Saturday, May 28, 2005

This week we meet the enemy in the persons of Inspectors Thorpe and Diaz. Also The Sidewalk Smokers Club strengthen their alliance and go out to the sidewalk for a smoke together.  Posted by Hello

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters Eleven and Twelve

Chapter Eleven

Oscar Diaz was something closer to what Corey’s Dad might have hoped from his son. The young men were of proximate age, but Diaz’s life was more in line with traditions the elder thought he’d bequeathed his son – whom instead fled, putting a continent between them.

Oscar was harnessed to a cart and pulling with all his might. He had two children to whom his every effort in life was dedicated. He was married to a woman with whom he got along, more or less, for nigh on a decade. He had not gone to college and so carried around quite a chip on his shoulder about it. The irony would not have escaped Corey’s Dad because having not attended himself, sending his son became the driving motor behind all his and the wife’s actions throughout the spoiled youngster’s life. And yet it was there, in academe, that his son developed a disdain for everything great in this great country. He took a summer in France. He came back funny. He liked it more than his own nation. Go figure. And once it happened, there was nothing a summer at home, under Dad’s tutelage, could do to turn him around. The boy was lost to the father and his way of thinking. And the father knowing, still, that this is the best damn country there is.

Oscar, meanwhile, had taken a job working in the oil fields out of high school. The hourly rate, for a kid, sounded like a king’s ransom and although it wasn’t, the young man became hooked on the consumer heroine that a steady, sustaining paycheck offers. It got him a car that was cooler than anything his contemporaries scraping their way through university could afford. And darned if it didn’t draw some of the more attractive honeys from that very same early epoch in which no one knew what the hell they were doing. From there things developed as they have for generations with
Oscar knocking his girlfriend up. Duty-bound and unfamiliar with a wider world of wacky liberating ideas the college boys were twisting on, he agreed to marry and father the little guy. Home and job security necessarily followed. Oscar went through the rather rigorous motions of those seeking entry to the profession of firefighters and the lucrative unions safeguarding their financial stability. It was no sure thing, but now he was set. He could pay the bills on the new house and the newer truck (practicality playing a role here) by lowering his head, his eyes and expectations (if he’d really had any) and report to the same place year in and year out.

Our sarcastic tone masquerades a general respect for people who accept responsibility the way they accept free tickets to a baseball game, a respect for the simple timepiece quality of such lives; laid out as evenly as a set of keys on a piano, each step the same distance as the one before.

And there was satisfaction in Oscar’s work. It was a labor of undeniable utility to the community and his service, at times, had Oscar touch the ceiling of glory. He had saved lives and been recognized for it; had become a source of pride and joy to his parents, his wife and other family members both nuclear and extended.

But it was, in the end, a job that leaned heavily upon the physical prowess of the man who held it and the years had begun to take a toll. In recognition of this the fire department had, some two years prior, promoted him right out of his thrilling perch at the back of a fire truck and into an inspector’s stuffy office. Not that Oscar was ungrateful. He knew firefighting was not child’s play. And he knew his trick knee – source of a significant workers compensation settlement he used to buy motorbikes – could betray him in a crucial moment. There was, too, a tendonitis affecting the left shoulder making his job an increasingly miserable affair and he barely brushing the mid-thirties.

But what they’d gone and done was appointed him to a very important job, one that involved a new law – The Smoke-Free Workplace Act – and its enforcement – all of it.

For our own purposes we must identify him parochially for what he was – a natural enemy to smokers everywhere. That’s right, it was Oscar’s job, along with his partner Joseph Thorpe, a white guy with an identical pedigree, to run around town responding to calls or cooking up their own cases of Smoke-Free Workplace Act violations. He was a tobacco narc, a cigarette cop, a smoker snitch and roving petty bureaucrat. It was enough to make one smoke, and Oscar and his partner Joe knew it as they revved up and drove off each evening in search of fat quarry to skewer on behalf of the city’s empty coffers.

But back to the dinner, the table for which was set a chapter ago.

Chapter Twelve

The Dinner.

Jordan was looking pale, gaunt, and just a little scared.

Clarisse was there, Corey, and a new addition to the first loose nucleus, Randall, who’d run into Clarisse when outside a coffee shop where he’d stationed himself for a smoke. Fighting off thoughts of Joya through active conversation, Yvonne was laying out her happy religion to a skeptical Jordan. He claimed to have been as positive a believer in himself as the next guy, only to come up a month and many thousands of dollars short. “Well, that means it’s your fault,” Yvonne echoed the distinctly national tradition which views the victim as root cause of his/her own discomfort.

The company assembled was urbane and high-minded enough to moan at this – even if they knew it to be true in Jordan’s case given his inability to tolerate orders, bosses, or what his spoiled contemporaries knew as “structure,” and what his parents called “a job.”

Yvonne clumsily withdrew when confronted with the disapprobation of her latest acquaintances; acquaintances she must meet and know so as to run into Joya once again. The retreat promptly executed, she paused to reflect upon her disappointment that Joya was not as yet a full-fledged member of what she did not know to be the future political bureau of an important social front. “You’ll see,” she regressed into a ditsy girl voice that matched her outfit, “you’ll get your stitches out (he’d shown them to her, too) and gain some weight, and get strong and things will begin to go right for you if only you want them to.”

“I want them to,” Jordan [emphasis his] assured Yvonne.

“If that’s true you’ll see how fast everything goes your way,” she repeated in case he hadn’t gotten it the first time. She all but promised it with a sweet and earnest face lit up by black-lit eye-lanterns seemingly nailed at the center with bright pinheads of joy juice – if such a substance existed.

“The only thing that goes fast,” the prophet of bum philosophy jumped in, “is money.”

A novelty addition, Randall arrived with nothing less than a plan to transform this group from the assault on the stomach it was, to something more high-minded, purposeful.

“Isn’t your friend Joya going to join us?” Yvonne tried.

Joya was not yet a friend, except to Jordan, and a responding shrug on the part of all, except Jordan, was followed by Randall’s observation that, “something fishy happened at County Hospital while you were there Jordan.”

Jordan’s heart verily dropped into the hole his appendix had occupied a week earlier. “Yeah man. Seems,” Randall went on, “somebody pulled the plug on an old lady and she got a trip to heavenly land. Police are investigating.” Jordan’s gut began to feel not unlike the way it had at the last steakhouse gathering. But this time it wasn’t his appendix that was on the grill – it was his life.

“Dey shud save de money,” said Clarisse. “Maybe some one in heer family deed it.”

“Says here the family is devastated and plans to sue the hospital.”

“It’s more likely that they’ll sue than that they’re devastated,” Corey chimed in.

“That’s cynical,” Yvonne said, sparking a speech.

“If they were so dedicated she’d have been in a room upstairs at home instead of clamped to a bunch of machines at county,” Corey countered. “They’ve probably been hoping she’d kick-off for a long time and now that the hospital has screwed up, they can cash in at the same time.”

“I can’t believe you can think things like that,” Yvonne voiced her discomfort at such plain talk regarding the darker notions that often inform peoples’ actions. Randall, for his part, was enjoying the seedling of debate unfolding, privately nurturing expectations for the mental development of his stylish new friends. “Having just been there,” he turned to Jordan, “what do you think?”

Jordan, meanwhile, had been suffering the antagonisms of someone forced to be other than whom they truly are. He would have liked to observe out loud how keeping people artificially alive by pumping them full of things alien to their organism was an immoral practice for generating expensive fees based upon unneeded services; how life, without quality, was not life at all. But that, he felt, would have made him suspicious of murder in their eyes (which, of course it would not have) and such are the workings of the guilty, homicidal mind.

“Who cares about some old sacka bones that’s already dead?” he weakly dissimulated his intimate relation to the affair.

“I can’t believe you would say something like that,” Yvonne cried once again, the ugliness of the discussion chasing celestial visions of Joya’s ass from her mind.

Tension was clearly rising as they all considered their plates smeared with greasy swirls and the odd piece of unworthy viand; a cigarette popped into each mind simultaneously.

As one they arose in perfect concert, heads high, cardboard packs gently tapped against fingertips, lest the reason for this decamping be lost in the clean cut of their clothes. And why not? The Smokers were lively, chatty, otherwise (almost) respectable people who should naturally draw attention.

Outside, Clarisse pulled out your father’s cigarettes, while Yvonne pulled out yo’ momma’s maybe. Jordan retrieved his Drum pouch while Randall turned out to be a partisan of the Export-A, a fancy little Canadian offering that came in a flat box at something like thrice the normal pack’s price. They were short-cut, filterless, and the paper was of a silken quality. The taste hinted at a world of the privileged gentleman gone by, something far superior to the mass productions of our own lowbrow systemic configuration.

Corey had once again followed them all out, but not over any insecurity he felt about Clarisse. “I think I’ll have a smoke, too,” he said, just as he had a week earlier in the same place, only this time with meaning. It happens that fast. Such are the realities of drugs, and dependence develops quickly. He was beginning to appreciate the relief a good cigarette brought to a body stuffed with the specialty foods one went to restaurants for. He began to sense the rhythm affecting smokers’ lives, the nervous cadence, the syncopated beat that involved heading outside for a quick butt and some fragmented conversation. It became one with a dinner ritual that included showering, getting dressed, valet parking, cocktail, appetizer (if it didn’t kill one’s meal), and entrée. The outdoor feature broke this sequence of thicknesses, extended both the evening and one’s ability to endure some more time at the table over coffee, dessert, perhaps an apéritif and more importantly, more conversation, more possibilities. Using your life minutes and stealing some fun.

Randall, who aspired to the life of a young 19th century English dandy, knew, or had read about, some of grace’s finer points. With a polished gesture, contrasting only slightly with his worn attire, he opened the box of Export-A’s to Corey, who accepted them with an equally polished and gracious nod of the head.

“Ideas man, huh?”

Randall nodded in the affirmative.

“Bum philosophy, huh?”

“Interrogator, huh?”

“What if I helped you get it out to bum subscribers?”

“Find the bums?” Randall was aroused.

“Sure. There are ways of doing that from home on a decent computer.”

Randall was taken aback. Arrogant of posture, he suffered from the insecurity particular to thinkers who are not being thought over by anybody but themselves.

“God that’s good!” Corey held the Export-A at arm’s length and glowingly admired it. “Makes those American things taste like piss.”

“Many American cigarettes are infused with a small quantity of urea, the reason for which I remain ignorant of,” Randall informed.


“Yeah and anyway I’m flattered, but no-can do,” the philosopher feigned disinterest.
Corey slumped just a bit at the shoulders and Randall’s powers of bum perception picked up on it. This guy actually believed in him. “The bum philosophy has no brand-name recognition and it would cost more to develop than you can probably afford. No, let it be stated in a less equivocal fashion. It would cost more to develop than you can afford. To put it in bum philosophy terms – and everywhere they know it and say it: ‘You need money to make money’.”

Corey drew deep on the airy substance that was the Export-A’s special offering. He knew, even before Randall, that he was in for a sampling of his co-smoker’s work in progress. Having already decided bum philosophy was the meal ticket, his interest was heated to a burning-bright white intensity. We have no reason to doubt, either, that the cigarette hastened the comity developing between them.

“The situation might be otherwise if the ‘Randall’ brand-name enjoyed an element of familiarity,” he continued, “but it does not. Nobody cares who I am.”

“Brand-name,” that was the expression that excited Corey, and Randall had used it twice. Standing before him, he surmised, was a polished artist, exhausted from the polishing and ready to compromise with commerce.

“I’ve played my cards wrong up to now,” Randall confirmed his thoughts, “but had no choice. Development of a philosophical system is a mean task and goes beyond the full-time, into the overtime of demands upon one’s energies. You’ve got to learn many other systems to really understand what makes them what they are. You’ve got to out-adventure the adventurers; you’ve got to be more interesting than the interesting. You’ve got to live more than the living.”

Out of this Corey deciphered a discipline and firm belief in doing the time instead of the crime. “That’s good,” Corey said out loud.

“What’s good?” asked Randall whose rhythm was easily thrown off.

“You’re good,” Corey answered.

Randall loved it. “So that is where all my time has gone, into the thing itself, whereas the ‘who’ of who I am has languished from lack of love and attention. It was un-philosophically bumly of me to expect that excellence and thoroughness of thought would sell themselves. You have to have done something or your thoughts mean nothing. Experience in the spectacle is the only spectacle anymore.”

“And the only experience,” Corey added.

Randall, no more free of stylish calculations than any of the show horses around him, yanked his shiny silver box of sticks and offered Corey another. He declined, as might be expected of someone in their apprenticeship to the ancient guild of pedestrian puffers.

“Something, anything. Even bad, especially if it’s bad, but please elevate yourself to the level of wide attentions,” Randall prodded things forward. “Only then will they care.”

“Who are ‘they’?” Corey tried.

“I don’t know,” Randall confessed, “but they love a good comeback story for example. Singers and actors are great at them. There is nothing quite like sinking into obscurity and then rising anew with tales from the black hole of sensual excesses to spark sympathy and imagination in the general television-viewing populace. They never tire of hearing the gruesome details of one’s self-initiated sloth as long as it’s wrapped in the born again baby’s blanket of redemption. A nation of Christian origins, our payoff is the defeat of Satan’s evil pull into the liminal utopias beyond discipline.”

He would get better at it, but for now at the dawn of things, Corey could absorb no more. That this guy could fill so much air time and sound so good doing it only reconfirmed a belief that Randall – with a sanding of his rough edges – represented passage to financing a baby and restoring his life to a balance not known since bachelorhood.

“Comeback, huh?” said Corey.

“Celebrities provoke less envy when they’ve been through the ringer. They behave worse than us, mostly because they can afford to. What falls to us is developing a way of misbehaving that is a lot cheaper, but just as loud.”

“Who’s us?” asked Corey.

Randall shrugged, “Ah, I don’t know,” but permitted himself the luxury of a quick glance at those smoking and chatting amiably all around him.

“What about an addiction for Randall?” Corey proposed.


“Yeah, you get hooked on heroin or something.”

Randall tapped the frame of his glasses at the temple. He twirled the finger around and around.

“Okay, then fake it,” Corey insisted in the correctness of his notion, “but do something. The high road is closed. Sometimes it’s the low road or nothing at all.”

Randall took out a small notebook that had been bulging his blazer down in the lower left-hand pocket, “Sometimes it’s the low road or nothing at all.” He looked up, eyes awash with shine, “that’s good. That’s very good.” Randall was frozen by the idea’s brilliance – however twisted – and was, for once, at a loss for words.

Clarisse had clustered up to Yvonne and Jordan. Watching Corey light up she was subject to a pair of emotions flowing in different directions – at counter-purposes deep inside her. There was, first, a relief that what she was doing ceased to be a matter of disapproval. Smoking was no small matter where the question of harmony between them (and all couples) was concerned. Still, she could not deny that something personal was being usurped, something that had been exclusively hers in a life otherwise shared almost completely. Her cigarette break was exactly that, in the truest sense of the word – a break – and Clarisse would miss it should Corey make a habit of his own sidewalk smokings.

The others began to coalesce around them. Yvonne mentioned, “your friend Joya,” one more time and once too often. Her companions-in-smoking said that, yes, everybody was in agreement that Joya was wonderful and, that like her, they hoped she would deign to make them a part of her own wide city circle. Until that time, Yvonne would have to make do with the mere mortals presently assembled.

Yvonne blushed and smiled in a way that was simply too charming and authentic in its pure embarrassment to not evince a wave of unanimous simpatico. All was forgotten, sort of.

Clarisse held forth on the virtues of an occasional clove cigarette. Most of the gathered had been through that phase and her discourse failed to excite until she finished by saying “dey turn my tongue into a flowerbed,” and nostalgia overwhelmed each.

As the conversation wound down in rhythm to the depletion in tobacco supply, into discussions of money and pets and career breaks (for they all thought they were moving inexorably upward), Jordan was traipsing a more prosaic world wherein he waited, terrorized, for someone to bring up the old lady at the hospital again.

For that was not yesterday’s papers at all.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Compromise this...

We here at highwayscribery tonight register our disapproval of the compromise worked out on the filibustering of judges unsuitable for the federal bench.

While the efforts of senatorial “centrists” to find common ground on the issue is admirable on its face, the true effect may only put off the inevitable.

The right wing, which wants to govern for Christians, corporations and declare cultural war on everybody else, should be stopped in its tracks and revealed for what it is. The “nuclear option” would have achieved this, up or down.

The Democrats, who in the scribe’s mind are often guilty of the (r)epublican charge that they lack ideas and are relying on obstruction, should have been able to prove otherwise, or pay the political price.

The compromise reached is one that buttresses a status quo that is largely a thing of the past.

Linda Chavez, a (r)epublican hack whom Bush nominated in 2000 to be the Secretary of (anti)-Labor, but ultimately hung out to dry, wrote a recent editorial saying the filibuster should be kept, but truly kept.

She meant that rather than requiring a senator to merely express his intention to filibuster a measure, amendment or person in order to scuttle it, that legislator should be required to go through the motions of having to talk something to death.

the scribe couldn’t agree more.

Last week, Senate minority leader Harry Reid (D-NV), demonstrated how he could gum up the works if the nuclear option were imposed, by obligating senate committees to wind up their work in two-hour morning sessions.

Apparently, “the sweetest little club in the world” has been running on a system of automatic daily courtesy that extended committee sessions to the hours deemed necessary.

That means Democrats, who have been in the unfortunate position of fighting a rear-guard action and biding their time until a change in the political winds occurs, have been extending a courtesy to (r)epublican-run committees largely hell-bent on turning the country (which was working pretty well) inside out.

That shouldn’t be. There’s not call for comity in the face of pretty Fascism. There should be tooth-and-nail fighting, there should be endless debate that buries bills and informs the other side that our founding fathers would not permit a majority to force so many bitter pills upon a minority of what are, after all, fellow countrymen.

It was an a bold stroke, this empowering the minority to shut down an institution they don’t control and the scribe guarantees that it won’t be the last time our present ruling party forces its use by the opposition.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

mute expression

Our larks in the hollow are not singing

The lynx’s pure purr tantalizes
with its absence

Our love is making

Take care.
There is nothing
without void.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters Nine and Ten

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

Things happened for Joya in the moment she needed them to and so, for those observing, it seemed they happened easily, which they didn’t.

Excising rotting relationships, jobs that didn’t work out, and ill-fated romances from the tale, Joya’s road winds from a starting point of making some jewelry in her off-hours to opening a store for purposes of selling it at what the vernacular dubs a “handsome” profit.

It had started without plan and in innocence as the most desirable projects often do. First some friends purchased one-time samples of her wares and later she brought treats to nightclubs simultaneously festooning her own often-admired person with them. Sales were done on the spot. It was tax-free pocket money and she relished the exercise in the way Randall did the burnishing of common knowledge(s). Her southwestern essence pervaded the jewelry. It was heavy in turquoise, a stone which survived all the storms of fashion, at moments terribly chic, most of the time not, but always holding fond favor with a solid constituency. Within certain design guidelines – she was decidedly more refined than bulky – Joya had enough talent and accumulated culture to succeed in a variety of markets. For the ghoul after-hours crowd – a staple of the local fun tribes – there were little skeletons with turquoise eyes, Druid crosses with embellishments of the special Indian blue, and Mexican virgins with crowns of smooth and pleasing pebbles. For the hippie crowd there were American Indian and cowboy themes, cowboy hats (pink ones), horses, Hopi-inspired earrings, all of which sold very well. For the picky palates of upper-crusters she had designed a very specific series. These were bits of borderline fine jewelry with the turquoise burnished and chemically treated so as to decode its surreptitious spectrum and crease its surface with burned-orange-pinks and spidery black streaks. These she played with. These she dreamed with and convinced clients were worth considerably more than the cost of making them.

But to merely riff-off the qualities of her business is to fall into that trap which made her life’s progress – which indeed it was – seem effortless.

The truth was quite a different matter, for Joya believed success was more than a question of targeting many markets. She had to know about those markets, see them and live them. And so in dressing the Gothic set, she applied experience gained in running with the vampires over a number of years. If she understood the hippie sensibility, it was because a part of her Colorado schooling had exposed her to final traces of the original hippies. If Joya knew what the rich liked, it was because she’d catered to many a temperamental diva since arriving in that city she now called home. In addition to those entertaining the deception that hers was a life touched by the Gods, were those assuming it was a natural aristocracy that informed her stylistic guesswork.

Not so. American girl, she learned and burned and earned it all before crows ever tread the corners of her eyes. It was a success bred from a cornpone ambition, devoid of maliciousness, rooted in an honesty and enthusiasm about work still particular to the nation.

Joya’s Joyas – the store – fell just outside the boundary line of a wealthier local municipality and that provided her with a nameplate location at just a fraction of the cost of being within it. She secured a bank account at an institution inside the border so that her checks boasted the glitzy locale’s name. She was active in a group of area merchants and, it could be said, was probably its most dynamic member – although she was not conscious of the fact others held her in such high professional esteem.

These are some of the particulars and some of the virtues of Joya. Others have been demonstrated in the way she took care of a young man who was a complete stranger, and still others have been left for later weaving into the longer account. And that is because we will need Joya for the entirety of the piece to keep things lively and sympathetic (along with a host of other qualities most useful to moving a post-modern novel along its merry way).

But here is one more thing about her, before we attend to the development of other important characters: she did not have a boyfriend.

Chapter Ten

And whether Joya had a boyfired was on Yvonne’s mind as she headed to a gathering of Jordan and friends for the purpose of celebrating his medical discharge in almost one piece.

Physically, he was almost fine, but finance, as usual, was another matter.Having been set free by the black lady with the forms, Jordan was able to put his mind at ease where monies were concerned. He had not reckoned, however, on the kind of damage his brief dalliance with the first hospital had wrought.

Before returning to Yvonne and her thoughts about Joya let it be recorded that Jordan had been hit to the tune of thousands of dollars from a hospital that had refused to treat him. The bottles of liquid poured into his arm were exorbitantly priced; x-rays they took – but which were not appropriate to detecting the suspected ailment – cost a princely sum and his first glance at the total price caused him to search for a chair to sit in and gather his wits. The expense associated with temperature readings by stand-up machines featuring three-inch red digital indicators added up to a Virgin Islands vacation stay.

Not that Jordan had any such adventure on tap before his body betrayed him. He was working in a coffee shop and even that wasn’t so solid any more. No, underachievement in a college-educated, white American male was something so foreign to the culture (so much had been given) as to raise suspicion about Jordan’s true motives for working at Java World. Nobody believed he was there because he needed to be and the local capacity for perception provided only two possible interpretations: 1) drug dealer using the place as cover and/or point of distribution, 2) writing a screenplay about Mexicans and/or Central Americans in the restaurant industry. Subtly, his boss asked to see Jordan’s stitches for he very much doubted Jordan’s accounting of the surgery.

Yvonne, meanwhile, was busy wrestling with Joya-feelings, which she had never experienced (except once or twice) with regard to any woman, and was not fully conscious of them at the moment. She lied to herself in this way often. It made life easier in as much as she got to her problems when she was good and ready, which is a fine strategy if you can get to your problems before they get to you.

Yvonne was a midwestern girl done good and niceness was the most common quality ascribed to her (followed closely by her persistence). She had a cool car. Her house was cozy-canyon and offered mysterious mossy views into a weepy garden of flowers and sculpture found or invented. She was talented with her mind, with her hands, and with her smile, which seemed to have more teeth than normal smiles. Her dog was long and floppy with a sweet face and tectonic slabs of muscle, and she took him on sweaty walks through winding country-like roads with sharp corners bordered by white-painted wooden fences.

There were no cesspools in Yvonne’s world. She simply assumed that shit disappeared when flushed. There were no fetuses in dumpsters out back of abortion clinics. The sea was not laced with strings of semen. Garbage dumps occupied a parallel universe and were administered by ambitious people who knew about rewards at the end of the rainbow.

She thought if blacks and Latinos and Armenians were going to make little clubs for themselves, then people of European descent should do the same; rejected the notion that those of European descent essentially ran the big factory as their private club.

It was a measure of democratic capitalism’s triumph that, even while believing such things, her own specialized talents were sufficient to gain a healthy material success.

And – it must be re-stated – that she was nice, which inclined people to shrug off the occasional and odd stupidity that Yvonne belched when the conversation went beyond her depth. Not that she was a purely material being. Like many of her time and place, Yvonne had cooked up an elaborate spiritual life to match the other storyline she’d moved out of Kansas to write for herself. It was the stock positive cosmology so very popular with her contemporaries. It went something like this: if you think positive thoughts (usually related to money and career) and you tell them to yourself often enough, couple them with incessant hard work and a cheery outlook, then good things will happen. For example, being fired was not unemployment. It was an opportunity to run around looking for intriguing spaces to rent, from where she would launch her future empire. People would just be warming up to the idea of feeling sorry for her when they’d get a call from her “new life” in practice. It was an important trick. Yvonne did not sweat things; she had fun with them.

And she was a convert to this religion because of the wonders it had worked for her.
And then Joya had caused the ground to shift beneath her; the way it did under the city every four or five years, creating a new opportunity to rebuild and reinvent itself in a burst of unified civic industriousness.

All of which sets the table for this evening’s dinner as Yvonne pulls up to the Mexican valet out front of the Argentine restaurant, wherein things play themselves out in ways that render reading through the next chapter, to get to next one after, a worthwhile exertion.

Friday, May 20, 2005

A New Day in L.A. Posted by Hello

Tony V. and Noir City

Important readers at highwayscribery have upbraided the scribe for not writing more about the election of Antonio Villaraigosa as mayor. I did congratulate L.A. for electing its first progressive leader in many decades (“About Robert Sheckley” May 18), but the excitement hadn’t really touch the scribe’s soul.

It can be pretty discouraging voting in all these stolen elections preceded by crappy campaigns without ideas. the scribe has to admit he’d tuned out of the race this time, guarding his feelings, wary that Tony V. - as a scribe at the “L.A. Weekly” called him - would get ripped off in the end.

Mr. and Mrs. Scribe, usually conscientious voters, headed off to the polls at the last minute and without much passion. This morning Mr. Scribe said to Mrs. Scribe, “You know boo-boo, that’s the first time in years we voted for someone who actually one.”

Today’s press was worldwide and the election has turned out to be pretty darn momentous. Some are saying L.A., of all places, is now the heart and soul of progressive America, which only goes to show that, if you live long enough, you see just about everything.

After Jim Hahn beat Tony V. four years ago by insinuating he was a crack dealer (or something like that), the candidate went to work in the real world, decided he didn’t like it, and got himself elected to the L.A. City Council. Some guys have all the luck.

In an interview with a downtown publications called “L.A. Garment and Citizen,” put out by the inimitable J.L. Sullivan, Tony V. was a planner’s dream with his call for an “urban village” connected by mass transit, more residential units in the historic core, and more green spaces to soften the urban experience.

Among other things he said, “I want to put together a group of planners, architects, thinkers and really figure out what we could do along Broadway.”

the scribe responded by writing the new city councilman about his concept of Noir City. After being rejected for a series of fellowships to develop this idea, the scribe has begun to intermittently pen a book on the concept in the wee hours of morn and/or eve.

Here’s the letter. The idea has been refined with research and the introduction of more other, similar workings throughout the labor movement and progressive planning fields. The jist remains the same. Who knows. For a few weeks in L.A. perhaps anything will seem possible!

August 17, 2003 650 South Sweetzer Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90048

The Honorable Antonio Villaraigosa
City Councilman
200 N. Spring Street
Room 425
Los Angeles CA 90012

Dear Councilman Villaraigosa,

I read in J.L. Sullivan’s Los Angeles Garment & Citizen that you were looking for some urban thinkers to begin a process of making downtown the best it can possibly be.

I was managing editor of the L.A. Downtown News for a productive, if short, period and forwarded the concept of “Noir City” in an effort to combat some of the more sterile proposals floating around (I also wrote the prescient piece on the “Three Latinos”).

I’ve enclosed the primary essay, composed between myself and Jose Perez de Lama, an architecture professor at University of Seville. There are also some follow-up pieces demonstrating how we linked the concept/critique to different things going on downtown at the time.

I can summarize it as a polishing up of the old “noir” presence that was so much a part of early filmmaking and brand it, in a marketing sense, as the local style. This doesn’t give downtown a bastardized identity, it recuperates an authentic golden era lying beneath the grime. The building stock, the theaters, the gritty urban atmosphere are all there.

I later refined the concept politically to fit a proposition for future unionism in a book proposal to the New America Fellowship, but I understand Gregory Rodriguez got it.

The proposal involving unions fits nicely in your district because downtown has considerable productive capacity – more than most. My idea is encouraging unionization, creating a stable workforce and putting them in the buildings they help renovate or clean every night, rather than trying to lure 28 year-olds with the promise of a coffee shop.

The people that live downtown should stay there, work on and enjoy the improvement of their environment. This is popular politics that engages the base.

I understand you have a background in labor and not only the ability, but the willingness, to grasp a concept such as this. That’s why I voted twice for you back in 2001 and that’s why I’m writing you now. Mr. Perez de Lama lives in Spain, but assures me he would vote for you if the law permitted.

In exchange for the political help, the unions become primary community mechanisms committing to bookstores, schools, medical centers, distribution programs, radio stations so that their money is put into action instead of bureaucracy. It will be good for local unions and will strengthen the progressive base for a generation.

In exchange for the union presence, businesses are taxed when they leave and made welcome to stay with a simple, stable revenue code, some crisis loan funds, and seed money for those demonstrating growth potential. The geographical intimacy and constancy of a downtown revitalized would better define the community and make business people a part of something more cohesive than a simple work destination.

If this sounds like making downtown a 1930s city, well, it is a 1930s city, a neglected one.

We could make it a millennium city, but that would be like starting from zero and infinitely more costly. Noir City remembers the past, capitalizes on downtown’s growing cultural muscle, and harnesses the industrial core into a common project.

At the time of its propagation people responded with interest to the idea. We hoped Sue Laris would move into one of Tom Gilmore’s buildings and help launch a sweeping Noir City renaissance with challenges to downtown fashion designers, requests of its corporate denizens, and programs for its theater groups. Instead I got fired, which was to be expected, but the idea lives on and grows.

the highway scribe

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Sheckley Revisited

A group in Gijon, Spain, a once radical and working class city in the northern part of country, has ponied-up $2000 for Robert Sheckley, sort of. They organize something called “the black week” which obviously has something to do with science fiction. They’re running off 2,000 issues of a Sheckley short story and selling them for one dollar a piece during their annual event with proceeds to be spat

The director of the festival, a Mexican by the name of Paco Ignacio Taibo, said the group has already been in contact with the Kiev clinic where Sheckley is slowly recovering so that they can get him some money. He’s stuck inside there because he can’t pay his bill.


A University of California San Diego political science professor wrote a piece on the filibuster and just who it’s protecting these days. Matthew Soberg Shugart says all this stuff about “minority rights” is a bunch of bunk; that if you look at the numbers, the 44 Democrats in the Senate represent 48.4 percent of the U.S. population, while the 55 (r)epublicans represent 46.8 percent.

So the Democrats represent more Americans the (r)epublicans do.

“Reforming the Senate to empower the majority is a fine debate,” he writes in Wednesday’s ‘San Diego Union-Tribune.’ “But so far the debate has been narrowly cast as a question of the majority of senators, and the voters have been neglected. In the meantime, the filibuster may be imperfect. It may even from time to time obstruct the business of legislating and approving the president’s nominations. But it is the best tool we have for ensuring that the majority of voters is not ignored by an unrepresentative majority of senators.”

Here, here!

the scribe predicts that Bill Frist wins his sop to the far right in yet another “close vote.”

And speaking of the Red state/Blue state divide, how about that season finale on UPN’s “Kevin Hill.”

Looks like the scribe had it wrong (Things You Don’t Know Much About,” May 17.) “Biology trumped all” and the judge gave Sarah back to her mother and shattered Kev’s life just like that. Wow, those Hollywood screenwriters are certainly pushing the envelope. And it’s true, we blue staters lose in court all the time. Great stuff. Somebody over there better be careful they don’t lose their job.

Now we have to wait to until September. Talk about an endless summer.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Robert Sheckley (bottom).  Posted by Hello

About Robert Sheckley

Spain’s “El Mundo” reported May 17 that Robert Sheckley, a pioneer of modern science fiction, is “trapped” in a Kiev hospital, because he can’t pay his bill.

The author of over 60 books, both novels and short stories, was attending a science fiction congress in the Ukranian capital when his three packs of cigarettes a day caught up with him.

Sergio Imbert of the Spanish news service EFE reports that Sheckley was put on a respirator, got a little better, and was disconnected. He is still interned however and cannot as yet talk, although he communicates with his laptop. Scribe!

His family is unable to pay the $1000 a day tab he continues to run up. An association of science fiction writers in Kiev actually picked up $7000, but is now broke. The contact for that group is Boris Sidyuk ( and he’s still accepting checks to help Sheckley.

His family has asked the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for help as well.

Now there are some out there wondering why is the scribe wasting a day on some fleabag writer who didn’t plan his old age properly and doesn’t take care of himself?

Well, the scribe might respond, apparently Sheckley has insurance, but things get red-tapey when one’s being in a foreign country is factored in.

And apparently the guy, whose books are out of print here, sold millions upon millions of copies in the old Soviet Union. What is to say somebody took the liberty of translating his work and sold the resulting volumes without ever sending Sheckley a penny.

The article quotes a Russian digital news daily “Gazeta” as observing that, “It is eloquent that this man, who looks like an aged hippy, needed help precisely in the country where so much of his was just assumed to be given.”

Sheckley, originally from Brooklyn, began writing in the 1940s, and made it big quickly.

In the 1970s he moved to the Spanish island of Ibiza, which must have worked out pretty well. Ten years later he returned to the United States where he edited the magazine “Omni”.

And something else... the scribe scripts he is beset by a warm glow resulting from the victory of Antonio Villaraigosa in his run for Mayor of Los Angeles. No predictions here; the scribe is too wise to get wide-eyed, but Villaraigosa is without doubt, the first progressive mayor the city has had in 80 or 90 years. He’s straight out of the labor movement, young, open to ideas, and mindful of the poor. Maybe he can do something for the city, for the Democratic Party, and for those who have fallen behind as others touch the stars.

Congratulations L.A.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Things You Don't Know Much About

Last week the Supreme Court gave Dick Cheney and the White House a victory; another tough one to swallow.

Turns out it’s okay to conduct secret policy meetings, which means we really don’t have open government at all.

So now, to quote the Italian kids back in the old neighborhood, “we don’t even know what we don’t know!”

Nor do we know what we do.

Paul Krugman of the “New York Times” wrote an article for Monday morning’s paper entitled “Staying What Course?”

It covers a lot of area and its main point is that the administration, paragon of national security it claims to be, has really made America a less safe place.

But what the scribe wants to talk about is the not-very-famous “Downing Street memo” that came out at the tale end of the recent election campaign in Great Britain.

Krugman, as we are doing here, noted that, “There has been notably little U.S. coverage of the memo (get it at

The memo, essentially the minutes of a cabinet meeting, confirms what those of us who opposed the war and scoffed at all the references to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler, believed: that the administration never had a good reason to go to war other than the fact that it wanted to.

Here’s a section excised by Krugman for our delectation:. “Military action was not seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and [weapons of mass destruction]. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

So what good is a free media and access to backroom policy meetings if nobody’s going to call the administration on it?

And another thing we don’t know too much about. Did anybody read that the Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) called Bush “a loser” when visiting a school in his home state.

Reid said something about George the First being a “lovely human being”, but “as far as I can tell, the son’s a loser.”

It ran about a week ago, just a blip. Reid apologized and the White House took a bit out of the Democrats’ ass with the usual pap about obstruction and lack of ideas (to match their bad ones) and that was all she (or anybody else) wrote.

Where’s is the thunder on the right? Don’t they want to talk about the emperor’s new clothes?

The Humane Society of the United States would like you to know about something else you don’t know about.

Someone stuck a stealth amendment into a massive budget bill last year that allows wild horses on federal land to be sold commercially again. You have to wonder whose brainchild that was, given the service it renders the republic for which they stand.

Anyway, some level-headed people named Rahall and Whitfield have a new amendment that, to quote the e-mail sent by a highwayscribery source: “would ensure that tax dollars are never used for sales of wild horses that could lead to their slaughter.”

Apparently 41 wild mustangs have already come to an untimely end in recent weeks.

They want you to call your representative at (202) 224-3121, practice a little direct democracy, and direct them to vote “yes” on the measure.

We must govern ourselves with kindness.

And from Hollywood:

A killer episode of UPN’s Kevin Hill on tap for Wednesday night.

We’ve written about the show once before here at highwayscribery (“Honky Cat”, March 10).

To recap, Hill’s the extremely cool black lawyer living the cool New York City life when his cousin dies and leaves him a baby.

There’s your set-up. A few episodes ago the child’s (Sarah) mom turned up and Kevin opened his heart to her, and agot her out of jail to boot. She signed Sarah over.

Last week she returned a new woman with Christ both in her life and on her arm in the form of a preacher husband. The chapter closed with a great Red State/Blue State culture clash, on the blue state home floor of Kev’s Kool loft.

The good man of the cloth announced he was going to file for custody of Sarah. And then he cited Kevin Hill’s ken for a little cocktail now and again, “homosexuality” (the Nanny, George), and “licentiousness”(!) just because some scorned vixen showed up and got naked in front of Kevin!

The pastor said “Brother Kevin-“ and Kevin told him “don’t call me brother” before rolling the holy man and crew from his crib with a thundering “get out!”

Those liberal Hollywood script-scribe types have set up a courtroom drama to resolve the matter and you know, if the series is to continue, Kevin’s got to win Sarah back, unless of course they kill the filibuster today and some of Bush’s judges are seated.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters Seven and Eight

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

There were about ten people outside the restaurant looking great and smoking away, shooting glances across the streetscape, tapping quick, desirous feet, tapping their tobacco butts clean. These impromptu gatherings not only evoked a warm commune of the persecuted, but also gave off a sense of where the real conversation was happening. Sidewalk smokers invariably evoke a body language of release, of suddenly being disentangled, and it made them more animated, freer, and, like all free and rebellious things, more attractive.

There were a few clusters of smokers, but as Clarisse exited the restaurant, she trained her eyes upon a beautiful, authentically full-bodied young woman, dressed with all the laws of style scrupulously obeyed, and clearly enjoying a long Virginia Slim. Clarisse could not bare such smokers’ candy, but never passed judgement based on that criteria. That a person smoked was always a first step. She approached the woman under the pretense of needing some fire.

Absorbing Clarisse’s request the woman performed a glancing radar-read from the corner of her eye. Enjoying the pleasing face with dark red lipstick, the black bob cut, sensible shirt, flat espadrilles, and continental accent, Yvonne (that is the new character’s appellation) smiled and said, “Sure.” In a practiced nanosecond her chrome lighter was out and firing off in Clarisse’s face. Lips occupied, she made that smoker’s nod of gratitude already remarked upon in the accounting of things out front of the Argentine restaurant.

They talked. Yvonne’s initial line of questioning ruled out Clarisse’s being a lesbian and this put her more at ease. Clarisse’s quiz determined that Yvonne was too beautiful and too successful for her own good; that if they could only blend personalities, they’d make a perfect mate for somebody.

Yvonne thrived as a caterer of smashing events. She had an almost coffee complexion while being a standard issue white girl with turned-up nose, her own home, and a desire to hook up with a man and mate that she was not shy in spelling out. Clarisse (though not overtly sexy) did, on the other hand, have a guy. And she, too, had the desire to make babies. Knowing what she knew about such things (a lot), Clarisse concluded that Yvonne was too choosy, on top of being too beautiful and too successful for her own good.

She was too everything.

Yvonne, in the time it took for them to smoke a cigarette revealed as much in dismissing her recent and myriad lovers as, “too straight,” “too tennis,” “too golf-ish,” “too feminine,” and, frequently, “too old.” Again, knowing what she knew about such things, Clarisse guessed that Yvonne was into her late thirties, but was so sexy as to command the attention of the many and mostly ineligible young beaux striving for fortune via their good looks. Initially engaged, then inevitably dissatisfied with what the lads had to offer the remaining twenty-three hours of each day, she’d trope towards somebody in a matching life phase with a strong wallet. But these men had paid the price of their fortunes with burgeoning bellies and receding hairlines and, while younger girls were willing to look beyond these flaws, Yvonne’s economic independence spared her the compromise. Which is why she was alone.

Clarisse thought Yvonne knew little or nothing at all about men.

The cycle was repetitious and Yvonne – invariably bored by her brief bouts with somber adult discussion – would again yield to the call of the wild, initiating yet another round of romantic frustration with youth.

In less kind moments friends would remind her of how all the good ones had been pulled off the shelf. Then she’d drive her fancy ride home embittered by lonely night and the price she had paid for all her belongings, not only in hard work, but in a life without intimacy.

Clarisse, an delightful and well-bred person, wasn’t going to say anything of the kind to her new acquaintance. She was steering the conversation toward less consequential and infinitely more delicious matters when Yvonne focused her black-eyed-pea brown eyes on something in the near distance, blew out a full lung of Virginia Slim liquid-like silk and said, “Look at this one!”

She turned her gaze in the direction staked out by Yvonne’s smoke signal and came upon a rangy silhouette that struck her as familiar. Clarisse, who wore corrective lenses, was confirmed in her first impressions as the coco shell-clamping of cowboy boots filled the street and the rangy silhouette came into full focus.

Only Jordan knows Joya’s name yet so Clarisse said, “Hey! You!” as the girl passed, focused on some point of ambition much farther along in the night. Joya turned and immediately noticed the girl from an evening or two past. “Oh hi hon,” and gave her a big kiss on the lips which made the Belgian/French girl blush and Yvonne blanch. “Fancy meetin’ you out here! Smoking a cigarette of course,” she said to brief fits of laughter from the other two. “Don’t you know that will give you cancer?” and more laughs to this most overdone of sidewalk-smoking-circle-jokes.

“Listen,” she went on, sing-songy, “it’s funny I should run into you – gimme a light will ya – because your friend, what his name? Works in a coffee shop?”

“Jordan?” asked Clarisse as she produced the same fire she’d asked Yvonne for just moments before, causing Yvonne to smile the knowing smile of the beautiful.

“Yeah, that’s him. Hon, he’s sick. Got appendicitis. He called me out of the blue moanin’ in agony and asken for help.”

“He called jou? Jou just met.”

“I know, that’s what I thought,” Joya rejoined, “but I suppose he had his reasons.”

“I wonder what those might have been,” said Yvonne and the Colorado girl took it for the compliment it was. And because she was used to such things, Joya did not preen or make a fuss, and damn it if Yvonne didn’t fall in love with her just like that, which was not how she was used to it going down.

From inside the restaurant Corey saw the assembled vaginal caucus as inviting and decided to join them. Heading out he noticed that somewhere deep inside him rumbled a low and persistent hum. Was it at the back of his mind? In his chest? His soul?

Science still does not know where the wellsprings of tobacco love are hidden, for if it did, the passion would be dead by now – a thing of olden times.

“Yvonne, this is my husband Corey.”

Doctors, especially oculists, will tell you no evidence exists supporting the existence of voluntary manipulation of eye shimmering. They will say, in no uncertain terms, that nothing in physiology (as currently constituted) even remotely suggests a process leading to eye shimmer.

And Corey would refute this, because that is what Yvonne did to him. She eye-shimmered him. It is what is known as sex and temptation. They pop up at the most uncertain and/or unexpected times and almost always come attached to a crushing dilemma. If science needs proof perhaps the numbed stupor on Corey’s face might satisfy the requirement – or the fact that he agreed to smoke one of her Virginia Slims – the girly cigarette.

Yvonne, as it turned out, was not actually enjoying her fag (as the Brits like to call it) mid-meal, but rather waiting for the valet to bring her car around in a final stanza to an early evening for all involved.

Chapter Eight

By the second or third day (Jordan wasn’t sure) he had a routine of eating, sleeping, smiling at his roommate and calling for the painkiller that comforted.

With some cheerier décor, he thought, you could get used it. At around two o’clock, Corey and Clarisse made something of a surprise visit, given that the trio had not been quite so close in the past. They presented him with a pouch of Drum tobacco.

Jordan surprised them, in turn; by pulling out the pouch he’d grabbed on the morning his excellent misadventure began. He had ushered it through the entire ordeal with a solid second nature. He hoped they didn’t mind but said he’d finish his first, that the tobacco gets worked over and softer with repeated handling and shake; that the smokes at the bottom of the pouch were grainy, easy to roll and resonated.

Corey found the lecture edifying.

Anyhow, the couple explained Clarisse’s run-in with Joya outside the restaurant and he could envision it all and transport himself from the present dreariness: The sex in the air, the mysterious impulses of the food, the sacramental smoke reaching back to ancestors. The chemical mist under streetlights and night sky. The girls. The possibility that anything might happen and the certainty that it wouldn’t. The girls.

It was agreed that Joya had really come through and that everyone really liked her. It was further agreed that as soon as Jordan got better they’d all go out to dinner again and just the thought made him crave a cigarette.

It was also agreed that Jordan would call Clarisse and Corey when it was time for his release and that they would take him home and set-up his little convalescence.

And so he truly was not alone. He had more than a woman he hardly knew to depend on.

There were other people he hardly knew he could depend on, too. This would help his recovery and J. was in no condition to decline the kindness.

And then, later that evening, Jordan committed a murder.

He hailed from the school which held that health begins in the spirit and the boost he’d received from his friends earlier in the day left Jordan feeling much improved and ready to deliver on his urge to grab a smoke. He thought the best way to carry the mission out was to move over as wide an area of the hospital as possible, never retracing steps. In this way the smoke dispersion would be decentralized and the initial source would be hard to divine. It also widened the potential list of suspects to a size that made him feel good about his chances.

He’d received a visit from a financial officer informing Jordan that he represented a 100 percent financial loss to the county’s coffers, that they’d been glad to help, and that it was time for him to get out. Jordan reasoned that the walk (if not the cigarette) would hasten his recovery and limit the public’s financial exposure.

Jordan puffed and casually hid the cigarette behind his back as he ambled. An orderly rushing past ordered him to put the butt out. He responded with a smile and nod of acquiescence, turned a corner, and took a nice hit before moving on. He ducked into linen rooms and the john when people were being rolled here and trundled there on Gurneys, intravenous tubes flowing down from clear patches of fluid. He thought that a hospital was not unlike a garage. In the best cases, you came in with something they knew how to take out and/or replace, patched things up, and pushed you back into the lifestream. In the worst cases...never mind. The rudimentary nature of modern medicine, it cannot be overemphasized, continued to shock Jordan, clashing as it did with the silicon and hygienic world of commercials for the Sunday morning political talk shows.

Anyhow, these wanderings led him into the geriatric ward. The old people lay there, quiet carcasses being pumped full of expensive drugs, hearts prodded to thumping, armies of ailments kept at bay. From one of the rooms he heard a tussle and the plaintive voice of an elderly woman, with an accent, saying, “Why don’t you just let me die? I don’t want to live anymore. Why are you doing this to me?” Jordan stuck his head into what turned out to be a fray between an old lady and three orderlies finishing the job of rigging up some sustenance-giving apparatus or other (it’s all very technical and you need a background, which Jordan did not have). One orderly, a handsome black guy with a mustache and exotic high-set cheeks of oriental Africa, saw Jordan watching and turned on him. He could not tell what the face was trying to convey. Agony over what he was doing? Over Jordan having seen what he did to pay his bills or some combination of the two? J. was shaken.

Later he lay in bed under a light that conjured up bad heavens. There was illumination, but nothing like sunshine. Not while Jordan lay stunned at the sight of old people being force-fed an existence. He was unable to wrap his mind around it; a gray area of gray people beyond his experience (although his time would come).
This is what some called ‘culture of life,’ as defined by mechanical circumstances: the beating of a heart or the presence of electrical impulses.

Jordan decided to forego his dose of painkiller because he wanted to be clear-minded in dealing with the new information. He felt the difference in the dead of morning, twisting to his right and crumbling his body structure into many shattered pieces.

As dawn crept, machines glumly hummed and he lowered himself, once more, to the floor. Reaching into the nightstand he took out a pre-rolled. He stalked gingerly (if such a thing is possible) down the hallway and perhaps dodged an errant nurse or two; it doesn’t matter, because Jordan made it back to the geriatric ward. Observing more thoroughly, the horror of the carcass farm gripped him anew. He had not been wrong. Something must be done. Like Yvonne, he possessed too much for the situation to hold. He was too young, too healthy and he had no tools for absorbing the logic of medicine nor the cruelties of time.

Puffing blithely away, Jordan ducked into the room of the lady who had asked to be left alone so that she could die. He watched her with infinite mercy, a little dimming ball of energy, indistinguishable from others of her kind on-tap, dwarfed by machine-juice pulsing throughout. Mercy is what he felt. Not pity. Pity is powerlessness to alter a painful situation. But this was mercy. Hieroglyphs of pain were scribbled in a frightening symmetry across her face. Jordan read in those hieroglyphs how the suffering had been complete, had been quite enough, thank you.

He fiddled with the cables and wires leading here and there and found ways to disconnect them at different points. He pulled patches from her arm that was sinewy and wooden at the same time, a piece of pale jerky. The reaction came quickly and he watched as the old lady rattled and settled into her eternity without looking back. He made a feeble attempt to reconnect things, which was a move more cool than efficient given that it did nothing to silence the fit of soft noise-making that had begun to fill the room.

It was good a time as any to bail and he told himself this. His flight was hampered by a renewed and excruciating pain in the place where his appendix used to be. He was, of course, himself a walking wound and that is how people like their heroes – even smokers.

He was taking all of two stairs at a time, leaving a trail of airborne particulate matter behind, returning to bed in a blistering seven minutes: long enough to be caught on a number of occasions, but with his fortune and (he truly believed) the old lady’s holding firm.

The next day, while readying for departure, Jordan’s eyes met with those of the orderly who’d seen J. see him force-feed the victim. He smiled, but Jordan could not tell what the smile intimated. He returned it, not intimating much himself.

Packing the two pouches of tobacco for leaving, he said goodbye to the gang guy who was doing remarkably well under the circumstances. “I’m sayin’,” they both shrugged.

Corey and Clarisse arrived and they helped Jordan down to the discard area. A heavyset black lady who was very nice asked if Jordan had any money. He said he did not and wondered if the left-hospital-arm knew what the right-hospital-arm was doing, given that the same conversation had already taken place upstairs. She asked him if he had any stocks, bonds, mutual funds, “or anythin’ like that.” He said that he didn’t, which he didn’t. She looped a series of four or five zeroes through the form in front of her and then handed it over for Jordan to sign. He did and gave it back to her.

He sat around while she went through a drawer. After some time she looked up, surprised to see him. “You can go now sir.”

Somewhere inside burned the expectation that she might ask if he had any information relative to an old woman’s death or if he at least knew that some such thing had happened at the hospital. But she did not. Jordan, though still in pain, grabbed Corey and Clarisse by their respective elbows and rammed them out the hospital door lest the black lady recall any questions that might have gone unasked.

Jordan had heard a lot of things about health care and people not being able to get it, and he didn’t doubt for a second that it was all true. In any case, his experience had turned out to be something quite different.

“She called me ‘sir’,” he said to quizzical Clarisse and Corey as they got into the black truck Corey terrorized the town with.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The program from today's ceremony.  Posted by Hello

So Long

the scribe said goodbye to the L.A. County Labor Federation Chief Miguel Contreras today with a couple of thousand other members of the working family.

All the wonderful texture of the union movement was present. The always checkerboard panoply of names: pipefitters, probation officers, home health care workers, electricians, musicians and janitors...

...the same mosaic of faces that speak a truth of how labor cuts across all race and cultural lines, because all races and cultures need a good wage and some fairness on the shop floor, in the office conference room, the kitchen.

the scribe interviewed Contreras a number of times as he did Miguel’s wife Maria Elena Durazo. She led a Latino rebellion at Hotel Employees Restaurant Employees Local 11 back in 1986 which the scribe tuned into as reporter largely because Maria Elena was a captivating rebel girl.

The International in Washington D.C. sent Contreras in to establish some order and he and Ms. Durazo fell in love. Or something like that.

Later the scribe interviewed for a job as Durazo’s personal assistant and, after that, as an aide to Contreras in the PR vein.

the labor movement, never quite sure of what to do with its poets and overly romantic fellow travelers, passed on the scribe’s services, and that’s okay, too.

L.A. Labor lined-up behind the individual union colors at Cesar Chavez Ave. and Grand Avenue for a brief uphill (pretty symbolic) walk to the big new cathedral designed by the architect from Seville, Spain, Rafael Moneo.

It was an all-out labor affair - very few radicals of the farther left on hand - and the pilgrims wore t-shirts bearing and blaring their many affiliations - a striking code of colors and acronyms.

the scribe stood at the back of the cathedral awaiting the pallbearers to bring the casket inside. Among those recognized were: Jono Shaffer, from SEIU Justice for Janitors; Rick Icaza, leader of the local food and commercial workers union; Actor/director Rob Reiner; Paul Schrade, the United Auto Workers intellectual and staffer on the distant presidential campaign of Bobby Kennedy, Donald Cohen from San Diego’s Center for Policy Initiatives and many more hurt and weary and familiar faces.

Upon entering the cathedral one was met by members of the United Farmworkers Union and UNITE-HERE lining both sides of the corridor some thirty yards to the back, holding the black and red flags of their unions.

A bagpipe playing “Amazing Grace” led the procession, which stopped at the top of the cathedral. A single person began to clap and what seemed an awkward moment transpired as if the crowd of trouble-makers and rabble-rousers seemed to doubt the appropriateness of applause in a big cavernous cathedral.

But whatever doubts there were soon gave way to a torrent of clapping that built to three separate crescendos during an uninterrupted five minutes. Contreras’ young son’s grief burst out at the rumbling evidence of his father’s work, and mayoral candidate Antonio Villaraigosa, whom the Labor Fed did not endorse, helped him along with an arm over the shoulders.

It was the most staggering scene the scribe has witnessed in 20 years of observing local labor. A man and his moment, without the man. A project constructed - at its apex even - suddenly bereft of its architect and lost.

The emotion was swallowed soon thereafter in Catholic ritual and the scribe, who marches but does not pray, headed out into the bright sunshine that is always so out-of-place on sad days in Los Angeles.

These days it has been windy. Looking back at the vast plaza constructed in front of the church, the scribe watched gusts knock over a few of the flower arrangements dozens of unions had sent in their fallen brother’s honor. A man in a suit stumbled to pick them up, his tie whipped back over his shoulder.

It was that kind of day, brutally beautiful, too bitter and just a little sweeter.

Thursday, May 12, 2005


The Senate lent its imprimatur to another $82 billion in “emergency” war spending on Tuesday. And they say they’re going to need more by October.

There’s an actual money counter at . Check it out to see how much, and it what ways, this ghastly affair launched on a lie of imminent mass destruction, is costing us.
Yesterday California Arnold Governor Schwarzenegger (r) released the following statement. They arrive daily, sometimes in bunches, into the scribe’s e-mail box.

According to the “Washington Post” and “Chicago Tribune” it’s going to cost $500 billion by 2010.

That could provide a “solution” to the Social Security mess and a few other things to boot.

Governor Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Miramar Marines

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today issued the following statement regarding the death of Maj. John C. Spahr, of Cherry Hill, NJ and Capt. Kelly C. Hinz, of Woodbury, MN, both of whom were stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, CA:

“Maj. Spahr and Capt. Hinz fought nobly to protect our country. They were courageous and gallant men who made the ultimate sacrifice. Their service will not be forgotten and their memories will continue to live through the lives they touched. Maria and I send our deepest sympathies to John and Kelly’s family, friends and fellow Marines as they mourn the loss of their loved ones.”

Spahr, 42, and Hinz, 30, died May 2 from injuries received when the F/A-18 Hornet aircraft they were piloting crashed in Iraq. They were assigned to the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, CA.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Miguel Contreras  Posted by Hello

Working People

the scribe is especially tired tonight and would like to slap a poem down and crawl into the sack, but highwayscribery awaits.

Because writing is a job that can be done, and in this case, is done from home it’s sometimes tough to leave the office at five.

Tonight the scribe slips on his blue collar (Club Monaco button-down) in the name of working people and shines a mighty light on those who labor at the office and still can’t leave at 5(pm).

Our point of departure for Wednesday is an article written by Rachel Konrad of the “Associated Press” entitled “Flat world fatigue: globalization breeds interminable work day”.

What a heavy price we pay for economic dynamism and the discount crap factory coming to devour your neighborhood soon.

Konrad opens her piece as profile on a few “managers” at a company in Santa Clara, California called “PortalPlayer.”

the scribe suspects the title of “manager” is probably more bane the boon to these guys. Remember (unless you weren’t aware), that the Bush administration’s new rules on overtime pay most definitely exclude most "managers" from extra compensation for their extra hours.

Bush said businesses needed “flexibility” to compete in the new global configuration.

None of which is to suggest that the eight-hour work place exists anywhere other than in union shops at dying dinosaur companies. the scribe remembers an employer telling him some five years ago that he (the scribe) would have to tell his bosses “when he would be leaving at night.”

the scribe wasn’t going to be grist for any mill where they didn’t know eight-hours was limit under the law and that, if he came in at nine a.m. as prescribed, it was just a matter of some simple addition to arrive at when he was heading out.

But back to the article. The three managers were staying late at work. Konrad’s lede paragraph shows how journalism can be visual and literary: “The traffic jam ended hours ago, the parking lot is nearly empty and fluorescent lights are dimmed at PortalPlayer Inc., where the nightly brainstorming session is about to begin.”

That’s called putting you there.

The brainstorming session will be with PortalPlayer employees in Hyaderabad, India which is, according to Konrad, “12 ½ time zones ahead." They’ll work on some program together and much later, when the Indians kick-off, they’ll dump their work on the just-awakening crew in Santa Clara ad infinitum.

There’s your “flexibility.”

This charming feature of globalization is called off-shoring and it allows companies to move work to a country where wages and workplace safety standards are less than they are here. They save money and get to do business globally – some kind of neo-capitalist virtue unto itself.

That allows a company like PortalPlayer to compete globally with bigger global companies; and if it sounds to you like an arrangement they’ll never get quite on top of, you’re right.

Workers here will naturally be asked to make sacrifices to compete globally, but you will never compete globally when you have to pay $20 an hour and the guy in Myanmar pays 20 cents, until you move to Myanmar.

Which is more or less the story of American capitalism over the past 30 years or so.

But the article was not so much about wages: “Even the most unapologetic globalization proponents nevertheless acknowledge that off-shoring has resulted in longer, stranger hours for white-collar workers in the United States. Some business experts worry that the trend could result in massive burnout if off-shoring isn’t properly managed.”

the scribe would say they appear to have “managed” things quite well (for themselves).

The piece includes an interview with Christopher Lockhead, chief marketing officer of Mercury Interactive Inc., which may or may not be another of those California digital dungeons: “You can’t even get a rest on the weekend. The reality is that when you do business globally, somebody is working for you is always on the clock,” he told Konrad from his, what else, cell phone in the Dallas airport after coming back from a sales meeting in Mexico.


Richard Spitz, a headhunter told her, “If you want to play in the A league, you have to take on some additional challenges.”

There’s a B league and it’s easier?

Anyway, it’s all about precariousness in employment and once Bush is done working over Social Security it will about precariousness in everything else, because nobody owes you anything and it’s all out there for you.

Really, it is.

“Worker advocates,” Konrad writes, “compare the trend to the automobile industry phenomenon of ‘speedup’ in the 1920s, when Henry Ford increased assembly line speed without paying workers more. Turnover mushroomed to 400 percent per year in some Detroit-area plants, and the frenzied pace helped the 1930s union movement.”

Those who frequent this blog know the scribe would be the first to yell “roll the union over” the whole, giant and greedy cabal, but his heart’s not in it. These are different times involving different people and very concentrated forces of mobile power.

A few days ago, Miguel Contreras, de-facto leader of the Los Angeles labor movement, died of a heart attack at the age of 52. He was instrumental in making the unions under his guidance some of the most dynamic and, as opposed to militant, intelligent in the country.

These guys don’t last and his death brings to mind that of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington back in the 1980s. Heart attack.

The endless struggle is so taxing and only the most elastic of spirits can bounce back from the nasty cynicism these guys see from those who purport to be members in the same human community. But the bodies are less elastic than their spirits.

When they leave us, they cannot replaced; at least not immediately. Each new born generation must forge its own special genius and that takes time.

The word “visionary” has been oft-used in the media surrounding this untimely passing. the scribe interviewed Contreras before and after he made it big, as well as his wife Maria Elena Durazo, another union leader who rode the Latino immigration wave to power and replenished the movement's energy.

If there were ever a simpler more unassuming man than Contreras in a position of like importance, the scribe never met him. He spoke the most common sense and seem to set the most obvious goals that "visionary" was the last word that might come to mind.

He gave an average speech and was kind of chunky, with glasses, but the plan was always clear and, the scribe suspects, the messenger never suspect.

A lot of working people who stood to gain from his actions, now stand to lose a lot more by his absence.

Signing off in solidarity.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

highwayscribery recommends to White House Correspondents' Association... Posted by Hello

Beggars' Banquet

Frank Rich at the “The New York Times” picked up on Sunday, where the scribe left off (“Big Joke” May 3,) regarding the Laura Bush performance.

Rich, who is an insider, fleshed out the story of the First Lady’s appearance and what the heck it all means for our ailing body politic.

The Times columnist discussed how the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner (like a real journalist he provides us the proper name) used to be an event of which the entire country beyond Washington D.C. was largely unawares.

That began to change in the eighties when Michael Kelly, who was killed during Rumsfeld’s mad dash to Baghdad two years ago, invited Fawn Hall to the event; some will remember her as yet another secretary from yet another (r)epublican effort to circumvent democratic institutions, this time led by the notorious Col. Oliver North.

After that, he recounted, things got mixed-up in funny business and celebrity-shine.

Not unlike highwayscribery (and Mr. Rich had a kind word for our entry), but more to meat of the matter, he took issue not so much with Ms. Bush as with the press and its craven transmittal of White House image manipulation.

Unbeknownst to those of us who don’t power lunch every day somewhere along the Bos-Wash corridor (or who don’t have cable), and according to Frank Rich, the new boss at CNN, Jonathan Klein, suggested the event be canceled this year and that the Correspondents’ Association “instead spend that time and energy creating standards – and enforcing them – for those who would call themselves White House correspondents.”

Rich suggested that Klein was referring to Rich Gannon of Talon News who had a White House reporter’s pass when he was everything but a reporter.

the scribe thinks Klein was referring to the whole slavish lot presently holding down the best posts in journalism and doing nothing with them.

Well, not exactly nothing. Here’s Rich, “The Washington press corps’ eagerness to facilitate and serve as dress extras in what amounts to an administration promotional video can now be seen as a metaphor for just how much the legitimate press has been co-opted by all manner of fakery in the Bush years.”

This is the kind of stuff that keeps the scribe getting up in the morning with a modicum of belief in democracy.

And this: “Yes, Mrs. Bush was funny, but the mere sight of her ‘interrupting’ her husband in an obviously scripted routine prompted a ballroom full of reporters to leap to their feet and erupt in a roar of sycophancy like partisan hacks at a political convention. The same throng’s morning-after rave reviews acknowledged that the entire exercise was at some level. P.R., but nonetheless bought into the artifice.”

Rich went on to make some less fresh observations about how news and fake-news are looking increasingly like each other, what with the proliferation of infomercials, reality shows and other bête noir of what passes for intelligentsia in these here parts.

the scribe thinks it wouldn’t matter what went on in the infotainment world if journalists did their job “write.”

Sour grapes? Straight outta Napa Valley.

the scribe and others with an axe to ground pass time grinding their teeth at the big fat exposes sitting around going uncovered by reporters made timid by the threat of losing “access.”

We want those jobs. We want them to impress our friends, and we want them to help good governance along; as opposed to toasting crooks at the parties they throw.

And since when did you need access to those you were covering? The point is to access the things they are doing and ask what they think once you’ve got ‘em nailed. If they don’t grant access, it’s they’re problem.

But the scribe’s old school (journalism) on that account.

John F. Harris and Mike Allen did a fairly straight-up job of reporting on the new, discreet Tom DeLay in “The Washington Post”.

Their May 9 piece, “Increasingly Embattled, DeLay Scales Back Usual Power Plays,” renders the portrait of a guy who banked on the American populace’s stupidity and laughed (almost) all the way to the vault.

Whenever an adviser warned this bull-in-a-democratic-China-shop that his power plays were over-the-top, the Texas (r)epublican would respond “with a snort suggesting that the adviser is more worried about how a decision will play inside the Beltway than how it will be perceived – if noticed at all – by the rest of the country.”

It worked for 10 years, but now, they report, “Everywhere there are signs of a politician in retreat.”

The report proceeds to enumerate a litany of legislative and/or tactical retreats, but highwayscribery would like to the see a retreat all the way back to where the hack hails from.

At a gathering for something called the National Day of Prayer (which the scribe skipped given that “the nation” and “prayer” should be trains riding separate tracks) DeLay’s “Christian” side got the better of him: “Just think of what we could accomplish if we checked our pride at the door, if collectively we all spent less time taking credit and more time deserving it...”

(Yeah, just think...)

“...If we spent less time on our soapboxes and more time on our knees.”

Your knee-chatter’s no better than your soapbox bull Mr. Majority Speaker. the scribe would like to suggest you strike a compromise (for once in your life) and step down from the rostrum, but stay on your feet so that you can walk all the way back to Sugarland, Texas.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapter Six

Chapter Six

The anaesthetic wore off and Jordan opened his eyes to the sight of a ceiling not his own. The misadventure had been lost in the compression and stretching of the hospital patient’s consciousness. With time, however, the overall plot slowly came back into focus: He’d (maybe) been stricken with appendicitis and shipped down to the poor folks’ hospital thanks to no-health-insurance.
Jordan sighed. Rather than move forward with his life, it would now take a number of weeks, months even, just to get back to where he was the night of his last tranquil cigarette.

“Hey,” came a smooth voice that rounded to a rasp at the very end. Jordan sat up; a sharp pain cut the movement short and slammed him back to the mattress. “Take it easy,” he heard as Joya’s head moved into frame on high. He felt life flow afresh through him.

“Why Joya’s Joyas?”

“Joya’s my name and that’s how Spanish people back home spell jewels – except it’s pronounced like an H so that it’s ‘Joya’s Hoya’s,’ except no one says it that way. Joya’s Joyas they call it. It’s my store.”

“Okay,” Jordan said satisfied with the explanation, which neatly fit the logic of trendy metropolitan retailing as he understood it. There was a pause. “So how’s business?” he asked, and she laughed in answer, which was also to his satisfaction.

“I guess we don’t really know each other very well.”

“No, but I’m grateful. I just grabbed the card you gave me from the night before because I was practically delirious. And now, you’re the first – maybe the only – person to visit me.”

With neither having much to say Joya left shortly thereafter.

Jordan thought that he’d never felt so lonely in all his life, except when she’d left him at the first hospital two nights (was that all?) ago. He’d have preferred to get away from that girl, from the way she kept leaving him feeling so alone, but she had turned out to be all he had. Jordan smiled to himself, for the fear is always worse than the thing itself and the thing itself was upon him.

He took measure of the surroundings and his confidence absorbed a glancing blow. The hospital was a product of the thirties or forties, two decades Jordan thought he would have loved to experience, so long as he could get 21st century technology when the situation called for it. Directly across from him was a young Latino with shaved head. He’d always been scornful of people who made sweeping racial and cultural generalizations, but he couldn’t help but deduce – influenced by a messy wound to the guy’s groin – that here was yet another gangbanger bent on wasting his life away through senseless violence.

The roommate’s condition obligated the elevation of his pelvis by pillows to facilitate healing and observation and this is what Jordan was observing. After a while the roommate’s family arrived, very distraught over the unfortunate condition in which they found him. There were young guys under shiny smooth pates exchanging embellished handshakes with the victim (if the noun applies). And his mother was there, in tears, and his grandmother in the very same condition. Their distress mystified Jordan who thought his roommate had gone looking for trouble and found it.

He thought (without the slightest notion of what had really happened) the guy’s misfortune was not misfortune at all, rather stupidity, before waves of guilt and counter-heretical sentiment overwhelmed and corrected him.

A young orderly came by to check on Jordan. He was kind and attentive and boy did that make a difference. He lifted the patient’s tie-it-in-the-back standard hospital-issue nightgown to check the stitches. Jordan was surprised to see that they were actually metal staples. “Finally, a medical innovation,” he hoped.

The fellow asked Jordan how he felt and received the response, “Fine.” The orderly told Jordan that he was on painkillers that would eventually wear off and that it was incumbent upon him to push the little button – and he showed him the little button – to call for more, or he’d get an idea of, “just what really happens to your body when somebody takes a knife to it.” J. could have done without the crime novel prosody but appreciated the intent behind it, sensing a male camaraderie in the gory, tough-guy way the information was imparted. The orderly asked Jordan if he’d “passed gas” yet and the patient explained how he’d just awoken to a beautiful woman hovering over him and no, he hadn’t. “Try,” said the orderly, “once that happens you’ll be on your way.”

The guy then produced a plastic item that, when blown into, propelled a Ping-Pong ball in an air chamber to float on the force of the channeled current. He told Jordan to blow into it as much as he could and went on his way. The roommate was sitting up, already provoking the papery orb’s suspension and Jordan reflected on the desire for survival, the visceral will-to-life in this guy who was much worse off than him, but seemingly less affected by his misfortune.

Jordan was waiting for someone to throw a penalty flag against the world for his rough treatment, and to award him a 15-yard advance in the territorial battle for survival and comfort. The gangmember wasn’t interested in any such assistance, which unlike Jordan, he knew has never been forthcoming and never will be.

The Latino pulled Jordan into his sphere with a look. He smiled. “I’m sayin’” he said and shrugged.

“Not much,” thought Jordan, exhausted by the operation, which (though not considered major) represented an extraordinary departure from his daily routine of morning coffee house and an afternoon-hour scowling at the mainstream media. He lingered on the vision of somebody he’d never met rooting around his insides with the plan to remove a piece. Such intimacy! Who was this guy? (let it be a guy!)

These were the things badgering Jordan in that gauzy region between waking and dreaming that drug-assisted hospital stays produce. He drifted away from the world of work and dates and bills, mind stumbling around an unfamiliar with the universe of bare necessity. He did not like what he saw. It was lonely and cold and he could not divine where any of the paths led except toward the darkness awaiting each of us. He shuddered, dreading an end in the trailer park of abandonment.

“To not be a three-legged table,” he prayed, “left to the side of a desert road. Not a tumbleweed rolling through scrap-heap, pushed by a large whispering, indecipherable, addictive.”

Soon, a dinner was served which, for all its intentional mediocrity, struck Jordan as fare fit for an inhabitant of Olympus.

“Thas’ good,” said the black nurse, “you hungry and you eatin’.” Jordan marveled still at the kindness of the employees at this medicine factory. Was it all an act, a professional requirement? Or were they still driven by the need to help people written about in eighth-grade Career Day essays?

More drifting in and out of sleep. Once he stirred and looked beyond the bloody crotch of his roommate to catch the guy looking at him with a sweet face. Go figure. Jordan nodded slightly in that direction and he got a second smile in return. Jordan never met a second smile he didn’t return and suddenly he wasn’t so alone anymore.

He went under yet again and in the gray of very early morning awoke to a pain more indicative of a knife incision than any of his post-operational agonies thus far. He fumbled for the button and a fat white lady came. She was, needless to say, very kind. The kindness ran across cultures and classes here – a lesson for all the world. The painkiller administered, Jordan fell into a woozy bliss during which he dreamed of calling the nurse for another dose. Hospital life, he found, was very cyclical and tended to limit the variety and size of one’s aspirations.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Candy. Posted by Hello

Candy's Room

“People say, ‘Why did you leave music?’ I say, ‘Have you got every record I ever made?’ They say, ‘Well, no.’ Well, get `em all and them come back and complain.”

That was big band leader Artie Shaw, excerpted from his obituary in “The Atlantic” for March. the scribe employs it on an evening in which he will do a re-run from an earlier post - just the like the big television networks.

It ran when there were less hits to highwayscribery than there are now and that means many (or just ‘some’) missed the first edition.

Candy’s Room

“In Candy’s room there are pictures of her heroes on the wall
but to get to Candy’s room
you gotta walk
the darkness of Candy’s hall...”

Bruce Springsteen broke big back in 1975. “Circus” and “Creem” magazines oozed fabulous, “he hath arrived,” encomiums. The radio stations the scribe was synchronized to played him on and on.

“Strangers from the city call my baby’s number and they bring her toys
When I come knocking
she smiles pretty
she knows I wanna be
Candy’s boy...”

the scribe listened and listened well, but he could not hear “Bruce.”

Songs like “Candy’s Room” were sung in the voice of a guy named Johnny living in Queens, Hoboken, Union City who weren’t aware the fifties were long over, what with their leather jackets and straights jean pant.

They went to vocational school had Irish and Italian names that twisted the tongue and they loved cars. They got jobs to get the cars. They got cars to keep the jobs. They stayed home.

“There’s a sadness hidden in that pretty face
A sadness all her own
from which
can keep Candy safe...”

Johnny lived in a building where his old man rented a unit. You could get to it by skipping yards, rattling chain link fences and dropping down and bouncing off the small shed and down to cold winter concrete with little nicks of ice shimmering in the dirty moonlight.

You scraped your knee and breathed frost. Johnny’s mom heard you show up and offered food when she saw the friendly face of Johnny’s friend.

So close. the scribe and those he allied himself with where only a small green lawn away away from all that. And they wanted to get as far from Johnny as they could: found prep, hippy, nicknames and distant places with magic names like Arizona with which they identified, but never got to see.

But Johnny wanted out, too. A great riff of gangland film circa 1940s and 1950s: “Some day we’re gonna get outta here and drive out to Arizona and a little sunshine baby...”

And “baby” was this girl called “Candy,’ or some other name promising more than it could ever possibly deliver.

“We kiss, my heart rushes to my brain
The blood rushed in my veins rushes towards the sky...”

Meantime, the city is black, the room a walk up with a view onto the El clattering past, constantly reminding renters of nature’s tenuous arrangement with us all.

They were the sons of men who worked in factories and companies and believed in unions and went to church and to war. They knew only the psychology of violence for keeping the kid in line.

“We go driving driving deep into night
driving deep into the light in Candy’s eyes...”

Everything to fear. How you’d end up if you didn’t go to college. And Candy, too.

“She says baby if you wanna be wild
you got a lot to learn,
close your eyes let them melt
let them fire
let them burn...”

Springsteen’s songs were about the factories closing and the whole stinking way of life with it; newspaper articles for the ear. the scribe was not equipped then to understand what he was after: All this that you know and think is so permanent is already gone. You’re living among ghosts. And they’re all named Johnny.

“Cause in the darkness there’ll be hidden words that shine...”

Now those places are places the scribe has been and others have not and, now that they are gone, never will.

Like Candy’s room, those places are bathed in blue-collar nostalgia. Industrial smokes tears the eyes. They are the good old days we could not bear. But now, like Candy’s room, and like Bruce’s songs, they are safe and easy places to be.

“When I hold Candy close she makes these hidden worlds mine.”