Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters 70 and 71

Chapter Seventy

That they shared a well-developed past together made Corey’s and Clarisse’s (nobody had ever actually moved out) return to the fold a smooth event. There were problems, loose and dangling ends, but the comfortable familiarity they restored to each other’s lives served as antidote to so much of the disorder that had been going on all around them since Corey started smoking. And that’s what relationships are for.

The radicals and revolutionaries amongst us might criticize their tropism towards comfort as a sign of creeping burgher softness – a departure from their disciplined approach to the cause. And they would be right, but folks and circumstances change and consistency of commitment is a difficult thing to maintain. Those who can might, or might not, be worthy of our admiration. For although constancy is a desirable thing, so is mutability where universal phases of life begin and end for each of us.

Or as bum philosophy holds, “Most stupid acts come from people who think they’re smart.”

They had spent a few nights dining out at certain places money and their social adventurism had opened doors to. The couple had ended the latter portions of those evenings in bed together. The recent months of stress and dedication to their mutual and respective causes had altered each’s body map and confronted them with new configurations to adore and feel.

There was an element of rediscovery in the renewed nuptials. And they were both smarter, too, so that there was a sense each might relearn the other in a different light. A chance that this time they might get it right. There was, as well, gratitude at having recovered something lost, a sweetness that helped them through the awkward moments of unresolved debits rooted in the fact that each had hurt the other. All of which is well known to couples who thrive on a break-up and make-up cycle, a guild to which neither Clarisse or Corey had it in themselves to join.

They had agreed to meet Jordan and Eilin for a coffee at the former’s former place of work. The quartet sat outside on the plastic chairs, taking in the sun and the assorted clientele. J. liked returning to Java World and interacting on a personal level with those he’d once served. It was a kind of psychic account balancing he felt necessary given that he’d been mature when he worked there and did not quite fit the mold of your typical food server. Jordan was aching to dispel misconceptions about the true arc of his ambition and diminish his life as barista to the mere cul-de-sac (he hoped) it represented. Sitting there with a woman he knew to be the prettiest in the world, along with community notables like Corey and Clarisse, allowed him to erase the old looks of the young girls with question-mark-faces passing by.

Anyhow, where we normally say, “it didn’t matter,” we cannot now. There they sat, the slight interest that had once passed between J. and Clarisse an evaporated mist, an episode not uncommon to groups of friends passing time in couples not yet invulnerable to the temptations of another’s love-friend.

Even in the most liberal of social structures, it is not easy to find yourself alone with an eligible specimen from the other sex. There are too many strings and obstacles and interests attached to the certifiably suitable mate. But in collectives like The Smokers’, the requirement of working together in common cause, puts boy and girl together regardless of their sex-juices.

The conversation had worked its way around to Corey’s relationship with his father. He’d sent Dad a recliner chair as his way of saying thanks for everything he had done to help him get to this plateau. His Dad, they all agreed, was not entirely wrong in viewing the gesture as economic boisterousness on the part of a ne’er-do-well son who’d found himself flush thanks to a dubious venture.

“It’s anti-social behavior – smoking,” his father had chided, after calling to say thanks for the recliner.

“So is,” Corey had thought, “yelling,” but didn’t go into it because his father, as usual, had all the momentum in the conversation.

“A gift’s a gift,” Corey told his sidewalk friends. “It’s not blood money. Nobody died.”

Which was, of course, not at all an open-and-shut question, Jordan felt compelled to point out in a tone Eilin had never heard him use before.

Down-to-earth and understated, Eilin pointed out that, “Sometimes parents are not willing to be satisfied. They forget that once you grow up that you don’t need the judgement or the pushing from them, because now you’re out in the world where you get it all the time.”

It was her first time out with the tribe. Corey and Clarisse reflected, individually, that the girl had something of Joya’s positive sweetness to her yet did not command the kind of attention the Coloradoan did. She had a little personality that fit perfectly inside her diminutive body whereas Joya’s capacious corpus seemed unable to hold all of the Joya that there was inside it.

Clarisse turned to the great universal by asking J.’s gal about Armenian family life.

“Oh, we’re very close,” said Eilin. “We see each other all the time.”

Corey had a question for her about this, which Jordan never heard because he saw Andy Dumburton coming toward Java World. J. could not imagine what the hell it was the relentless detective wanted now, but had a few choice words saved up for him in any case.

Dumburton saw Jordan sitting there, averted his glance, and slipped into the coffee shop. J. rose from his seat and followed the detective inside.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he asked in a very aggressive manner.

“I learned to like the coffee and the charm of the place,” Dumburton responded. “C’mon, I’m off duty. Get out of my face.”

Later, Jordan would marvel at how the most benign of narcotics could alter one’s daily behavior patterns, but in that moment, he took a different tack. “I thought you were done with me. You were going to help me get some work at a marina or some bullshit like that.”

“Mind your manners,” said the detective. Dumburton, off-duty, stripped of his authority seemed inoffensive, scared even; a square in crazyman territory hoping no one noticed. With the veil of fear lifted Jordan saw for the first time how his fair face was speckled with age spots. “That’s right,” Dumburton moved to the heart of J.’s question, “I spoke with my brother. It’s yours if you want it. Whaddaya coming up to me like the Night Stalker for if what you want is a favor?”

“You know damn well I’m not here for a job.”

Dumburton looked into Jordan’s eyes and saw what this was about. The two men, different worlds that they inhabited were now linked by unspoken understandings. “Alright,” he admitted before having been accused. “So I gave it one more shot.”

“You said it was over and that you were going to leave me alone.”

“So I lied. But I lied retroactively. I meant my promise when I said it. In any case, we’re even now.” He turned to the luscious coed who’d replaced Jordan behind the counter at Java World and said, “Give me a latte will ya sweetheart.” He looked over his shoulder to Jordan with an expression that asked, “So what are you going to say to that?”

J. wasn’t going to say anything because he didn’t know what Dumburton meant by lying retroactively and had gotten caught up in trying to resolve it in his mind.
They both knew it was the first time in a dozen such exchanges that he had not issued forth his mantra-like denial. Maybe he was sick of it all, maybe he wasn’t. Neither cared.

“Ya gotta cute girl there…if she’s yours,” the detective teased. “Call me up, I’ll give you the contact number and little prep talk. You should do it.”

The girl handed Dumburton his latte and when he wafted a bill in front of her face, she waved it away. He turned to Jordan. “See? Cops don’t pay,” and stuck it in the tip jar before launching a saunter out. J. thought he noted some relief in the detective’s breathing and posture and realized that he’d gotten to him. The Smokers had grown tough, although that was hardly their purpose or reason for being.

He stepped back outside and saw that his girl was gone. “Where’s Eilin?” he asked understandably enough.

“We started to talk about dat Ceety Atturny and she got mad.”

“Oh,” Jordan said, “I know, she doesn’t like him for some reason.”

“I take it you’ve had that discussion?” Corey prodded.

Jordan nodded that they had.

“And she told you about the ‘Angel Without Mercy’?”

“Yeah, she thinks City Attorney bailed on the case out of political convenience.”

“But did she tell you about the old lady who died?” Corey forged ahead.

“I don’t know much of anything about the case,” Jordan kicked into gumshoe mode.

“It was her grandmother,” Corey told him.

Chapter Seventy-one

Thorpe and Diaz didn’t know what to think or do.

The city attorney had advised the cops to dump the whole mess back in their laps. The firemen had no choice but to accept because, in the end, the police force has the guns.

A day was coming when the smokers were going to have to be moved out and it was clear they would not do so without a fight. And the fire chief had once again put Thorpe and Diaz to the task of handling the matter with private security forces.

Clearly, with the addition of a second BID thrown into their semi-public meetings for concocting a plan to rid retail strips of sidewalk smokers, their importance (if not their actual talents) had grown.

Thorpe was suspicious, concerned. “What if the chief’s just sacrificing us, you know, killing our careers with a suicide mission?” he asked his partner.

“It’s only sacrificing or suicide if we don’t get it right,” Diaz responded.

And that was true, Thorpe reasoned internally. After all, at some point in his career the chief must have been saddled with an equally imponderable quandary (his mind did not employ this exact vocabulary) and come out of it with flying colors.

Opportunities like this are how you become chief, he decided. All of which was well and good, but now they were meeting with the lesbian city councilperson – the same lady who’d been part of that first imbroglio which had almost cost them so dearly.

Their prejudices made the whole thing more distasteful still.

“She’s a dyke and if we help her pull this off she’ll be the mayor,” said Thorpe, laying a silver lining into the case for intentional failure.

“It’s crazy, I know. How the hell did that happen?” asked Diaz.

“What, that we got stuck with this job or that she might become mayor?” Thorpe answered with a question.

“I know how we got stuck with the job,” Diaz frowned.

“Oh,” said Thorpe as they made their way, inconspicuously as possible, into an elevator and up the tower of City Hall, standing tall as a signature of justice and clean administration for all to take comfort in.

Diaz answered his own question. “It’s that fucked up city attorney joining these crazy smokers people. Why the hell would he do that?”

“Because he’s smarter than the rest of the people working in this building.”
Diaz had an innate understanding of what Thorpe was telling him, but required further explanation. Thanks to years of working in tandem, Thorpe picked up on his partner’s silence. “Don’t you see? He went with them because they’re fun. They’ve got the girls. We get promotions, more serious problems, and a meeting with a fat dyke.”

Diaz was quickly learning the true meaning of success American style. “So he follows his happiness, goes after pleasure, and enjoys the order and safety we provide?” Oscar had conveniently forgotten the pair’s handiwork at the benefit/press conference.

“And we,” Thorpe confirmed, “get stuck doing the dirty work with the other ‘serious people’.”

Just about the time the virtues of frivolity and self-indulgence were coming into focus for them, the inspectors arrived at the citycouncilperson’s door, which had her name painted in gold over a frosted-glass window in the art moderne style.

“You first,” said Thorpe and Diaz obliged.

Lesbian citycouncilperson took one look at the beefy, thick-necked samples of everything she had fought during her career and, in thought processes fast enough to cover all the ground Thorpe and Diaz had just plodded through verbally, realized what a swindle she’d been subjected to, what a pig-in-a-poke she’d been sold. “Damn those Sidewalk Smokers,” she hissed under her breath.

“Djou say sumthin’?” Thorpe interjected, dropping the quality of his dialect as he always did when faced with a superior in the hierarchy of order to which he’d so dumbly dedicated himself.

“I said,” she lied in preparation for her unlikely turn at the mayoralty, “let’s find an intelligent way of doing away with these jokers.”

Although not police, Thorpe and Diaz were in the business of enforcement and they knew there was probably no such thing as “an intelligent way” of undertaking the brute task of removing unwilling persons from a location forbidden to them. When you pushed someone a little bit, they took just as much offense as when you pushed them a lot. When you wanted to push a group of primarily young people trying to make a living off attitude and looks from a location, you had to do it with full force and that was a public relations battle impossible to win.

Which, of course, begged the question of what exactly the fire chief expected of them.

Of course, the duo had already engaged The Sidewalk Smokers Club down in the trenches. They thought there was a script to be followed and that the councilwoman was obligated by that script to say these things. Sure, she was earnest when she proclaimed that, “I don’t want a scene, I don’t want violence, I don’t want to see cute kids dragged by their collars or their hair in the streets of my district on television.” And they nodded as if they understood while quite convinced what she had described exactly what would happen. Although they’d at least be “looking into some possible alternatives” – a phrase public policymakers diaper their naked asses with in situations such as this.

She thought the message, for what it was worth, was getting through loud and clear given the way they absentmindedly, with good nature even, nodded in rhythm to the rising and dipping cadence of her nasal voice. After a few minutes of assurances on the part of Thorpe and Diaz, and veiled threats from her about their mutual future with the department, there were handshakes all around and the fire inspectors left.

The councilwoman sat back for a moment and then directed staff to allow her a meditative moment.

It was a prickly business to be sure (she meditated). Having taken refuge in the radical and impossible-to-deliver over the course of her career she suddenly found herself having to deliver on some rather practical dry-goods of governance. Having avoided (and insulted) the likes of men like Thorpe and Diaz for years, she found herself in the unenviable position of having to rely upon them. She took solace and comfort in the fact that it was the BID’s security people who would actually be carrying out the fire inspectors’ plan. She reasoned that these men, accustomed to riding bicycles all day and making eyes at the girls along the street, would be ill-equipped to undertake the hardcore business of real policing with its bodily force and billyclub menace. Why she thought this would prevent a disaster rather than provoke one is a secret of her own keeping.

The councilwoman fretted at how, now, every move made was crucial. This was in stark contrast to those (recent) days when she said whatever popped into her head because only a handful of people were listening and the vast majority discounting her seriousness, preparation, and motives (which were invariably linked to the fact she liked girls). She resented the pressure. She’d never asked for it. Her run for mayor, she mused, had been a chance to get on television, make some celebrity friends, and help frame the issues important to her rare constituency.

Now she already had to act like she was the mayor and crash a party which, just weeks ago, she’d been a party to.

Down the hall, CA sat with his feet up on the desk knowing exactly what the lesbiancitycouncilperson was thinking at the moment. Despite the fact he still had a few months on the job and a backlog of cases to handle on behalf of the municipality, his recent abdication of the mayoralty meant City Attorney was no longer where the action was. Staffers had abandoned him or were out roaming the halls in search of new locomotives they might hitch their cars to.

He smiled. By shooting himself in the foot, he’d crippled her instead and he wondered why more politicians over the centuries had not availed themselves of the exquisitries associated with relinquishing power and simultaneously sticking it up their enemies’ asses.

The answer, he knew, was that the principal drive of all politicians is to have power and to know that once it was lost, something up their own ass could not be far off. He shrugged. To play the game one must know the game before the opening whistle and CA’s meticulous preparation assured his solvency.

Anyhow, it didn’t matter. Lesbian city councilperson was screwed, he was certain, based upon his prior experience involving the removal, displacement and/or uprooting of people who don’t want to go. Like Thorpe and Diaz, he knew there were no two ways about it. Things invariably got ugly because it is in the wiring of those who enlist in police forces and security detachments to satisfy their adrenal passions for meting out pain under the guise of authority when the opportunity presents itself.

They read Soldier of Fortune magazine. Cut from the same cloth as Green Beret commandos, they are in the minor leagues of it all – a fact that renders them infinitely more dangerous.

As such, he was concentrating on keeping Randall, Corey, and his beloved (the rest of the time he was thinking of her rail of a body, so thin, yet tall enough to offer a mass of flesh enticing to his own sexual proclivities) apprised of the risk.

He could go down the hall and explain this to lesbiancitycouncilperson, but to what end? The machine had been set in motion. It was a predicament begging for violent resolution. It was public, economic, ideological, and woven together in a web of nicotine. There was no way the BIDs were going back on the idea that they’d once inhabited a smoke-free urban Arcadia which they now wanted restored. Similarly, there was no way a bunch of kids (and kids at heart) in the earliest stages of social development – fresh from elementary primers on democracy and freedom – were going to accept anything other than that which logic told them was both correct and just. They were persuaded beyond all doubt that the air surrounding was the possession of no government and no flower shop, that it did not belong to any police force – let alone a fake security detail and two dullard fire inspectors – and nothing was going to convince them of the contrary.

Only The Sidewalk Smokers Club stood a chance of convincing the sidewalk smokers that there was a better way or that it wasn’t worth getting your head bashed in over.

At that moment his secretary buzzed and announced the arrival of Corey and a young woman who, apparently, had a bone to pick with City Attorney. He gave the green light.

The alternately beautiful, yet plain, Eilin walked in followed by Corey. As did Jordan, City Attorney liked her right away and he had to hand it to The Smokers. They kept it sexy and they kept it interesting.

By way of background (which City Attorney didn’t know): Eilin and Jordan had just suffered the first argument of their young and ill-starred relationship. She’d asked him to use his influence with City Attorney and arrange a meeting. His gal, in obvious pain over the untimely (?) death of her grandmother, wanted to rake the man who’d once made the case a lynchpin to his run for mayor over coals of her own heating. And Jordan had refrained. Surprised, for one, that he was the possessor of “influence,” he had very good reasons to let sleeping old ladies lie. Eilin, tender and delicious in her rage had excited him at many levels, but failed to convince Jordan that such an arrangement was somehow in his best interest. His inability to tell her exactly why opened the rift between them.

So here they were. The details of the debate have been covered before. Eilin’s assault was moral and made of the same stuff The Sidewalk Smokers Club and sidewalk smokers used to defend their own peculiarities; a youthful demand that decency and fairness be realized to their fullest extent. Corey, not knowing that Jordan’s future lie in the balance, lent The Club’s imprimatur to the affair by accompanying Eilin’s impassioned plea the case be reopened with a gentle, persistent nodding of the head.

Listening to the young girl, City Attorney gave thanks to the heavens that everyone wasn’t idealistic and expecting of justice from life, because it would overwhelm his office.

But just then something overwhelming happened anyway. Joya walked in a little early for their date together. She liked to see offices, she explained, since she had never worked in one. She kissed Corey familiarly and was just “pleased as punch” to meet the girl Jordan had told her all about. And then she gave her a once up-and-down that made Eilin uncomfortable. Joya sat on a sofa about four feet behind the two chairs in front of the desk occupied by Corey and Eilin.

Clever and quick of mind, she gasped when the few pieces necessary to understanding what was at hand fell into place. Behind Eilin she shook her head emphatically enough to catch City Attorney’s eye, which caught Eilin’s eye, which caused her to look over her shoulder at Joya who smiled in a way that a kid caught doing something mildly wrong does.

Love was in the mix and City Attorney, without requiring any explanation from Joya, informed Eilin that his days in office were winding down, and that sorry as he was about what had happened to her grandmother, he saw no merit in reopening a case which, for all practical intents and purposes, had turned out to be something of a mystery to the detective handling it. His boldface lie complete, he got up to signal that the meeting was over.

Eilin was not pleased and she told City Attorney this. She added that something was fishy and shot Joya a look that nearly melted her. “I don’t know what kind of friend you’re supposed to be to The Sidewalk Smokers Club, but if this is any indication then they’d better watch out careful for themselves.”

“From the mouths of babes,” thought City Attorney. Corey, not having a single gripe against the politician, shrugged and followed the tempestuous Armenian girl out the door.

City Attorney turned to Joya who had risen to her feet and was literally sweating. “What the hell was that about?”

“Hon, you can’t open that case back up again.”

“I know that,” he rejoined, “I was just doing my job, letting her vent.”

A moment of truth began working its way into an otherwise humdrum day that was to have ended in a new restaurant City Attorney had used his waning influence to secure a reservation at.

A little something has been said about the fatigue afflicting The Smokers at this point in their story. Joya, with her store in trouble, her true sexuality (if it existed) repressed under a self-imposed martial law, her neighbors at work declaring war on her etc., was not at the top of her game and he could see it.

“What’s up with you?” City Attorney prodded.

“Listen City Attorney, I just don’t want Jordan ta get inta trouble is all.”

“Hey,” he was getting annoyed, “why are you so bent out of shape? Your friend’s not an angel you know. He had no right to do what he did. I dropped the thing because you asked and I saw a mess ahead for all of us. But you sound like you love this guy Jordan.”

Make that two moments of truth; this one specifically for Joya.

“Wull, unh, yeah I guess I do,” she informed herself as much as him. “He tried to help that old lady from suffering. He was sick himself – without money or anything – and he went down and took care of her when the law was against him. And then these guys pulled him out of his car and beat the shit outta him and, and,” she broke down at exactly the place of least meaning that always mystifies the male half of the heterosexual pairing.

“How is that different from the way you love me?” asked City Attorney, without much mercy himself, understandably wondering about the wisdom of having given his heart over to a woman whom, by nature, was drawn to woman.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“What do you know?” he said rather more like a city attorney than a lover.

“To be kind and help other people,” she answered. “To see someone in trouble and help them. To let them have the last glass of wine at dinner,” which he now recalled that she’d done for him a few times already, “even though ah wouldn’t mind it for myself. To sacrifice the welfare of my business, mah life’s work, when I see that someone who’s not botherin’ anybody, just livin’ their life, is getting’ a beatin’ they don’t deserve. I’m scared of the circumstances people get caught up in and I fight that fear by helpin’ them, if ah can, to overcome such things.”

City Attorney sensed her accent deepening in concert with her convictions, but made a snap decision not to be charmed at this very moment. “Did you engage me,” he asked, “to help save him?”
Joya was silent.

“Was there, or was there not, an unspoken quid pro quo?”

“Whaddya mean by that?” she asked, knowing full well what he meant by that.

“Would you be here now if I hadn’t agreed to drop the investigation?”

She thought that had been understood and, in truth, it had, but City Attorney’s vanity was hurt. “No I wouldn’t,” and she dropped her head like a little girl caught dressed in her mother’s best clothes.

And it’s a good thing she dropped her head, for it was a human act, a spontaneity that completely disarmed him. Most people would have stomped out, angry with Joya for having given profile in words to an ugly secret kept between them. But City Attorney was a politician used to doing what it takes to obtain things, to obtain power, and to obtain people. His life was one long act in horse-trading by which he gained prizes beyond the reach of those less cunning or less willing to bend.

“Do you love me?” he asked, not out of any desire to conclude the matter one way or the other, but rather to know where he stood in this game he’d committed to with the unsettling Coloradan.

Joya threw her hands up and fled the office crying which, as she herself has noted, is the fashion of passionate women the world over, and across cultures, in such instances of confusion and pressure.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The "F" Word

John Kerry and Teddy Kennedy have gotten together to filibuster Samuel Alito's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Up to now the scribe has been of a mind to let this one pass on grounds we lost the election and unless the guy's a screaming Jeeezus freak, well, w. should get to pick who he wants. That way when the rights we have now are gone, people will know what characters like the one above really represent (as opposed to what they say).

But these guys are in-close and, quite frankly, they must know things we don't. People are always lambasting the Democrats for not showing enough backbone and here they are, launching a Quixotic attempt to jack w. right in jaw. It could be momentous.

Kerry sent out a missive asking people who agree to use their e-mail lists and other networking capacities for the purposes of beefing up the senators' filiibuster petition.

Click here to help 'em out and in that little section for comments, tell 'em the highway scribe sent ya.

The Wages of War (cont'd)

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Two Camp Pendleton Marines

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the deaths of Cpl. Carlos Arellanopandura of Los Angeles and Lance Cpl. Brandon Dewey of San Joaquin:

"Losing members of our nation's armed forces always weights heavily on the hearts of all Californians. Cpl. Arellanopandura and Lance Cpl. Dewey displayed tremendous courage and commitment to duty in defending our nation. Maria and I wish to express to these brave Marines' families our deep gratitude for their selfless service and profound indebtedness for their valiant sacrifice. We will keep them in our prayers."

Arellanopandura, 22, and Dewey, 20, died Jan. 20 of injuries sustained from a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device while conducting combat operations in Haqlaniyah, Iraq. They were both assigned to 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, CA. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, their unit was attached to 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.

In honor of Cpl Arellanopadura and Lance Cpl. Dewey, Capitol flags will be flown at half staff.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Terrorist Surveillance Program

You have to admit the administration has chutzpah. Caught with its pants down spying on Americans without court approval, the new strategy is to turn bane to boon.

That vile salamander Karl Rove, obviously feeling safe from special prosecutor Daniel Fitzpatrick’s probing tentacles, thought it safe to come out from under his rock the other day and provide (r)epublicans with their 2006 midterm election blueprint.

The proposed theme was a real shocker: national security.

They’re going to tell Americans, for the third election cycle since 9/11, that voting Democrat will lead to mushroom clouds and nerve gas dirty bombs and whatever else they can pull out of their Harry Potter-world heads.

No sooner were Rove’s words spoken than the administration began its propaganda blitz, turning a spying program into a “terrorist surveillance” program and dispatching its wicked little minions to TV talk shows for a spreading of this hackneyed gospel.

The “Washington Post’s" Dan Froomkin returned from wherever it was he went to fire his opening salvo of the new year on this matter.

Here it is:

We as a people know nothing about the spying program and if we want to find out, somebody will have to spend good money to sue the administration and run a legal gauntlet now largely staffed with its own handpicked sycophants.

The point being, what's the point?

We are to take the administration’s word for it; they’re just listening to Al-Qaeda operatives and no one else. Of course, if that were the case, what would be the problem with going to court for a little prior approval? Why the secrecy? Who’d be against that?

How do they know the people they’re listening to are Al-Qaeda operatives? Did the guy that told them Al-Qaeda’s “number two” man was going to be at the luncheon in Pakistan they bombed tell them?

the scribe hopes not, because that killed a lot of innocent people breaking bread, but no number two man. Which is why there are laws requiring the executive branch show good cause before it brings the force of a powerful government down upon the life of a suspected man or woman or luncheon.

The Bushies have the audacity to suggest that if they were allowed to spy on everyone before, they would have had warning about 9/11 and been able to prevent it.

One thing they’re clear on is that the American people have very short memories, because some of us do recall that back in the summer of 2004, Condesencia Rice had to first admit, and then downplay, the fact there were clear warnings about 9/11 that Bush chose to ignore while he was clearing brush down at the ranch.

So we should all know better by now.

Yesterday, "The New York Times" also ran an article about the administration’s refusal to hand over communications relative to the Katrina debacle in the wake of reports it had warnings about what might happen there, too.

Again, let the scribe prod your memories: the (p)resident was at the ranch clearing brush.

Here it is:

And here’s another article about something else they won’t do: release pictures of Bush with stoolpigeon lobbyist Jack Abramoff. White House spokespersons say the photos are “not relevant.” How are they not relevant? And if they’re not, well, why not release them?

Hiding this, lying about that, spying on these and then spying on those, and they say we need (r)epublicans to protect us from whom? From (r)epublicans?

They’re going to spend the next 10 months painting Democrats as limp-wristed, gun-shy wimps, not manly enough to do the job that needs to be done – protecting Americans.

But if you go back to Froomkin’s “White House Briefing” and get to the part where someone at Bush’s appearance in Kansas asked the (p)resident about the film “Brokeback Mountain,” you’ll sample just how much of a “man” he really is.

Froomkin quotes the “L.A. Times” reporter Peter Wallstein who wrote: “Although the story line is full of [r]epublican touchstones – small-town Fourth of July celebrations, a father’s devotion to his children, even the wide-open landscape of Wyoming, Vice President Dick Cheney’s home state – the depiction of homosexuality makes the film untouchable for a politician.”

What politician? It’s a monster hit. Maybe the people who vote and the people who go to movies are separate blocks. If that’s the case, then the Dems should figure out a way to get the movie folks to vote. How? By fielding the kind of men who are able to say, “I saw that film and found it moving, thought-provoking and relevant,” and be comfortable doing so.

Not by mimicking some fake cowboy whose masculinity lies in his ability to blindly bomb tiny countries, but who is fearful his manliness might be questioned because he was open and sensitive enough to understand a piece of popular film making.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Another Day, Another Death

Governor Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of El Segundo Soldier

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Chief Warrant Officer 3 Rex C. Kenyon of El Segundo:

“Maria and I join all Californians in mourning the loss of Chief Warrant Officer Kenyon. His heroic service and selfless sacrifice for his country will not be forgotten. We send our heartfelt sympathies to Rex’s family during this painful time.”

Kenyon, 34, died Jan. 16 when his AH64D (Apache) helicopter was shot down while he was conducting aerial patrols in Baghdad, Iraq. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment, Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

In honor of Chief Warrant Officer 3 Kenyon, Capitol flags will be flown at half staff.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Purpose of Poetry

Those who know the scribe personally understand how he has been guided by conflicting lights over the years: Jack Kerouac and Jack Kennedy. He has essentially chosen a path hacked out of the cultural forest by the former, but now and again allows himself a lapse into fantasy about public service so remarkable in the latter.

Here are some thoughts Kennedy had about poetry from a speech given at Amherst College in honor of Robert Frost in September 1963. For one moment, at least, the President sounds a little something like Kerouac.

It ran in the January/February issue of the “Atlantic Monthly” from whence it was transcribed.

It is unfathomable a politician of our own era might say such things, and it’s both clear and sad the things Kennedy envisioned did not materialize in this America that grew up in the shadow of his murder.

A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.

The men who create power make an indispensable contribution to the nation’s greatness, but the men who question power make a contribution just as indispensable, especially when that questioning is disinterested, for they determine whether we use power or power uses us...

When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses, for art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones for our judgment. The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. The great artist is thus a solitary figure. He has, as Frost said, “a lover’s quarrel with the world.” In pursuing his perceptions of reality he must often sail against the currents of his time...

If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, make them aware that our nation falls short of its highest potential.

I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him...

In free society art is not a weapon, and it does not belong to the sphere of polemics and ideology. Artists are not engineers of the soul. It may be different elsewhere. But in a democratic society the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist, is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation...

I look forward to a great future for America – a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral strength, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose.

I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our natural environment, which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of our national past, and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future.

I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens.

And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world, not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.

And I look forward to a world which will be safe, not only for democracy and diversity but also for personal distinction.

The Smokers Get Some Espresso

Just a brief missive informing those in the San Diego area that the December/January edition of "The Espresso," circulated throughout the city's 368 coffee houses, published an excerpt from "The Sidewalk Smokers Club."

Specifically, it is Chapter 22 (July 9 post), wherein Carlos shows Jordan his AK-47 gun. Publisher John Rippo declared "the subtle tones" between the college-educated and under-employed Jordan, and the coffee-house maestro Carlos (of Zacatecas, Mexico), as "dead on."

"The Espresso" is a great publication, printed in a turn-of-the-century muckracking visual style with unabashed, progressive political content to go with it. We're proud of the association.

"The Sidewalk Smokers Club," runs serially here at highwayscribery. The first chapter was posted April 9. Click "April" beneath the "buy my book" button (to the left) and scroll down to April 9. Typically, ensuing chapters have run each weekend, with a few variations.

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.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Two items in the press recently rang the scribe’s chimes. They’re about the war, of course.

And what a waste of a literary career having to constantly carp about this ghastly tragedy.

The first is an opinion piece by Derrick Jackson who hails from the “Boston Globe.” It is most important for our purposes here at highwayscribery, which hoists the banner in favor of innocents bulldozed by the forces of history and stratagems of monsters like George w. Bush.

We stand, first and foremost, in defense of the hypothetical little-girl-in-a-courtyard with her cat whose reality is shattered by the searing scream of fighter jets and the earth shattering explosions they deal in their battle for democracy, peanut butter, and jelly.

And we stand for mincing our own thoughts in with those of more accomplished and recommended thinkers, without their permission.

Here’s the link:

The touchstone for Jackson’s piece is the recent slaughter of 18 people breaking bread together in Pakistan. You may not remember it given the scant outrage it has generated, but the purpose of the bombing of a civilian repast was to get the #2 Al-Qaeda guy (whatever that means). And that’s Jackson’s point: Our reprehensible inability to feel the pain we visit upon other people.

Jackson notes how the fact that innocent people died at the hands of our blustering foreign policy is of little import to (p)resident Bush who, “long ago maneuvered the self-absorbed American psyche to ignore our own inhumanity.”

This is why Europeans, and everybody else really, hate Bush around the world. He represents what’s worse in us: our callousness and disregard for the lives and progress of other countries, other peoples. They feel they are naught to us. And Bush doesn’t beat around, well, the bush. He doesn’t apologize, thinks we’re always right, and that because of 9/11, no small country can pay too high a price.

Here’s Jackson again: “With three years of denial [regarding civilian deaths], the reaction to the latest mistake in Pakistan was predictably without feeling. Asked Tuesday if regrets were forthcoming, White House press secretary Scott McClellan refused to talk about the incident, saying only, ‘I think you’ve hear our comments about matters of that nature in the past. If I have anything to add, I will’.”

That’s the compassionate side to the American conservative.

But as Jackson notes, Evan Bayh, a Democrat and Senator from Indiana, couldn’t wait to jump on board the tough-talk bandwagon and delivered his own serving of insensitivity on one of the weekend talk shows (according to Jackson): “It’s a regrettable situation, but what else are we supposed to do?”

the scribe would like to suggest acceptance of the fact terrorists take cover in civilian settings means they can’t be bombed. End of story. Find another way that doesn’t cost a billion dollars and doesn’t kill a thousand people.

Bayh was joined by Secretary of State Condesencia Rice, and that ‘ol pal of Strom Thurmon’s, Trent Lott of Missassippay.

John McCain, taking what passes for the centrist road in this country, apologized and then qualified that apology on “Face the Nation.”


“The air strike in Pakistan reaffirms how our behavior is plummeting in the direction of the evil we proclaim to fight.” (Jackson)

And this charming process is very expensive, according to a piece by Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz in the “L.A. Times” that you can find here:,0,4539675,print.story

The pair just made a presentation at the American Economic Association which suggested the cost of the war, depending upon how long troops are there, will cost between $1 trillion and $2 trillion.

Here’s just one paragraph:

“Like the iceberg that hit the Titanic, the full costs of the war are still largely hidden below the surface. Our calculations include not just the money for combat operations but also the costs the government will have to pay for years to come. These include lifetime healthcare and disability benefits for returning veterans and special round-the-clock medical attention for many of the 16,300 Americans who have already been seriously wounded. We also count the increased cost of replacing military hardware because the war is using up equipment at three to five times the peacetime rate. In addition, the military must pay large reenlistment bonuses and offer higher benefits to reenlist reluctant soldiers. On top of this, because we finance the war by borrowing more money (mostly from abroad) there is a rising interest cost on the extra debt.”

The administration’s estimate for the cost of the war was $16 billion. Saving the Salton Sea in California and thereby avoiding an environmental disaster with global implications, especially for migrating birds, would cost $2 billion, but nobody has it.

Here’s a cool ticker that gives you a graphic and moving idea of what we’re talking about here:

And finally, it turns out Al Gore’s speech had more resonance than usual (“You Go...Gore,” Jan. 17). Here’s a link to David Broder’s column in the “Washington Post” on the mercies and blessings of the former vice president’s speech.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Book Report - Sinn Fein: A Hundred Turbulent Years

the scribe is reporting back to you regarding this book he just read on the Sinn Féin. Going into the job highwayscribery knew the Sein Féin to be the political arm of the Irish Republican Army about which he knew little.

This book, "Sinn Fein: A Hundred Turbulent Years,"goes back to the late 19th century when the group was formed under the moniker which translates to “Ourselves Alone.”

Prime movers of the early formation were one Arthur Griffith who did the heavy "Sinn Fein: A Hundred Turbulent Years," goes back to the late 19th century when the group was formed under the moniker which translates to "Ourselves Alone."

Primary movers of the early formation were one Arthur Griffith who did the heavy intellectual lifting, and Eamon de Valera who turned out to be the natural politician of a bunch that included Michael Collins, about whom Hollywood made a movie starring Liam-whatever-his-name-is some 14 years ago.

The group became the crucible for a push toward a republican and Irish state independent of Great Britain around the end of World War I. Since this was something of a leisure read (!) the scribe doesn't have it all ordered perfectly in his mind, but the upshot was one of heavy repression and finally a partition, granting a new Irish state to most of the island, but leaving the northern part which has, to complicate life for everyone involved, a protestant and unionist (pro-Britain) majority, outside it.

De Valera moved toward the center when the "Free State" of Ireland, separated from the North, was born and the republican movement, and Sinn Féin in particular, got lost in a netherworld of self-generated "theology" as per author Brian Feeney's choice of word.

The result was years out on the margins debating whether or not to participate in politics, or stay on the outside of things, because neither the Irish Republic nor Westminster in London were recognized as legitimate rulers of Ireland (which they were doing anyway).

By mid-century Sinn Féin had practically disappeared, reduced to a club for a few keepers of the free, republican, Irish state flame. The "armed struggle," which was both a noble effort to defend Catholics from Protestant pogroms and a stupid campaign that killed many innocent people, took center stage.

The IRA found Sinn Féin's credentials useful and decided to take it over and make use of the party for its own purposes.

Sometime in the 1980s, a young bearded fellow named Gerry Adams, who hailed from a family with strong roots in the Republican movement, began a slow campaign to "run down" the armed struggle and modernize the political wing into a legitimate and independent mass electoral party.

Feeney, whose prose are typical for a historian (okay), does a good job of connecting the dots, interviewing survivors of that time, and detailing the daunting task that Adams faced in seeking to, surreptitiously and slowly, divest the IRA of relevance.

It makes a good and easy read, the 442-page length notwithstanding. Like many historical works, it does a fine job of cutting and pasting events according to the dates they happen and producing documents to support it all.

highwayscribery rented "The Boxer" with Daniel Day Lewis, to get a sense of what the atmosphere in which all of this transpired was like.

The film, shot through a graying blue lens, essays a Northern Ireland stunted economically and spiritually by poverty and violence since the beginning of "The Troubles," as the IRA's last, longest and most deadly campaign was known. It brings to life the hardliners, who resisted political participation and the decommissioning of arms, while capturing the desperation and exhaustion everyone doing a daily dance with violence felt.

The movie fills in the facts with some sentiment and rounds out the portrait, for those interested in a deeper understanding.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

You Go...Gore

Al Gore remembered Martin Luther King Jr., with a speech defending the civil rights by which our country was once distinguished from others. He gave the speech at Constitution Hall in Washington D.C.

The notice was published in the “Washington Post” and penned by Chris Cillizza. Barely making the cut, Gore’s occasional blasts of criticism draw their legitimacy from the mainstream and civic support the former vice president enjoys as a public servant and intellectual.

The forceful nature of Gore’s remarks serve both to fuel the media’s insistence that he’s been embittered by his notorious defeat, and claims from the left that their opinions of the reigning emperor are shared by men cut from more moderate clothe – like a former senator from Tennessee.

Gore told his audience that [p]resident Bush broke the law in authorizing wiretaps without court approval and called it a “shameful exercise of power.”

He said, “The president of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and insistently.”

According to the piece, Gore linked the eavesdropping program to the deceptive claim Iraq possessed the means of making mushroom clouds in American cities, prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq, and the embarrassing campaign to allow torture.

“The disrespect,” Gore said, “embodied in these apparent mass violations of the law is part of a larger pattern of seeming indifference to the Constitution that is deeply troubling to Americans in both political parties.”

The article, commendable for covering a worthwhile American, later deteriorates into a discussion of polling that show Americans split on the question of illegal wiretapping. It talks about our current Attorney General Alberto Gonzales suggesting the administration has seen something in the law no prior executive did, and determined it has not only the legal right to do so, but “the duty” to protect Americans.

Protect you by spying on you.

Cillizza then called the Republican National Committee for the usual potshot at Gore’s character.

This is what Tracey Schmitt came up with: “Al Gore’s incessant need to insert himself in the headline of the day is almost as glaring as his lack of understanding of the threats facing America.”

Which is quite safe and good as saying nothing at all.

Disdaining Gore on the one hand, and dispatching Gonzales (the nation’s top enforcement guy) to dispatch with his comments on the other, the administration made use of its media wet nurse, Fox News, and its milk maid, Sean Hannity as bullhorn.

Gonzales used that bullhorn to call Gore a hypocrite, pointing out that somewhere at some point, the Clinton administration had employed an unauthorized tap somewhere, at some point.

The is what passes for statesman-like behavior under the ruling imperial party. The (r)epublicans’ debate wreaks of the back room and the school yard. The face they put on their public comment is that of the carnival barker or the clown.

The only thing missing was a link between Gore’s remarks and the ACLU’s lawsuit against the administration’s little plan for the American populace. Another vast left wing conspiracy to tie the (p)resident’s hands.

Here’s a link to the piece:

Elsewhere, Bush was remembering King by noting how his vision had yet to be realized and later spent to the day promoting national policies to keep it that way.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Remembering Dr. King

The following speech was given by Sen. Robert Kennedy of New York in the ghetto of Indianapolis following the assassination of Martin Luther King, whose birthday we celebrate today.

Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice for his fellow human beings, and he died because of that effort.

In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black – considering the evidence there evidently is that there were white people who were responsible – you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization – black people amongst black, white people amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another.

Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.

For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poet was Aeschylus: He wrote: “In our sleep pain which cannot forget falls drop to drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.

We’ve had difficult times in the past. We will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; it is not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.

Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of the world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.

The words were not heeded. Not then or now. Perhaps they are more vision than truth. Riots broke out in 110 cities after Dr. King was slain. Thirty-nine people were killed and urban America singed itself, never really recovering its prior verve or charm, surrendering centerstage in the unfolding drama of national life. The violence did not stop either, as Kennedy’s own unfinished odyssey demonstrates.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters 66, 67 and 68

Chapter Sixty-six

City Attorney had already provided an inkling of how well (or not) all of this might be going over with the general population, but Jordan occupied an even better vantage point from his place in bed next to a naked and (he imagined) satisfied Eilin.
They had watched the press conference live on a local news station.

As the creature that squeezed sweetness out from every pore of Jordan’s body watched Randall’s iconoclastic defense of all things free, a small smirk of dissatisfaction slowly spread across her face. Jordan, who’d waited the better part of his adult life to hear/see points of view like Randall’s on something quite so grand as television, was torn between his own ecstasy and Eilin’s evident disapproval. They did not get to go much deeper into things after his love turned to him and said, “These are the special friends you’re always telling me about?” because the station switched over to City Attorney’s office where the second part of the planned one-two media punch was about to be delivered.

As CA’s face filled the screen and began to discuss the virtues of The Sidewalk Smokers Club and liberty unimpeded by the nettlesome intrusions of the nanny state, Eilin hit the mute button and reduced him to a head with a mouth moving in a futility that rather shocked Jordan. The mute button, he thought, was a mighty tool indeed. And that’s bum philosophy, too.

“How come you cut it off? I wanted to hear,” he told his inspiration.

“I can’t stand him,’ she fired back, point-blank actually.

Of course, politicians are no strangers to provoking the ire of the governed, but such disdain is normally reserved for those of a higher rank than city attorney, which is a position largely invisible to those not mesmerized by the inner workings of your typical, large metropolitan municipal operation. And there was nothing in Eilin’s discussion up to that moment, when she silenced CA from a sitting and naked position in her own bed, to suggest she was even up on the broad stroke political themes of the day, let alone the minor calculations of a secondary functionary.

“Might I ask why you harbor this animosity toward our noble holder of civil servant?”

“He’s a coward. He’s fickle,” she answered. “He went after the Angel Without Mercy so he could do better in the polls and then he dropped it later, very quietly.”
Jordan again dodged getting into the particulars of the Angel Without Mercy saga, but was perturbed to hear how much the matter upset Eilin. To be sure, his action proved to have a demonstrable resonance. Clearly, the death of an old lady in a hospital, where she lay unconscious and vulnerable to the acts of inscrutable nighttime hall wanderers, could wreak havoc with public confidence in the medical system.

“He gave an explanation, I thought…” was the best Jordan could come up with and the forceful and willful girl waved him off without the use of her vocal chords.
So he squeezed out a minimal defense of City Attorney’s courage in siding with the group going up against majority opinion in a time-honored tradition of dissent where beating back badges was concerned. Eilin, again, cut him off with a shake of the head.

Jordan understood that it was a bad idea to be right on an issue that rubs the woman you’re hoping to spend eternity with the wrong way. And still there were those eyebrows that, no matter how much information she had been given, no matter what level of confession, framed her face in a thin-lined fragility of eternally expressed expectation. Innocence is mostly in the eyebrows.

The discussion was dead. Love was alive. Jordan backtracked over his own recent wanderings, recanting – inside of course – all the irreverence, disrespect, and demands for personal satisfaction; responding to the lecture of that highest calling uttered by the woman beloved.

Chapter Sixty-seven

But that was one man’s point of view, strongly influenced by one woman’s. The mute button does not silence a voice across all humanity, only a single household - and one room at that. And some of City Attorney’s pronouncements were of paramount importance to a certain class of smokers both citywide and nationwide, to local retailers, to a nettlesome yet effective club of crazies, and especially to lesbiancitycouncilwomanperson who was watching, along with chosen staffers, in stunned trepidation as the frontrunner for mayor torpedoed his career and left her in the position of achieving the impossible.

With the command of someone used to having his viewpoint heard and respected, City Attorney had dispatched with the answering of questions and gone right into the reading of a statement.

He said, and in no uncertain terms, that he was throwing the power of his office
behind The Sidewalk Smokers Club and “their lively defense of kindred spirits facing efforts to remove them from the streets they help make exciting for us all, and which” – and he emphasized with intonations of voice and hand-gesture coordination – “belong to everyone.

“And while I respect and recognize the importance of business, small and large, to our well-being I must hold to the position of a man who would govern through the balanced consideration of all the citizens – especially those without a voice.”

The essence of City Attorney’s preamble had once been the Republic’s guiding principal – the nice little gift to the plain folks that had made risking their asses worth it – but was now deemed outside the mainstream; a place some people choose to avoid, but others simply can’t find.

Anyhow, City Attorney went on to say that, “allowing merchants to use force in removing the very people who symbolize the freedom of our sidewalks is a betrayal of the public’s trust in our ability to protect them.”

Somewhere, City Attorney’s mother was crying over this courageous act of self-immolation. Somewhere else – actually in the back room of Joya’s Joyas – the object of his passions cried, too, over love’s power evident. And somewhere grim and cynical men with money riding on every second of their existence wrote the young man off for his sacrilege – and worse – for his impertinent beauty.

CA had anticipated questions as to the unpopularity of The Smokers’ cause given its unhealthful side effects and slovenly example for the children – “our future,” in paid-political-spot-parlance.

“The majority,” he pointed out, “does not have the difficulty defending its prerogatives the minority has. The majority, as a matter of fact, is often the primary agent in suffocating the pleasures of lesser-loved groups.”

A politics of pleasure even! In another century, future or past, he might be emperor of a happy land.

In this monologue City Attorney had consciously taken a page from Randall’s book.

And we emphasize that it was a page and not the whole thing. He flattered the gathered media’s intelligence and left a coherent legacy in the instance this was his swan song as an elected public official. He was taking his chance to say something by saying something. The clarion call to tolerance would most likely go unheard by a people inured to prepared statements, while only those who feared what he said, understood what he said.

And what he said was that, at a practical level, enforcement of The Smoke-Free Workplace Act had launched an uneven affair that singled out a small group, while a much broader public went unmolested, in clear violation of what specific privilege he did not know, nor care, because he simply felt it was wrong.

To illustrate the act’s sloppy drafting and how quickly things might get out of hand, he alluded to the night he himself was caught on camera while fire officials Thorpe and Diaz were arresting Yvonne. And although it was one part of his discourse that managed to connect with the broadest cross section of viewers, it left Yvonne wondering, yet again, why things always came back to her.

Standing behind her, Randall silently rejoiced at CA’s effective invocation of The Smokers’ most recognizable and appealing icon, proving that sometimes people with the same goals can be at cross purposes.

Chapter Sixty-eight

They met again at the Argentine restaurant to discuss combating the BID’s plan for clearing the air, as it were. The Smokers were forever having to think two steps ahead of the talky-smart people and they found the task more daunting as the marathon wore on. What had for an instant been wild, novel, and a clear break from the mundane quotidian, now became an obligation, and, therefore quotidian. And they were still a little shocked at how many people wanted to sit around and actually watch. They were not themselves.The Sidewalk Smokers Club was no longer a freewheeling bunch of amoral thinkers pinching harmlessly at the belly of the beast; they were an object of scorn for right-thinking people and each was constantly being confronted at moments when (they thought) the game wasn’t supposed to be on. But that was the point. The show ran until the programmers pulled it. If you wanted to hide, they showed you hiding.

For those who had taken up their banner, there was an example that must be lived up to and sometimes they just didn’t feel irreverent or, for that matter, care much for a smoke – on the sidewalk or anywhere else. Clearly, there were consequences to their actions and the more magnified those actions became, so did the consequences.

The Argentine restaurant owner was glad as ever to see them. The paparazzi were on hand and disappointed at Yvonne’s having dressed down to the point where it would be a stretch to sell the pictures they might steal of her. Joya showed up on CA’s arm, and that would be a novelty for the photographers if failing politicians were any kind of item at all, which they weren’t, or if they’d known she was (once?) lesbian, which they failed to uncover in spite of their obsession. Corey and a slimmed-down Clarisse showed up together, but avoided outward displays of affection that might confirm the signal they seemed to be sending. It was not time. Jordan did not come with Eilin, who shunned the spotlight and left him with an earful for the road about what she characterized as a charade.

Once The Club was seated the eatery’s owner explained that puffing inside had become an impossibility since the last Smoker-inspired event. He said that, under the special circumstances they had brought upon themselves, the Sidewalkers should indulge themselves on the sidewalk where the paparazzi waited without being sure for what. This was disheartening because, although they were The Sidewalk Smokers, they came to the restaurant to smoke inside. They’d killed the thing they loved and they knew it.

Seeing Joya locked at the elbow with City Attorney took more than a little getting used to. In fact, most of them failed to make the adjustment completely. She was their Joya, however single or lesbian or impossibly unobtainable, and therefore available for each to press a personal and private crush upon. Frequent adoring glimpses from this well-groomed Serious-man at her side stripped the girl of a racy peril once evinced and there was not a heart among them, which didn’t crack just a little bit more.

And the damage went beyond that excessively considered organ into sketchier regions of the person – domains where jealousy lay curled like a snake curdling a deadly poison for injecting. Only Randall knew for sure (Yvonne having surmised) that Joya had forsaken singledom and taken up with a big shot on behalf of their bid to stave off the extinction of a peculiar and threatened subculture. None, not even Randall, knew of what she had done to spare Jordan a date with the hangman – Jordan least of all. So there was a good dosage of misconception mixing in with the wine as City Attorney opened the discussion in place of Randall, who already had a sense that his best work was behind him.

“First off, the double-event went over like a lead balloon,” said City Attorney. “Our polls show a vast majority of the public that is tuned in find Randall to be arrogant, condescending, and a bad influence, not only upon children, but upon adults as well.” Randall received a mild round of applause, smiles and encouraging nods of the head. “Of course, the 20 percent of those who think what he said needed to be said support him strongly as they have the whole Sidewalk Smokers phenomenon over the past months.”

Yvonne rose from her chair and announced that she was retreating to the ladies room and then she did. City Attorney continued, “I guess this is as good a time as any to reveal that except with college-aged men, Yvonne is highly unpopular. Folks think she is immoral, was looking for trouble when she got her pictures taken, and found it in the measure she rightly deserved.”

Jordan was annoyed. “What’re we in the Bible Belt?”

“No, the Bible Balloon,” said CA continuing, “Her…our lawsuit against the magazine industry is considered by a vast majority of those polled as frivolous, without merit, and a cheap lunge for some easy money by an easy girl.”
Yvonne returned.

“Who’s an easy girl?”

“You are hon!” said Joya with a smile that lit Yvonne up as City Attorney took his cue, glossed right over her question in his polished gravy way and said, “And it won’t help that the suit might actually achieve what she wants. I think the magazine industry is going to cave and agree to a decent settlement.”

“Whooo!” Corey leapt from his seat and nearly hit the ceiling with the top of his head. “Good,” Jordan echoed his smokemate’s physical sentiment with habitual understatement. Yvonne remained passive, playing up her emotional exhaustion.

“Why dey would do dat?” Clarisse appropriately inquired.

“Because college-aged men are a primary target group for most of their advertisers and college-age men like Yvonne. A lot.”

“So they don’t think she’s immoral and got what she had coming to her?” asked Joya.

“Sure they do, but those are virtues,” explained Jordan who was college-aged in his way.

The restaurant owner appeared with two magnums of pricey champagne obviously arranged for by City Attorney since the bubbly had never figured in prior congresses. Not that everybody wasn’t very excited by this new wrinkle the new member had introduced.

The champagne service performed by the Argentine himself provided a lull in City Attorney’s report. Each thought they were past the point where being watched tickled them, but it wasn’t true and they were pleased to hear the rising and lowering of the restaurant’s din parallel the volume of their own discussion. People were attuned. The Sidewalk Smokers had not lost all of their cachet.

Jordan thought that perhaps City Attorney’s polls meant squat. Polls were for the cobblers of majorities, not for a tiny marching band interpreting the Bronx cheer.

As long as they had their fans, they’d be fine. They’d be where they had always been, even if he wasn’t sure where, exactly, that was.

Clarisse had downed her flute in a single gasp and spirited herself off to the ladies room without announcement. “She’s looking pretty hot,” said Jordan who, because he was in love, no longer felt his own public utterances about young women to be offensive.

“Yeah, she was kinda heavy after you guys broke,” said Joya, ever mindful of such details. City Attorney smiled. He might purchase a bit of her, but the whole woman would always escape him.


Yvonne looked away, distracted. Just because she never got around to really handling Corey’s entreaties didn’t mean she wasn’t going to be upset at the loss of an increasingly valuable prospect. Yvonne learned something new. And she took out a pen and scribbled on a cocktail napkin, “You want it more when it’s not yours.”

Randall saw her tuck it away and knew from established custom the contents would soon become his property.

“Well,” Corey covered for his wife, “she was going through a lot and the food in this country is pretty different than it is where she comes from,” which was sweet and pleased everybody to hear him say it. Clarisse came back and City Attorney courteously filled her flute anew.

“Everybody take another sip because the next pill is going to be more bitter than the first,” he warned.

They all took a sip and then focused. “This is how it is,” he started. “We’ll never be able to stop the BID.”

“You’re bailing?” Randall blurted, memories of DeConcini haunting.

“No, I committed to helping with this and I’m still with you. I’m just warning that it could get very uncomfortable, things could get scattered, people could get scattered.”

The group’s mood sunk precipitously as did the restaurant’s din, the other diners waxing and waning with the tides of feeling washing over The Smokers. Doubt crept in. Would their act go stale? Not playing the game excellently had gotten them invited to Hat Midone’s parties, but being good at not playing the game did not foreshadow a good playing of the game. “Hat may be where it’s at in some circles, but not in enough of them,” CA chided. “And not in the ones that really count.” The Smokers bristled. They were appreciative of the actor for taking up their cause and lightening a heavy load. They liked being in his world as much as they enjoyed him in theirs.

The Smokers were a law of diminishing returns unto themselves. Despite passionate support from their constituency, their problems and misadventures did not evoke much sympathy beyond it.

“Well, I can’t say that ahm surprised,” Joya said. “We don’t deserve any sympathy.

We like something that most people hate.”

“Wither the nation?” Randall threw up his hands.

“Yeah,” Yvonne threw in, “since when does it matter that everyone should like us?
We’ve been in and out of jail.”

“‘Everyone’ is what I bring to the table, supposedly,” City Attorney said in a wistful kind of way. “It has been my job to rally support for you and I haven’t delivered.”

Jordan thought it was nice that City Attorney was capable of a softer, human side, but wished he’d find less importune times to demonstrate it. To fight off his nervousness he decided to have a smoke. J. excused himself, saw the paparazzi on the sidewalk, and opted for a trip to the men’s room instead. “If we don’t succeed we won’t be allowed to smoke outside and if we do succeed we still won’t be allowed,” he muttered to his image while passing the mirror en route to the urinal.

Behind him a conversation about his own person was undertaken.

“What’s with Jordan?” carped Yvonne. “It’s like he’s a zombie. He shows up sometimes, but he never really adds anything. He has no ideas and no practical skills.”

Not that any of them possessed practical skills, but there had never really been much between the pin-up queen and the mercy murderer. Joya, who knew more than most rose to J.’s defense, but in a general kind of way. “C’mon let’s don’t fight amongst ourselves. We’ve come this far by workin’ together hons,” and they took the cue even though Yvonne was accurate in her observation. Randall, who had decided upon his own visit to the men’s room, now held himself in check after noting that whoever left the table was immediately the object of revision by their co-smokers.

“Let me ask you all something,” City Attorney took up the reins again, “has he been in the hospital lately?” And in a few seconds he’d found out all he needed to know about Jordan.

J. returned to a silent table and this left him feeling uncomfortable as well he might have given his criminal doings and the presence of a top law enforcement official sitting familiarly in what passed for a kind of inner sanctum. Randall picked up on the tension, if not all the reasons for it, and moved the moment along. “So what are our options? We have made something of a commitment to those people out there and to Joya who makes her living on that street.”

Condemned to a life of compromise, City Attorney said what he said next in a kind of automatic way. “Well, you’ve done well with scandal, but you’re not going to get much farther. I’d recommend you all take a pass on it. Live to fight another day for something bigger.”

The sound of “another day and something bigger” only served to increase The Smokers sense of exhaustion. Lack of imagination can do this to people, but to their credit, The Club recognized the cop-out for what it was. In their silence they were a unanimous “no!”

“That’s the best you can come up with?” Jordan attacked, unaware that his friends had unwittingly provided City Attorney with a precise profile of his criminality.

The object of his ire looked at J. for a second, shook his head, and smiled a smile too weary for a man of his age and energy. “I forgot to tell you that Andy Dumburton says hello and that the offer is still on the table.”

Nobody knew what the hell he was talking about and Jordan was too flummoxed over the fact Dumburton’s name was Andy for City Attorney’s play to force a moment of truth. City Attorney, of course, did not know who knew what about whom. Randall crossed his legs one way and then the other. Corey got up, announced he was going to have a smoke, saw the paparazzi scramble for their gear, and turned back toward what the Brits called “the loo.”

They followed him with their eyes and when Corey disappeared, Yvonne opened her mouth to speak and waved a hand in the direction he’d just headed only to be interrupted by Randall who sought to limit any frustrated finger-pointing. “He’s done remarkably well. Corey deserves a better shake when he returns to the serious world.”

Jordan shifted in his seat, for this was clearly not the banter of victory foretold.

City Attorney did not wait for Corey to return. He went on to explain how he could file for a temporary injunction enjoining the BID from carrying out its plans for a policy sweep of the area. He could not, he said, guarantee it would work. He’d lost pull, people at city hall were taking him less seriously and The Smokers’ unpopularity called into question the manner in which he was using his office.

“You’re defending a basic freedom!” Corey said upon returning to catch the end of this talk.

“People don’t care,” he answered Corey flatly. City Attorney was very discouraged.

He’d signed on in a fit of romanticism and now it seemed they didn’t even like him and his terribly informed vision of the garbage pale world. They had a charm he never would, because they were always wrong and he was always right.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Don't Call the scribe A Traitor!

The “New York Times’” David Sanger, their White House guy, wrote a piece headlined, “In Strong Words, Bush Tries to Redirect Debate on Iraq,” in which the president calls his opponents traitors. This is not news at all and Sanger knows it. The death of a thousand trees made pulp for this press release are on his conscience.

The (p)resident, as is his wont, gave a speech in front of a bunch of soldiers and basked in standing ovations, his favorite pastime and conception of dissent-less democracy.

“We have,” w. said, “A responsibility to our men and women in uniform, who deserve to know that once our politicians vote to send them into harm’s way, our support will be with them in good days and in bad days.”


Just a few days earlier the “Washington Post” ran yet another story on the inadequate armor these guys were sent into war with.

The (p)resident’s love for the troops preluded him having a real plan for occupying Iraq. It hasn’t prevented him from vacationing more than any other American president, whilst asking the boys and girls he honors so much for extended tours and postponed decommissioning.

His sanctification of the military class is unnecessary. They are capable of understanding that the reasons for combat are still a matter of debate. They debate them as well, if recent polls showing a loss of support for the war among the enlisted, are any measure.

And they are imperfect as any of us.

If the scribe lacked a sense of decency, he’d link you up to some of the soldiers’ Web pages and blogs where the photos of Iraqi men with brains spilling from their shattered skulls are usually accompanied with written narratives full of what, shall we say, is not thought of the highest human type.

Bush told the veterans, “The vast majority of Iraqis prefer freedom with intermittent power, to life in the permanent darkness of tyranny and terror.”

The (p)resident is always long on ringing words and short on facts and authentic sentiment. As he dispassionately noted just a few days ago, 30,000 to 35,000 Iraqis have died in his little scapatella.

It’s appropriate for a man of Bush’s colossal insensitivity to divine the sentiment of another nation’s citizens, but a more relevant question might be: Would you rather live in tyranny or darkness, or get your brain dashed against the windshield while driving your family through a checkpoint?

In another “Washington Post” piece, the writer picked up a quote from the same speech that either Sanger or his editors chose to forego: “But [Bush] termed irresponsible, ‘the partisan critics who claim that we acted in Iraq because of oil, or because of Israel, or because we misled the American people’.”

w.’s free to call the highway scribe whatever he wants, but here goes: “You went to war because of the vital economic, and geopolitical significance Iraqi oil reserves represent to the United States (as currently constituted). Furthermore, you lied by confiding in those you govern that the leader of that country possessed the means to wipe out any American city he chose. And that with the help of Saudi terrorists you’ve never actually linked to that leader.”

Now, you tell the scribe what truly inspires the angry insurgent in Fallujah more: the chemical agent that suffocated his friend to death, the armored vehicle that ran his kid over, or someone far away pointing out gaping holes in the administration’s war policy.

You don’t stop criticizing someone who went to war because he went to war and now you’re undermining the war.

Be a hero. Undermine it.

Set a timetable and begin pulling these men and women out. There is no cowardice and no defeatism in this. Simply common sense and realpolitik as men like Bush and Co., are used to applying the world over.

And here’s a little more dissent. One of the guys you sent off to die came from a base here in California:

Governor Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Sgt. Adam L. Cann of Davie, Fl.

“Californians owe a debt of gratitude to the brave men and women who risk their lives in service of their country. Sgt. Cann gave his life upholding the ideals of this nation and his sacrifice reminds us of the dangers faced on all of our behalf every day. Maria and I send our sympathies to Adam’s family as they mourn the loss of a beloved and noble Marine.”

Cann, 23, died Jan. 5, from injuries sustained when a suicide bomber attacked an Iraqi police recruitment center in Ar Ramadi, Iraq. He was assigned to Security Battalion, Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, CA. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, his unit was attached to the 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.

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

There should be no greater outrage, not over criticism of the policy, not over treading upon the Imperial Presidency lodged in Bush’s mined, than over the death of these men and women and way it happens.


On this date in 1912 the International Workers of the World began its “bread and roses” strike in Lawrence, Mass.