louder.

The world as I know it was never the same after asking that question I will never forget and wished I'd never asked.

Rafael Serrano
July 2005

And on a political note, the scribe's correspondent to the Animal Kingdom would like you to know that the big new energy bill sailing its way through the U.S. Congress includes a provision for "seismic testing" along the country's entire coastline to find more gas and oil. The good people at Greenpeace assure us that this is deadly medicine for whales, dolphins and other underwater fauna that depend on their hearing or sonar guidance for survival. Nothing on this scale has ever been done before and the threat to wildlife is catastrophic.

And that doesn't take into account what happens where and when they find the riches so desired.

We here at highwayscribery find it unacceptable that what little wildness there is left in the world should be further sacrificed so that a spoiled people can sit their fat asses in sports utility vehicles. The Bush administration has long sold a soft soap that things in this country don't have to change, that resources are infinite, and that we can continue the gluttony we are despised the world over for.

We can't.

Click here if you'd like to help fight this battle:

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Lopez Obrador (anew)

Blogger has added a new technology that permits the scribe to upload an image directly into the text of the post, as opposed to requiring a second post. If it works out, highwayscribery will stick with it.

Also, the scribe would like to point out that Mrs. Scribe observed how the blog's settings only permitted people with "Blogger" accounts to comment on the writings contained herein. Such is no longer the case as the scribe has made adjustments that allow anonymous infusions of opinion as well.

A few months ago highwayscribery did a post on Manuel López Obrador, mayor of Mexico City and frontrunner in polls measuring the upcoming presidential race in that country ("Mexico Rising?" April 24). In short, we said we liked him, because of the hope he raised in progressive circles and in the lives of real people.

His tenure as mayor is ending this week and a fine column entitled “Ciudad Perdida” or "Lost City" in the left-wing daily “La Jornada” commented on his departure.

The column’s author is a gentleman by the name of Miguel Angel Velásquez and here are some excerpts from his article:

“Today initiates the last week in power of a government that, say what they may, will be one most remembered for the differences it established with respect to all those that have preceded it – at least during the past 25 years.

“Many and worthy are the present administration's deeds, which have changed the face of the city, but perhaps the most important role during its tenure was played by the people.

“In spite of the criticism, some in good faith and others not, the government of Revolutionary Democratic Party bet on opening the doors to the citizenry, to the repressed expressions of the city’s inhabitants, while divesting importance from the interpretations of purportedly representative politicians regarding the needs of the population over a long, long time.

“Little was done to take into account the opinions of those who control politics and instead the needs, urgencies really, of a city drowning for lack of public schools was revealed, as a debate was unleashed between those who could afford to pay for education and those whose only alternative was ignorance.

“They used the money of those who pay taxes to restore the dignity of those human beings whom the consumer society considers refuse and constructed rapid transit projects for those whose social value is sustained by four wheels.

“The political operators were distanced from the public trough and, with the middlemen eliminated, the money was spent on the necessary projects already mentioned here, while causing anger in the circles of political patronage.

“But perhaps the greatest gain was in the consciousness gained by the population in confronting total power, by deciding to protest injustices and by going beyond the political parties and interest groups.

"No, after these six years Mexico City will not be the same, neither internally or externally. The streets, many of them, are no longer the same. And neither are the people who walk them.”

the scribe asks, what journalist in this country might approach politics in this way? And what politician of either party could inspire them?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

As Much As You Can Stomach

Liberty and Democracy "on the march" in the Middle East.  Posted by Picasa
“The New York Times” reported July 24 that (v)ice (p)resident Dick Cheney was fighting a provision in the Pentagon “authorization bill” that would “regulate the detention, treatment, and trials of detainees held by the American military.”

The legislation is being introduced, lo and behold, by three (r)epublicans: John McCain of Arizona, John Warner of Virginia, and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina.

For those of you unschooled in the history of our various elected legislators, McCain is a guy who whores himself to the highest capitol bidder and gets blessed with the sobriquet of “moderate” in the national media by way of reward.

Warner is one of actress Elizabeth Taylor’s seven or eight prior wives, and Graham is the only pus-pile to move up in (as opposed to get thrown out of) Washington following his role as a “House Manager” during the (r)epublican-sponsored sideshow known as the impeachment of Bill Clinton.

Be that as it may, these guys are to be commended for trying to restore a bit of sanity to foreign policy and a touch of varnish to our tarnished international reputation.

The troika think the Pentagon “has failed to hold senior officials and military officers responsible for the abuses that took place at the Abu Ghraib prison outside of Baghdad, and at other detention centers in Cuba, Iraq, and Afghanistan,” according to the article written by Eric Schmitt.

Abu Ghraib, by the way, is still playing out in the courts. Apparently those charming pictures of naked guys on leashes connected to butt-smoking (cigarettes that is) Army gals, and dogs barking in the faces of bound men, aren’t the half of it.

Nope, there’s much more and a federal court has ordered the Pentagon to release the relevant images/videos. That hallowed institution, in response, is refusing to oblige.

Read this piece from “Editor and Publisher” for further details on your free and open government:

According to “The Times” article, this legislation “would include provisions to bar the military from hiding prisoners from the Red Cross; prohibit cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of detainees; and use only interrogation techniques authorized in a new Army field manual.”

Cheney is holding the senators’ feet to the fire because he thinks the provision would “interfere with the (p)resident’s authority and his ability to protect Americans against terrorist attacks.”

The administration, and those whose bidding it does, couldn’t wait to suspend democratic procedures in the wake of 9/11. They never liked them much anyway and once the horror other countries had suffered was visited upon the United States it was really time to “take the gloves off.”

Therein lay their conceit, which is that democratic protections are something those in power grant when they’re feeling generous and revoke when things get a little dicey. The further implication is that these procedures only serve, in the end, to protect delinquents.

And the logical extension of this reasoning is what you had in London the other day when an innocent man was shot dead for the dual crimes of looking Muslim and wearing an oversized coat in hot weather.

The offending officers could have surrounded and neutralized him before taking him back to the station where they would have learned they owed him an apology and cab fare home.

Or they might have at least waited until he "reached for his wallet" and then shot him dead the way they do here in L.A.

But this is THE WAR ON TERROR and there are no rules, especially among the “Soldier of Fortune” set whose culture exhorts that they “shoot ‘em all and let God sort it out.”

Well, let’s point out first that, despite what Cheney says, the (p)resident possesses no such authority to torture people, hide them from the Red Cross, or mete out cruel and inhuman punishment.

And let’s also note that terrorist attacks are occurring around the world at the clip of about one a day, if you count those in Iraq, so that Bush's “protection” looks about as effective as those canvas Humvees he sent the boys overseas to die in.

And the scribe doesn’t think it would make him a flaming international revolutionist to suggest the very fact Cheney doesn’t want to prevent such abuses is fairly solid proof that they are occurring.

Boy, two men can see completely different things when they look at the American flag.

Cheney gets patriotic about “authority” and torture. the scribe (who will lower himself for the benefit of comparison just this once) gets excited about living in a land that forbids them as abhorrent.

Vote for the scribe!

Wait! He’s not running for anything except milk at the corner store. So call McCain at (202) 224-2235, or Warner (202)224-2023 or Graham (202)224-5972 and ask them to hold firm and kiss Cheney off.

And tell them the highway scribe sent you.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters 28, 29, and 30

Chapter Twenty-eight

Yvonne called Randall on the phone, which otherwise never or almost (remember how Randall hates absolutes) never rang. Now, what with the small bumps of money and designer weed Corey was floating him, and beautiful naked magazine women calling, things had certainly taken a turn for the better.

What he did not know was that the naked magazine women aspect of his recent good fortune was an artifact of Corey’s manipulations. For it was Corey who’d advised Yvonne to check-in with Randall.

There were uncomfortable aspects to her contacting him, but she realized such would be the situation for many years until all the magazines disappeared or her body sagged, whichever came first. He suggested they get together. They did.

“I need your help,” she spoke to him after the initial trading of pleasantries, all of which were genuine on his side. It was a phrase Randall was unaccustomed to hearing given the fact help was something he was rarely in a position to give.

He’d chosen the bohemian path as an offering before the altar of revolution. But residency in bohemia left him at the mercy of the least appetizing people. And the pursuit of creative glory had turned out to be not very revolutionary at all.

Selling made-and-impractical things (however evocative) left him spending too much time on the balls of his heels to be any kind of pro-activist. “Art makes you a beggar,” would become classic bum philosophy as the refined, “Being an artist means being a beggar.” And it became one of Randall’s favorites because it reiterated, for those considering a life of fame and glory as creators, the mundane logic of a gas station attendant who could at least afford life’s essentials.

He was wrong, of course, for money was never the point. A better tenet, if not very bummy, might have been: You don’t live from your passion. You live for it (or her, or him and them). For artists not-to-the-manner-born have always been poor and that is what has set them apart from the rest of the worker bees and been the source of much antagonism between them.

The opposing lifestyles, he’d observed, meted out exactly what they promised: peril and pleasures for one, luxuries and tedium for the other.

Randall, like many of his time and place, thought he was owed two simple blessings: to work at his passion, and the grace of paying his modest bills. But it turned out to be asking quite a lot, a pass on the fray as it were, when the fray’s the thing.

He acted smarter than everybody else and then expected everybody else to pay for his progress, which, of course, wasn’t going to happen.

As such, Randall’s creed was that of a long, if not very hallowed tradition. None of which he was about to let Yvonne in on; all of which she knew anyway because, despite what men think, women are not stupider than they.

Yvonne, now infamous in her way, knew some things about Randall that his childhood friends, parents, and the idiots who had surrounded and stifled his progress for years did not. And this was that he would be fine. His discipline and hewing to a determined path, his desire to make sacrifices based upon his ideals had molded him into a certifiable type, congealed his character and varnished the personality. That is an achievement, even at low wages, and always has been.

He was not the hot and sexy model-type Yvonne had ruined her prospects of marriage and family waiting for, but he was certainly useful in ways that no man she knew could be.

What Yvonne wanted was to ask him about squeezing some money out of her naked picture situation. She had taken some pay, very little, at the time of the shoot and when the pictures never appeared, thought as little (as possible) about them. Now, given her embarrassment, she felt entitled to more and wanted to know if there wasn’t something – not legal, because she knew there wasn’t – ideal-like, something justice-driven she could beat her exploiters over the head with until she was offered further recompense.

“What about residuals?” Randall offered blandly after she’d presented her situation to him. Yvonne shrugged and said she’d already thought of that, but felt it was too simple. Of course, with bum philosophy increasingly marking his mind’s boundaries, Randall was becoming a big fan of simple. That was why his first offering was so lacking in originality. Why strain the brain for something with less of a success rate than the tried and true? Why swim against the current? He’d done that for years and mostly gotten tired. It was the first thing that came to mind. It could come from the mouth of some pizza man who was leagues ahead of Randall in the moneymaking department, a common man’s winner with an insight to the obvious.

“Don’t be so quick to dismiss,” he said more assertively. Yvonne inhaled a Virginia Slim and her eyes filled with either smoke or intense interest. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

“That’s how the reproduction of image has been handled around here,” he
continued. “You make a commercial, a film, a whatever and you get paid every time it turns up someplace. Why not demand a specified sum for each reproduction in print?”

“Every issue?”

“Blow the works!”

“They’d say she doesn’t have a contract that says anything like that. And they would say publishing doesn’t work that way.” Her voice was low and each word was uttered with the same intonation as that before it. He thought she was a tough broad, but avoided uttering either the thought or phraseology.

“With a little help, here please smoke one of these” – he tossed her an Export-A – “with a little help, people might be convinced the current system exploits rather innocent girls who don’t always know what they’re getting into.”

Yvonne said that young or not, you do know what you’re getting into. That there is flattery involved and other lures surrounding. That if you take your clothes off in front of a camera under lights, lenses, filters and so forth, you know what you’re getting into.

“You know what you know,” he answered, “but you don’t know what you don’t know,” and he pulled out a notebook and recorded the gem to see if it sounded quite so good later on. “No offense man, but for many girls, this kind of exposure, um (he caught himself too late), is a one-time shot. A moment to be exploited, um (again), taken advantage of considering the short-lived flowering of one’s sexuality. The future must be considered.”

“No offense taken,” she answered, not very convincingly. He thought how there are many pitfalls to working with women who appear naked in magazines.

“What say you? We write up a press release, send it out to some ambitious lawyers and see who’s sleazy enough to jump on this thing because of the screen time it could mean for them.”

“Sounds like a bit of a circus,” Yvonne said. She then turned her wrist to view the cigarette she’d been smoking, made a distasteful face and put it out. “I like Vagina Slims more,” she said, brand loyal, proving how smokers are hardly the monolithic bunch they are portrayed to be. “It’s a circus man,” he agreed, “but if you want your satisfaction, center ring awaits. The only way to mount pressure is to produce a show and you’d better decide whether you’re going to ride that train into the station or not.”

It was when she then pointed out that he’d mixed metaphors that Yvonne won him over to her cause, although he was not quite aware of this.

“So what do you say man?” He sounded either impatient or testy.

There was a pause while she lit her pleasure, a pause that grew as she inhaled, and became almost permanent once she blew out and focused her eyes on him. “Don’t be intimidated by the fact I can dissect your language.”

He took a deep breath. She wasn’t at all stupid. (As we said) She was smarter than he was.

“What we do,” he said rolling perfectly with reality, “is call up and find out what the distribution is, in terms of numbers right now, maybe call some bigger newsstands to determine what the pick-up rate is-”

“Pick-up rate?”

“When they come to refill what’s been sold, or pick up what hasn’t. Then we call a press conference, file suit, feed the media who” – he was going to say “whore themselves” and thought better of it – “run with the story about how many magazines have been reordered from the same place afterward. We’ll demonstrate just how rich you are making them.”

“You’re assuming they’re going to sell a lot,” she correctly pointed out.

“I am.”

“I need a little time to think things over,” she said, “but I’m mostly on board.” Puff. “All the damage has been done anyway.” Puff. She smiled and kissed him. It was a peck on the cheek and it was hers for the taking. Puff. It affected him in a way that could hardly be altered by the fact she’d been in a girly magazine. She told Randall that she liked him and dropped a check on the table between them before exiting. Puff.

Without a doubt, The Sidewalk Smokers Club ladies section have demonstrated a nobility of character the guys are taking their sweet time in matching. And that is because boys are permitted to develop slowly into men while women are seemingly made in a moment.


Chapter Twenty-nine

Yvonne didn’t need too much time to think about it. She was riding high in her black sports utility truck vehicle across the urban terrain in complete security unless she hit a train track or something and the thing tumbled over on its side. It had become a truck-driving society and for those not up to affording the trend, road visibility had become a luxury out of reach. She slaked her nicotine thirst with another Slim – Virginia that is – and the jolt lubricated her thought processes and animated her in a way that left little room for doubt. She was going in. Head first.

As far as Yvonne could see, girls like her had a “right” to some of the spoils baring their produce produced. The cost of everyone you know being familiar with what was beneath was certainly high enough. And “rights” were always privy to a certain popular sympathy. “Rights” just sound right. In fact, rights-making was an industry. There were so many movements for the right to do this, that and the other thing that really, what you had was a veritable traffic jam of rights – a downright bottleneck where the rights one person was pushing could not help but run smack into the rights of another, in turn spawning the need for further rights. It was a Pandora’s Box really and probably nothing like the great guys who’d gotten the whole rights thing rolling had envisioned.

Not that anyone was thinking such things at this point in the story, but they are no less important to the proceedings.

Randall, for example, was running into this problem as he sought to weave a Smokers’ Rights Manifesto seamlessly, and without being obvious, into the larger bum philosophy. He’d found that the nonsmokers had beaten him to the punch by many years and that in asserting the rights of smokers he was infringing upon the well-entrenched protections of those who did not. He discovered further that raising hackles against nonsmokers was not quite the same as it was against the landed gentry or whatever you had when the rights game was in its infancy.

But enough. What people want to know about is the pretty, naked girl Yvonne.

Her nascent movement would necessarily run up against the rights (treasured ones) of publishers, who got into the rights business very early on. And they enjoyed the support of people whose opinions and labors were of much account largely because they drew a living from publishing itself. It was a particularly well-armed machine that could turn to the use of, well, the reproduction of images and words to make its case. So it was going to be something of a cockfight, but if any group was up to the challenge, naked pretty women were. And if they could not win it, they might shoot for the stars – represented in a core claim to the increased control of their own images – and at least land on the moon to scoop up scads of money, publicity and even credit that would accrue to them for a fight well-fought.

Oh hope. That lowest common denominator was kicking-in again. And a powerful kick it was because once Yvonne decided she had nothing to lose – and she didn’t – there was no doubt as to the course she would take.

Chapter Thirty

The city attorney had announced that the ongoing investigation of the old lady’s brutal murder would be deepened and widened. He’d begun slipping in the “brutal murder” bit around the time a lesbian city councilwoman began cutting into his poll margin with appealing and impolitic positions.

He dedicated a press conference to explaining how hospital records would be combed for the names and addresses of folks interned at county medical on that night of infamy and unconscionable horror.

Jordan, who read about this event, got to thinking about how the fact he wasn’t Latino wouldn’t help him a lick when interrogators saw the similarity between himself and the guy in the police composite. “What am I talking about, ‘the guy’? It’s me!” he said to himself, grimly, and decided that from here on he would decline the offers of high quality dope floating from Corey to Randall to himself. “I don’t care if it’s free, it’s driving me nuts,” and upon realizing that he was talking to himself, Jordan decided not to forego his medicine after all. It was too perilous a time for going it alone. There would be better times, times of repose, when the adjustment might be achieved.

So he took a drive over to Joya’s Joyas. Jordan did not think he would be entirely unwelcome. Unannounced though he was, no blood or urgent surgical procedures were involved with this visit. And besides, since Joya had revealed her sexuality to him, there would be less, check that, no sexual tension because she knew that he knew and what the heck was the point of getting all worked up over nothing?

(fat chance)

Jordan had underestimated himself. That people tended to like and give him the benefit of the doubt never became an article of his personal faith. He would not let it become so. But Joya did like him and coupled with the fact that there was no blood or urgent surgical procedure in the offing, she was pleased as pink pussy to see him. It was also through-and-through true that since she’d blown all the hot air out of his male ego the atmosphere around them was cooler, more relaxed.

Taking into account what had been endured together they were practically old friends. So when Jordan asked, “What are you doing?” it was not some lame entree to conversation, but a genuine query for which she could provide answers spiced with recent and interesting goings-on.

What she was doing, in fact, was planning a benefit at Joya’s Joyas on behalf of Yvonne and “that suit,” as she referred to the pending civil complaint Randall had already concocted.

He had provided Jordan with a sketching of what was planned, but J. did not realize how far along things were. An attorney laboring on behalf of the lesbian city councilmember running for mayor was willing to take the case on a pro bono basis.

“What’s that?” Yvonne had rasped between agile puffs of Virginia Slim (elsewhere).

“Free,” Randall bum-broke it down for her (elsewhere).

Anyway, Joya broke out her bidis and began to explain how the media gathering would be held jointly with the benefit; that they were to be one and the same thing. Not aware of the press pack’s freeloading habits and low pay, Joya imagined she might fleece some as they worked.

“It’s a class-action suit,” she explained to Jordan, “it could become huge.”

“Class-action?” Jordan punctuated her body driven discourse.

“Class-action,” she echoed him. “All the girls in all the magazines for the past five years are named, and that makes for an enormous group.” Enormous wasn’t the word that came immediately to Jordan’s mind, but he kept it to himself in exchange for the more intimate, “Plus some of them might lick your pussy!”

“That too!” she laughed and the whole damn thing with the magazine and Yvonne and Joya having a benefit and the class of magazine girls was just too exciting for J. to bear, but bore it he did. Joya was gushing patchouli or China Rain from her mouth and he wondered how in the hell she did that and did this girl have to be lesbian?

It was bad enough the way she soared physically, lithe of body and bony faced. Did she have to be an in-the-flesh-girl-on-girl-fantasy, too?

He wondered what in the heck had happened to his life. He did not have the benefit of this mapped-out narrative to isolate for him the way in which a harmless decision to go out and have a smoke back during the first pages had changed its direction.

So don’t say smoking is bad for you; at least not always.

Jordan’s mental euphoria was short-lived because Joya, not just out of courtesy either, asked him, “What’s goin’ on?” He came dropping to earth like a skydiver whose first and emergency chutes have failed to open. Literature has covered, often, exactly how heavy the burden of murder can press upon a lucid and less-than-criminal soul/mind. So that territory will not be broached here. Suffice it to say Jordan thought about the old lady, and related investigation, much more than the few aforementioned instances recorded thus far. Really, it was driving him nuts and there was that four-leaf clover essence to Joya, which just seemed to suggest it would be okay if he told her. She was a solid, paid-up lesbian member of society who acquitted her debts and kept close confidences. But she was also something of an outlaw and sexual iconoclast who, no matter how well-adjusted, surely had suffered during the course of her own development. She was bad and she was good, light and dark, sun and moon, bad girl–good girl, cigarettes and beautiful breath. In his next life he wanted to come back as her and so he said, “You know that thing about the old lady who was killed in the hospital that the city attorney is getting all hot and bothered about?”


“Well, I, uh, did it.”

She knew what he meant, but the gravity of the admission begged confirmation.

“Ya did what hon?”

“Do you have to make me say it?”

“No, maybe ya shouldn’t.” She blew out a gust of scented smoke and leaned back against the showcase window. “Jeeezus, hon. What in the – I mean for the luv of – wow!”

Again, it was a measure of just how well and quickly The Sidewalk Smokers Club had clicked that Jordan was able to decipher her verbal Morse code. It has been written (Emerson) that where the understanding is perfect between two parties, no discussion is required on either side. But that would wreak hell on the lives of novelists concerned with the inner life and so, for the purposes of good reading, the clubbers’ synchronicity will never completely their exclude discourse.

She looked up into his eyes and said, “You sure know how to keep a gal entertained dontcha!”

In this instance J. simply shrugged and Joya agreed, as she had before she knew it was he who had done it, that there was much in the act that made sense. “And that city attorney really is trying to make a big deal about the old bag ain’t he?”

Jordan responded that he would not put it exactly that way, but, “Yes, he is. And I’m in big trouble.”

“Not yet,” she reminded and then stood up, stared at him, swivelled her hips three times and said, “Is ‘at why ya cut your hair that way and put the little blond streaks in?”

Jordan nodded that it was.

“It’s really cute,” she verily erupted. Jordan was amazed to what length a woman’s interest in cosmetics will lead her afield.

“I mean, ya look the same, but it’s really cute.”

Friday, July 22, 2005

An Intellectual Excercise

Rigoberta Menchu. Posted by Picasa
Because the scribe lives in a 19th century universe where the things that writers and intellectuals say, think, and script are of incredible importance to society, he’ll feature a manifesto signed by some of today’s most interesting thinkers and reported, not in the American media, but in Mexico’s “La Jornada.”

The cosignatories are South African Nobel Prize for Literature winner Nadine Gordimer, the North American anarchist philosopher Noam Chomsky, French journalist Salim Lamrami, and two Nobel Peace Prize winners, the Guatemalan writer Rigoberta Menchu, and Argentine architect Adolfo Pérez Esquivel.

Their topic of choice is the United States’ base and prison at Guantánamo, Cuba.

Gitmo, as military-types like to call it, exists as a result of the Spanish-American war which, these people point out, was started by the U.S. just when Cuba was about to break free from Spain. President McKinley declared war on Spain, quickly dispatched of the declining imperial power, and imposed upon the newly “independent” nation an ultimatum that it sell or rent to the United States a place to locate a naval base should it so desire.

And desire it did, offering $2,000 in gold annually for use of the land it chose. the scribe read in the American media recently that the U.S. rents the base from Cuba, which seemed kind of odd given that the superpower has blockaded that country into poverty for 45 years now.

According to the manifesto, Cuba stopped accepting the $2,000 bucks upon the Communist Party’s takeover of the tropical isle, which makes a little more sense.

And here’s the scribe doing a little translating from the document, which originally ran in “Granma” the state-run newspaper there in Cuba Linda:

“The use to which this robbery of sovereign territory has been put, at the end of the day, is a cause of shame and disgrace for the U.S., as it is for the rest of the world, which, intimidated by American power, has chosen to overlook the flagrant implantation of a prison by one country in another’s.

“Human rights are often violated in our world, the result of conflicts of tremendous religious or factional complexity and to which it is very hard to find just solutions. Guantánamo is a clear exception. The solution is simple...that the United States abandon Guantánamo unconditionally. Now!”

We here at highwayscribery wholeheartedly agree. Let’s put an end to the torture, imprisonment with impunity, and stand for the rule of law like a real democracy.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Master of Low Expectations

I don’t know where they find them, these goobers with the same golly-jee Jesus look in the eye and the same haircut that works overtime to look like a toupee.

the scribe hasn’t read any of Justice Roberts’ writings so he can’t comment on all the encomiums regarding his “modernity” and “judiciousness” and other flatteries being slathered across the mainstream media.

He’s probably none of them, and this nomination just another example of how the low expectations Bush (purposely) sets permit him to forward the redneck renaissance raging across America.

Dan Balz at the “Washington Post” praised Bush’s “bold stroke” in coming up with a choice that’s mostly acceptable to everybody. Things have gotten so bad that when the (p)resident actually tries to govern the entire country (rather than his half), everybody goes wango.

And the scribe guesses we should praise the empty heavens W. didn’t pick another wide-eyed, anti-government Christian crusader packaged, stamped, and approved by the Heritage Foundation. Which is probably where Balz was coming from, even though he should be ashamed of writing such ass-trickle.

The Democrats need to take a pass on this one. You can’t filibuster everything and a conservative pick from a conservative (p)resident was to be expected. They won the election. And if they stole it, we let it happen.

And that’s enough commentary from the scribe who is feeling nostalgia for a time when the left in this country wasn’t three million votes short of turning things in a direction of justice, fairness, and peace. So here’s a piece of running dog poetry beneath a picture that conjures up the sense of possibility long since departed from this beleaguered nation of ours.

A solidarity rally of striking Memphis sanitation workers. A labor action that ended with Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination.  Posted by Picasa
Celestial Justice

on the day when

the final grievance

was grieved and the arms-talkers

all went home

the artists union

called a general strike

set up a picket line

around the sky which

the writers guild could

not agree to cross

so the world took itself

some cream of wheat,

melted butter

and went to sleep

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

A Kind and Enlightened Country

According to Reporters Without Borders, a poet and journalist named Abdallah Al-Ryami has been jailed in Oman. The crime was doing his job, criticizing human rights violations in the Persian Gulf state.

Al-Ryami’s troubles apparently started when he had the temerity to suggest the government wasn’t really interested in undertaking democratic reforms. After that, Reporters Without Frontiers says, he got shut out of the country’s media markets and was harassed by authorities.

The organization called upon the sultanate’s government, “to free Al-Ryami at once and to respect the 1995 Alma-Ata declaration in which it undertook to adopt laws guaranteeing the rights to freedom of expression and opinion, access to information and press freedom.”

It’s worth noting that, by its actions, the government confirmed Al-Ryami’s charge.

Of course this is perfectly medieval and mostly how governments throughout the region mete out punishment to agents of modernity and “westernism.”

the scribe can imagine what it’s like to be picked up and thrown into jail for saying bad things about the big boys and it terrifies him.

Of course, here you could never have the impact one voice of light does in a dark little country, without the connivance of the mass media. And the prerequisite to mass media connivance is that you drop saying anything that might have an impact.

And we have are own sources and sagas of atavism right here in the good old U.S. of A. where stormtroopers and Kafkian nightmares in sprawling prison bureaucracies are not unheard of.

Take the case of Steve McWilliams, the San Diego medical marijuana advocate, who killed himself last week.

Jeff McDonald does an even-handed job of discussing McWilliams’ life in the July 17 “San Diego Union-Tribune.” Read the whole thing here:

McDonald wrote that the activist “almost singlehandedly” forced San Diego to become the first major American city that adopted guidelines for the use of medical marijuana. A gadfly given to public protest, McWilliams was arrested after smoking pot and giving out “samples” at a 2002 rally in Santa Cruz.

As a result, he was sentenced to six months in jail. The sentence was on appeal and McWilliams was denied the use of marijuana in the meantime, despite the California law sanctioning his right to do so.

“When he died,” McDonald writes, “McWilliams was in serious pain from an earlier motorcycle accident, a condition he said was made worse by his abstinence from marijuana. In a note left at his side, he said the discomfort was too much for him to bear and he hoped his suicide would help change the government’s position on the medicinal value of marijuana.”

After the U.S. Supreme Court doused the hopes of medical activists in June by giving federal prohibitions the nod over local freedoms (“All Hopped Up," June 7, 2005), McWilliams “was afraid of going to jail but also feared waiting in limbo for months and years,” the article said.

This is not the comportment of a government that is friend to its own people.

Nor is it an isolated case. Also in the “Union-Tribune,” Onell Soto writes about the heavy-handed way a grand jury is being used to intimidate local, liberal activists:

Soto’s July 18 account of two San Diego animal rights activists’ arrest is a similar tale of the conservative culture war in praxis.

The feds are looking into a very successful incident of eco-sabotage where $50 million worth of sprawl were torched back in Aug. 1, 2003. Earth Liberation Front took the blame and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (how’d these things get lumped together?) got federal prosecutors to launch a grand jury investigation.

Anyway the feds suspect some guy gave a speech about the particulars of fire-setting and they’ve arrested two people who were there, but who are refusing to talk about what he said because, guess what, they’re not obligated to.

So they got thrown in jail until they are ready to talk turkey.

Their names are Danae Kelley and David Agranoff.

According to the article, Agranoff says, “The Constitution guarantees him the right to meet with and talk to whomever he pleases, and he’s not going to answer investigators’ questions about that.”

Good for him, but better for us that someone is willing to put their ass on the line to protect vital freedoms.

Not surprisingly, Agranoff thinks the grand jury is being used to harass and intimidate activists. And not surprisingly, the editorial board at highwayscribery agrees with him.

The guy who gave the speech, which does not appear at all related to the big fire, is apparently in violation of a post-Sept. 11 legislation making it illegal to distribute bomb-making information intended for us in a violent crime.

And here’s where people get nervous about The Patriot Act and other “war on terror” measures. These were passed in response to a need for preventing Muslim fanatics from blowing themselves up in places where lots of other people are milling about, living their lives.

But here, and elsewhere, we see them being applied to a situation that is largely domestic and has nothing to do with the death of innocents; just corporate losses. And back in the 1950s you had an anti-communist craze that was used to stifle the surging labor movement and, surprise, limit corporate payouts to workers.

According to the article, “The FBI recently named Earth Liberation Front and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty as the top domestic terrorism threats.”

That’s utterly ridiculous and only serves to trivialize what the real terrorists are doing. Conveniently expanding the meaning of “terrorism” to every kind of disobedience will only serve to dilute the impact of the word/idea and make the government seem like the boy who cried wolf.

Burning an empty housing development down at night has nothing to do with bringing down buildings filled with thousands of people inside. Sabotage is not terrorism and should not be treated as such. Any law that considers them the same should be rescinded and the people that promulgated them brought to account.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters 25, 26, and 27

Chapter Twenty-five

Even in cities where social convention, discretion, and restraint are common and deep-rooted (this not being one of them), Yvonne’s exposé was something that couldn’t help but set the satellites humming.

At this point, The Sidewalk Smokers Club is just emerging from the incubation stage and they’ve gathered formally but once in the more structured gathering around Randall’s table at the Argentine restaurant – where you could smoke inside on occasion – so that to the casual observer, nothing more than a playful meeting of friends was transpiring. And this is what casual observers have always concluded upon witnessing a gathering of raffish undesirables: that something less than a revolution was occurring over there with that crowd, when precisely the opposite was true.

Or as one of Randall’s favorite bum philosophy tenets held: Great movements don’t look like great movements in the beginning.

Corey and Randall had debated this for a while. Corey had liked, “Great movements are always born of unsuspecting bum philosophers,” but Randall resisted it as being self-referential. Furthermore, he was dead-set against the use of the word “always” in the text of his growing manifesto, even if it enjoyed frequent usage in the parlance of bums and hoboes.

Anyhow, like most things in the long run, it didn’t matter a lick. The point is that Yvonne’s having dropped her pants publicly provided the impetus for a series of phone calls betwixt these people, the affect of which was to weave them together through the inescapable electronic spiderwebery that today connects from Antarctica to Hudson Bay, from Guayaquil to distant St. Petersburg, from Bakersfield to nearby Tehachapi.

Yvonne’s action represented a crucible for Randall’s table, which became the forum in which it was taken up. She could not have timed things better if, in fact, she had any hand at all in their timing, for Joya was there like a shot. And that was good. She found Randall sitting alone, nursing a scotch and counting his cigarettes.

The sight of her was, as usual, one of immense pleasure. Her obvious physical attraction aside, Randall thought Joya lent a prestige that flowed from the strange mix of aloofness and openness she projected. Once you accessed her, she was great, but, as Yvonne knew, you had to access her. And, well, to the extent Randall held court at the Argentine restaurant, Joya’s presence there meant he had accessed something of her, if not all.

“She’s gorgeous,” was the first thing Joya hit Randall with and so revealed her having viewed the goods. He noted a lack of the biscuits-and-gravy ease he had liked so much in her voice. She was all business.

“In bits and pieces, and as a totality.”

Joya frowned and scolded him for this frat boy patter of which she would hear more. “Can you believe?” she followed up.

“No,” he said as earnestly as possible, “but at certain moments life can be kind.”
Corey and Clarisse were next to arrive. Like Joya and Randall, they were on time for the late-evening confab. It was a Friday night and the place was more crowded than usual, less conducive to the shifty-eyed, whispery conversation Yvonne’s layout invited. All the tables were filled and the volume of conversation not so readily absorbed by the restaurant’s velvety interior. Some business folks unwound at the bar. The violinist and keyboard man were on duty, but reduced to background ambiance, biding their time until the later hours when the smokers, lushes, lonely lifers, and violin fans clustered to absorb the things they meant to convey (or unreasonable facsimiles of them). Corey and Clarisse saw Joya and Randall sort of hunched forward across the table verbally sparring with each other. Clarisse did not move toward them with the same relish her husband did. The day had been a tough one spiritually and the naked vision of a woman whom she knew personally, to which the rest of humanity had been treated, had left her out of sorts (as it had much the rest of humanity). Adding to her reticence was the fact Corey hadn’t seen the pictures yet and his highly calculated facade of coolness could not hide from his wife the general enthusiasm with which he’d infused their evening preparations. Clarisse kissed Randall and Joya. Joya kissed Corey and Clarisse etc. They sat down purposefully, although the first moments were rather uncomfortable with silence. In the end, even with all our desensitized and secular detachment, what was being discussed here, in bum philosophy phraseology, was a dirty magazine. To see the pictures somebody had to buy the thing and what a holier-than-thou guy like Randall was doing with the magazine never came up, although it was on everyone’s mind.

In order that Yvonne’s wares could be viewed, an expression of interest was required. And so all involved would have to surrender a little bit of their sexually guarded selves and (just as Randall had) admit to a touch of perversity or curiosity where naked, posing bodies were concerned. And such an admission always serves to deepen friendship and fellow-feeling between, well, fellows.

“Okay, who’s got the rag?” Corey sought to break things down to a lowest common denominator. A cool draft passed over the table. The quartet looked up and out toward the door to see Jordan come bounding in, cigarette tucked behind his ear for just the right touch of rake. Some girls in the restaurant turned to consider him briefly. What they concluded was of no interest to J. They’d looked and that was good enough. Nobody rose to greet him with any formality. Randall had already taken the magazine, rolled up in hand, out of the leather bag he’d brought for the expressed purpose of safeguarding it from born-agains, militia types, and other fauna noxious to the Bill of Writes. Jordan, who had not seen the pictures yet, nodded to Joya who had contacted him, being more familiar with the coffeehouse barista than she was with the rest of the gang.

Randall looked around the restaurant and back over his shoulder. Something kept him from opening the thing up straight away and it was probably the fact four people would immediately lurch forth to sample the interior, thereby rendering modest attempts at concealment pointless. But there was no way out of it, and he didn’t mind another look himself, and so he opened the layout’s first page wherein Yvonne still had her clothes on. Things unfolded pretty much to form with Jordan and Corey leaning over like dogs at their just-filled bowl of kibble. Joya and Clarisse were permitted the lady’s grace of remaining seated because they had already seen the pictures.

“Oh,” said Corey, which seemed to be all the situation permitted, although to Clarisse’s ears it wasn’t quite as understated as it seemed. Internally, each was wrestling with the desire to make love with Yvonne at the first opportunity that presented itself. That is, should it present itself, the odds of which had dimmed since the upshot was that she had made herself a sex symbol and sex symbols, as we all know, are very difficult to have sex with.

The waiter appeared and Randall shut the magazine not quite in time. The entire table was drenched in an air of up-to-no-good, in the act of concealment, in a feverishness for which a simple eatery could provide no outlet. And in that way, The Club struggled through dinner without insight, reduced to blabbering about the fact that Yvonne did look good, and questioning again and again the “why?” of her having done this revealing thing.

The crowed thinned, the smokers stayed, and soon enough they were lighting up whilst giving into the violinist’s sway. Randall, freed somewhat by the scotch, found the chutzpah necessary to present the magazine – the 300-pound gorilla in the room – anew. Correctness, maintaining yet a shadow of presence, required that the publication sit there unattended for a few moments while everyone pretended immersion in deep existential ruminations and sad, rheumy-eyed reminiscence. But as luck would have it, Joya and Clarisse both reached for the magazine at the same time, annihilating all the courtly feigning, returning the mood to a more appropriate, edgy discomfort. Clarisse, being French or Belgian (and heterosexual) conceded possession to Joya who masked her visual hunger by opening the layout to its first frame where the girl still has her clothes on. But the door opened and blew that cobweb of pretense away by flipping the pages quickly to the centerfold, again. They all looked up to see whom it was that had shot a cool blast of air on the whole suffocating and steamy scene. And, as the requirements of drama would have things, they saw Sister Steam herself, Yvonne, standing before them, a thin Virginia Slim dangling from her mouth, one hand to hip like the cowgirl one of them was fantasizing her to be at that moment.

There was yet another pause, but to call it uncomfortable would be overstating the thing. It’s just that there were so many uncommon thoughts and feelings flowing about that it took more than the normal split seconds to process, collate and work out responses to them.

The magazine was out on the table and, upon seeing it, Yvonne decided to break the ice, which is a thoroughly inappropriate metaphor given the rising room temperature.

“I guess you’ve all seen that!” she said in a not very humiliated way. They stumbled over a murky unburdening of compliments about “the beauty,” the “hot” nature of what she’d done (or undone, as it were). “Well, like, I was just…you know, like you know and you are all like saying that whatever, so I guess that’s all I can say.” And then she stopped and smiled.

That they all understood perfectly what she meant to convey was testimony both to the linkage occurring between The Sidewalk Smokers – for there was really no need of explanation – and to the deterioration of linguistic usage in our culture which began, perhaps, many years ago with the advent of television.

Anyhow it didn’t matter because protestations that the photos had been taken when she was young and needed money or some such drub were unnecessary where her fast-coalescing allies were concerned.

And that’s because they liked what she had done.

It’s tough to break away anymore in this world. There are no wild countries to settle in for a time and cleanse one’s soul of modernity and automatic dishwashers.

Everyone everywhere eats from the same meal ticket now, works for the same things the planet over; an apartment in a thriving capital and some other place where that capital can be forgotten during lengthy vacations primed with domestic help, for example.

But that has all been said. The point is that such a glaring affront to the rules of a game in which life had placed her, and so brazen a move for survival as publicly exploiting her sexuality (and the gusto with which she’d done so), meant that Yvonne had gone someplace in life foreign to most of our members. She enjoyed the status of a politician who has gone to war, fought, survived and come home to rebuild their lives: however perverse the drawn parallel may appear.

She’d risen, or perhaps sunk, out of the anonymity to which the giant numbers and prodigious talents of her generation had originally relegated her. At least that’s what the raw minds of The Sidewalk Smokers Club were unanimously churning out along with the conclusion that they were more than willing to be participants in any organization counting Yvonne as a member.

Randall confirmed, under his breath, that “the only spectacle anymore is being in the spectacle,” which was not exactly what had been said the first time, but he was drunk, and it served his immediate purposes.

The men were forced to take the gentlemanly road and avoid staring at Yvonne with a clearer perception of what was going on under the little bare-shouldered Chiffon camisole and those soft brown leather pants. The ladies, on the other hand, took every advantage an outdated code of behavior permitted them and stared fiercely at the lower registers of Yvonne’s cachet. Joya shuffled her seat over to the left and pointed the star into an adjacent chair. “C’mon hon, sit down and have a drink.”

We know how Yvonne had been knocked out of joint by her first meeting with Joya and since then had been doing her best to hook up. And now that the moment was nigh her strengthened hand in things sexual provided perspective. So she accepted Joya’s overture with the awareness of a yellow-furred spring chick doddering side-to-side through a fox den.

The group kept working toward earnest discussion, but there just wasn’t much to be said that hadn’t been in the first few exchanges. She’d provided an excuse; they’d rejected the roles of judges and jury because their respective senses of adventure had been pricked. It had already been commented that she looked great, that she was gutsy or insane depending, and the thing was done.

So Clarisse suggested a cigarette, and despite the fact they sat in liberated territory, the group were driven somehow to the sidewalk. The conversational continuum broken, the change of venue from indoor to outdoor, and the natural curiosity of those who like to simultaneously smoke and chat, invited a new topic much to Jordan’s dismay. Something which had happened that morning.

Chapter Twenty-six

That whatever it was they discussed was to Jordan’s dismay is an obvious tip-off to the fact the old lady’s passing at county health hotel had refused to take its rightful place in the parade of insignificant news stories.

The city attorney who’d posted the calculated gamble of converting her into a cause célèbre was, in fact winning both the wager and the electoral race as tracked by the polls. They were showing dramatic improvement in his standing and a marked separation from the larger pack of similarly ambitious folk bent upon acquiring the massive headaches of running a large and unruly city. What the bump in numbers meant was anybody’s guess and anybody could guess it was related to the easy victory associated with taking on the cause of a murdered old woman at the hands of a careless, big, heartless hospital – “public” hospital. He – the city attorney – had yet to present any governing proposal different from the vagaries of good schools for our kids (whether you had them or not) and a further unraveling of the city’s communal fabric by way of tax cuts to his most potent and well-heeled campaign contributors. Turning to the formidable machinery of information and opinion-making at his disposal, the city attorney had no trouble quashing anything that might have invited opponents to say that what had happened to the old lady wasn’t wrong – a de facto approval of murder – and let it be known he’d take it from there. This is known as good politics and is the process by which those who rule us rise. Opponents wisely passed on the challenge and returned to more familiar territory marked out by high-priced consultants, trying to outdo each other’s zeal for better schools for our kids and tax reform. And so the polls had to be a result of “the old lady thing,” as his harried aides called the canard in closed-door conferences.
The police chief was a well-meaning man trying to direct the well-equipped army in his charge against well-run Mafias of global crime settled in the wealthy burg under his purview. There were pernicious gangs comprised of heartless, soulless teenagers with no hope for anything but an early death and a possible championship by the excessively paid local basketball team. There were multiple, stupid deaths every day; each of which had to be catalogued, investigated and prosecuted. There were children who’d gone out for an ice cream that never returned home and their desperate, agonizing parents accusing the chief of not caring for the little people – the nobodies.

So he really could have cared less about the old lady who had died quite in her time, give or take a half-year of overpriced medical ministration. And although nobody else in the busy machine of urban living cared, the city attorney was the city attorney. He was leading in polls measuring the race to become the police chief’s new boss and could not be ignored. The storyline itself was one that reporters could follow and develop while avoiding the dangerous job of exposing corporate crooks and angering their own publishers’ stockholders.

Oh, hope. Everyone was playing it safe, taking the path of least resistance embodied in the exploitation of an old lady’s death.

Which brings us to what The Smokers were talking about that had Jordan so upset: The latest development in the investigation of his murder had been a police sketch of the suspect drawn with the help of a certain hospital orderly. And Jordan had a pretty good idea of which hospital orderly.

The drawing suggested a Latino man, which is not at all surprising given the good/bad biases afoot in the land. Jordan was of a definite European/Anglo/American stock, but skin pigment aside, the sketch nonetheless echoed his true appearance.

The Sidewalk Smokers had seen the artist’s rendering, but none made any link between the murderer and the guy smoking a hand-rolled Drum tobacco cigarette in the street with them. And that was a good thing, for him.

Randall ruminated at the margins of the jabbering bunch, alone, about how Yvonne had merely shed her clothes in order to become a minor somebody whom somebody who wanted to be a big somebody could launch from.

It wasn’t all bad for women. If he shed his clothes for a magazine, not too many would really be interested in buying that magazine. Actually, he admitted, nobody would. And here he was, racing along like a nervous swallow hepped-up on increasing quantities of caffeine and other things mixed into tobacco product, out of sorts with the nature around him, but far from any kind of suffering that might draw attention to his efforts as a thinker. And after all, was that fair?

Jordan, too, was thinking about how nobody would want to see him naked in a magazine, and about how he’d done something very bold and courageous. He’d acted upon an ideal, a simple humanist principle picked up God knows where, that there should be a little leeway regarding how much suffering one had to endure in dying and that, furthermore, states and/or financial institutions should be denied any power in setting the threshold. And that act was now keeping him up nights. That act was seasoning his innards and toughening his skin, yet he could not for the life of him talk about it.

“Oh God, let the old lady go,” Joya trilled at Yvonne, their faces very close and embellished with big smiles. “Especially if she’s already let go herself. Why should she suffer? And her family, too!” the sex star said of the victim. Jordan was listening and heartened that they were in rough accord with his own platform for action – what with the press giving his side no play at all.

But the heartening went only so far. After years of laboring in obscurity and trying to set his ship’s course straight, Jordan was already wincing at the creeping Klieg lights. For the moment he remained an unknown quantity, but his fear was palpable.

The idea that he might suddenly become a media star in his own hanging was blowing him adrift of his moorings.

What to do? Enjoy life for the moment. The meal was covered. There was wine and smokes, and the day had been an eventful one. Speaking of which, Jordan decided to look over his shoulder and give Yvonne the visual shakedown she had been demanding since he first got wind of her naked sensation.

Randall was doing cell work, organizing, as Corey stood looking over his shoulder like a supportive personal trainer, mostly at Yvonne, but some at Joya, too (and a little less at his own wife). “Let us pretend for a moment that the tyranny we smokers suffer is a just one, that our behavior merits it. The question begging to be asked then is who chooses to take issue with it? Who knows what forces are behind this assault, what certain powers in certain places want us all to be or do?”

“Sure, but there’s nothin’ new to say on it, hon. It’s all been said, even what you’re saying.”

“And that is bum philosophy man: The things that are known by all, but must be said simply because the mundane truths beg repeating to each new generation. And I’m the guy who is codifying it. A new Aristotle.”

Corey chimed in: “While there may be nothing new to say on this, we can find new ways of saying it. What we need to do as smokers is avoid pouting. Focus instead on that nervous ease to smoking and the way it fits the energy required by our times.

We don’t want to push too hard in our demand to spew cancer-causing smoke into others’ faces. There’s a larger trend of being attacked for doing just about anything that most other people don’t do. It’s a tyranny of the majority; a concept requiring revival.”

Randall declaimed the tenet: “We’re not giving it to people newer. We’re giving it to them cooler.”

Clarisse was stunned by this little discourse. She did not know Corey to be capable of such clarity and (!) attitude. Up to now she’d likened all this business with Randall to a buddy poker game and now the two of them had one another sold on the idea.

And two nuts can do a lot more damage than one.

Worse, her husband was actually growing. And personal growth is one of the more dangerous things matrimony must confront. Especially when one-half of that matrimony is stagnating.

And Clarisse was stagnating.

Yvonne, for her part, simply liked what she was hearing and seemed pleased to be relieved of the sensation of standing naked in front of some people she still hardly knew, but was fond of.

Naturally, her relief was without foundation, for Corey was seeing her naked. He took the tiniest step back, yielding an invisible podium to Randall, and looked away as if deep in thought, lest his wife be monitoring his attentions to Yvonne, which she was. These are slick city people, The Sidewalk Smokers. They are in the land of smart vying to be the smartest. Nothing is taken at face value and involuntary gestures count for more than anything a player is consciously staging. And speaking of staging, Randall closed, “It’s about battling the culture of prohibition. It says a person has a right to drink a beer in the park at the company softball game. It says that if we’d wanted Aunt Millie to run things, we would have elected her.”

Chapter Twenty-seven

To recap. We have one person trying to smoke himself into illness and notoriety whilst developing an updated and applicable charter for personal choice and communal rights. It was (the philosophy), in spite of his intentions, turning out to be more a policy or series of apolitical pronouncements, propositions, defensive parries. But that was the practical aspect of the thing. Practical, Corey and Randall felt, meant profit and so they seized it with an old-time religious zeal (Randall).
Anyhow, it didn’t matter for, as Randall will eventually note, an author’s intentions mean next to nothing.

We have another person trying to avoid notoriety because it could pave the way to a lifetime jail sentence – or worse – but which seems to be bearing down on him with the speed of a steam-spewing locomotive. And let it be recorded that in the gap of time which unfolded between chapters Twenty-six and Twenty-seven, he went out and got his hair changed to an older, if equally unPresidential, looking thing. He even had gold highlights brushed in. It was very not Latino (guess who).

We have a third person with a sudden and smashing notoriety who could therefore take it or leave it. She had followed a familiar recipe of isolating what her talent was, willfully overcoming social convention and the opinions of others, and finally breaking out of the iron circle her life had become – that all our lives become (Yvonne).

There’s yet another guy in search of someone noteworthy from whose efforts he can skim profit and provide his wife with the life of notoriety and quiet family activity she paradoxically craves.

We have a Tabasco Western Girl who doesn’t need notoriety because she is notoriety incarnate. She behaves like a star because she is one and audience size passes not even for a trifle with her. Nothing she possesses is certified or defined by the self-appointed opinion-makers. Erudite in style, but vulgar in thought, she is prone to religion and the secret, unexpressed belief that the Gods are out there and that if you favor them, they favor you right back. Her seemingly effortless success stands as a terrible defeat for the little atheist in all of us (guess again).

All of the above is just in case anything occurring to this point had been lost on you.

Yes, you!

Friday, July 15, 2005

Vladimir Guerrero

Okay, maybe there is a god. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 14, 2005

And a Few Afghanis, too...

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today [July 13] released the following statement regarding the death of Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson of Cupertino:

“Maria and I are humbled by the patriotism and heroism of Petty Officer Axelson, who gave his life to preserve our freedoms. Californians are deeply grateful for his courage and his dedication to service, and our condolences go out to his family and friends.”

Axelson, 29, died while conducting counter-terrorism operations in Kunar province, Afghanistan. Coalition forces located the service member while conducting a combat search and rescue operation July 10. Axelson was assigned to Navy SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team ONE, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

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

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

That's What Friends Are For

This is from the scribe's (sort of) cousin, through marriage Deepa Fernandes. Deepa works at WBAI in New York, which, if memory serves (and it rarely does) is part of the Pacifica network. A fascinating young woman, she's been from Johannesburg to Tehran to Caracas, and more. Deepa's on a morning show called "Wakeup Call" just before the legendary Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now." '

the scribe will let her missive describe what's on tap (a day late) and there's a helpful link or two for those who can't find the local affiliate, but can cyber-stream it through the old PC.

Meantime, the scribe will hit the highway, sans laptop, today and so won't be blogging anew until tomorrow:

"Wakeup Call" EXCLUSIVE interview with Moazzam Begg.

WBAI's morning show "Wakeup Call" announces an exclusive 3-part series:

Recently released Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg exposes the heinous
treatment he received in prison; Begg describes the crimes committed by U.S.
soldiers, including abuse, torture, murder and desecration of the Koran; He
rebuffs all U.S. allegations against him; Begg has been heard only once before in the U.S., and never at this length; Please join us for the 3 part series of this
monumental story.

You've heard what the Pentagon and Bush Administration have to say about their
prison that has been likened to a gulag, now hear what a recently released
detainee has to say. A voice that has simply not been heard in the U.S.

Live: 99.5 FM: Tues/Weds/Thurs mornings at 8.10am EST
Stream: Tues/Weds/Thurs mornings at 8.10am EST
Archive: each day after the show.

On Thursday July 14, the full interview will be posted to audioport for any station/show to air.

On July 12, exactly one year to the day after issuing a letter from
Guantanamo, a document in which he renders an indictment against the
United States government for violating his human rights by abducting,
kidnapping,incarcerating and mistreating him, British citizen Moazzam Begg, talks exclusively to "Wakeup Call's" Deepa Fernandes along with guest co-host
Pratap Chatterjee of Corp Watch. This is one of the only interviews he has
given to the US press since his release from prison on January 25, and it is
certainly the most lengthy interview.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

They Die There, Too

the scribe drops in to make a few comments and continue on with a red hot summer.

One of highwayscribery’s guiding concerns is for those who die innocently in all the “history” generated by the “big ideas” of egomaniacs.

We are for the little girl in the courtyard with her kitten in any city that’s ever been bombed. We care for her, because no one else does; an essential democratic act.

It’s not defeatism to recognize that the problem of terrorism is intractable. It's not weak to accept we’ve run short of countries to lash out at, or short of the soldiers with which it might be done. It's practicality, and statesmanship, and even realpolitik.

Endless bombs in bags left under bus benches await us and nothing a (r)epublican or Democrat has in mind to stop it will. That’s because none would talk to these angry people, and none would concede to remove our troops from their land.

It’s much too easy letting others pay the price of one’s prideful politics.
And hey, here's a name you haven't heard much of late: John Bolton.

And so our hearts go out to that multi-racial and polyglot collection of faces – gallery of the unfortunate – that is the London bombings.

But it is necessary we pull our heads out of our self-indulgences and stop shivering about what that bombings mean to our way of life.

What happened in London happens every day, numerous times, in Iraq - the country George Bush turned into hell.

These murders are useful only as a framework for the American deaths contained therein. “One American killed” and then Ali Baba and the Forty Nobodies we are patriotic enough to feel no pain or concern for.

There is condescension in the fetish we place upon our own precious lives and the devil-may-care shrug employed when confronted with the thousands of sadnesses deemed necessary to make the Middle East safe for mini-malls.

There is condescension when Bush alludes to the “civilized” mission of the G-8 gathering: to help developing countries when those countries are neither present nor allowed to have a hand in the planning of their own destinies.

And it’s wrong.


It may be too early to tell, but the first head of the administration may finally be lopped off. And a grand prize it would be, too, should Karl Rove finally pay the price for a life of dirty tricks and charlatanism.

The scribe’s Washington (D.C. that is) contacts swear “the worm has turned” against W. and crew and it’s about time.

But these guys win a lot; especially in a court system they’re poised to sew up for a generation. So let’s wait and see.

Sen. Kerry, the guy who should be the president is still on Rove’s ass. He sent out an e-mail today with the petition he’s been circulating requesting the (r)epublican Rasputin’s resignation.

Sign it:

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters 22, 23, and 24

Chapter Twenty-two

Jordan had a parking ticket and a loan he wanted to pay quickly so that Joya didn’t think he was turned-off by the fact she was lesbian (which she was not at all worried about). He asked for extra hours at Java World and was surprised to learn how such graces were not so easily granted. His boss had some doubts about J.’s appearance, which was presently marred by a shiner under each eye from the Armenian fist his face had run into. Again, the victim is getting the blame. In Jordan’s case it was a subtle thing. Obviously he’d been the object of some very rough treatment and this somehow stained him with the darkness of his tormentors. He begged and cajoled without going into the financial difficulties, correctly reckoning that it could only further diminish his stature in the employer’s eyes.

The boss finally gave in so that Jordan, making just below what we call a “living wage,” was now working some 12 hours a day – minus time for cigarette breaks – foaming up cappuccinos, tossing Caesar salads, and running to the refrigerator for soy milk in cases where the regular stuff ran afoul of the dairy repellent whom, in turn, ran afoul of everyone else.

The long hours tested his patience, for retail is a very, as they say “people-oriented” business, and people – even when your heart bursts with warmth for humanity as does J.’s – can be a real pain in the ass.

“Choice,” Jordan learned again and again, is a highly valued consumer commodity and no amount of choice can satiate the desire for more choice. Filling the vast hole that exists in modern life is an endless variety of the same products.

At Java World, there were 43 different kinds of “drinks” (as such concoctions were dubbed in the little coffeehouse universe). In addition to the standard latte, cappuccino, and house-blend – all of which could be had with the aforementioned soy milk, no-fat, or low-fat, or fatty milk – were a variety of pure espresso servings in accelerating doses up to four shots, the effect of which was just this side a line of cocaine.

There was a “Raspberry Chocolate Truffle,” combining sugar from chocolate and sugar from raspberry syrup and sugar from the whipped crème over a base of black tar squeezed out from the imported Italian coffeemaker. There was, too, the “Supreme Orange Dream,” bane of the American Diabetes Association; a complicated labor requiring an orange invariably ordered up by three daughters of a local business luminary in the middle of the Sunday morning crush – and nobody else.

Did the boss need to cater in such a way to one small family? If they came 52 Sundays a year he did.

“Fifty-two weeks a year times three Supreme Orange Dreams, Jordan,” the boss barked. “Do the math.” Ah the math. Learn the math kiddies.

The rare person who came into the coffee shop and asked for a “coffee” always caused the staff to turn toward the counter in surprise. There was never a shortage of people asking for something not offered on the multi-colored chalkboard behind the baristas; people who exasperated Jordan to no end so that things did not always go smoothly on his shift. One workout queen asked for a no-fat, de-caff latte without foam and he presented her with an empty cup. The sly humor escaped her. Two other young ladies drove him crazy with nearly ten minutes of personal requests until he let the term “Barbies” slip from his lips at the cash register.

For these infractions of the-customer-is-always-right golden rule he was mildly upbraided by his employer who – despite a vested interest in the clientele’s temporary happiness – was not too far-removed from Jordan’s opinions after years of serving folks food and libations.

Jordan’s job was made much easier by the presence of Carlos. This transplant of Zacatecas state had the place wired. He was the first to arrive in the morning. In his possession would be a giant bag of fresh bagels picked up on the way in and a single small bag with a garlic bagel, for a particular customer who requested the same thing every day.

Which brings up another matter. Until he had been reduced to working at the coffee shop, Jordan had never fully understood the extent to which certain people are creatures of grinding, never-changing habit.

But back to Carlos. He was trusted with opening the cash register, while Jordan was relegated to setting up the plastic tables and chairs outdoors and whipping the heavy crème with sugar. Whereas Jordan often grew flustered and walked away when the rush of people needing a fix became overwhelming, Carlos was an island of calm. Alternately coaxing patience from the clientele and cranking out quality drinks at breakneck pace, he simultaneously directed other staffers in the toasting of bagels and slicing of tomatoes until the consumer-produced panic had finally subsided. Indispensable to the business he was paid a minimum wage, which did not permit him to feed a family and pay his bills, as reward. He did not, however, complain about such things.

Rather inversely, something in the Zacatecan sowed a seed of pity for the misplaced, almost middle-aged white guy with no wife and no kids, and made sure little harm or stress ever flowed Jordan’s way. He did it for Jordan and he did it for himself, mindful of the fact his boss was truly glad to have someone who wasn’t Mexican serving his overwhelmingly white clientele. There are enclaves; places made up of particular kinds of people, sometimes called communities, other times cultures, more times cliques. And every time a customer asked that he or one of the other Mexicans employed at Java World not prepare their food, Carlos knew he was in an enclave, a community, a clique not his own.

Anyhow, when Carlos saw the condition of Jordan’s face he knew the score exactly.

There are almost too many ways to damage one’s visage, but he recognized a good beating by fist when he saw one. If Jordan had been in a car accident and smashed his face into the windshield he might not have projected the pungent residue of sheer fear which washed over Carlos like bandwaves from a radio tower. “Jou got beet up, eh?”

“How could you tell?”

“Fuck up jou nose pretty good anh?”

"Do ya have to restate the obvious?”

Carlos loved the erudition Jordan offered up in his simple, machine-gun-fast rejoinders. It was an English he was not accustomed to hearing and the Zacatecan listened closely to each and every droll muttering. For unlike those mostly spoiled members of The Sidewalk Smokers Club, Carlos possessed the newly arrived immigrant’s gut understanding that America was, with a little self-improvement, essentially out there for whomever wanted it. That there were things for the taking. That thrift, hard work, and other of the old church-girl virtues were held in a higher estimation than any kind of altruistic, communal sense of belonging, or caring, or what have you. That you dreamed for yourself and so he wanted to learn.


“Armenian Power.”

Carlos laughed. Pitched in a daily struggle to survive, subject of an entirely anti-intellectual dominion, he was not held to the standards of universal harmony and political oversight the college-educated were. As such, his reaction was a pure and unfettered racial one. “Chinga los Armenios,” he said with a recoiled smirk for spitting. In fact, he had to step outside and relieve his mouth of the sour saliva summonsed from his glands by mere thoughts of Armenian gang members. Stepping back in, Carlos inquired as to the particulars of the assault, which clearly fascinated him, all the while nodding familiarly. Jordan got the sense his coworker was something of an expert in the varieties and techniques utilized by different criminal cells across the region: a kind of military scientist to the gang world.

Something in him felt comforted by this sharing with a colleague – such as he was.

His own crew did not want to be darkened by his misfortune. He made them think about their problems and Randall believed that when you think about your problems, they become problems. Carlos, by contrast, took Jordan’s recounting in stride, mindful of what such violence means, but aware that Jordan had been spared any tangible tragedy. This is what comforted Jordan, the expert opinion which, without saying a thing, made clear that all was well and that such threats hang over those less fortunate than himself – woman, child, the flowering and fading alike – all the time in the places where people like Carlos lived. He was grateful to know Carlos in that moment and he returned his mind to the hospital bed for a moment, filled with a deeper comprehension for his roommate there and the obvious agony felt by those family members who came to see him motivated by love and concern.

Carlos’ fellow-feeling got the best of him and he transcended a barrier common to whites and their minority servants by confiding in Jordan. “I have un cuerno de chivo in my car.” J. did not possess the linguistic tools to grasp what this meant, and so he shrugged in the same confidential and knowing way Carlos had done to that point. “Jou wann see?”

It was early, the shop had been promptly and efficiently appointed for the morning’s rush. Their boss had not yet arrived to gum up the works with his requisite hour of personal engagement with the customers. Jordan didn’t know what he was agreeing to, but was also caught up in the deeper level of camaraderie that suddenly existed between the men. Now they had two things in common.

So they went out to Carlos’ car, an extremely well cared-for El Camino (there are grains of truth to stereotypes) with attendant embellishments particular to Mexican-American culture, which will not be described here in deference to the etiquette which frowns upon the highlighting of such idiosyncracies by someone of distinct origin.

The flatbed contained a lockbox chained up to the rear of the cab. Carlos opened it and there, unadorned before Jordan’s eyes lie an AK-47 rapid fire rifle – in all its gleaming muscularity.

“That’s a machine gun,” Jordan said with a tone normally saved for utterance before great works of art or slain persons. Carlos nodded. “Jou know I’m a very well known cholo in Inglewood.” Jordan nodded in the affirmative although he had not known anything of the kind.

Carlos read his thoughts. “Jeh, I teld you it once already.”

“So,” Jordan moved on, “why do you call it that?”

Cuerno de chivo?”

“Right, cuerno de chivo,” Jordan was able to roll his “rrrrr’ in cuerno thanks to a trick once taught him by a short-lived relationship with a Latina girlfriend. Carlos was not impressed. He wiped his hand across the curved magazine of the firearm. “Goat’s Horn,” he smiled, a happy pirate.

“Ah,” was the best J. could do.

There was a pause as they admired the instrument of death. It was, Jordan thought, an advertisement for good killing. It lay upon a delicate piece of chamois, which Carlos pulled free and used it to erase smudges with a tenderness usually reserved by a mother for her child. He shook it fluffy and placed it underneath the gun anew.

He turned the lid down and secured the lockbox. “So, I’m telleen jou now, eef jou eber wantto get dose guys, jou tell me and cuerno de chivo is for dem.” Jordan wasn’t sure if Carlos was offering to lend him the gun. This would have been of little use since he hadn’t the first idea of how such a thing worked, although if pressed in a pinch he’d start with the trigger. His comrade in street fighting once again read his mind. “I am fast with these. Jou wanto get dem, I go with jou.”

So fresh in his mind was the adrenaline-pumped fear and anger which Jordan had felt just two days before that he almost set a date and time by which he and Carlos would cruise neighborhoods surrounding the scene of the crime (as it were) and lay bloody waste to the three assholes who had made his sleep a difficult a place to be. But his desire for a return to the normal and grinding life he’d once known got the best of him and he responded with a simple, but heartfelt, “Thanks Carlos. I’ll let you know if it comes to that.”

Chapter Twenty-three

Randall was working on a new installation to his signature work seeking that elusive and common link between all humans.

“Our problems makes us one,” was the root idea. He was presently working out the related premise that money was a social dissolvent because (according to bum philosophy): “When you have money, you don’t need people.”

He was talking about eliminating the trading-off of one’s emotional self in exchange
for help (with whatever). When you had money you just paid for help and dispensed with professions of camaraderie or promises to return the favor. Money pushed people away from one another.

It was a bitter bum philosophy, for Randall, it must be pointed out (again), was broke and stagnated in his dream by the lack of money his philosophical investigations had produced. And he was harsh against the rich for not sharing more with the literary community in particular.

Meanwhile, he had just purchased a series of different tobacco products with which he planned to plunge his person into perdition. And he was doing it alone, not unlike a crackhead or heroine junky too far-gone to be joined in the trip by someone close.

The radio was running and an ambitious city attorney with his eye on the mayoralty was conducting a press conference regarding an investigation into the cruel death of the old lady at county hospital. It was now widely suspected that her demise had been at the hands of a monster the papers had begun to call the “Angel Without Mercy” supposedly lurking in the hospital’s halls for some time now. The hospital denied this was the case, but the city attorney claimed to have in his possession information to the contrary and, given the hospital’s size and wealth, the public seemed inclined to believe him, even as he concealed this proof under the guise of an “ongoing investigation.”

“And war is peace,” Randall muttered, taking issue with the appellation “Angel Without Mercy.” In his view, plug-pullers were fountains of mercy and that their prosecution would, ultimately, be rendered anachronistic. Someday, helping those who wanted to die do so would evolve from an illegal exercise into a very normal procedure. He did not think that so crude a modus operandi as that employed by the Angel possessed dignity, but what choice was there?

The Angel’s sin lay in the fact the act was illegal and nothing more. Randall began to think about laws and quickly concluded them to be very dangerous things. He mused over all the people throughout history who had been pilloried, jailed, or killed for breaking laws later wiped off the books as being awful or irrelevant. There were some good laws, to be sure, but they were hardly ever put to use in creating the justice they promised.

“There are,” he scribbled, “good laws, but nobody uses them.”

He thought about smoking laws. And he reasoned that twisting justice to please the person at the other end of a room from a cigarette was a dishonest representation and well, an injustice to the idea of justice.

Then he went and got the mail, put all the bills aside for a much later date when he was famous, and was left with a “Private Policy” statement from his automobile insurance company which the legislature had forced him into a business relationship with.

A law had required the actuary to issue the privacy statement and a considerable number of trees were made to suffer as a result. It was the same law that allowed the company to operate in the financial arena, something that had been prohibited some 70 years or so ago when the arrangement had gotten a lot of people, innocent and otherwise, into a lot of trouble. Few remembered and those that did were not permitted much say in this arcane matter affecting the lives of countless, blissful millions.

“Dear Randall,” it said, “We take your personal privacy seriously,” and went on to explain, briefly, the law which obligated the company to take his privacy seriously, hinted at future fiduciary pitches and closed with a reminder that, “privacy has always been important to us.” Some authoritative-sounding words like “organizational,” “digital,” and “safeguards” had been sprinkled throughout.

These were to ease the minds of those who feared the insurer would share information about their drunk driving record with the person who was deciding whether to dole out a 30-year mortgage to them. There was another sentence and one after that with the word “computer” in it to drive home the point that Randall’s information was safe, never mind the fact it was precisely the computer that threatened to compromise it.

He realized that if he kept on in this vein, the world would dissolve itself on his tongue like wisps of cotton candy. It could do that, big as it was. And so he stopped himself because he wanted bum philosophy to reach and activate the many bums living lives presently isolated from a creed that would make them the most happy. He wanted the thing to be practical and accessible; primary criteria at the retail level.

And this was bum philosophy’s greatest virtue; that it aspired to so little.

He was a long way from any organized essay on the tenet regarding money and the manner in which it does away with the necessity for dealing with people, but that was okay too, because beyond the initial utterance, there wasn’t much to say. It spoke to itself and invited the most lazy of minds to chew on something very much in the mix. He lit up again. There was a sandpaper feel to the back of his throat, a mere scratch on the skin of his robust constitution. He would, tomorrow, consider upping the dosage or lowering the quality of his smoke so as to hasten disaster along.

Chapter Twenty-four

Clarisse was still sitting around brooding over the Trixie Marie show.

She had not gone, of course, to the opening night party. And, of course, nobody had noticed, least of all Trixie Marie, but Clarisse was hardly free from the antiquated prejudices of her homeland and rested assured that her rival had taken offense at her absence.

Within the 19th Century rules Clarisse adhered to, when you absented yourself from a social gathering, you were saying something to the hostess, mostly that you were withholding enthusiastic approval. In the 21st Century city in which she was presently residing, where the gallery event was characterized by wine in plastic cups and a clientele interested as much in the potential for some dirty sex as the art, the gesture amounted to less than an Indian head nickel. If Trixie Marie had noticed the snub at all, it would have been in a new world way, not an old world one.

Anyhow it didn’t matter. Clarisse's house of clouds was no less wispy than those constructed by any of us so that we might get through the day.

She’d gone to the gallery at midday, in between lunch and dinner shifts. Like a furniture world Garbo, Clarisse wore sunglasses and dressed down so as not to draw attention, but then scotched her anonymity by lighting up a Lucky Strike inside the gallery. The owner cast a half-hearted glance of disapproval over in Clarisse’s direction, but was unwilling to fulfill her duty as an auxiliary police person in the war on smoke. Clarisse after all, might be a potential customer and there was no reason to cut things short before they even got started.

She was crestfallen. Trixie Marie’s show was astounding. Clarisse’s trained eye saw the leaps in growth made since the prior exhibit, which she had not liked at all.

She admitted with stunned horror that it was a breakout collection bound to garner its creator both critical acclaim and financial reward. Clarisse knew it because this was the kind of ensemble she had dreamed of putting together for what had become, unfortunately, years now.

These are life’s realities, the ones that have nothing to do with movies and television shows where adversity is battled in a series of rapid-fire montage shots and triumph is just a romantic relationship away from becoming a crowning reality.

Yvonne’s happy rules don’t apply here. This is where the person with more talent or more connections or more luck or more of all three takes the lead. The person who does not have these advantages at their disposal gets hit with the reality like a two-by-four to the cranium. She stared admiringly at the pieces before her and took a lesson in construction from a woman she’d long considered her lesser, a woman who, through a quiet and steadfast industriousness, had imposed her vision upon the community. Clarisse, by contrast, barely got to her studio for a cleanup job and some idea-sketches let alone morph into the human wood-and-glue-assembling machine her rival had.

Her shoulders slumped. Clarisse knew that somewhere, between tending to her failing marriage, serving tables, and waiting around for the sun to shine upon her for no particular reason other than that she wanted it to, a lot of time had been wasted.

Time her rival had demonstrated could, in fact, be put to good use.

The gallery owner, with little else to do, had interpreted the visitor’s body language and come to certain conclusions about the purpose of the visit. Each vocation being a world of limited players, she felt the sad and mysterious girl in her establishment seemed familiar. Clarisse reached mechanically for another Lucky Strike and struck a match only to be shaken out of her self-pity by the lofty mid-Atlantic accent of the gallerykeeper who said, “Miss, I’m going to have to ask you to smoke that outside.”

Clarisse really wasn’t in the mood for anybody’s shit and said it this way: “Escuse me?” with an arch to her eyebrows that expressed much more than the utterance itself. Recognizing the intemperate nature of an unconsecrated artist, the gallery keeper recovered her superior form. “You’ll have to smoke that outside. This is, after all, a furniture gallery and there is much in it that is flammable.”

“You sound like de author of thees book,” Clarisse responded and, when this failed to alter the narrative’s course, lit the cigarette, puffed fully, released completely, and strode past. “Fock you,” she said, egged-on by the requirements of drama to establish a new layer of personality with this rather uncharacteristic utterance.

She stepped out to the corner of the street. Her angularity, her svelte package, the clean cut of her clothes, the high-nose of her lowlands pedigree and, yes, her cigarette, made her the object of much desire in the few men who passed in the next moments. They dreamed of her as some kind of ideal – someone who might shake their lives of lethargy and infuse them with adventure – and as we know could not have been farther off the mark.

One of those men was a short Mexican with a white, straw cowboy hat and boots like Joya’s on his way to work as a leaf-blower for a landscaper. The other was an old guy, bald on top, alone in life, who’d purposely lost the capacity to appreciate something quite so divine as Clarisse so as not to suffer the kind of longings she was provoking. It didn’t work. If Clarisse’s potent sexuality has not been dwelled upon to this point, it is because it was never quite so apparent as in this moment when the best of her nature caused a defiant back-arching as response to the raw adversity confronting her, a courageous nonchalance in her savoring that thing sticking out of her mouth.

All of which was running through Randall’s mind as he sat at an outdoor café, just across the street from the gallery (these two types of establishments tending to cluster near one another as they do), savoring Clarisse in a manner not much different than she was applying to her smoke.

It was only lunchtime, but it had been a big day for Randall. He’d worked his way through half a pack of his special Canadian-cut butts – more than double his daily intake – and was discovering that not only did he feel great, but that he looked it.

Adding historical weight to these more personal concerns, it should be noted that he had purchased a magazine but an hour before and… on second thought, let’s get to that a little further on. He left his seat at the café marked by his belongings from alien incursion. He approached Clarisse who, in her distraction, never saw him coming. “Great show, huh?” The remark was made, not in innocence, but in complete calculation. He knew something of her ambitions, had seen the show, and comprehended the undertow dragging her through a private hell. His intention was to clarify her own thoughts about the challenge ahead because that, in the end, is what friends are for.

“Yes,” she smiled in a tepid way.

“Experience in the spectacle is the only spectacle anymore.”

Well, it’s a sexy thing when a guy can read right through your feelings and then help you justify them.

“Boom philosophy,” she tried to sneer.

“Too good for that,” he countered.

And it’s another sexy thing when a guy can make a little joke of himself and disarm a woman of the most potent tool at her disposal. Which is to say Randall had shut her up.

“Okay look,” he ventured, “I don’t want to shortcut your self-absorption man, but I’ve got something that will definitely mark this day as an interesting one. C’mon, lemme buy you a latte.”

She had no reason to resist, had been teased by the dramatist’s simple presentation of the as-yet-undisclosed matter, and followed him back to his table with a simple shrug. He took off his sunglasses and arched his eyebrows for fun and suspense and sat. He reached down and threw a glossy magazine on the table. Its texture and composition immediately tipped Clarisse off to the fact it was filled with pictures of naked women and she wondered if a mistake had not been made in following Randall who, for all she knew, might be some kind of murderous pervert. Not having the best eyes, and having attended Trixie Marie’s show without her contact lenses, Clarisse looked at the magazine without processing. She shrugged.

“Look closer,” he said and stabbed the cover with his forefinger. “Who does that remind you of?”

The girl on the cover wore a polka dot bikini and was pulling at its elastic. When Clarisse got to the face, which took some time given the monumental body her eyes had to climb, she thought that it reminded her of Yvonne – a little younger – but Yvonne.

“Eet remind me of Eevonne.”

“Look closer.”

“Eet still remind me of Eevonne.”

“It is Yvonne.”

She stared at him long and hard before saying, “non.” He slapped it open to the centerfold. She saw the girl that looked like Eevonne in a very prone posture. He turned two pages back to someone that looked like Eevonne surrendering herself and her intimacy with a smile as wide as the quarter moon. He flipped to the other side of the centerfold. There were pictures of certain parts of someone that looked liked Eevonne’s body, but not the whole Eevonne.

“It is Eevonne,” Clarisse echoed him, reached for the Lucky Strikes, offered one to Randall (which he took) and shook her head in disbelief.

Just like that, life’s sometimes unpredictable and engaging forces swept her out of a powerful funk and back into the maelstrom of events that rarely afford curious people the time necessary to destroy themselves with their own exalted expectations.