Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Sidewalks Smokers Club - Chapter 69

Chapter Sixty-nine

“Does City Attorney know what the fuck he’s doing?” Corey asked Randall from across the table at Randall’s place.

They were discussing this latest bombshell: the Argentine restaurant owner also belonged to a BID and it had decided to put an end to the party its members had enjoyed, on The Smokers’ dime, and catch the gathering counterwave of sentiment.

Like The Smokers themselves, the store owners were desirous of a return to normal life now that they knew what the exciting, eventful kind was like. They found the association unflattering of late. The next time, it was forcefully pledged, The Sidewalk Smokers Club met outside their establishments, security would be called in, just the same as it would outside Joya’s Joyas.

The primary purpose of the BID, of course, was to make the area where the members’ businesses were located a destination point for people from other neighborhoods, other cities, and other countries. The Smokers’ success in making that goal a reality did not, however, factor into this latest decision.

The implications for The Smokers themselves were breathtaking. For when it was a matter of some allies out front of the Coloradoan’s, their commitment was largely symbolic. But with their own smoking grounds targeted for specific action, the threatened extinction was now literal.

City Attorney responded by amending his complaint against the Fashion BID to include the West Side Retailers BID and resubmitted it to the court. In a tactical mistake, CA had used his evaporating juice to expedite a preliminary hearing given the urgency of free speech questions involved. But the judge didn’t know from the First Amendment and was smugly confident the people watching this sideshow didn’t either. He denied the motion and took the opportunity to dismiss a number of other charges filed by the sidewalk gang out of hand, reducing the size and scope of the case. Now The Club was up against it without the kind of time to prepare that a drawn-out proceeding might have provided.

In lay terms, City Attorney had tried to rush things when what they needed was a slower pace.

So that when Corey asked whether City Attorney knew what the fuck he was doing Randall responded, a little frustrated: “If I knew that, we wouldn’t need him now would we?”

Corey noticed that despite Randall’s success, nothing had changed inside the dreary apartment, and a sick feeling overtook his stomach as the true meaning of what greatness in the world of ideas really required – and he felt sorry for his friend and embarrassed to hassle him with mundane considerations.

“The first bills from Yvonne’s new legal team have come in,” and he threw a sheaf of papers down on the table. Corey could see how Randall’s public statements following his illness were not P.R. at all. There were new and exciting boxes of tobacco product stacked there and most bore the markings of having been sampled.

“You know, your comeback is happening now, you don’t have to kill yourself anymore.”
Randall did not get into how he had to live what he was preaching. “I like my smokes,” he said, leafing through the bills, which in pure numbers of pages surpassed the mammoth compendium that bum philosophy was morphing into. “Pretty expensive,” he said.

“Lawyers, and they just started.”

“Don’t worry, the treasury is strong. Numbers, if you want to see them, are in that file cabinet under ‘Legal/Yvonne’.”

“Legal Yvonne,” Corey said, a wicked smile winning the battle over his sense of propriety. Randall grinned too at the mutually exclusive nature of both name and term, and the way it had crystallized exactly what the collective had put themselves on the line for.

Corey was thinking the exact same thing. “What did we expect?”

All that money (that they’d never had before) going mostly to the defense of a naked girl. Of course that was the clinical view, which did not account for the considerable force of the naked girl herself and all the excitement she had generated.

“It’s the price of playing,” Randall concluded, tossing the papers back across the table.

“Still, have you ever seen such a bill?” Corey insisted and Randall took comfort in the fact that, at a certain point, the thoughts of his partner dovetailed from his own and toward the unpleasant and very necessary details of running things.

“I have,” he answered, “read about bills of this type,” forever unfazed. There was no disaster too great that could not be tempered by the fact Randall had read about something similar in the past. He seemed beyond shock or surprise; for in his voracious reading he had consumed accounts of just about anything that had ever happened.

Seeing that he would not find the partnership in the panic he so wanted, Corey asked flatly, “What are we going to do?”

And just like that Randall said, “Just what City Attorney advised. We are bailing, pulling out.”

Surprised and relieved in equal amounts, Corey felt compelled to point out that, “There are people out there believing in us, and besides that, it is simply not right. The outside belongs to everybody; the sidewalks are property of the public. We pay for them.”

A few hours before, Randall had held the same opinion. But a perusal of recent literature on the health of policy favoring public spaces, public spheres, public funding and the like had left him feeling there wasn’t much of a future for the public. When he thought about it, life in the public eye, as it is known, is really a life in the private eye of those owning the hardware and networks for distributing images and sound. The sidewalks belonged more to the businesses set back from them than to any citizen walking past those businesses. Over time and little by little the prerogative of the property owner had slowly seeped into territories both concrete and legal that they did not possess – space that had once belonged to everyone. Either nobody noticed or nobody cared.

Randall explained some of this to Corey. “Legally, we have but the shakiest of legs to stand on.”

“I thought there were all kinds of laws protecting our freedoms.”

“I don’t know about that,” Randall shook his head, “but if you don’t have the guns, you can be moved out by someone who does.”

Oh well, perhaps the realization hit home a little harder because they were little boys for so long and the natural cruelty of things had set in so late for them. By way of contrast, a kid from the ghetto doesn’t have time for talk about rights and laws; they are luxuries, and expensive ones at that.

Even in this, their dark hour of denouement, The Sidewalk Smokers Club counted upon financial resources from those who thought like them but earned money in superior quantities. They had backers who showed up to events with them (people they didn’t even know) and a few odd members of the press who wrote offbeat, backhanded defenses of them. But Randall no longer found solace or excitement in newspaper notices for it was all words and pictures and words and pictures had taken The Sidewalk Smokers Club as far as it would go.

“So we just pull out then?”

“I’m trying to look at it more like cashing in,” Randall aimed his remarks at Corey’s commercial side. “We’ve done what we set out to do. The girl’s suit is getting settled, her reputation, such as it is, will generate income and brief celebrity for her. And we owe City Attorney for that. We didn’t get it completely right, but we helped her and we helped her help herself. And that makes me very happy.”

“But sidewalk smoking is about to be outlawed.”

“But sidewalk smoking is ‘sidewalk smoking.’ A branded activity the evocation of which will conjure up images and words and actions of six or seven people who gave a lot of themselves to everything it represented. By smoking on a sidewalk, a person recreates us.”

Of the players in this story, only Randall might have commented, at this juncture upon the extent to which the marketplace had colonized the modern thinking-man’s mind, but it his mind to which it happened, so we’ll make the point for him.

“We have a philosophy and we have a place to sell it,” he continued almost triumphantly. “We’ve gotten a public affair onto the private distribution networks of Pictures-plus-Noise, Inc.”

This pleased Corey’s ear (as it always had), but unsettled his soul (wherever that is). “You’re still telling me sidewalk smoking would be illegal, brand name or not.”
Yeah and damn it. There are times when the can-it-bake-bread crowd and their logic are unassailable and this was one.

News that the game was up would be received by many with sadness. Randall, of course, would take it hardest of all. He would continue to take it hard to the extent the (mis)adventure had confirmed his belief that it is better to live for something or someone, than to live from them, and that’s dangerous for a person.

Further, he was not afraid of the calumny, just the false calumny. At least with The Smokers he’d gotten some licks in and got his bad reputation the good old-fashioned way – by earning it.

But the philosopher knew that he must act with the good of his colleagues, and those farther afield that had swelled The Smokers’ numbers (and sealed their fate), in mind. He didn’t want anybody getting hurt over something that had started out fun and which was finished for him now because it had ceased to be so. He was trying to disprove his own philosophical tenet that, “He who leads sometimes dies first.”

But what was finished for him, was not finished for everyone else involved, which is but another way of understanding the same idea.

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