Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Still in New York

NEW YORK - These days, when you step up out of the subway in Manhattan, you need only look to see where there are no skyscrapers to tell which way is downtown.

Today, after briefly braving the massive crowds of tourists (the scribe must lamentably include his brood in the category) around mid-town, in an attempt to see the tree at Rockefeller Center, the temerous trio skooted over to Lexington Ave. and caught the 4 train down to Astor Street.

There the scribe and Mrs. Scribe, a little tingly with cold, slipped into The Central Bar for a martini (him) and a cosmopolitan (her) while Scribe Jr. slept in the stroller.

It turned out to be an English pub where a brilliant football derby (pronounced "Darby") between Liverpool and Everton was unfolding on a frigid pitch where the side in the red kit was handling well the efforts of the side in the blue kit.

And you'll have to find your own English pub if you want that translated.

The couple's best laid plans to finish the cocktails in peace were shattered when an African bloke playing for Liverpool scored a goal and brought a good number of lads to their feet, making a terrible row. Scribe Jr. awoke in his usual feisty manner and, a short time later, managed to overturn the table with the cocktails thereby putting an end to the revery.

Fortified nonetheless, the trio headed out to find the former home of famed anarchist Emma Goldman at 210 E. 13th Street just off of St. Marks Place. There was no 210 in evidence and so the UPS man was asked where it was and he responded "There's no such thing."

It was a little too cold to pursue the matter any further, and so, the troika headed toward Little Italy and Mott Street where the scribe's grandmother, Rosina, was born about 100 years ago in number 50.

Heartened by the half-finished cocktails the couple took delight in everything they saw. You will be glad to know there are still considerable swathes of Manhattan you don't have to be a zillionaire to live in, if roughing it in a downtrodden ethnic enclave is your cup of tea.

New York. There's no place like it and you have to revisit now and again to be reminded of this. In a single 100-yard strip just north of Houston Street, the intreprid ones saw five tiny restaurants with delicious and creative dishes never heard of or sampled. Invention and the cold seem to warm to each other.

There was a store called "The Paris Apartment Boudoir" which was designed like a small Paris apartment boudoir and we could only guess how such a niche business manages to turn over the $7000 necessary to pay rent and live the cool city life.

The Web site is and you can check it out for yourself.

Dinner was taken at "Il Fornaio" on Mulberry Street. It is one of the few places there not overdone in what we knew back in the day as "Brooklyn Baroque" and where you don't have to wait on line to get a table. It is a marvelous bowl of steaming pasta to combat the elements whipping in off the rivers, done al dente, that you will always remember and return to some many years later.

Fifty dollars (added to the credit card) later, the satiated adventurers headed for the F train station at 1st Avenue and Houston. There they ran into the headquarters for the Time's Up collective (environmental education & direct action in NYC) who seem to delight most in bicycling as a form of subversive behavior.

But here's their web page

the scribe is just about finished with Jeanette Winterson's "The Passion," and here's a line he fell in love with on the subway glide home.

"The heart is so easily mocked, believing that the sun can rise twice or that roses bloom because we want them to."

Monday, December 26, 2005

Zoo Poem II

NEW YORK - Here's another poem "found" at the Central Park Zoo, this one in the rainforest section.

"Could it be true we live on Earth?
On Earth forever.

Just one brief instant here.

Even the finest stones begin to split
even gold is tarnished,
even precious bird-plumes
shrivel like a cough.

Just one brief instant here."

Nezahualcoyotll (Mexico 1403-1437)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

From New York

NEW YORK - the scribe swore off typing, computer screens and Internet surfing for a few days, but to no avail; this blogging thing is in the blood now.

Mrs. Scribe and Scribe Jr. made the trip here and New York is always a great place to spend Christmas.

On Christmas Eve the streets were packed with people finishing off their shopping, taking in the window displays at Bergdoff, Sacks, Bloomingdales and Macy*s. The rush of the sidewalks pushed the scribe's heart to crazy palpitations, much the same as it did when he was younger and slumming the anarchic byways of St. Mark's Place.

The Plaza Hotel is shut down for a residential conversion, its bright eyes on the city shut at sundown, its golden guady maws sealed and devoid of uniformed doormen. The perpetual swishing of its fabulous fountain is silenced and it seems that someone, and certainly something, has died.

While the family was airborne there was a transit strike in play and things weren't looking too good in terms of getting around town. By the time the plane's big wheels hit the ground the job action was over. the scribe's pro-union leanings aside, it was a good thing. There is no New York without the subway.

The family paid a visit to the zoo at Central Park South and saw Ozzie Osborne roaming about, looking fit as a free safety for the New England Pats. Maybe the drugged out, aging rocker schtick is just that, schtick.

They (the zoo people) post poems related to the animals on display or the habitat they occupy. Now there's an editing job! This one was engraved in glass at the pond of black-necked swans and is appropriately entitled "The Swan (An Exeter Riddle)" The author is anonymous and it was written in Olde England circa 975.

"Silent is my dress when Step across the earth,
reside in my house, or ruffle the waters.
Sometimes my adornments and this high windy air
lift me over the livings of men,
the power of the clouds carries me far
over all people. My white pinions
resound very loudly, ring with a melody,
sing out clearly, when I sleep not on
the soil or settle on grey waters - a traveling spirit"

Now the scribe would like to suggest that that is one sweet poem both high-minded as a pure god yet common, requiring no expert or worldly interpretation. It makes every man and woman a swan if only they can accept the mind-wings it profers.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

International News

The Spanish Political party, Izquierda Republicana, (Republican Left) ran pictures from the scribe's reading on their national Web site under the headline, "Republican Banner Waves in Hollywood." It's an honor.

Monday, December 19, 2005

"Vedette Does La Danza" at 33 1/3 Books & Gallery Collective

Above are some photos from the scribe's reading of "Vedette" at 33 1/3 Books & Gallery Collective on Dec. 15 in Silver Lake, Los Angeles. They are taken by Anna Siciliano, the scribe's wife, and Frank Bruynbroek .

At the top are two shots of the scribe and Omar Torrez, with the flag of the Spanish Republic overhead, provided by Izquierda Republicana (Republican Left), a political party dating back to the Spanish Civil War.

Next is an image of the riveted audience.

In the fourth from the top, and left to right are Omar's wife Masha, Omar, Llem (the bookstore owner), the scribe himself and Mrs. Scribe (Anna Siciliano).

After that are Masha and Omar.

Following are, well, you get the idea.

After six weeks of hanging posters, e-mailing, calling, reminding, and leaving fliers all over town, 15 people attended.


John Tottenham, a local writer and the most English man the scribe knows told him 15 wasn't so bad. "Remember, Martin Amis said a game of Scrabble qualifies as a literary event in Los Angeles."

In any case, the whole thing worked and with the help of six bottles of flamenco sherry (do the math!) the event turned out downright jovial and the scribe felt great about it.

Thanks again to those who came; for those who didn't maybe we'll do it again.

The Real Vedette Revisited

Through the miracle of the Internet, highwayscribery was contacted by either a niece or nephew of the real Vedette, Gloriella. Our reportage was all wrong ("The Real Vedette," Dec. 16), but we were getting the information from sensationalist Mexican tabloids and in no position to dig up the real stuff (this is all free work here folks). Here is the "comment" from La Vedette Gloriella's family member:

"My aunt Gloria passed away on December 2, 2005. She left us too soon, she was so full of light and energy and was so much fun to be around. I miss her so much. She died at her Real Estate office in the city of Colima where she was born and resided. My Aunt even in her 50's was still a bombshell! Her beauty in these pictures is no comparison to the beauty that she was in person. Thank you for writing kind words about her. I know if she had the opportunity to see your site, you would have met her. "

The loss is the scribe's, too.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapter 61

Chapter Sixty-one

Vindaloo Baxley was the gift that kept on giving. Clarisse was now more than just an artisan-for-hire. She’d become something of a confidant to Vindaloo who was, of course, a lonely famous rich girl.

The moment of their coalescing came just after Eilin had captivated Jordan’s attention for good. Clarisse had seen the boisterous and self-confident personality go pale upon looking back out to the sidewalk where the smallest advantage she’d ceded as a courtesy to Jordan had led her to lose him. Now Vindaloo, because another woman had bested her, decided that she really liked Jordan whom, despite his somewhat sloppy and clumsy life, has wracked up a pretty good record where admiration amongst the womanry is concerned.

Vindaloo was too busy creating an image of pure and hip happiness to spend any kind of time on her true emotional well-being, so that in the days immediately after she never put any particular plan into action for winning Jordan over. Clarisse could see that Vindaloo could see that Eilin had the game sewed up and that she was candy-striping her defeat in their little conversations about seduction and such. And Vindaloo could see everything Clarisse was seeing, which is how she came to be the luminary she was in the constellation of actresses. Which is to say that Vindaloo wasn’t stupid. And they were able to keep these truths to themselves and deal with each other affectionately. An important adjustment if you’re talking sorority.

Anyway, the point is that with Vindaloo busting her coffers with sick money Clarisse decided to chip-in and help solve some of The Smokers’ outstanding financial problems. Despite her spot-on assessment that these were the times in which she was to make hay and set up a better, more comfortable future, something in Clarisse’s Catholic upbringing left her with the nagging feeling that this had all been too much fun, that her gains were ill-gotten, that she was an egocentric and frivolous person and was being rewarded for it.

It did not help money matters much that those wanting to assist The Club could almost never locate its members. Each was operating on the fly, improvising in a game they made up as things went along; dodging capture by exactly whom they could never be sure (except Jordan).

With all the telecommunications advances in the world at her fingertips it took Clarisse the better part of a day to finally catch up with Corey, at night, in a hospital where Randall was under observation.

Her common law husband was wrestling with two matters: the first was how to square away Randall’s collapse with the fight for sidewalk smoking rights. What would he say when they pointed out the yawn between what The Sidewalk Smokers Club represented and what Randall’s health said about it? Corey thought it was pretty stupid that they had not seen this coming. They’d hitched bum philosophy’s cart to

The Sidewalk Smokers’ celebrity and now the two things were at odds.

Second was the matter of paying for Randall’s spin through the luxurious world of rolling gurneys, underpaid medical attendees, and whining patients.
The money from the tobacco lobby would pay for the costs of floating Yvonne’s case for as long as possible, but the enterprise was not up to providing health care.

Still they were The Sidewalk Smokers Club and couldn’t very well abandon Randall to his own devices without being noticed.

At least not while he was sitting there like a phantom, still weighing The Smokers’ prospects, worried the media would soon find out about that tobacco money, which they were going to be need along the low road, or even the high road.

“What they shouldn’t find out, they do,” Randall had said earlier, before surrendering to the high-tech chemistry coursing its way through his veins, heart, brain and secondary body organs. He gestured feebly for his notebook and pen on the night stand. Corey handed them over. Randall wrote. Corey marveled and envied his friend the energy and dedication. Randall knew this and kept to himself the fact that there wasn’t anything noble going on; there was simply nothing else to do.

Then Clarisse came in with the money necessary to hire Geffner. A quick sketching of the circumstances however, transformed her contribution from its intended purpose to that of health care. As has been said, The Smokers were adjusting on the fly.


By this she meant that paying Randall’s bills was not exactly what she’d had in mind. She’d wanted to help the whole group. Corey, reading his wife’s face as only a husband can, explained that Randall’s health was for the good of the group and Clarisse wanted to say that remained to be seen, but she didn’t. It was something of a breakthrough and Corey was present to witness it. Resorting to her usual grace Clarisse handed Corey a blank check and washed her hands of the matter.

Meanwhile The Smokers, despite their problems and complicated agendas, were still hot because Corey’s fax blast of the major and minor outlets reaped a number of calls beyond what he could disguise at work. They were just about done with Corey at that place, but afraid to fire him outright for the simple fact he seemed up to something – hatching – and if he was, they did not want to waste their investment in him. They owned what went on inside his head, and thought they wanted it; unaware of the bum philosophy or The Sidewalk Smokers Club, inhabiting a parallel universe as they did, with different games and different prizes and diversions.

He decided to force the issue and take what time he needed for his outside enterprise while providing the lamest of pretenses for springing himself from doing nothing around the office. He wanted to get fired and take advantage of the unemployment benefit – a matter of efficiency to him, recuperating money that had been paid out. There is something of the shark in Corey and reason has served him well up to now.

So he departed with a list of return phone numbers to call and set up a press conference on questions regarding Randall’s health and an overall update on the activities of The Smokers.

Chapter Sixty-two

Dumburton contacted Jordan and suggested a meeting between them. J. considered resorting to one of his many avoidance mantras, but something in the detective’s voice told him liberty might well be at hand.

They set a meeting at Java World so Jordan felt like he was on home ground, even if he no longer worked there. As Dumburton approached he tossed a nice tight-packed pouch of Drum Jordan’s way. J. read the cop’s language and understood that he’d gotten it all wrong. His time was up.

“How’d you-”

Dumburton couldn’t wait for him to finish the question before answering. “That day I took you in. I asked you for a smoke without marijuana and you gave it to me. It was the sample I needed.

“Here,” and he threw a manila folder on the table between them. “Have a look.”
Jordan was too busy marveling at how the tobacco had gotten his goat and not the marijuana he’d cavalierly smoked in Dumburton’s face.

“Open it!”

Jordan did. He could see it was an affidavit signed by a man named Henry Jones saying he’d seen the Angel Without Mercy and that the smoke from Drum was what he smelled the night of the old lady’s untimely and tragic death.

“I think they call that circumstantial evidence or hearsay or some such notion that translates into you having nothing,” Jordan returned the folder to the table.

“Not coupled with an ID. This guy remembers you. He’ll pick you out of a lineup.”

“What if he doesn’t want to?”

“You suggesting you’d tamper with the witness you little pussy?”

“We wouldn’t tamper. We’d just get out the cuerno de chivo.”
Dumburton’s face clouded. “Did you say what I think you just said?”


There were a million ways to get you. Your average grandmother was probably guilty of breaking three or four important laws. In having to deal with it daily, Jordan’s humility before authority had grown. For it struck him that the detective could put some cuffs on the suspect, drive him out to a place of cliffs and cathedral-like launches of upward rock, shoot him in the head and toss him over on some particularly inky night without fearing any call, at all, to accountability.

“It could happen,” he told himself, fighting back some comment sure to upset Dumburton’s flimsy control of his darker selves. It was a decision rooted in J.’s firm intent to stay out of jail at all costs and thereby consort with his passion friend.

Simultaneously, the detective thought he saw something like fear finally wash over Jordan’s face. It may have been more like fatigue, but that was okay. Dumburton would have to settle for it given his quarry’s admirable talent for dissimulation.

“Anyway,” he said violently swiping the folder off the table, causing a flinch from Jordan’s quarter, “you’re off the hook. I could nail you, but you’re off the hook.”

Jordan hadn’t gotten it wrong after all. He was free. He could feel it.

“The orders from upstairs are to turn down the heat on this, bury it until things blow over,” he said dejectedly, disgustedly. “Politics are involved now, your smoking friends, a real mess. Nobody wants to touch it in an election season. So you walk.”

“Aren’t you giving up a little too easily?” Jordan said rather counter-intuitively.
“Look,” Dumburton said before wetting his nose in the double cappuccino, “No one knows better than you how I put plenty inta this thing.”

“Yeah. You did a bang-up job.”

“It was a good issue,” Dumburton went on. “It had promise and national implications.”

Jordan was unaware the detective harbored presidential ambitions.

“So you’re saying, it sounds like to me, uh, c’est la vie. That even though you’re certain I killed the old lady. It’s time to move on.”

Dumburton nodded “That’s right and that’s the difference between you and me. I feel obligated to do as I’m told, you feel obligated to do the opposite.”

“My world’s freer,” said Jordan.

“Mine’s safer and cleaner,” responded Dumburton, “which is a kind of freedom, too.”

“Except if you’re unsafe and dirty.”

Unsafe and dirty were the objects of Dumburton’s personal crusade and he could not understand how a nice boy with almost every advantage like Jordan would throw his lot in with the insecure and filth-ridden, the whiners, moochers, and marchers.

“Jeezus, Dumburton,” Jordan decided to make use of his face-time, “you hounded me like an obsession.”

Dumburton nodded benignly. It was merely part of a larger day’s work.

“No, what I’m saying,” Jordan put a forefinger in his former tormentor’s face, “is that you fuckin’ hounded me. You disrupted my existence. Tried to end my life.”
Jordan was trembling at first, but the steam was blown and next there was a relaxed air rising between these two representatives of distinctive demography.

“You forget a lot of the fear came from the guy tailing you and that had nothing to do with me. I was only half your troubles pal. And by the way, you need to settle down.”

Jordan was taken aback at the level of intimacy Dumburton employed, but even more amazed that he was wise to Carlos’s bodyguard.

“Anyway, I get a little edgier where old lady killers are concerned,” Dumburton appealed to Jordan’s reasonable side.

“That’s not police work. It’s thuggery.”

“Fill in the blanks of my response for me,” said Dumburton with an easy snarl.

“That’s what you’re paid to do?”

“Thaaaaat’s what I am, a thug,” and his tone jumped an octave in a burst of confessional rage. “I’m a third-degree black belt in karate. I can bust a man’s heart from fifty-feet away with a good pistol. I corner desperate men and subdue them.”

It was one hell of a job description thought Jordan who, despite his guilt, resented being grouped together with the kind of men Dumburton was going on about.

The case dispatched of, the rosy tinge of fading youth restored to Jordan’s cheeks for the first time in months, and now there was a dearth of things the two men might talk about. They had ceased to share something, anything, in common. Or had they?

“I guess it was time for the old coot to drop, huh?” Dumburton raised his eyebrows at J. who was sticking with the plan and refused to comment. The cop stuck out his hand. He wanted bygones to be bygones. Jordan wanted to punch him in the face for abandoning him to the mediocrity of life as a non-suspect.

Dumburton took the hand back, smiling naturally. “Ah, you’ll get over it with time,” which Jordan thought was very true and therefore very aggravating. Dumburton continued to sweeten up the dish. “This is life, things happen. Give me a call sometime.”

Give me a call? The detective dropped his card on the table in front of Jordan. “You’ve been a worthy opponent and you’ve got balls.” Jordan thought he could have done without the wrestling match and learned such things about himself some other way.

“Reason I say so is because my brother...he has a little marina up the coast. He’s tired of running it and he’s lookin’ for somebody to step in. If I weren’t committed to the force I’d take him up on it myself. It’s a creampuff job. Comes with a life on the water, great big boats, girls out the ass and a house big enough to fit you and a kid if you wanted. You just tie up the yachts, you just let out their rope.
Tie ‘em up, let out their rope. It’s a sweet life.”

The rhythm sounded simple enough and here was this dreadful man offering entree. He wanted to say yes, Jordan, but sagely opted for a little meditation first. This was, after all, Dumburton and the association would take some getting used to.

Noting Jordan’s numbness the detective gestured and went on his way, excited at the idea of his visit being of momentous event to the younger man.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Real Vedette

In the bibliography of the scribe’s book “Vedette,” it is noted that, “Finally, it is worth pointing out that somewhere in Mexico there lives a real Vedette Gloriella. Apparently, she was something of a sexual bombshell whom appeared in a serialized pictorial magazine 'Rarotonga' in the 1960s and 70s. I read an account of her arrest following an attempted robbery of a gas station in the Mexican interior. I had never heard of a 'vedette' and began looking into the origins of the word. The rest, as they say, is history.

Well, as the scribe was doing a Google search for reviews of the novel, news out of the Mexican press turned up that she had been killed 9 days ago. Just 52 years old, Gloria Cárdenas Sandoval had retired from the stage and screen and lived by renting apartments in a building she owned somewhere around Mexico City.

There are few details, only that a man walked into her office, shot her once in the chest, driving her to the ground, and then stood over her to finish the job off with a second shot, before running away. He has not been detained.

the scribe fantasized that someday he would meet the real Gloriella and explain how her own story had inspired his signture work, but it was not to be. Instead her tragic death only serves to underline the terrible situation, circumstances, and violence women the world over remain exposed and vulnerable to.

Her feminine charms diminished, the second half of her life was not only sad and difficult, but too short. the scribe mourns Gloriella in an odd way, from afar, this woman he read about only twice in 15 years, but whose story opened a powerful and fateful chapter in his own life.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Case of Tookie Williams

the scribe just received a press release from the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office. He has denied clemency to Stanley “Tookie” Williams.

There is an accompanying, five-page “Statement of Decision.”

Forgive the scribe if, in all the death-laced sobriety, he still finds humor in the idea of somebody’s life being in the governator’s hand.

Or maybe you shouldn’t.

There is little in the document to suggest the matter was as soul-wrenching as Schwarzenegger would have us believe. There is a pretty nuts-and-bolts description of the original crimes (reproduced below), a fairly pat validation of all the court proceedings related to the Williams’ case, and a certain disdain for the convict’s conversion and redemption.

The document observes that Williams dedicated his 1998 book, “Life in Prison” to Nelson Mandela, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, Geronimo Ji Jaga Pratt, Ramona Africa, John Africa, Leonard Peltier, Dhoruba Al-Mujahid, George Jackson, and Mumia Abu-Jamal.

“The mix of individuals on this list is curious,” Schwarzenegger (or someone who writes for him), noted. “Most have violent pasts and some have been convicted of committing heinous murders, including the killing of law enforcement.”

That stinks very highly of culture war rhetoric, targets the rebel class in this country and others, while being more suggestive and general than true in its particulars. the scribe might point out that, like the Williams case, the “guilt” of some listed has always been laced with the hint of racism and injustice.

So be careful what you say, because of what they might accuse you of doing.

The document reads in part: “During the early morning hours of February 28, 1979, Williams and three others went on a robbery spree. Around 4 a.m. they entered a 7-Eleven store where Albert Owens was working by himself. Here, Williams armed with his pump-action shotgun, ordered Owens to a backroom and shot him twice in the back while he lay face down on the floor. Williams and his accomplices made off with about $120 from the store’s cash register. After leaving the 7-Eleven store, Williams told the other killers that he killed Albert Owens because he did not want any witnesses. Later that morning, Williams recounted shooting Albert Owens, saying, ‘You should have heard the way he sounded when I shot him.’ Williams then made a growling noise and laughed for five to six minutes.

On March 11, 1979, less than two weeks later, Williams, again armed with his shotgun, robbed a family-operated motel and shot and killed three members of the family: (1) the father, Yen-I Yang, who was shot once in the torso and once in the arm while he was laying on a sofa; (2) the mother, Tsai-Shai Lin, who was shot once in the abdomen and once in the back; and (3) the daughter, Yee-Chen Lin, who was shot once in her face. For these murders, Williams made away with approximately $100 in cash. Williams also told others about the details of these murders and referred to the victims as ‘Budda-heads'."

Williams might have gained as much economically by having a garage sale, but he didn’t and for choosing such a ghastly way of getting his money he should have his freedom and pursuit of happiness in the outside world revoked. It’s enough in Europe for the worst killers and crooks, why isn’t it here? Why do we have to taint the public enterprise by engaging in behavior (killing) that we supposedly abhor?

Is the message that injection is more humane and therefore validate’s the state execution as civil rather than savage?

the scribe should think not. By any anarcho-syndical analysis (our specialty here at highwayscribery), we must govern by example and understand that when we kill, we encourage killing. That when we govern by love, we may someday come to love one another.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters 59 and 60

Chapter Fifty-nine

Her name was Demejian, Eilin Demejian. The Armenian girl. Approaching her at the entryway to the pier, Jordan felt his legs were providing him with all the support of water faucet flow. His heart was a tom-tom drum thundering out of some unvisited, unimaginable jungle. He thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world, which of course she wasn’t, but where tastes are concerned, what is written has been done so on toilet paper, not engraved in stone.

It was not merely his present circumstances which led Jordan to conclude she might be a little above his kin. He’d felt the same whenever confronted with a girl who matched his own personal goddess archetype. And, in his defense, it must be said that save for the born-smooth operator, so do most men. That’s where the ideal of conquest comes in, but that’s a topic for another kind of writer – the specialist – as opposed to the generalist and highway scribe.

So he kind of got off to a rough start as they began their stroll down the boardwalk. The usual miscues; the “how are yous?” and “so what do you dos?” were falling flatter than an 11-year girl’s chest and then Jordan descended into public relations which, we know, was the natural dominion of Corey and Randall, not his. He mentioned, by way of boast, that he was a member of The Sidewalk Smokers Club. She was not moved, was unfamiliar with, not of the moment.

Then Eilin grabbed his hand and smiled up at him. There are a handful of times when even the guy is looking for so much more than sex and light petting. And this was just such a time. Wanting to avoid his secret life as a barista, Jordan clumsily, drunkenly, trembling, pushed The Sidewalk Smokers envelope yet again.

“We’ve been in the newspapers recently,” he pointed out.

Eilin said that she didn’t read the newspapers.

And there are also times when the usual weights and measures we’d hold a potential mate to are waived in the face of overwhelming affections, and so J. gave her a pass on the newspapers, too.

No need. Eilin, taking control of the flow, added that she could not do so (read the papers) presently, “because of something that’s going on with my family.” Jordan remembered how she had said they were a close-knit bunch. There was an undeniable hint of sadness to what she said and J., being a sometimes-smart fella, understood that there was something unfolding in the daily papers that didn’t sit right with her.

Without even knowing her at all, he was sad that something might be making her sad and he swore to himself that, if and when he found out what it was, he’d do his damnedest to remedy it.

Sensing that Jordan was lost in his thoughts, Eilin grabbed at his shoulders and turned him square to her, his back to the setting sun and thrashing surf. “You look,” she said to him from deep within some preternatural dream, “like something out of a drawing.” He was, of course, something out of a police sketch, but wasn’t about to go into it.

She kissed him and his will to live lurched again and again and again.

Chapter Sixty

Joya was coming back from her meeting with the lesbian city councilmember and on her way to dinner with City Attorney, taking the full measure of her entanglements and compromises. Never afraid of engagement, she shrugged where others might have shuddered. Joya could not tell you what The Sidewalk Smokers really was/were, or in what direction it/they were heading, but she knew she was with them 100 percent. It was not in her to leave behind unfinished business or messes. Jordan must be saved, Yvonne made whole, the bum philosophy universal, the White House interior redone by Clarisse, simply because her path had intersected theirs (out there on the sidewalk, smoking). And finally, the sidewalk smokers outside her store must be preserved in a liberty everlasting. These were the bones fate had placed on her plate and she felt obliged to pick them clean.

The lesbian citycouncilady had been frank with Joya about the prospects of stopping the BID’s plan for cleaning out the scum. The purifying baptismal had taken on the aspect of a steamroller and she, as their (the BID’s) representative at City Hall, had no plans to stand in its way.

“It would be suicide,” she drove the point home. “I can’t be associated with you people.” Joya swallowed hard. These were words hard to take coming from a political figure given to radical postures. That she wasn’t interested gave Joya a sick sense of where The Smokers really stood on the acceptable-O-meter of civic behavior.

The councilperson’s own interests were in the Angel Without Mercy case, she explained. “That’s a winner honey. People think the old lady was probably miserable and they are right. The city attorney rode the wave of outrage rolling in, but it’s already crested. I’ll ride the rip-tide back out. And anyway, I believe in it, assisted suicide, and all that.”

Joya pressed the lesbian city councilwoman to do everything in her power to prevent the coming clash of forces.

“What about DeConcini?” the legislator threw in, somewhat desperate at the onslaught.

“He bailed on us.”

“The Esquire is a man completely out for himself,” the lesbian city councilmember explained. “That was why he was available for hire. The telegenic nature of your little campaign enticed him. He wanted some screen time, my dear.”

“We knew that.”

“So he got it and it worked.”


For all her charm – and the lesbian citycouncilperson was certainly affected by it – Joya did not possess an incisive understanding of everything she heard and her counterpart was working hard to be patient.

“Don’t you see? He got some work straight out of that whole mess outside your store.

He moved on; bigger fish to fry. You will have to find another whore.”

For those who cling to the quaint notion a feminine presence in politics would soften the game, let it be noted here how politician women talk a lot like politician men and are equally ambitious. Joya had been ignorant of the reality. The last expression had its intended effect and Joya retreated into her head. She knew that in their desperation she and probably other Club members were resorting to sex in moving things along a bit, pressing an ages-old advantage. There is almost a temptation to test attraction’s utility just one more time; like a retired champion returning to the ring to see if he still has what it takes.

He usually doesn’t, but The Smokers were capable. Sexy was at least a part of what had been played with from the very beginning and maybe sexy was at stake, too.

Yvonne’s devilish past saw to that. Weak in matters of professionalism, they were without parallel in those speaking to passion.

It did not seem to Joya that the city councilwoman was going to take on the lady retailers along her street and she was looking for another whore real bad. So she asked the lesbian city councilwoman if she weren’t interested in meeting for a drink some evening in the near future, hon.

The object of her false affections was not fooled, but thoroughly amenable to the proposition.

This bit of information is included, not to scandalize or defame, but to demonstrate the fluidity with which otherwise complicated matters move when sex is thrown in as lubricant. The woman was overweight and not very attractive and she’d found, without making an abusive habit out of the thing, that being in a position of power afforded her greater sexual options. And Joya was one of these options she would shortly avail herself of.

Joya made a vow to limit her dalliances with public officials to these two. Not out of morality, mind you, but as a way to protect her own cachet by keeping its dispersion finite.

She was wary of getting tired in this fast-paced, adrenaline-tapping scenario, for there were other pressures. Sadina had called in tears quitting over a cut in pay and in the number of hours they had been spending together. Joya had not attended to her little keepsake. She was sad to lose her, but happily involved in the problems of others. And she still enjoyed a good cigarette out in the open air.

At any rate, if an overweight lesbian sounds rough, it must be remembered that we are talking about Joya. What she was facing with City Attorney was infinitely more damning and permanent than a perfunctory roll around with lady what’s-her-name.

They’d been headed toward each other like old iron locomotives screeching along the same track, despite the unorthodoxy and seeming impossibility of the pairing and their mutual and complete mortification. There wasn’t too much to talk about, merely a way of blending their mutual interests and needs into a package palatable to each.

Under the circumstances, this would not be easy, but people who think they’re in love think they will find a way.

Besides, he was a man of influence, stand-up fellow really, who was ready with the ring when she arrived at their table, late. She’d known it was coming, the proposal, and really had hoped for something more original.

She took one look at him and flashed a face that made him feel special. She took the time and reflection necessary to deliver her rejoinder and said, “Hon, don’t give a jewel, be a jewel.”

Joya closed the little velvet box, placed it in his hands and clasped them with hers.

“I don’t get it,” he said, zapped by this unpredictable woman and the quarrelsome clan on whose behalf she was working. He had to have her then. There was something so creamy and disarming about the way she fleeced people that he viewed it as nothing less than an invitation to a pure kind of love, when that wasn’t what it was at all.

City Attorney was handsome in a way without edge, inoffensively so. He too found it tough not to avail himself of the traffic in private parts customary in the power guild.

He made much of his virtue in public life, but he had a weakness for this one woman taking him places self-control and career considerations had sworn him off many times over many years. She was rocking his world and he was ready to piss-off the whole damn mayor’s campaign. It had always been an act of cynicism papered over with a vague promise that, once in power, he might somehow rule with innocence again.

After that night at the Argentine restaurant with The Smokers he’d found himself still enjoying minor rushes from their ebullience and fighting a blind belief in their fight.

This is City Attorney’s vision of them and serves as testimony to the effective nature of the group’s intentions and manipulations alike.

He sighed. A waiter in black-and-white welcomed them and asked if they wanted to start off with some cocktails. He said no. She said yes. The waiter vowed to return with her request and a pair of menus.

Joya never imagined things happened in so obvious a way, but here she was, ready to make a demand, in exchange for promising to spend the rest of her life with him in front of a lot of friends, all represented by a piece of jewelry she wouldn’t dare sell in her own store. It was a man in a suit; the thing she’d avoided her whole life and the wonder of it all had her feeling like a child. She did not know if she loved him for him or for what he might do for her.

He did not care. He did not get where he was in life by behaving as a Boy Scout, although it is what he led people to believe.

As such, he maintained operatives. Not very different than the way Carlos maintained them. Anyhow, City Attorney’s operatives had informed, much to his dismay, that the Angel Without Mercy could almost assuredly be traced to The Sidewalk Smokers Club. Shaken, he’d gotten in touch with the lead detective in the case –Dumburton. They had met and Dumburton had been adamant about City Attorney’s need to prosecute the thing.

There was but a fat chance of that happening now that a link between the Angel Without Mercy and these monsters the woman of his dreams openly cavorted with had been made. He would have to cancel a meeting he’d agreed to in principle with Dumburton. The matter was dead, if he had any say, and he did.

“I want you to help me with the business improvement district’s plan to clear out the sidewalk smokers.”

There was but another fat chance of City Attorney, normally, choosing a political dogfight like that, but under the circumstances he wanted to do it for her – ruin himself that is.

“And,” she rode her own momentum, “you gotta see what you ken do about gettin’ those charges against Yvonne dropped.” He said he might do that, but in the right and proper time, which was completely up to him because he didn’t want her pushing him around. She was a little surprised at the business-like tone his part of the discourse had taken, but Joya, after all, started it. She did not like his counter-twisting, but was aware of how this was that most-feared and enigmatic of liberal monsters – the attorney. And so she let it all slide.

He handed her the ring by way of agreement. She took it with the same sentiment in mind. Something very nice passed between them even if it was not the most romantic of moments in the annals of matrimonial proposals. The waiter came back with a martini and the sight of it warmed her into a little shudder of pleasure. They each took refuge behind their menus, opting to deal with other intimacies and complications needing address at later meetings, over time, and yes, together.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A Better Way?

the scribe took a day or two off. He’s been tired what with the holidays peppering the daily schedule, the big reading with Omar Torrez at 33 1/3 Books just 8 days away, and Mrs. Scribe moving her stuff out of office at the Cooper Building in Downtown L.A.

Not that it has been easy to keep the big trap shut while Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice runs around Europe, denouncing torture in some cases, in all cases, in cases where Americans are overseas and therefore not subject to the law, in cases where the tortured are "suspected" terrorists (to which they confess after being tortured and wouldn't you?).

Aaaaay. To quote Mark Twain (“A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”), “Sometimes one would like to hang the whole human race and be done with the thing.”

It is, as Jimmy Carter says, embarrassing (“Unreal America,” November 16).

After a book review and a large installment of the soon-to-be-released “The Sidewalk Smokers Club,” highwayscribery will weigh-in on the issues of the day, spurred on by another e-missive from Sen. John Kerry (blogger).

He’s riffing on the success of fundraising done in response to Dick Cheney’s Texas trip designed to help the embattled Tom DeLay raise his own money. It was a kind of counter-fundraiser.

He’d like some more money now that a Texas judge has waved DeLay’s request that all charges against him have been dropped.

Here’s Blogger Kerry himself:

“The Republican Party and its candidates are getting more desperate by the moment. They can feel the power slipping out of their hands. Their record of failure, incompetence and corruption has worn out their welcome with the American people.

And we know what kind of tactics the DeLay-Cheney Republicans use when they have their backs to the wall. That’s why our Fight Back Fund has to be ready at a moment’s notice.”

So he wants more money.

the scribe bemoans the “perpetual campaign” associated with politics today. He gave Kerry $100 bucks during the big election, but gets miffed at the endless calls from Democrats asking for more money. Folks need a break. We really can’t keep up with those corporate donors, and the leaders of the American left need to be more creative in countering that reality.

There has to be a better way.

Over the past few issues, “The Atlantic Monthly” has been running a series of essays by the French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy designed to retrace the steps of his countrymen Alexis de Tocqueville and his “Democracy in America.”

Both pieces are excellent examples of highwayscribery and the reason whereby they are focused upon here.

Anyway, Levy attended a conference of progressive democrats (Goreiors, Clintonites, Kerriers) in Washington as part of his travels and this is what he had to say about it:

“The results, I’m afraid, didn’t measure up either to my hopes or – far more serious – to what anyone might reasonably expect given the quality, intensity, and strength of the ideological argument mounted by the right...”

After talking about the party’s pathetic pandering to the morality crusaders and far too abstract radicalism of the Michael Moore crowd, Levy takes on...

“People who supposedly fight for their ideas: activists who explain that they have only one objective, to regenerate the ideological substance of their party; heads of think tanks who, as genuine or feigned progressives, as people who are nostalgic for moral order or who advocate steering away from it, present themselves as ideologues and assure you that their aim is to vanquish the right and especially the neo-conservatives, on the battlefield of doctrine. But when you push them a little, when you ask them what their time-line is and, within this time-line, what their tactical or strategic priorities are, their only common ground is talk!

“During the presidential campaign I had already observed this phenomenon. I had noticed the frequent press releases that informed us, day after day, like so many victory bulletins, about the status of the party’s finances. I had seen how, here, money is the very sign and symptom of excellence, whereas in France money is What Must Never Be Discussed.

“But now the campaign is over. Now is the time for reconstruction. So let me take the instance of this joint conference. I’ll choose those three hours of debate in which the participants, myself included, were meant to question one another about the profound reasons for the increased electoral turnout that occurred during Bush’s re-election.

“The fact is that two-thirds, maybe three quarters, of the speeches were devoted to talking not about ‘party lines,’ not even about ‘communication’ or ‘advocacy,’ but about marketing, fundraising, the relative merits of the ceremonies financed by [r]epublicans or the Democrats, the role of the Internet. The fact is that these brilliant pioneers who were supposed to set down the cornerstones for the people’s house of tomorrow had only one idea, one obsession, and, fundamentally, one watchword: how, in four years, to fight the [r]epublicans on the battlefield of fundraising.

“I have nothing against money as such. And there’s a part of me that doesn’t hate the complex-free, offhanded manner Americans have about approaching the subject.

“Yet on that day, I wanted to hear about something else. I looked for speeches about why this money should be raised. I yearned for one voice, just one, to articulate the three or four major issues that, given the current debate and balance of power, might constitute the framework of a political agenda. A defense of Enlightenment against the creationist offensive. A Tocqueveillian revolution extolling, certainly not atheism, but secularism, and maintaining the separation of church and state. A new New Deal for the poorest of the poor. An uncompromising defense of human rights, and a rejection of the ‘exceptional’ status of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo.


“Money, and then money again.”



highwayscribery wants to thank Stefanie at the “So Many Books” lit blog for being only the second site to link with us after 10 months of pissin’ in the wind (as Jerry Jeff Walker would put it). It’s a fun site if you like reading put together by a reader’s reader reader (heh).

L.A. Observed is the other site to hook up with the highwayscribery.

Maybe you’re saying, “Well scribe, what are you moanin’ about. Who’ve you linked up to?

And that would be a good point to which there is an even better answer: the scribe doesn’t know how to do that "link field" thing and is therefore condemned to a cyber-life of solitude.

Have a good day and don’t forget the reading on Dec. 15 at 8 p.m. 1200 N. Alvarado, Los Angeles, Califas.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters 57 and 58

Chapter Fifty-seven

Corey, who had either lost or given up his woman – depending on when he was considering the matter – and had made no real progress towards securing Yvonne’s deeper sentiments, found himself in a position most men bereft of female companionship do – arguing with a male friend.

In this case it was Randall.

There is something lilting about the effect of a woman on a man’s little world. When she is in his presence and the lovejuice is flowing both ways, he is a boy, needing satisfaction, coaxing and playing with his mate. When the emotional riverbed runs dry and the parties go their separate ways, he becomes, well, old and the two of them together – Randall and Corey – without the benefit of affection from the brighter lights in their coalition, were behaving like two septuagenarians holed up in the same apartment.

They had been reviewing an alarmingly thick pile of papers which held the thoughts of Randall and of his fellow Club members that were to be codified as a bum philosophy for all ages, cultures, and times. It has been observed that bum philosophy’s charm and virtue was that it aspired to so little, and so the prior statement may seem contradictory. But it was not, for it aspired to so little across all ages, cultures, and times.

They’d discussed the size of it. They’d admitted there was no form to speak of. The thing was growing out of control and was characterized by a single word uttered by Corey to Randall’s annoyance – “amorphous.”

Randall said, “Man, either these bums need to know a lot, or they have a lot to learn, but I guess we can trim a little here and there.”

Meanwhile, Corey found those nine commandments of laziness the pair had worked on earlier in The Sidewalk Smokers Club’s formation. “This stuff is great,” Corey smiled over their most ingratiating collaboration. Suddenly, the smile became something else. “Wait a minute,” he held a finger up and leapt a page or two forward, a page or two back (Randall wrote big). “There are only eight.” He read it a little more deeply. “There are only eight. One of mine is missing. The one that says ‘We are born tired and live to rest’.” He looked up at Randall.

“Well, man, like you said, it’s amorphous. We gotta cut. So I got rid of one to make it leaner,” and he grabbed a stack of misplaced papers next to his hand for illustration.

“Bullshit. Why would you cut before we talked about it needing to be cut? You were against it. We debated and you gave in…or so I thought.”

“Yeah I did,” Randall admitted, “but then I un-gave in,” which was not a way of putting it that was going to stay Corey’s rising ire. Randall, he thought, despite his up-close and personal look at mortality, was letting all this Sidewalk Smokers stuff get to the old head. And it was getting swollen.

And the truth was Randall did, like many people, believe destiny had marked him for something special. And there’s nothing like a little bright light and black ink on cheap pulp to feed one’s delusions. So that while throwing the last lazy bone at his partner he reminded himself that making the world a better place means treading over someone’s Elysian Fields of mediocrity now and again.

“But there’s only eight of them now. Eight. What a crappy number!”

“Numbers do not matter. Quantity is queer. You know a single sentence can make a career.”

“Wacky poets,” Corey grumbled, but could not repress a smile. “Give me an example.”

He knew Randall would have one ready and in asking for proof hoped to learn rather than pin his friend in mid-argument.

“Well, like, ‘I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical naked'."

Corey was mighty pleased with the fact he recognized that line and knew it to be hardly a sentence at all, rather a mere fraction of the longest angry question ever posed.

And besides, it left unexplained why his commandment had been deleted. But he softened some more, recognizing Randall’s special genius for putting distance between unsavory circumstances and the fact he was responsible for them. He was also forced to admit his aversion to bearing the burden of final decisions while Randall was conveniently, and repeatedly, stepping into the breach for his good and that of everyone else involved.

But the best defense is a good offense so he backtracked and attacked the bum philsophy. “All you have here is a big messy un-systemic system.”

Randall did not know whether he should be flattered or insulted, so he waited for more.

“There are things of interest yes, and promise of better things to come, but there’s nothing here that makes you great…”

This was very true and had the affect of a cold water splash to Randall’s face. But what are friends for?

“…yet,” Corey added just a little too late.

Randall, who hadn’t been looking very well to begin with, took on a frightening pallor and it was a good thing that he himself couldn’t see it. “Yet…” Corey repeated to no visible affect on his partner’s diminishing confidence.
Randall waited a few moments, reached into a draw behind him, pulled out an unmarked cylinder of some tobacco brand or other.

“You’re right,” he said, eyes meeting Corey’s with a very flattering plea for an answer or two to the problem he’d just highlighted.

His friend and partner looked away. Randall thought that unless he were truly interested in taking the hits, he should have shut up.

If Corey had any answer, he probably wouldn’t have had the courage to express it.

Only some characters are groomed for going all the way. Others are meant to help and following this little moment of discord between them, the men fell back into their familiar roles, clearer on things.

Randall: “What did Clarisse say about the money?”

“She said ‘maybe’. I don’t think she was too crazy about the tobacco lobby stuff.”

“You told her?”

“I felt I had to give something up. And anyway, she’s right, it’s whoring.” Corey pointed out rather, well, pointedly.

“I know that already, man. That’s not what I need you for.” As usual Randall was looking for a little insight, not a statement of the depressingly obvious.

They gave the matter a spin or two between them and deduced that The Smokers had become a Catch-22, if such a thing is possible. The Good Guys in this multi-front war with the world they had launched, only clean money interested them, and that was in short supply. Only honest people would do for alliances and they were, for all practical intents and purposes, a federally listed endangered species.

Randall felt that in helping Yvonne, that in spinning the campaign that had become The Sidewalk Smokers Club’s reason for being, his motives were of the purest and loftiest kind, and it left him without air when press accounts and talk on the street presented them as otherwise.

He looked at what he was smoking, soured his face in distaste, and put it out on the table surface, seemingly unable to concentrate on the ashtray just a half-dozen inches away. “He’s literally green around the gills,” Corey told himself suddenly gripped by an inspiration.

“Lemme get a cigarette,” he said.

“Glrborue man,” Randall tried to stop him.

Corey got up, walked around the table separating them, pulled on the drawer, and chose from a wide variety of loose sticks in differing lengths and scents. He pulled out the fattest he could find. Randall turned away. His look was growing ghastly. His partner lit that hot dog and blew the first suck back out at Randall’s turned head.

“What kind is this?” Corey reached around and waved it under his nose.

Randall dropped to his knees and soaked the dry, lacquer-free hardwood floor with whatever unfortunate brew his gut had been manufacturing to that point.

Corey reached for the telephone and mentally drafted the statement on Randall’s collapsed condition for a press corps he knew was ready to report it. The moment was at hand. The comeback was within reach. And it hadn’t taken that long after all.

It was all proof of the necessity to talk stuff out for, just like that, things were looking up.

Chapter Fifty-eight

Jordan was smoking his favorite concoction of tobacco and marijuana mixed, closed-off at the end by a little cardboard filter, when there was a knock on the door at a most importune hour. It scared him. He’d come home after having sat in a diner and seen the brazen posting of the suited man right out front of the establishment. Up to this point J. had bucked himself up pretty well with wise-guy remarks and private-eye bravado, but the combination of Randall’s allusion to the quiet life before celebrity and the unrelenting legal pressure had undermined his strategy, his confidence, his will to carry on. He did not have to open the door to know who was behind it; merely complete a reflex he’d practiced his entire life. Knocked doors were to be answered and this he did.

The man in the suit-and-tie, as Jordan had feared, was there. Up close, his eyes were friendly, his smile kind and this confused J. until, suddenly, Carlos’ head entered the doorframe, too. Whose smile was larger Jordan could not tell, but he felt compelled to use obscenity because he was surprised and because he was addressing Carlos. “What the fuck!”

“Ja, wa da fuck!” Carlos laughed.

“What are you doing here with this cop?”

Carlos first asked if they might come in and Jordan, sensing the danger recede, agreed. The Mexican then went on to explain how the guy in the suit was an employee of his and that he’d been tailing Jordan at his behest.

“What do ya mean he works for you?”

“He’s in my gang. He works for me,” Carlos shrugged.

Jordan stepped back to consider the subject anew. “But this guy’s wearing a suit.

He’s not even Mexican.”

“Chure ee is,” Carlos replied, “just not what jou think a Mexicano look likes.”
Jordan told him that he was exactly right.

“Well, I toll jou I was an important cholo from Eenglewood and you dint belif me. I haf a professional outfit. You think we all wears plaid shirts and baseball hats backward?”


Carlos went on to say that it was just as well. That the respectability was a cover he wanted in the running of his operation (but with different words). He’d had the suited man keep an eye on Jordan to be sure he was safe and didn’t get picked up by Dumburton in an unexpected moment.

Jordan wanted to know exactly what the suited man would do should that happen.

“Shoot him,” Carlos answered.




“Jou wanna go to jail?”


Carlos shrugged and said, “What jou are fucking priest? You kielt an ol laydy.”

Jordan was past the point where he found a lesson from his co-worker to be humiliating. Carlos pulled out a thick white envelope and tossed it on the table where they were sitting. “Oping,” he directed Jordan to open it.

This J. did and saw a thick stack of cash consisting exclusively of $100 bills in a quantity approximating that necessary to hire the good lawyer for The Smokers and a few personal baubles to boot.

“Where’d you get this?”

“Some is from my business, some is from Armenia Power gang and de rest is from Java Whirl.”

Jordan asked for a clarification on the latter two, wisely feigning disinterest in the first.

Carlos filled him in: “De Armenia part come from a leetle talk wit jou fren.”

“What fren?”

“De one jou heet jou in de face. We haf a talk wid heem and he gonna geef you dis money. You gonna drop de charges.”

“What do you mean ‘we’ had a talk with him?”

Carlos responded with that wide smuggler’s grin. “Me and cuerno de chivo.”

Jordan nodded. The concession made sense. Then he asked how much his tormenter coughed up in exchange for his continued life and liberty. Carlos told him. J. raised his eyebrows. “Das what I tought,” said Carlos matter-of-factly.

“What about the Java Whirl money?” asked J.

Carlos smiled. Jordan could get away with pushing this (now obviously) cold and efficient criminal.

Carlos felt as a father to Jordan. Such are the dynamics in a country which obligates it immigrants to hard work while treating the native-born to an adolescence that can stretch well into middle age. Carlos envied Jordan that adolescence and it was what he hoped to give his grandchildren, if not his own brood. He observed Jordan’s existence in developing a blueprint for future generations of Zacatecan-Americans.

When J. went to bat for him against management at Java Whirl Carlos was touched and took helping Jordan, for real, under consideration.

“Ee’s from Java Whirl.”

“What do you mean it’s from Java Whirl?”

“It’s the money I stole. I giv to jou.”

“What? How?”

“I felt bad.”

“You let me go on like that and get fired when you knew you had stolen it?”

“I tol jou I felt bad,” Carlos said without any emotion whatsoever.

Jordan had a funny feeling he was but the first stop in an evening-long tour that would take Carlos through similar situations during which he dispensed either joy or fear depending on where his unique brand of wisdom led.

“Jeezus Carlos. I can’t believe you’d do that!”

“Wha? Jou wan me to get arrested? Stop crying. Da wassa a fabor and jou know eet.
Jou are more hip dan de people who comes in dat place. Why jou wanna work dare?”

Jordan marveled at the knowledge a life on the streets waving a cuerno de chivo around could produce.

And who is to say where it would stop? Was Ghengis Khan a groomed and broad-gauge man, practiced in policy administration, lettered, trained in the killing arts? Many a supposedly respectable empire had been founded on blood money and this was not a time for moral posturing. Sometimes you need these guys.

As the Angel Without Mercy, Jordan could claim no mantle to purity, which Carlos had already pointed out. In the meantime, he and The Sidewalk Smokers Club were in a fix. And here, another observation should be appended: Carlos loved The Sidewalk Smokers Club. It was a topic he never broached with Jordan, had never even let on he knew anything about, but followed through the press clippings and television reports with passion.

Carlos had been stunned by the swift, hard and unforgiving justice with which his new nation supported a rather suffocating regime of rules, fees, tickets, and prohibitions.

Jordan and his pals were engaged in a kind of tricky dirty work on behalf of his and all peoples’ freedoms and Carlos could not help but admire them. Important a cholo in Inglewood as he was, there were a lot of things he had to bow his head and beg for whilst smothering his sense of injustice and, quite frankly, The Smokers were giving outlet to those frustrations. Sure they were white kids. Sure they were college-educated and inhabiting a world of (relative) privilege unknown to Carlos. But, he thought, they were on the right side of the fence, and they were courageous, because they could not, in the end, win, but in the meantime were giving a few pimps the dry fuck they were so accustomed to giving everybody else.

He loved this and would help to the limited extent he could.

“I wan jou to take dis money and tell me if you need anymore,” said Carlos, making a fist with his hand, touching Jordan’s heart with it and then his own.

J. assented with a nod. It sure was a funny world where a guy like Jordan, who possessed neither a fetish for violence, death, nor devious ways where the acquisition of money was concerned, should be the benefactor of such a gift.

Very funny indeed.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Book Report: "Heart of a Dog," By Mikhail Bulgakov

SAN DIEGO – the scribe just finished reading Mikhail Bulgakov’s “Heart of a Dog” and, as promised in the review of Italo Svevo’s book (“Emilio’s Carnival,” Nov. 17), will now tell you a little about it.

For starters, "Heart Of A Dog"was recommended by Omar Torrez, the ultraflash guitar wiz with whom the scribe will do a recitation of passages to his novel, “Vedette” on Dec. 15, 8 p.m. at 33 1/3 Books & Gallery Collective, in L.A. (Call 213-483-3100) for info.

Omar has just returned from a small tour in Russia to which he is wed both through a personal fascination, and through the woman he has chosen to live his life with. the scribe thought the guitarist might be interested in working on a reading when he saw him at Pastis in L.A. where he mentioned Bulgakov, which is not a very common occurrence in these here parts.

Torrez’ new album, “Dynamisto” has a song called “Dog Heart,” based on the book.

“Moaning, howling,
my dog heart is growling,
darling, play your
requiem for me...”

That verse is something of a send-up on the opening pages of the (short) book in which the author does a very good job of explaining things from a stray dog’s perspective.

Here’s the very first of it:

“Whoo-oo-oo-oo-hooh-hoo-oo! Oh look at me, I am perishing in this gateway. The blizzard roars a prayer for the dying, and I howl with it. I am finished, finished. That bastard in the dirty cap – the cook of the Normal Diet Cafeteria for employees of the People’s Central Economic Soviet – threw boiling water at me and scalded my left side. The scum, and he calls himself a proletarian! Lord, oh lord, how it hurts! My side is cooked to the bone. And now I howl and howl, but what’s the good of howling?”

Get it?

“Moaning, howling,
my dog heart is growling,
darling, play your
requiem for me...”

One of the most delightful aspects of Bulgakov’s work, which was banned until well after his death, is the success with which he presents the workings and concerns of a dog’s mind.

Here’s how the dog learned to hunt for food in post-revolutionary Moscow without a proper education and reading lessons:

“After that, his learning proceeded by leaps and bounds. He learned the letter ‘t’ from ‘Fish Trust’ on the corner of Mokhovaya, and then the letter ‘s’ (it was handier for him to approach the store from the tail end of the word, because of the militiaman who stood near the beginning of ‘Fish’).

“Tile squares set into corner houses in Moscow always and inevitably meant ‘cheese.’ A black samovar faucet over the word indicated the former owner of Chichkin’s, piles of red Holland cheese, beastly salesmen who hated dogs, sawdust on the floor, and that most disgusting, evil-smelling Beckstein.

“If somebody was playing an accordion, which was not much better than ‘Celeste Aida,’ and there was a smell of frankfurters, the first letters on the white signs very conveniently added up to the words ‘no inde...,’ which meant ‘no indecent language and not tips.’ In such places there were occasional messy brawls and people got hit in the face with fists, and sometimes with napkins or boots.

“If there were stale hams hanging in a window and tangerines on the sill, it meant... Grr.... grr... groceries. And if there were dark bottles with a vile liquid, it meant...Wshi-w-i-wines...The former Yeliseyev Brothers.”

You get the idea. The charm of “Heart of a Dog” lies in the simple sci-fantasy chosen by the author to regale us with true portraiture of life in the time and place with which it concerns itself, without ever appearing episodic, preachy, or issue-driven.

The four paragraphs abstracted above move the story along, maintaining the humor (and pathos) involved in mapping a dog’s mind, but also telling us something of the moment’s popular music, of the behavior that could be witnessed on the city streets, and rendering a street economy that one would assume is a thing of the past.

But the story, in the end, is not entitled “Mind of Dog.” It is “Heart of a Dog,” and soon we move beyond the concerns of the canine, to those of the larger cast assembled by the author to make certain points about the reorganization of Russian life into soviet structures and concepts.

Truly revolutionary.

The dog is taken in off the street by Doctor Philip Philippovich Preobrazhensky who, even in the leveling times he was tapped to live, is a man of prestige and means.

“Heart of a Dog,” falls clearly into the category of satire and, as such, spares no one.

Preobrazhensky is up to no good with some scary eugenic operations that are enhancing the vitality and sexual capacity for some of Moscow’s wealthier denizens. When the communist housing committee comes to bust his chops about the size of his apartment and the new times which the doctor must reconcile himself to, he makes a call to one of his patients, influential in the recently imposed Bolshevik order, that results in the committee delegates leaving his place with tails between their legs.

But Philip Philipovich’s time will come.

The dog, whom he and his helper Bormenthal have dubbed “Sharik” is startled from the peaceful life in the too-big-apartment he could hardly believe luck had placed him, to have the brain stem of a deceased common criminal grafted onto his own.

The experiment goes awry and Sharik slowly morphs into a man; a complicated man with opinions, desires, and an appetite for cats - a man with a dog’s heart that the doctors Preobrazhensky and Bormenthal are ill-equipped to control.

He smokes, has no sense of social correctness, hits on the resident young girl Zina, and has a wise-guy’s mouth to boot. “An exceptional scoundrel,” in Preobrazhensky’s words.

Disdained and pushed to the margins by the bourgeois technicians who created him, Sharik does what came naturally to people (or dogs) in those days. He becomes a communist and gets “papers” attesting to his officially recognized existence as Polygraph Polygraphovich Sharik.

He gets a good job in the municipal department, purging cats, and finally forces the hand of Philip Philippovich by again springing the local aparatchiks on him over the size of his apartment and the way its space is apportioned.

Pushed to the brink, the doctors do something to Sharik, it is not clear what, that returns him to the state of grateful mongrel in which he originally entered the premises.

We can view this story as a commentary on the open-ended fear the aspirations of science and modernity imposed upon people at the turn of the last century. It can also be savored as a parable on Soviet life as it seemed shortly after the revolution.

Okay, the scribe doesn’t really know what a parable is, he just wanted to sound lit-critical for a second.

Perhaps the better expression is “analogy” or even, “metaphor.” the scribe thinks that these words along with ‘simile’ and a few others only serve to slice the same ham a lot of thin ways and that they should come up with a better, all purpose, word to meet the utilitarian tone of our times.

In any case, it’s clear Bulgakov had an ironic view of the Bolshevik order and the underlying idea of sweeping away all that had come before to replace it with something more egalitarian. We don’t get a sense he was against it on principles, rather that he was mortified by what happened when it was applied to a giant and backward czarist peasant state.

the scribe’s sense is that he is saying a dog’s a dog, and a prole’s a prole, regardless of what rational experiment, social or scientific, you expose them, too.

There will always be, Bulgakov seems to be saying, complicated matters of the heart that surpass the grasp of even our most enlightened and talented citizens.

Post-revolutionary Russia is now a ways off. We do not know what song the doctor is always singing, “from Granada to Seville...” and so we miss its cultural significance and what it means to come out of Preobrazhensky’s mouth as well.

Still, the literature transports us.

The version read by the scribe (Grove Press) is translated by Mirra Ginsburg. Translations are always tricky. We can only hope they approximate what the original language was cleverly employed to convey. Ginsburg recreates an over-the-top type of nineteenth century idiom in the tone of, let’s say, G.K. Chesterton (“The Club of Queer Trades”).

“My good sir, I will not be made a guy of with this preposterous...”

Maybe, hopefully, that is what Bulgakov had in mind. To be sure, the high-flown pompousness of his hosts certainly contrasts with the low-flung desires and needs of the proletarian dog.


Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Democracy as Deception

The “Los Angeles Times,” ran a piece on Wednesday, Nov 30, detailing the Pentagon’s paying Iraqi newspapers “to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq.”

It can be found here:,0,3132219.story?track=hpmostemailedlink

The revelation, Mark Mazzetti and Borzou Daragahi report, “comes as the State Department is training Iraqi reporters in basic journalism skills and Western media ethics [and that’s a good one], including one workshop titled ‘The Role of Press in a Democratic Society.’ Standards vary widely at Iraqi newspapers, many of which are shoestring operations.”

Now they have something in common with “The L.A. Times.”

Read former book review editor Steve Wasserman’s piece to see what the scribe is talking about:

Digression is the mother’s milk of bloggers.

Back to the piece. One outraged and anonymous Pentagon source allegedly told the reporters, “Here we are trying to create the principles of democracy in Iraq. Every speech we give in that country is about democracy. And we’re breaking the first principles of democracy when we’re doing it.”

Of course, Mr. Anonymous, you broke those principles by launching an unprovoked invasion (technically).

The (p)resident talks a great and folksy hooey when waxing poetic about liberty and such. the scribe has never bought it, suspicious of those brandishing democratic credentials while rising to power by stopping a vote.

The rest is all bad history of which this story is just another example.

Of course, it might be alright in some instances that undemocratic means are used to achieve democratic ends, but the report leads us to believe the content of the articles in question does not reflect any actual sentiment in the market the papers are serving.

That’s how they got found out. Another unnamed guy said, “Stuff would show up in the Iraqi press, and I would ask, ‘Where the hell did that come from?’ It was clearly not something indigenous Iraqi press would have conceived of on their own'.”

On top of skirting the rules of civil democracy, the strategy is oafish. Your $3.5 billion in war funding per month at work.

To teach democracy, you have to be democracy.

Meanwhile, the (p)resident is presented as having “forcefully” proposed the same defeat-by-slow-death he has for months now.

And it’s very nice that sentiment has changed on the war and that a humiliated press has taken off the gloves where the administration’s concerned. Still, there’s not nearly enough going on to stop it before another thousand men and women die.

The administration now knows it has lost the critical mass of support needed to justify the extraordinary expenditure the conflict requires, but pulling the plug and turning the massive machine around will take time and, you guessed it, lots more money.

The getting will be good for a little longer because that is the plan.
the highway scribe will read from the novel "Vedette" to the accompaniment of guitarist Omar Torrez on Dec. 15, 8 p.m. at 33 1/3 Books & Gallery Collective, 1200 N. Alvarado St. @ Sunset Blvd.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Two More Done For

These were released Tuesday by the office of the Governor of California...

Governor Schwarzenegger today (Nov. 29) released the following statement regarding the death of Master Sgt. Brett E. Angus of St. Paul, MN:

“Today, we solemnly add Master Sgt. Angus to the honor roll of fallen heroes. Master Sgt. Angus fearlessly served and died for this great nation and deserves our deepest gratitude for making the ultimate sacrifice. Maria and I offer our condolences to Brett’s loved ones for their painful loss. Our prayers are with them during their time of mourning.”

Angus, 40, died Nov. 26 as a result of injuries sustained from an improvised explosive device while conducting combat operations against enemy forces in the vicinity of Camp Taqaddum, Iraq. He was assigned to Marine Wing Support Squadron-372, Marine Wing Support Group-37, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, CA. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, his unit was attached to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, II Marine Expeditionary Force.

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


Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Spc. Javier Villanueva of Temple, TX:

“Spc. Villanueva courageously served to preserve and protect the cherished freedoms we are afforded. Maria and I send our heartfelt sympathies to Javier’s family during this painful time. We are forever grateful to Spc. Villanueva for his service on behalf of our nation.”

Villanueva, 25, died Nov. 24 in Al Asad, Iraq, as a result of injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his dismounted patrol during combat operations in Hit, Iraq. He was assigned to the Army’s 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Irwin, CA.

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


the highway scribe will read from “Vedette” with a lot of help from flamenco guitarist Omar Torrez at the 33 1/3 Books & Collective Gallery on Dec. 15, 8 p.m. The bookstore is located at the junction of Alvarado St. and Sunset Blvd.

Monday, November 28, 2005

"War is...Business"

The most e-mailed article at the “L.A. Times” over the weekend was entitled “A Journey that Ended in Anguish,” written by T. Christian Miller.

It can be found here:,0,1236434,print.story

Miller’s piece recounts the life and death of Col. Ted Westhusing who was, according to the article, “one of the Army’s leading scholars of military ethics,” professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and a doctor of philosophy.

He was, by accounts contained in the article, a “straight shooter,” “deep Christian,” “cream of the crop,” and all around “solid citizen” (as the scribe’s mom used to say when describing someone distinct from the scribe).

Westhusing, who was living a pretty nice life in a lifetime position at “The Point,” responded to the war in Iraq in the way men of his ilk tend to: by running towards it.

But things did not go well. He apparently ran afoul of contractors (or they afoul of him) hired by the Department of Defense to handle tasks that used to be done by, well, the Department of Defense.

Westhusing’s charge in Iraq was to school Iraqi police recruits in how to do their job, without, one assumes, the bullwhips, electric prods, rape techniques, and outright murder that were trademarks of the prior regime.

Anyway, what got his goat was relations with a firm out of Virginia called USIS.

For those who don’t have the time to sort such things out and can only get a sense of goings-on in Iraq from a distance (courtesy of U.S. media), let the scribe explain: We now pay private companies to do a lot of the legwork building a prospective and democratic nation like Iraq requires.

These companies teach interrogation techniques and, as it turns out, have done a fair amount of questioning themselves. Because the Army and Marines were unprepared for a war in the Middle East of the Bush conflict’s depth and breadth, contractors are providing hundreds of people, at a considerable price (given the location and inherent threats), who can speak the languages necessary to facilitate a project (or whatever it is) like that underway in Iraq.

Contract employees have, despite legal constraints, been involved in house-to-house sweeps, jail discipline and interrogation, and firefights. In April 2004, for example, a few of them got their booties in a bind and wound up burned and hanging from a bridge entering Fallouja. That led to a massive firefight and the eventual leveling of the city and its citizens.

PBS’ “Frontline” did a special report about two months ago on the impact of “private sector elements” in the war effort and it tweren’t pretty.

Incidentally, literally hundreds of employees have been killed, led by those from Dick Cheney’s old boss, Haliburton, and SAIC in San Diego.

Westhusing had his own problems with the contractors. In April of this year, friends, family and colleagues began to notice a darkening of his mood. E-mails home got cryptic and creepy.

Here’s some from the article itself:

“Then, in May, Westhusing received an anonymous four-page letter that contained detailed allegations of wrongdoing by USIS.

The writer accused USIS of deliberately shorting the government on the number of trainers to increase its profit margin. More seriously, the writer detailed two incidents in which USIS contractors allegedly had witnessed or participated in the killing of Iraqis.

A USIS contractor accompanied Iraqi police trainees during the assault on Fallouja last November and later boasted about the number of insurgents he had killed, the letter says. Private security contractors are not allowed to conduct offensive operations.

In a second incident, the letter says, a USIS employee saw Iraqi police trainees kill two innocent Iraqi civilians, then covered it up. A USIS manager ‘did not want it reported because he thought it would put his contract at risk’.”

Westhusing reported the allegations and an ensuing investigation revealed what such fox-guarding-the-henhouse exercises tend to reveal - nothing.

One U.S. military official, naturally requesting anonymity, said, “As is typical, there may be a wisp of truth in each of the allegations.”

“Wisps” of truth are not much different than truths themselves, especially if the “wisp” part included the death of innocent people.

Westhusing killed himself, according to the military investigation that followed his death. The deceased’s family is not so sure. They fear danger may have lurked in the form of armed contract employees themselves, since the colonel was at odds with them.

the scribe, in all due respect, wonders what in the heck anybody running off to participate in the block party known as Operation Enduring Freedom was expecting.

Lt. Col. Lisa Breitenbach is the psychologist who reviewed Westhusing’s communications. She concluded that he, “struggled with the idea that monetary values could outweigh moral ones in war.”

One has to wonder what administration he was watching sell this ghastly enterprise.

“Despite his intelligence,” she said, “his ability to grasp the idea that profit is an important goal for people working in the private sector was surprisingly limited.”

He thought war is hell, but war is... business.

the scribe would suggest that, like neo-cons Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle (and Christopher Hitchens!) Westhusing, before he took off for Iraq, was something an Ivory Tower soldier (the best kind).

These two guys were not:

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today (11/28) released the following statement regarding the death of Spc. Vernon R. Widner of Redlands:

“Spc. Widner gave his life in service of his country, paying the ultimate price in the struggle for democracy and freedom. This nation owes him and his family a debt of gratitude we can never repay. Maria and I send our sincere condolences to Vernon’s friends, loved ones and fellow soldiers as they grieve for him during this difficult time.”

Widner, 34, died Nov. 17 of injuries sustained when his HMMWV was involved in a vehicle accident during convoy operations in Bayji, Iraq. He was assigned to the 3rd Special Troops Batttalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, KY.

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


Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas of El Paso. TX:

“The loss of Lance Cpl. Terrazas painfully reminds us of the perils the members of our armed forces face every day. Miguel courageously took on these dangers, and Maria and I send our deepest sympathies to his loved one for their loss.”

Terrazas, 20, died Nov. 19 from injuries sustained as a result of an improvised explosive device while conducting combat operations against enemy forces in the vicinity of Hadithah, Iraq. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendletonn, CA. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, his unit was attached to 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.
the highway scribe will read from the novel "Vedette" to the accompaniment of flamenco guitarist Omar Torrez at 33 1/3 Books & Gallery Collective, Dec. 15, 8 p.m. 1200 N. Alvarado St. at Sunset Blvd.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters 54, 55, and 56

Chapter Fifty-four

Jordan drove over to Randall’s part of town so that they might get together for a smoke. The latter answered the door looking a little worse for wear. “Jeezus,” Jordan exclaimed, “you look like hell.”

In fact, Randall had been holed up for long enough with his smoke so that he actually looked a bit gray. The plan was beginning to work. He had a wheeze to his breathing and a rasp to his voice, not to mention other symptoms of chronic tobacco addiction. “Do you know how bad your breath smells man?” Jordan asked him.

“Nah!” Randall said, mashing a butt into an ashtray that spewed its own special brand of gray confetti. He moved in gray, his actions and gestures fragile, less dynamic this day than they were during The Smokers’ last meeting.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said, “but when I’m on my own I feel the weight of this whole thing more. Who would think a few insolent people could end up in such a trial by fire?”

Jordan was bursting to tell Randall all about what real pressure was, about when the cops are following you around as a suspect for murder you were actually guilty of. “Got any pot?” he asked instead.

“Sure,” Randall said, pulling a preciously carved box out from a book slot in one of the many shelves that lined his otherwise featureless lodging. It was another gesture weighted with fatigue. Jordan noticed it.

“Hey Randall, listen, if this isn’t going to be irreverent fun why are you doing it?”

“There’s nothing fun about having the fate of people depending upon the correctness of your decisions,” he explained.

“Aw c’mon,” Jordan chortled, “who’s relying upon your wisdom for survival? Heck we’ll let your wisdom ruin us, but don’t blow yourself up. Whose life depends on you anyway?”

“Yvonne. She came to me for an idea and I got her into this lawsuit. Now her business is tanked and every day she’s subjected to some insult or other.”

Jordan pointed out that Yvonne had displayed the family jewels in a mass circulated publication and that her business and reputation were probably due for a thrashing, Randall’s “decisions” notwithstanding.

“Still, it sucks to watch her wearing down.”

Jordan was familiar with the impulse to encircle the woman in question around the shoulders, take her in, change her life, protect her.

“You gambled. You had to. You might even win the suit,” Jordan added a simple kernel to the philosophical archive. Randall shook his head ruefully.


“We were never going to win something like that,” he pointed out. “The enemy is too big.”

This came as something of a surprise to Jordan who thought the courts weighed issues on their merit, and saw no difference in the subjects who came before them for redress and adjustment.

“So why’d we get into it?”

“To make them sweat with a little bad publicity and get her a settlement. The woman wanted some satisfaction. She thought the pictures had faded into the past; even thought that she’d been lucky to get paid, but never published, as it were. And she sauntered in here with her famous ass and big Chiclets teeth and convinced me I was the one who could help her. Lemme tell you man, a woman like that comes into your lonely smelly place, reeking of lavenders and jasmines and scents you’ve only read about in old books and you’re going to believe just about anything she tells you about yourself.”

Of course, that is nothing at all like a correct account of the deal made between Randall and Yvonne, during which he was quite coy and cautious, mindful only of the tactical possibilities to pulling the thing off. But he needed this seduction in the difficult moment, and only he knows why.

“Sucker for a pretty face, huh?” said Jordan.

“Anybody ever mention how you have an uncanny knack for distilling things to light water?”

“Not exactly in those words.”

The two of them sat glumly for a few moments, the problems of one considerably more severe than those of the other.

“So,” Jordan broke the silence, “what you’re saying is that we’re not going to be able to get a settlement.”

“Pretty much.”

“Well, I’m sure Yvonne will be alright. She’s hot and she’s hip and the desire of half the men in this city.”

“Maybe, maybe not. Then there’s Joya to worry about.” Randall explained Joya’s recent run-ins with the BID and the city’s prospective plan for outlawing sidewalk smoking altogether.

“Can they do that?”

“Sure, I guess.”

“I guess? I guess is a pretty chicken-shit answer.”

“Which am I, the chicken or the shit?”

“Take your pick. You need to suck it up and help these girls get through this

“Could you say just one original thing?” he broke into a rupturing cough (or it
broke into him) that startled J. “I’m beginning to feel sick.”

Jordan tried to hide his concern. “Corey said the doctor told you it would take years before this stuff caught up with you.”

“The doctor was wrong.”

“I guess that’s possible,” Jordan mentally backtracked through his own recent experiences with the medical profession.

Hoping to direct the conversation away from his frailties, Randall said that the lawyer he’d been flirting with – Geffner – wouldn’t budge off his asking price.

“Even with all the positive vibe and good press and hip activity around The Sidewalk Smokers Club?” asked J.

“Tried that on him. He said hip is its own death sentence. No sooner is it declared than it begins the downslide. That, he told me, is why he wears the suits he wears and these suits you would not believe,” said Randall, who was a natural dandy with little use for fashion and frivolities.

“What about another lawyer?” Jordan struggled to be the positive force. “One that’s a little cheaper and more idealistic?”

Randall explained how DeConcini hailed from that formula. “Their idealism aside, these people need to eat, too. Nope. Geffner’s price is the price you pay for guys who have lunch with judges at the Downtown Athletic Club and meet opposing attorneys on the golden links. Geffner’s the guy, but everyone except Clarisse is busted flat and we can’t afford him.”

“Clarisse won’t help with some of what Vindaloo Baxley’s been showering her with?”
When you make money, people know it and offer no shortage of good uses to which it might be put.

“Not yet,” Randall noted, “but I do have an option, it’s just not a very appealing one.”

“And?” Jordan pried.

“I’d rather not say,” Randall clammed up.

“Aren’t we doing things open and democratically?” J. insisted.

“Sometimes, but enough about this crap,” Randall said. “How are you doing?”

“Working on a new gal.”

Randall’s eyes lit up. Jordan figured him for a man who actually took joy at the good fortune of his friends, because it was his, too. He tied their disparate destinies together. “Really,” he said. “Tell me about her.”

Jordan did and for the remainder of this stay it seemed that Randall’s health improved a bit. Departing, he gave the guy a guy’s punch in the arm. “C’mon,” he prodded, “give me a little a that ol’ time bum philosophy for the road.”
Randall shrugged, “You know what you know, but you don’t know what you don’t know.”

Chapter Fifty-five

“So lemme get dis right,” Clarisse stared at her husband in disbelief. “You want me to help pay for de case of de girl who maked you lose interest in me?”

Although Corey didn’t agree with every shading of Clarisse’s in that statement, he was forced to admit the larger point. “Yeah, that’s right.”

She wasn’t as angry as her interpretation of things made her sound. Clarisse was a good person and she had many conflicting feelings about the split. She wouldn’t have minded helping, but it wasn’t that simple with her. “Dat ees a lot of monee,” she stated the obvious.

Corey was a little desperate and so he said things that a more balanced and sensitive being might not have, such as: “C’mon! Vindaloo Baxley and that film crowd have been buffing you out for weeks now.”

“Well, dat ees why you are here, no?”

He nodded his sullen way right back to square one. She collected the victory without further plunder. There was a long pause for them to think. “Eet’s a lot. I am sure dis won’t go on forever. Maybe a year, two eef I get reelly lucky. So de monee I am getteeng I want to put away or buy a house; something for de footure.”

It was, he realized then, a future he no longer figured into, and that hurt. Worse, her reasoning mirrored his where the slim chances of a triumphant bum philosophy were concerned. Her plan was his plan: to get out of town with a stake at some point and never return save for dinner and basketball games. So there wasn’t a whole hell of a lot he could say. They still had much in common, or so it seemed.

“Look,” he lowered his voice in confidence. “We need the money and if you have to beg, a friend’s a good place to start.” (And he stopped a second to scribble this down.)

“So, maybe you sink,” Clarisse responded, awash in clashing hormonal responses, heart full of feeling for her ex.

“See that’s the thing. I haven’t known him too long, but a guy like Randall won’t sink. He smokes himself to death and he doesn’t even die. They make the bohemians that way for survival of the race. There’s less of them, but they’re like bad grass you can’t clear the yard of.”

Clarisse was not encouraged to invest by this characterization of the group’s de facto leader as a weed. She told Corey to get to the point.

“He’s been approached by a force more than willing to pay our bills…the tobacco lobby.”

Saying “tobacco lobby” was like saying cosa nostra; an influence to be vilified and resisted at every turn. Ad campaigns cooked up evil mascots to represent them and paid actors good at sinister sneer to portray their CEOs. Nobody liked the tobacco lobby. Not even smokers who sued to the tune of billions a year for selling them the things they liked to smoke. They had been tricked, they claimed.

The pair looked at each other, years of mutually held beliefs swirling around them. “Ees he going to take it?” she broke the silence.

“Like I said, this guy won’t sink.”

“But de tobacco lobby kills people,” she pointed out lest this had been overlooked.

“The dish soap people glued the top to their bottles so you can’t pour some water in and make a little more. We’re not crucifying them.”

“Dey cleans dishes, not kills peepul. What is da matter, boom philosophy dosen’t have a cute leetle saying for dis problem?”

“If you have to beg, a friend’s a good place to start.”

Corey then suggested how Clarisse might explain the situation to Vindaloo and some other luminaries she’d been permitted to party with of late. Clarisse explained that her success was based largely upon an association with The Sidewalk Smokers Club of multimedia fame. She felt that if The Smokers’ problems were laid bare for Baxley and Co., the whole game might be off, called on account of rain. Acid rain. “You mean they won’t think we’re worth it if they know we’re sinking and if they know we’re sinking they won’t be interested in your designs?”

“Das very good Corey. You know in this country dey only likes winners.”

She smiled and he returned it. This was the gift they had always longed to find in a mate and had discovered in one another. Once obtained, it had been a daily boon that lifted each’s spirit, but they had failed to nurture it and the same familiarity and connection almost imperceptibly became annoyance. Suddenly the smile was back and closer to what it was when they had first met and dreamed of playing with each other’s body parts in situations both private and semi-private.

“I understand,” he finally said. “Thanks for listening.”

Now that she had prevailed, Clarisse felt guilty. Things didn’t happen that way while they were married.

The conversation was unlike anything from their past. It was not a rewinding and unspooling of the baby dialectic that had nearly smothered their existence together.

It was about a tangible matter in the wider public sphere, for which each had an idea of what the solution might be. They were already successful in that they were known – a small world was watching – and there seemed something terribly large just within their grasp if they could only figure out what it was.

That she sensed the growth in Corey had nothing and everything to do with her suddenly missing him. When he smiled, the little boy all wives come to both cherish and despise came out. It was the little boy hurt by his father’s disapproval.

Clarisse was hurt that it was no longer her place to soothe him, because she was dying too, because doing things for him had, in the beginning anyway, been so satisfying.

On the table between them lay a magazine – a design digest, actually – with Vindaloo
Baxley’s “salon” on the cover, replete with many of Clarisse’s Pieces (she’d taken inspiration from Joya’s Joyas). Trixie Marie had never come so far, but of course, this did not make Clarisse at all happy. Now she missed the couples’ life, the confidence in social settings, the coordinated efforts – sometime unspoken and harmonic – the web of understandings that grows out of two people playing together against or along with everyone else. There was a variety in all that and now that she was beloved for her work, she had the time and luxury to look back and take measure of all they had possessed together, and how they had created it together. She began to realize that big things happen when you live small, while everything appears small when you live big.

Aside from Clarisse still being his legal wife, Corey now saw something he did not before. Yes, he was successful and she liked him for it, but she had liked him, with a few bumps in the road, when he wasn’t famous, too. This kept her affections authentic and pure in a milieu that was offering him love of a more counterfeit variety.

Chapter Fifty-six

No two ways about it. Joya dropped by Yvonne’s for sex. She came announced, for it was a personal belief that emotional ambushes, seductions and such were nothing but rape in the end. Joya, like many girls, had been through enough of such things in her life. She felt that lovemaking which left one of the participants confused, hurt, confounded or remorseful was not worthy of the name.

Joya also felt lovemaking itself should not be defined by a specific act or threshold of sexual activity. She said that for lovemaking to work, “ya gotta have as much love as you do makin’.”

And that love might only be a parting smile, a teardrop, the brush of a hand upon the beloved’s cheek, but it would be love. Joya now believed there is time and there will be time if the love is real. She was learning to romance not voraciously or lasciviously, rather patiently and honestly. Damn her.

And so, she called first and expressed (some) of her intentions clearly to Yvonne.

They were, in short, to discuss affections and intimacies and “Hon, you don’t have to do anything. You don’t even have to say ‘no’. Ya just have to deal with what’s been in the air. Or more, of course, if ya like.”

It is natural when confronted with such novelty and command to feel the lesser of two dancers; easy to feel that one is being led, however gently and considerately.

But Yvonne was growing by leaps and bounds, too; bedding down nightly with large doses of fear and insecurity that, when engaged and withstood, became bracing and invigorating. Like all The Smokers she understood that the fear is where the action is. Behind the fear shimmered life’s treasures and she was getting very good at finding its scent and following where it may.

Joya knocked and Yvonne opened the door – buck-naked.

Composure is one thing. Being a cadaver is another and we all know by now that Joya was no cadaver. And so, as most would have, she gasped.

“Huuuuuuuun,” she said, slipping inside the door, her Bic instantly flicked. “What on earth is it you’re trying to say?” The question was telling because it meant Joya was not biting this body language at the surface. It did not mean sex, or seduction or willingness. It was Yvonne talk, a thrust inviting parry.

“You’ve seen it all,” the hostess pointed out, “in print anyway.”

“Yeah,” Joya responded as she entered the space, “but I haven’t smelled it.”

Yvonne blushed and Joya breathed more easily at this breach in the newly minted goddess’s bulwarks.

Yvonne saw it. “I guess I’m not quite as indomitable as all that.” Joya, who was given to cornpone and subtle lapses of simplification found her friend’s big word very exciting and credible.

Yvonne led her in. The house was long and wide and empty, its floor hard-wooded.

There were no sofas, easy chairs or coffee tables. Instead the place was sparingly ornamented with five sculptures of differing size and expression; each enigmatic and requiring a moment’s brooding before finding the simple universal form beneath the crafted trickery.

“Are these Clarisse’s Pieces?” Joya asked and Yvonne nodded in the affirmative.

“Now I’m in love with her, too,” said Joya.

“You’re in love with everybody,” she said in her low way.

Joya was embarrassed.

“You should never fall in love with an artist over their art,” Yvonne cautioned. “These pieces,” and then she leaned her nakedness upon one that matched her length, but contradicted her curves with indentations and exclamations of its own, “these pieces are not Clarisse, they are her black magic, which I know you know.”

In that moment Joya became conscious of the danger she herself might be in. Yvonne, her self-righteousness and vulnerability aside, had chosen to model naked for a photographer years ago and the act itself said more than her simple claim to innocence and poverty. Innocents and the poor collect aluminum cans or work in sweatshops to survive, but stripping down to stay alive was a kind of black magic, too.

It suddenly felt as if she were in a prison with bent and twisted bars that distorted perspective and dizzied her up. Each sculpture began working its power over her and because the forms were novel and unfamiliar, Joya was slowly overcome with a kind of vertigo.

The place was devoid of compartments. It was one big room save for the kitchen which was tucked off to the side of the entryway. Joya had an interest in architecture and saw that something in the distribution of space was not quite right. “There were rooms here once weren’t there?”

Yvonne nodded the confirmation. “I had all the walls knocked out.”

“Hmm. How come?”

“So that my house reflected how I feel inside of my body, too.”

“And how’s that?” Joya wanted to know.

“Naked and open,” said Yvonne.

“Naked and open,” Joya repeated more to herself than for the benefit of both parties.

Something was happening. The absence of clothing, the disappearance of boundaries, had altered the rules of the game, and very subtly at that. Yvonne had created a world of openness in which there was no place to hide. The sculptures, whatever their intended functions might be, indicated an unusual home where common behavior had no place.

Joya was in enemy territory, a stranger. The dizziness persisted. She turned to the naked woman, inside and out, for body balance.

On Yvonne’s thigh there was something like cellulite, a minor imperfection, a protruding vein perhaps – she could not tell – and it spoke to her. As Joya moved her finger towards it, Yvonne looked down and, surmising the object of her curiosity, turned it toward the inquiring appendage. “Ya can’t see that in the layout,” Joya revealed something of herself.

Yvonne smiled knowingly. Joya had looked hard at those pictures. She imagined the Coloradan playing with herself in bed and she trembled a little. “They put make-up on things like that for the magazines and they brush your pussy over and over and over again.”

There was a mark underneath Yvonne’s left breast, a scar. Joya pointed at it. “Did they brush that?”

Yvonne sighed. “My master gave that to me.”


“I’m a slave. A man in the hills calls me when he wants and orders me up there to service him.”

“Oh, hon! Lincoln freed the slaves.”

The response hit Yvonne like a thunderbolt. Lincoln had freed the slaves. Joya pressed her advantage. “So what gives with the babysuit?”

“Even walking around town in a full-length faux fur, this is how I have felt since the whole thing started.”

Joya needed no further explanation. She understood; once everybody has seen you naked, the purpose of your clothes is cut by half – relieved of the concealing function, and reduced to simple sartorial talk.

“How does it feel?” she asked Yvonne.

“Why don’t you try it?”

“Here? Now?”

Yvonne nodded, Joya declined. “You seein’ me naked next to you is not the same as the whole world seeing me naked in a magazine.”

“How different is it?” Yvonne asked and, again, Joya began to feel dizzy, hunted.

She fought it. Successfully. She calmed down, breathed. They were making love in the way she liked it made. And it was what she had come for.

“It’s different in the way strangers feel for you and the way I do.”

Words are powerful tools and when armed with the essences of those who utter them, they can carry the caliber of cannon shot. Yvonne stepped back, but not consciously.

“Would you like some tea?” she asked.

Joya looked around. There was something impossible in the offer, incongruous and hard to imagine as relevant in any way. And so she accepted.

Yvonne walked over to one of Clarisse’s creations. It was long, head high, and triangular. It was a long triangle, really; the only geometric piece in the space, and for that, the least beguiling to both women. Yvonne reached around the back and the front popped open, and out, in two panels heretofore invisible: a silver teakettle of Arab insinuation surrounded by little glasses of opium-inspired filigree waiting expectantly beside it.

“Been steeping for a few minutes now,” she whispered. “It’s ready.” She began to pour as Joya looked around her and saw no better place to sit than at Yvonne’s feet.

So there she surrendered to the trembling between her thighs.

“How’d ya know I’d want tea?”

Yvonne tilted her head in the matter-of-factly way. “New maxim. Anything Randall doesn’t know, I do.”

“And that’s not bum philosophy?”

“No,” Yvonne said, “it isn’t.”

The glasses were filled and there was steam rising from them. It reminded each of the same thing. Joya reached into her bag and pulled out a pack of Virginia Slims. “Here’s a little gift,” and she tossed them to Yvonne who abandoned her calculated body appeal with a little squeal of delight; for that is the push and/or pull of vice. Yvonne sat down and crossed her legs and Joya agreed that, the demure posture aside, there was little left to hide.

“Did you,” Yvonne asked, “really mean what you said about wishing you hadn’t ever met us?” She sipped and a softness on her skin followed the liquid down her throat and into her midsection.

“I did hon. I really did. I jus’ feel like the whole thing wouldn’ta happened.”

“What whole thing?” Yvonne asked, knowing full well what her love maker meant, but desirous of a better definition than the one she was working with. Information and truth.

Joya sipped. “You know, the whole thing!” and she waved her hand carelessly in the air. Yvonne felt sorry for herself and for her friend because Joya did not possess the gift of insight. That was Randall’s blessing. And she could see that even in the working of so busy and well-exercised a mind as Joya’s, it took a lot of hours of cigarettes before such insight surfaced from the watery depths into which Randall dove and darted about almost naturally. “I just thought it was kinda fun, irreverent ya know? I played along. I lent my person to you guys, um to us, and I mean that, to us. But that helped make us the us and now they’re trying to make us illegal and your business is closed and Randall’s tryin’ ta kill himself with cigarettes and Jordan’s maybe goin’ ta jail –”

Yvonne coughed a little and some tea dripped out between her lips and onto one of her breasts. The girls both watched its stuttered descent, like good sport. “Why would Jordan be going to jail?”

That cat was out of the bag and there wasn’t a thing in the world Joya felt like keeping from Yvonne anyway. To belabor the point: this was their great lovemaking in surroundings markedly altered by new rules where the truth was both golden rule and golden ring. So she gave her whole story and followed up with the requisite necessity that it remain between them and only them.

“Wow, is that why he cut his hair and dyed it?” Yvonne said when she was done.

While more intuitive than insightful, Yvonne could finally see now that Joya’s having been the glue that had brought the group together left her feeling responsible for all their present woes.

She felt it was simply not so and spent a long time in failing to win Joya to a contrary position.