Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Ladies Man

Bush fiddles, New Orleans drowns.  Posted by Picasa
the scribe has two “real stories” to file today that will go a long way toward covering the luxurious life he leads when not staring at a computer screen, but the “The Washington Post” reports that, “President’s Poll Rating Falls to a New Low,” and the matter must be addressed, now.

No need to paraphrase here. The word’s are too delicious in their unanalyzed, unfettered form:

“Rising gas prices and ongoing bloodshed in Iraq continue to take their toll on [p]resident Bush, whose standing with the public has sunk to an all-time low, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll.”

So who will he invade next? No one, because there are no my toy soldiers at (w)’s disposal.

The article goes into the usual business about the war, the WAR ON TERROR, and other familiar strophes our most visible and well compensate journalists are prone to, but the scribe has his own thoughts.

Bush, by the way, has a 45 percent approval rating, which doesn’t sound too bad until you pile on the fact that the disapproval rating is 53 percent.

But here’s another number from a “New York Times” article published Aug. 30. “The U.S. poverty rate rose in 2004 for the fourth year in a row, driven by an increase in poor whites, the government said on Tuesday in a report that White House critics called proof the economic recovery has bypassed most Americans.”

Well there’s a surprise. The White House’s gambit that shoveling wealth upwards would lead do a downward rush of crumbs for those it ignores turned out to be wrong, just as the underlying theory had been proven wrong back in, oh, the 1930s.

And that “poor whites” figure is really bad news for the (r)epublicans, because wrapping themselves in a flag and attending NASCAR events has been a primary political strategy for 20 years now. Even happy Christian Patriots need jobs and money and one has to wonder when the “cultural” concerns of heartlanders will begin to take a back seat to other issues like...

“What may have pushed Bush’s overall ratings down in the latest poll is pervasive dissatisfaction over soaring gasoline prices. Two-thirds of those surveyed said gas prices are causing financial hardship to them or their families.”

And there’s a lesson to both Bush and his pick-up driving supporters: Live by the combustion engine, die by the combustion engine, dunderheads.

What about in the Blue States? Well, our antipathy toward (w) has beenn well-documented in those unfortunate quadrennial convocations we conduct called national elections.

What’s behind it?

Well, by way of example, here’s another article from the Aug. 30 “Washington Post” (all of this in one day!) with a headline that reads, “New Rules Could Allow Power Plants to Pollute More.”

Now see, there’s a law we can all warm up to: Something that allows us to breathe more “harmful pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.”

Since those of us out on the coasts and in the industrial rust belt don’t measure our leaders by the depth of their “faith,” stuff like this really gets under our craw, because we don’t send people to Washington D.C. with license to authorize our death by carcinogen.

Bush is taking it every which way, because he’s blown it every which way, but the root of all this, truly, is that Bush has a problem with the ladies.

Yes, friends, the ladies: Cindy and Katrina.

Bush and his acolytes at Fox News spent a lot of time trying to portray a grief-stricken mom whose son died at war as a bitch, but it didn’t stick and Vacation Boy’s long layoff down in Crawford was cast in a very poor light.

But Cindy was no bitch. We know that now that Katrina has ruined the only city we had that was not corporatized, sanitized and cauterized by Christian crusaders: New Orleans.

Now that’s a bitch, but Bush, true to family tradition was very conservative with his compassion on Sunday and Monday (see photo above) as the suffering of his “fellow Americans” hit stratospheric heights.

Now he’s finally calling it quits on the vacation.

It’s about time and he should never take another five-week break until he’s sure everyone else in the country enjoys the same.

The time has come. The frat boy is finally sweating something: the possibility of a disastrous presidency before the eyes of history.

And that is a very good thing.

Our presidents are not better than us, blue blood boy. They’re equal to us and you’ll get the picture as your stature continues to drop the many pegs your poor planning and arrogance have sowed the seeds for.

This is what happens when you spend more time managing message than managing the country.

The truth catches up and then bypasses the pictures you’re concocting.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Not a watchdog, but a lapdog

Cintra Wilson, a reporter and novelist with a new release out entitled, “Colors Insulting to Nature,” claims to have fudged her way into the White House press corps for a month and returned from the right wing abyss with an interesting account, “I invaded the White House press corps” for that can be found here:

Wilson’s account is of particular interest to journalists and bloggers with a curiosity about how things go down in “The Show,” (that’s minor league baseball talk for the big leagues). It has some very nice profiles of those who stand as the last line between us and dictatorship, those who have the privilege of getting to ask the (p)resident, such as he is, questions.

Her diary (of sorts) coincides with the press rebellion of July 11 following revelations Karl Rove was probably involved in the outing of Valerie Plame, another matter of concern mostly to journalists except (and too bad for the president), a certain federal prosecutor named Patrick Fitzgerald.

It also recounts some amazing tet-a-tet between oft-frustrated reporters and White House flak Scott McClellan. The kind of stuff the scribe thinks should be broadcast “as-is” for the good, not only of the commonweal, but also the fading ratings of news shows.

Government is fascinating if only broadcasters present it as such.

We’ll proceed in our normal fashion here at highwayscribery, interspersing our hip and pithy commentary with that of a writer who probably would not approve of the practice nor appreciate the association with a man who openly professes anarcho-syndicalist leanings.

Here’s Wilson on the state of the White House press corps as she found it in days prior to the great rebellion:

“In the last few years, the press has lost all sense of its own mojo. Things bottomed out after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when any aggressive grilling of the administration branded reporters as unpatriotic, which potentially alienated their audiences. The high emotion surrounding 9/11 and the War on Terror (or the new, improved Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism, which the Beltway kids snarkily refer to as G-SAVE) have made them very useful hostage babies for the administration cowboys to shield themselves with during shootouts with the press. Somehow, aggressive questioning of the White House got spun as a heretical insult to slaughtered American innocents.”

the scribe would suggest this is the fault of Americans who should have never made any of these associations, and must needs be reminded, all the goddamn time, that without a free press you can wipe your ass with the American flag, because that’s all it’s good for.

As the scribe said, the author may or may not appreciate his interjections, but let’s continue with that passage of Wilson’s:

“It was so demoralizing that after a while the press succumbed en masse to what I called the Potomac dinge: passive cooperation in one’s own degradation – the deranged, unconscious complicity that is found in victims of ritual abuse.”

Now if we could only get somebody with a sizeable audience, like Sean Hannity, to say this.

Wilson goes on to explain the atmosphere in the White House briefing room and spends considerable time de-constructing McClellan’s half-robot, half-human makeup. The spinner-in-chief, she writes, is a man who infantalizes the press corps with a “patronizing hybrid of nursery school teacher and Hal the supercomputer from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.”

For those (the scribe included) who think the Washington press corps plays like the team that travels around the country getting paid to lose to the Harlem Globetrotters, Wilson has a little inside dope: “There is another powerful disincentive [beside the fact McClellan’s an asshole] to ask too many uncomfortable questions: Security passes to the briefing room have been known to become elusive at times, as Maureen Dowd discovered at the beginning of the Bush administration. Reporters are also frozen out by never getting called on. Staying an Insider in Good Standing is a much more demanding gig than getting in. There have been many bodies buried outside the security gate. Banishment from the corps means exile, and unless the reporter wants to give up and sell Amway products, it’s a slow, painful crawl back to the inside.”

the scribe would suggest, at this juncture, that the Bush administration hasn’t stumbled onto something new. There used to be a counterbalance and that was if you shut a reporter out, his boss went to bat for that reporter by digging up whatever slime the Oval Office was generating (or inventing some) and making its life a living hell until order was restored to the fourth estate’s claim to realty inside the White House compound.

Then (and this is the scribe theorizing) you had all this concentration in media, the supersizing of every outlet, the massive profits and the sudden identification between press/broadcast bigwigs and pols who suddenly found themselves dining and golfing at the same country club.

People who believe in democracy and the role of an unfettered and fully informed press get a few pages of satisfaction in Wilson’s account of how the press raked McClellan over the coals for a number of days once the fetid presence of Karl Rove in the Plame affair got up everyone’s nose.

The White House, savvy as a “Pravda” editorial board when it comes to media and bullshit, forced the press hounds off Rove’s scent by announcing the choice of John Roberts for Supreme Court Justice.

Great color here about who and what your government consists of these days:

“It seemed somehow related to the Roberts nomination that there was an extra helping of snappy young [r]epublicans around the White House [the day after the announcement] – prematurely wide and matronly young women with obsolete cheerleader features dressed like Lady Bird Johnson, with tightly twisted hair and $2,000 handbags, and 20-something guys with that roundheaded military eunuch look: plastic wraparound sunglasses and boxy, off-the-rack-navy-blue suits with the periwinkle-blue shirts that have become the uniform of GOP youth. The guys have a restless, jacked-up machismo that probably comes of venting the frustrations of abstinence in Krav Maga class, and a thumping sense of the authority and entitlement that comes with belonging to the winning team, which they call ‘The Party’...”

the scribe has written on various occasions (and just a few paragraphs above) on how the GOP is a perfect replica of the Brezhnev-era Communist Party in the way it does business.

But the scribe digresses and back to Cintra...

“...Superclean motherfuckers – an abrasive, stinging kind of clean, like they all just got shaken out of an icy tumbler full of Pine Sol, pumice and the New Testament.”

(that’s good stuff!)

Anyway, Wilson moves ahead, pointing out that the nomination was a bold stroke, “classic slick Bush move” that took the heat off Rove. Why? Back to you Cintra...

“In order to stay with the Rove story, the press corps would have had to have broken with precedent...

(the scribe would have opted for the simpler, cleaner: “the press corps would have broken with precedent...

"...and cross a professional ethic red line: They would have had to consciously become the news themselves.”

When one considers how many ethic red lines the administration has crossed (preemptive war, recess appointments, keeping the House open til the wee hours to pass a Medicare prescription drug bill, meeting with oil barons in private on energy policy etc.) you would think the press might get hip to the fact the paradigm has shifted and either new rules, or none, now apply.

the scribe has, which is the reason for the blog.

Anyway, read the rest of the long-ish article to find your own pearls. We’ll close with some words Helen Thomas, a reporter at the White House since the Kennedy years, imparted to Wilson:

“Reporters have not done their job. They’ve given Bush a free pass and they’ve let the people down. They haven’t been watchdogs, but lapdogs. The press officer has to wear two hats. True, he speaks for the [p]resident...[But] he also, through the press, has to give the truth back to the American people. [The press] is the transmission. You have to pile on these people,” Thomas said in response to the short-lived rebellion, it had to be the whole press corps, she said, or questions would be dismissed as coming from “an isolated enfant terrible.

“McClellan was on the ropes. [July 11] was the one time finally, finally, the press corps came alive...If the reporters stick to the subject...that will worry the White House that they’re not getting their message across and they have to go and change it in some way, and maybe even tell the truth sometimes.

“If [reporters] don’t ask the question, no one else can, or will. We are the last line of defense. We’re the only forum, the only institution in our democratic society that can question the president. We have that privilege...The press has a duty to find out the truth. No one else can question him...If we fall down on the job, people suffer. [The Bush administration] doesn’t think people have a right to know, but we know they do.

“You can’t have democracy without an informed people.”

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Bret Easton Ellis - Rich Man, Regular Man

Bret Easton Ellis. Posted by Picasa
the scribe ventured out to Silver Lake (East Hollywood for you non-Angelenos) Saturday night to catch writer Bret Easton Ellis’ reading at Skylight Books on Vermont Ave.

the scribe has never read Ellis, because he has spent these many years working his way through the numerous international literary legends on his way to more contemporary artists. Which is not to say he’s never heard of Ellis whom, like it or not, has got to be the top writer of their shared generation.

The written spectacle of one unconsecrated/unknown writer “reviewing” another very famous one requires more chutzpah than the scribe possesses, so we here at highwayscribery will opt for a little reportAGE instead.

For starters, it must be noted that Ellis is a certified draw. Skylight was packed with about 100 people. the scribe showed up an-hour-and-a-half early so he could get a seat and it was a good thing, because they were craning their necks out on the sidewalk.

A year or so ago the scribe went to see the talented and consecrated T.C. Boyle, but there were 20 people maximum on hand. Perhaps the fact some of Ellis’ books have been made into films has increased his appeal and exposure, but in any case, it was not your run-of-the-mill reading.

It is a very popular thing to loathe Ellis. The folks at the lit blog “The Elegant Variation,” are openly hostile to his work and they are not alone.

But neither is Ellis who drew an enthusiastic crowd of tattooed and pierced yunguns from the tattooey and piercey neighborhood surrounding.

So unfamiliar is the scribe with Ellis that he expected some eccentric guy in a sharkskin suit and cane or something, jaded by early success and focused on the extra-literary, but no. Ellis is a most regular guy who looks like he enjoys his pasta. He has a receding hairline and both a pleasant countenance and demeanor that, well, make you want to buy a book once you’ve seen and listened to him for a while. He wore a button-down, open at the collar, to reveal a very sensible Fruit-of-the-Loom-type T-shirt beneath.

Ellis read for only about ten minutes from his latest work, “Lunar Park,” and, despite our promise not to review, it must be said that it was not the strongest part of his hour-long presentation. There’s nothing particularly engaging about his voice, he stumbles quite a bit, and goes a little too fast.

the scribe can’t speak for the rest of his book (or priors for that matter), but the bit from the end of “Lunar Park's” first chapter struck him as somewhat gratuitous, based upon observations of celebrity life (lucky him) and peppered with talk about crack, freebase, pot, booze, and other illicit substances that, much to the scribe’s surprise, provoke the same titters of amusement they did years and years ago when people found literature a proper forum to air their sentiments on such things.

The question-and-answer portion was more edifying with Ellis demonstrating a command of the form that might be expected of someone whose been doing it for 20 years now.

He wasn’t nervous, he was casually honest, and possessing of a great sense of humor. He’s not above using his fans as props or the butts for good jokes, but only when the questions were stupid:

“When you’re writing do you ever just say to yourself, stop, I’m not going to go that far, I’m not going to reveal that much of myself?”

“No.” (lots-o-laughter).

Anyway, some of the more interesting tidbits included the fact that Flaubert is one of his favorite writers. Lots of big literary stars say the same thing. the scribe is proud to say he read “Madame Bovary” at 18, and not so proud to admit he couldn’t make heads or tails out of it.

Maybe it’s time to give it another try.

Ellis said he has “favorite books, not favorite writers,” like Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections,” Michael Chabon’s “The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay,” and a number of Philip Roth’s works, which he said, “I was reading a lot of and was very influenced by while writing ‘Lunar Park’.”

Apparently he had to sue actor Ben Stiller over something to do with the silly movie “Zoolander,” but was not at liberty to say what thanks to the terms of a court settlement reached between the two pop culture heavyweights.

Ellis said that the movie version of “American Psycho” was very well done, “about as good as could be, given the difficulty of adapting it.”

the scribe is a little embarrassed to say he hasn't read the book, but liked the movie, even if he was a little confused at the end as to whether the murders were for real or all in the American psycho’s head.

Lo-and-behold, someone asked of the novel, “Were the murders in ‘American Psycho’ real or in the narrator’s head?” to which Ellis responded he did not know and that, if he did, he wouldn’t reveal it so as not to rob the story of a degree of “mystery,” which strikes the scribe (highway that is) as good literary practice.

He revealed that he had written a first screenplay of ‘American Psycho’ for Hollywood and, “because I was bored with the book by then” finished it with a bang-up musical number from Barry Manilow. (lots-o-laughter)

“Needless to say, I was removed from the project.” (lots-o-laughter)

Apparently, the movie of his second effort way back in the mid-80s, “The Rules of Attraction,” was not very well received, but for Ellis it was the best of those made from his books and a film he personally finds “excellent.”

He added that he has written many screenplays in his time, none of which have ever been produced.

Someone asked him if he had read a book called “The Hunger,” and he was man enough to admit that he hadn’t, but had seen the movie with David Bowie back in the early-80s and vividly remembered the lesbian love scene between Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve, which, if you’ve seen it, you remember, too.

He was not at all embarrassed in admitting to the edgy crowd that he was a “mainstream guy who likes U2" when asked what music he’d been listening to, and that may say a lot about Ellis’ mass appeal.

And just like that it was over and the scribe hit the bricks, barely avoiding being knocked over (literally) by people rushing the front table where what Ellis said “a very long evening” of book signing was about to begin.

The upshot? To write is to be both mortal and divine. The scribe has sold a few hundred books and Ellis a few million, yet they both are prone to the classics, are not above satisfaction with merely having seen the movie, and like their pasta, too.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Bitter Harvest

The winner in Highwayscribery's best-dressed category. Posted by Picasa
They just keep coming. the scribe’s not sure whether Schwarzenegger and Bush are making his job of posting to this Web log easier, or harder.

It’s also worth noting the deaths from that “other” war we won, Afghanistan seem to be increasing in frequency as the tactics of the Iraqi insurgency are taken up by Taliban fighters and other guerilla factions there.

Don’t these people know a liberator when they see one?


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today[ Aug. 24] released the following statement regarding the death of Pvt. Christopher L. Palmer of Sacramento:

“At this incredibly difficult and painful time, Maria and I wish to express to Pvt. Palmer’s family that we are forever indebted to Christopher for giving his life to the cause of freedom. As we honor his bravery and dedication, Californians grieve with his family.”

Palmer, 22, died Aug. 21 near Baylough, Afghanistan, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his HMMWV during patrol operations. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, Vicenza, Italy.

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


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today [Aug. 25] released the following statement regarding the death of Pfc. Ramon Romero, of Huntington Park:

“California will remain forever grateful to Pfc. Romero for the sacrifice he made in giving his life for our country. Maria and I express our deepest sympathies to Ramon’s family during this extremely difficult time.”

Romero, 19 [!], died Aug. 22 when the vehicle he was in was struck by an improvised explosive device while conducting combat operations near Fallujah, Iraq. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1 Marine Expeditionary Force, Twenty-nine Palms, CA. As part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, his unit was attached to the 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.

In honor of Romero, Capital flags will be flown at half staff.


[the scribe was under the impression we’d taken Fallujah.]


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today [Aug. 24] released the following statement regarding the deaths of Sgt. Nathan K. Bouchard of Wildomar and Spc. Ray. M Fuhrmann of Novato:

“We Californians are saddened at the terrible loss of Sgt. Bouchard and Spc. Fuhrmann. These two soldiers gave their lives defending our nation. We can be proud of their legacy and eternally grateful for their service and sacrifice. Maria and I extend our deepest sympathies to the Bouchard and Furmann families during this difficult time.”

Bouchard, 24, and Fuhrmann, 28, died August 18 in Samarra, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near the HMMWV following a mine-assessing mission. The soldiers were assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, GA.

In honor of Bouchard and Fuhrmann, Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff.


[You know things are bad when the Terminator has to double-dip for death in the same press release. And why do we keep calling them improvised explosive devices? They’re bombs and they work.]


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today [Aug. 25] released the following statement regarding the death of Spc. Joseph C. Nurre, of Wilton:

“Maria and I extend our heartfelt sympathies to the family of Spc. Nurre. He fought and gave the ultimate sacrifice for a noble cause and we are deeply saddened by this loss. Our hearts to out to his loved ones.”

Nurre, 222, died Aug. 21, near Samarra, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his M916 tractor during convoy operations. He was assigned to the Reserve 463rd Engineer Battalion, Weirton, WV.

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


Folks, this ain’t working.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Thou shalt not kill...

This is why the idea of a "Christian Right" is an oxymorn. You cannot be rooted in the precepts of capitalism and possessive individualism and be Christian at once. This is why Jesus threw the moneychangers from the temple. There is confusion in this world; a notion that because those on the left do not genuflect in medieval fashion before icons and abstractions they are less Christian. But only a politics of community and true compassion that leaves us dependent upon one another can save us from one another.  Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

One Gentleman, One Jerk

Slime this. Posted by Picasa
Guys (and Gals!) keep dying, W. keeps smilin’, and the Moms keep comin’ (to Crawford).

The (p)resident took off yesterday (Monday) to Mormon country where they like everything he says. He tried, along with his quislings in the media, to liken the struggle in Iraq to more heroic efforts of American history.

Good luck.

In the Sunday “New York Times” our good friend Frank Rich talked about our not-so-good friend “The Bubble Boy,” which the media has taken to calling Bush with searing effectiveness. The piece can be found here:

In his “The Swift Boating of Cindy Sheehan,” Rich noted that when disasters in Iraq occur, “the administration punts. But when they happen at home, there’s a game plan. Once Ms. Sheehan could no longer be ignored, the Swift Boating began.”

“Swift Boating” refers to the sliming the administration resorts to when people exercise their constitutional right to question the direction those who govern us are leading the country. The original Swift Boating was done to John Kerry.

You all remember that.

The Democrats went out and got a war hero with medals and scars and all in anticipation of (r)epublican claims of softness on defense and national security. They figured that was it, that the senator had a record that spoke for itself and deserved the respect (r)epublicans are always claiming to feel for “our troops.”

Of course, that was nonsense. These people have no shame and so they went out and got some disgruntled Vietnam “Swift Boat” vets, plied them with zillions of dollars, and plopped them on Bill O’Reilly’s show where they took aim and fired.

Kerry, a decent human being, never recovered from the shock (except in three consecutive debates in which he revealed the emperor for the naked boob he is).

Rich points out that John McCain had come in for similar treatment earlier on as had former Georgia Senator Max Cleland who lost a few limbs over there, but still didn’t meet the (r)epublican criteria for patriot.

“True to form,” Rich writes, “the attack on Cindy Sheehan surfaced early on Fox News, where she was immediately labeled a ‘crackpot’ by Fred Barnes.” That was the spark that soon led to a firestorm across the right-wing blogosphere.

Rich is a journalist and a gentleman, a throwback to an earlier day when objectivity and truth were tightly affixed to one another and Americans could expect a degree of verisimilitude in what was reported to them.

Some papers have gents and others have jerks, like “The San Diego Union-Tribune”, which provides income and succor to a sucka named Robert J. Caldwell, who wrote a piece of drivel along the lines described by Rich called “Sheehan: From pathos to nonsense”:

Here he is: “To state the obligatory caveat first, Cindy Sheehan deserves the respect and sympathy that attend losing a son who died bravely in the service of his country. The pain and grief she feels over the death in combat last year of Army Specialist Casey Sheehan warrants the sympathy of all Americans, whatever their views on the Iraq war.”

Nothing more (r)epublican, more (k)arl (r)ovian, than that. You see, the respect and sympathy are “obligatory.” It’s Caldwell’s “obligation” to recognize why Cindy Sheehan’s crusade possesses the moral authority it does for millions of Americans before he begins savaging her.

Caldwell says Sheehan’s views on the war range from, “the incoherent to the just plain nutty.”

And this is what Rich is talking about. There was a time in this democracy when everyone was free to possess the opinion that possessed them. Now it’s got to be what the folks at Fox News think flows mainstream (god help us).

“She says,” the hit piece goes on, “that the Iraq war is an evil conspiracy deliberately concocted and waged on behalf of Israel; an assertion that has endeared her to such neo-Nazi kooks as David Duke. She also says that Bush launched the Iraq war to ‘make his buddies rich, that it was about oil’.”

Well, that David Duke, a one-time (r)epublican aspirant, should be endeared to Sheehan over her sense that Israel’s interests were taken into account in the lead-up to the war doesn’t make everyone else who sees a filigree of truth in this position a neo-Nazi. Saddam once launched missiles at Israel whose regional interests in Iraq are painfully clear (to those who choose to see).

the scribe suspects that neo-Nazis the world over are pleased as punch with Bush’s blatant marriage of corporate welfare to state militarism, and that must make Caldwell a Nazi, too, which of course it doesn’t.

Was it about oil? Your guess is as good as mine since our government regularly meets in secret and withholds documents properly requested by members of the congressional opposition.

Whether it is or not, the scribe would say this position is no less “incoherent or plain nutty” than the original premise for the war was: that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and was cooking up a “mushroom cloud” for Ohio instead of writing romance novels in a delusional haze.

Nope. That was perfectly alright and coherent. Why?

Because the (p)resident and his supporters, who have the advantage of celestial guidance over the rest of us scientific seculars, SAID SO!


Anyway, as Rich points out the “Swift Boating” didn’t work this time. “This summer in Crawford, the White House went to this playbook once too often. When Mr. Bush’s motorcade left a grieving mother in the dust to speed on to a fund-raiser, that was one fat-cat party too far. The strategy of fighting a war without shared national sacrifice has at last backfired, just as the strategy of Swift Boating the war’s critics has reached its Waterloo before Patrick Fitzgerald’s grand jury in Washington. The 24/7 cable and Web attack dogs can keep on sliming Cindy Sheehan. The president can keep trying to ration the photos of flag-draped caskets. But his White house no longer has any more control over the insurgency at home than it does over the one in Iraq.”


And for those of you that have digested your most recent meal, here are some images of George Bush's democracy crusade in Iraq.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

This week Chapters Thirty-six and Thirty-Seven wherein Officer Dumburton closes in on Jordan and the particulars of Corey's and Clarisse's marriage are dissected. Remember, the posts are found every Saturday/Sunday since April 9 Posted by Picasa

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters 36 and 37

Chapter Thirty-six

Jordan met with Detective Dumburton outside Java World following his 6.a.m. to 1 p.m. shift. He was averse to the officer’s suggestion when first proposed, but now, sitting out on the plastic café tables and chairs devouring his free lunch, J. took satisfaction at the general impression the rendezvous made when the boss cruised in for a little personal involvement with the clientele. Dumburton fit the bill completely. He was square-jawed, solidly built, and well dressed with shoes subjected to a military-style spit-shine. Jordan was rarely seen – scratch that – was never seen with such characters and he knew that in the twisted minds of certain community pillars his appearance with the cop would accrue to his credit. Of course, that was because none suspected him of being the Angel Without Mercy.

Dumburton was pulling no punches. “You see this?” he shoved the aforementioned police sketch in Jordan’s face. “You see this?’

Jordan nodded that, yes, he did see it.

“Well, waddaya think of it?”

“I think its purveyor should try his hand at a more conceptual kind of art. His skill at drawing renders little that is eye-pleasing or thought-provoking.”

“It’s not pleasing to the eye because it’s the sketch of a murderer, of the Angel Without Mercy,” Dumburton told him.

“Good for him,” said Jordan of the artist.

Dumburton was used to smart alecks. “Who does it remind you of?”

Jordan shrugged in an intimation of the fudged fact it reminded him of no one.

“It reminds you of you, ya son-of-a-bitch,” the detective could hardly contain his rage at Jordan’s coy routine. “I think it’s you and I’m going to nail your ass and good.”

Jordan informed the detective that his cooperation was merely a courtesy of sorts and that he would never have agreed to this questioning without a subpoena had he known Dumburton was going to be so rude. He quite understood, he continued, that the police sketch looked like something of a Latin take on himself, but was not confessing to any murders without mercy – a caveat his tormentor failed to pick up on.

“Alright,” Dumburton pulled the picture across the table toward himself, “I’m gonna do it by the book, but this is you and I’m going to prove it.”

“It’s not me,” said Jordan, “it’s a Latino guy.”

“It was dark and the orderly who described you is prejudiced against Mexicans,” the detective countered. “He thinks they’re takin’ all the jobs from the-” he stopped himself.

Jordan was sure Dumburton had intended to say “the blacks,” (or worse) because he knew precisely which orderly was spilling the beans and because it’s something blacks say. “The only crime worth committing,” he bum philosophized inside, “is the perfect crime,” which, of course, he would pass onto Randall when the opportunity presented itself. And that was because, he reasoned with the seasoning of a serial killer, “If you make one mistake, it will hang you.”

But wait! He had bigger fish to fry. “Takin’ all the jobs from who, officer?”

“I think you have an idea of which orderly identified you.”

This guy was good focusing on “which” like that. “Which didn’t turn shit on me,” Jordan snapped back, “because I didn’t commit any murder.” J. was surprised at the zest with which he found himself lying.

“Is ‘at right?” Dumburton flipped Jordan on his grill. “Well I got a little something on ya. You wanna know what it is?”

Jordan wagged his head in the negative. Dumburton could not have cared less.

“It’s smoke. Ya like to smoke dontcha?”

“On occasion.”

“Occasion my ass!” and then Dumburton pulled out a press clipping from the big city daily – the newspaper of record. “Looks to me like you fancy yourself one of this groupa nuts that calls ‘imselves The Sidewalk Smokers Club.” And there, in fact, was a rather lengthy article about the benefit/press conference under a significant looking headline that read: “Sidewalk Smokers Club Meets,” followed by the subhead, “Defense of Nude Models Tops Agenda.”

Someone had either a mordant wit or a keen understanding of how to sell papers. And there they all were: Joya, Yvonne, Clarisse, Jordan, the two ringleaders, and a jaunty supporting cast of associate-members-for-a-day on the sidewalk out in front of Joya’s Joyas, puffing away and making good use of a free and public space.

“It’s a social movement. It’s harmless.”

“I find it dangerous and I can prove it.”

“You like proving things don’t you?” said Jordan, vexed at the confirmation of his fear that the notoriety would bite him right in the ass. Retreating in spirit, if not tone, Jordan decided against throwing down unnecessary gauntlets even though the detective seemed decided as to the question of his quarry’s guilt.

“So what?” he followed-up, his discretion proving the better part of his valor.

“So there was the scent of smoke in the halls, a certain kind of smoke that a certain patient is willing to identify once I find out what it is you like to kill your lungs with.”

He played on. “Who, the gang guy across from me?”

“No. He won’t talk. The bangas never do.”

The banga’s generosity caused Jordan to shudder. He knew there was something noble in the gang mentality, the thing that bound them to one another through life and death and (still more) death, and he was now eternally grateful a criminal had been his roommate in adversity, rather than a trembling supplicant to the laws of stupid people. “I’m going to be honest with ya Dumburden-”

“It’s burTON. Don’t think I don’t know what you’re trying to do. I heard that stuff all the way through high school. I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now.”

“High school, huh?”

If Jordan had missed pushing any buttons in the antagonism of this antagonist, they are likely to be unworthy of selection and comment. His wiseacre college boy routine – which was not so much a routine as a genuine essence – was something Dumburton was no less familiar with than inspectors Diaz and Thorpe. “The detective told Jordan as much. “Ya think I’m not familiar with your wiseayker routine?”

“I don’t care,” J. told him right back. “I didn’t kill anyone. I’m not Latino like this guy, and you’re not going to use the fact I’m a smoker to hang me. That’s a double hanging. It smelled like smoke in there because I needed a smoke and the only way was to have a little walk when the hospital was quiet.”

Here was a confession of sorts: that he’d been smoking and breaking the law at the same time. From there to murder was a hopscotch of faith in Dumburton’s mind, which fed on gristle only.

“A little walk,” the detective said and then was finished with him – for the moment.

He got up from his seat and told Jordan to “stick around town, don’t go anywhere.”

J. sort of frowned at the thought of his indebtedness to Joya, his crappy job and now this, the arrival of Dumburton into his life. Taken together they seemed an awesome kind of awful.

Chapter Thirty-seven

To say the inevitable end to Corey and Clarisse’s marriage was going smoother than a unanimous congressional resolution asserting that America is a great country, is to draw an almost perfect analogy (allowing for Randall’s prejudice against absolutes).

Never had two people so simultaneously lost fascination with one another. Even jealousy seemed out of the question. Much in jealousy involves passion and this little item was conspicuously absent where the pair was concerned.

Each was bewildered by the way the other had pretty much become, outside the relationship, what their mate had expected of them inside it. Corey was now possessed of an idea, driven to working late hours and, although the economics of the whole thing were far from being resolved, the stench of success began sticking to him like mildew to a wet wool gabardine.

We know Trixie Marie had affected the social climber in Clarisse, but failed to note how this had overwhelmed the wannabe mother completely. And Corey saw this happening, and saw that it was what made their separation so effortless. Each was on a completely distinctive set of rails traveling in directions away from the other.

When Corey was at Randall’s working the day through, Claire had overcome some inconsequential bickering to raise a makeshift-drafting studio in the living room.

And unlike lots of others who take this initial step with such gusto, she sat down and began to draft – a lot. When Corey headed home, Clarisse did waitressing at the restaurant where the boss was pleased as so much party punch with her new attitude.

She was chatty, light-footed, service-oriented, and hell-bent on making as much tip money as possible.

Which means it might have worked between them. He could have been the successful go-getter had Clarisse been Yvonne and infused him with some special purpose, if she had only imperiled herself and cried out for him to rescue her. Clarisse would have been able to stay home and have the kid. In her latest incarnation, Corey would have been relieved of the pressure to breed that had cost her so much energy in pressing, and he that much more in resisting.

And that is how things go. Clarisse could have been bothered by the fact Corey seemed to have at least a connection with Yvonne, but she was, actually, an artiste and too involved with what she was doing, now that she was doing it, to fuss over so minor a distraction as some feminine rival for a man she’d lost interest in.

And things were working out. The up-and-coming starlet whom Clarisse had been seen exchanging numbers with at the benefit/press conference turned out to be a real benefit as the art-patron-saint Clarisse had seen in her own enraptured dreams. Her name was Vindaloo Baxley which, like many theatrical names, suggests a lot and reveals naught. She was a very determined girl. A real Vinda lu-lu. One glance at Clarisse’s table (we’re back at the benefit/press conference) and her mind was made up. Of course, that piece had been Clarisse’s gift to Joya, but when Vindaloo was informed that it was not to be hers she made such outrageous offers of money that even Joya – with her keen eye for style – was willing to let Clarisse take it back. “I mean if it’s for Vindaloo Baxley...”

The deal, of course, could not be consummated without a promise from Clarisse to restore Joya’s loss with an equally sumptuous (and free) creation on a date soon thereafter. A conscientious businesswoman, Joya could see that by surrendering one piece of no actual value other than the cost of materials – givens in art – to the actress, the next piece would carry a price worth waiting for.

Just as Clarisse had fantasized, Vindaloo contracted her to fill sweeping swathes of her not inconsiderable tract of urban floorspace with original one-of-a-kind
furniture at a premium rate. She then went from party to party and shoot to shoot talking Clarisse up so as to increase the value of her own investment.

Just a few weeks after her devastating epiphany at Trixie Marie’s exhibition, the
French/Belgian girl had a name of her own. Now she need only prepare herself for the challenge of so much fine art being examined under so bright a critical light by folks of very fickle constitutions.

And this left her very little time for Corey who, as we have seen, had very little time for her.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Their Iraq v. Ours

Time and again we here at highwayscribery have declared ourselves as voice to those innocents whose lives get caught in the web of history woven by giant men and women.

We love big ideas and elegant intellectual articulations, so long as they don’t steamroll over those who could care less (which happens a lot).

Our metaphor is the little girl in a patio playing ball with a kitten. These are the voices who lack amplification and concern, and we choose to represent them as the highest expression of life, hope, and happiness.

So tonight we offer you the (r)epublican plan for Iraq and then at least the flavor of what the highwayscribery Iraq would taste like.

First the (r)epublican Iraq:

Aug. 17, 20005

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Camp Pendleton Marine

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Lance Cpl. Evenor C. Herrera of Gypsum, CO:

“Maria and I offer our sincere condolences to the family and loved ones of Lance Cpl. Herrera. His dedication to serving our nation reminds us of the sacrifices the men and women of our armed forces make everyday to triumph over any obstacles that threaten liberty.”

Herrera, 22, died Aug. 10 from wounds received from the detonation of an improvised explosive device while conducting combat operations near Ar Ramadi, Iraq. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, CA. As part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, his unit was attached to 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.

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

Governor Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Fort Irwin Soldier

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Spc. Brian K. Derks of White Cloud, MN:

“Spc. Derks fought for the noble cause of freedom and we are deeply saddened by his loss. Maria and I offer our deepest sympathies to Brian’s family, and out thoughts and prayers are with them during this difficult time.”

Derks, 21, died Aug. 13 in Baghdad, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated while he was on mounted patrol. He was assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Calvary Regiment, Fort Irwin, Ca.

In honor of Derks, Capitol flags will be flow at half-staff.

highwayscribery’s Iraq:

Mesopotamian Wordplay

I have a secret day and nobody knows it.
You mean polka dot day?
Hey! And polka dot night, how come you knew?
I saw you telling Medina.
I think she’s the only other one who knows.
It’s too bad. She’s got some Jihad. She’s got to wear a veil every day.
It doesn’t matter. She can just dream, then. Anyone
can dream anything – even you. I do.
Yes, all the nights are polka dot nights for me.
I like you Tigris, and your friend Persia, too. It’s the
way you both say silly things.
And I like you, Euphrates. Your whitefish and your date palms
and centuries-old limes.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Vacation Boy

"Hey! Let's play war!" Posted by Picasa

The (p)resident’s five-week working vacation is making for some delightful commentary. Of course, the force behind these critiques draws from the many senseless deaths that have occurred in Iraq, compliments of Mr. Bush’s passionate policy.

This year’s Texas outing has turned out a little dicey for Vacation Boy. A woman who put the better part of herself into a child so he could die in Iraq followed the national media down to Crawford where she requested a meeting with President.

The COMMANDER IN CHIEF said “no” and now he’s under siege by a hippy encampment under siege itself by local rednecks. It’s quite the tableaux.

Three days ago, one of Bush’s neighbors rode out to the edge of his property and blasted a shotgun for the encampment to hear. Welcome to Texas, y’all!

He said he was hunting doves. He’s a kind of metaphor for U.S. military policy.

A day later, a guy in a pick-up truck mowed down all the white crosses with the names of slain soldiers placed along the side of the road by Cindy Sheehan and her supporters.

Shotguns and pick-up trucks. And they say we blue-staters exaggerate.

But back to the articles.

Maureen Dowd is one of those people who gets to leave her job saying whatever she wants at the country’s premiere journalistic outlet to go write a book...and then come back.

Maybe it’s because she’s that good. Oh sure, she has her critics, but the scribe has to marvel at her chutzpah, the whole marvelous spectacle in fact, of a sassy dame perpetually hounding the (p)resident on matters her stately colleagues refuse to broach.

Her article is called “Biking Toward Nowhere” and can be found here:

In it Dowd reproduces Bush’s most recent comments on having a war-mom and her scruffy friends mucking up the West Texas landscape.

“On Saturday, the current President Bush was pressed about how he could be taking five weeks to ride bikes and nap and fish and clear brush even though his occupation of Iraq had come a fiasco.”

the scribe likes the liberty Dowd takes with her language, inserting the word “occupation” in a manner so casual you wouldn’t think that it was a matter of debate.

Anyway, the article goes on to report (w)’s response: “I think it’s also important for me to go on with my life, to keep a balanced life.”

That’s because he’s lucky enough to have life.

“Pressed about how he could ride his bike while refusing to see a grieving mom of a dead soldier who’s camped outside his ranch he added: ‘So I’m mindful of what goes on around me. On the other hand, I’m also mindful that I’ve got a life to live and will do so’.”

Again, that’s because he’s lucky enough to have a life.

“The president,” she writes, “is in a truly scary place in Iraq. Americans can’t get out, or they risk turning the country into a terrorist haven that will make old Afghanistan look like Cipriani’s. Yet his war, which has not accomplished any of its purpose, swallows ever more American lives and inflames ever more Muslim hearts as W. reads a book about the history of salt and looks forward to his biking date with Lance Armstrong...

“The president’s pedaling as fast as he can,” she concludes (we jumped a bit), “but he’s going nowhere fast.”

Except maybe straight to hell, but that’s the scribe, not Maureen Dowd.

And so what if someone who makes their living beating up on the (p)resident beats up on the (p)resident?

Well, that’s why the research crew here at highwayscribery has fished up this next piece for you.

It’s written by Marg Stark, a San Diego journalist and Navy wife. It’s called “While President Bush is on vacation” and can be found here at:

The article opens at a beach party thrown by military families where she, Marg, is having to answer her five-year old son’s question about why there are so few daddies.

The answer, of course, is that they’re all tanning themselves in Mesopotamia.

“For this reason,” she writes, “I find it appalling that [p]resident Bush is taking a five-week vacation at his ranch in Texas this year, having reportedly taken more time off than any president in recent history save Ronald Reagan.”

You got to give it to these (r)epublicans; they not only take your money, they take your leisure time too (scribe).

“Whether or not these are ‘working vacations,’ (Marg) the message the president’s extended holiday sends to Americans is disturbing. Never mind that military units are shipping out mere weeks after coming home from extended deployments in Iraq. Those of us at home don’t have to keep any home fires burning. Heck, we don’t even have to keep the lights on at the White House. Since a contingent of our youngest, and in many cases our least-privileged citizens, has agreed to fight on our behalf, we should, instead, unabashedly serve ourselves heaping portions of leisure and amusement.

“Couldn’t the president have spent these five weeks visiting American families and towns mourning soldiers lost in the strife in Iraq? (good question) Perhaps he, Laura and the girls could have spearheaded fundraising activities for Operation Homefront in support of our service members and their families – some of whom are on food stamps and can barely make ends meet" (sounds reasonable).

Stark better watch out or Hannity and O’Reilly are going to assassinate her character on national t.v.

Of course, even those titans are helpless before the fact all mothers are blessed and especially those who send husbands and sons to war. And their attacks couldn’t blunt the fact that Cindy Sheehan and Stark are indicative of the fact support for the war is being lost among those who have helped supply and wage it.

That ain’t good and as Dowd suggests, somebody better tell “the Boy in the Bubble.”

“The Washington Post’s” David Ignatius goes for the more even-handed approach by dubiously giving (w) his due on “telling Americans the painful truth” about Iraq, his approach to the constitution being drafted, and the spirit of realpolitik “that undergirds the administration’s upbeat talk.”

the scribe thought it was “realpolitik” from neo-cons that got us into this mess in the first place.

But really, Ignatius can’t help himself either. His what the administration is doing “wrong” portion of the column is much more, shall we say, “ebullient” than his what it’s doing “right” offering.

Here he is:

“Now let’s look at what Bush is doing wrong. In speaking about Iraq policy to the nation, the president often seems tone deaf. Taking a nearly five-week vacation when U.S. troops are experiencing a living hell is a mistake.”

(maybe he can fly in overnight with a turkey)

“It reinforces what’s cruelest about this war, which is that the soldiers in Iraq are doing all the suffering.”

(because nobody else was interested in the job)

“Meanwhile, people back home go about their business. The president doesn’t ask the country to sacrifice (because he knows we won’t) with taxes to pay for the war, or with an energy policy (what energy policy?) that would reduce our vulnerability to Mideast turmoil.”

the scribe thought we were the Mideast turmoil.

Ignatius’ “Convincing America on Iraq policy,” can be found here:

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Some Bread and Roses

Sexually ambiguous culture warrior with a lax attitude towards recreational drugs, meet your friend, the striking American worker. Posted by Picasa
Because the scribe lives in a progressive, make believe universe where democratic and collective institutions that seek social justice in the workplace are the most worthy of our attention, we’re going to talk about unions for a bit.

Recently, the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations underwent a historical split when some of its most important members - Service Employees International Union, UNITE-HERE, United Food and Commercial Workers, Teamsters Union - took their millions of members and dollars in dues money and started a new club.

the scribe’s not going to get into the virtue of such a move. Maybe it breaks union solidarity. Maybe it breaks with a past that reduces workers to a state of dues-paying inactivity. Time will tell.

What the scribe wanted to mention briefly, if not originally since similar sentiments were expressed elsewhere, was the complete lack of resonance this story had.

And we’re not talking about the mainstream media, which we know by now can’t really be bothered with anything quite so marginal as workplace issues (after all, who works?), but rather in progressive circles.

When the AFL and CIO merged years ago it was a matter of tremendous consequence given the block of workers involved and the important role of unions in forwarding the material aspects of peoples’ lives.

This go-round there was hardly a whisper as liberal activists, truly a cabal of well-read, well-meaning elitists with only a passing experience with the organized working class, fried other fish relative to the culture wars.

And that’s too bad because all the MoveOn.orgs in the world can’t replace a solid union movement. Holding nationwide vigils for Cindy Sheehan, bless her soul, is no replacement for a good solid job action that strikes at the only thing people in this country care about - profits. Having little Supreme Court nominee therapy sessions is no match for the combined efforts of numerous unions advertising the truth about a b-film actor governor.

There may never be a true bond between progressives hailing from the hippy/digital/boho camp and those from industrial quarters. Maybe there’s not enough in common and that would be too bad, because the enemy each faces is the same and the mutual assistance - once THE hallmark of left-wing activity - is the best way of holding them off.

And speaking of unions a federal judge on Friday reminded the Bush administration that their right to exist is firmly rooted in American law (and the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights).

You’ll remember after 9/11 the Democrats had developed an issue to bludgeon the (p)resident with regarding establishment of a new federal agency in charge of national security.

Bush, in one of the few times he’s been right in six years, thought the last thing Washington needed was another bureaucracy and that the proposal was just old school big-government liberalism.

His true concern, of course, was the potential addition of some 200,000 workers (and their dues) to public employee union rolls that vote Democratic with a shocking regularity.

But Mister Constancy didn’t like the way it was playing out politically so he and Karl Rove cooked up something called the Department of Homeland Security, with the caveat that it would tolerate no unions. Following their own fashion, they invoked national security as grounds for revoking the right to organize.

“Flexibility” they said they needed.

The rest of that small chapter is truly ugly because then the Democrats ended up on the side of workers, instead of national security, and the (r)epublicans used that wedge issue, together with their nefarious war in Iraq, to beat the blue-staters raw in the 2002 mid-term elections.

Aaaaanyway, a U.S. District Court judge said on Friday that the Bush administration cannot go around rewriting federal employment guidelines to suit the needs of its political strategy.

Justice Rosemary Collyer said the Homeland Security plan, “does not lead to enforceable contracts and thus fails to comply with the direction of Congress to ensure employee collective bargaining rights.”

Plain and simple.

And the article by Stephen Barr at the “Washington Post” notes that, “Congress and the White House have been closely watching the case. The Defense Department, with about 746,000 civil service employees, is revising its workplace rules, and the Office of Management and Budget has proposed legislation that would revamp federal pay and modify some union rules for one million more workers.”

In other words, the (r)epublicans wanted to do a little purging of leftists, such as they are here in the good ‘ol U.S. of A.

Washington D.C. is the most liberal community in America after, apparently, Detroit and Gary, Indiana.

This is a problem for the (r)epublicans sent from Redneckia to ply violence and insensitivity under the guise of individual freedom. That’s because these workers, all unionized, run the federal government and have well-tested ways of waylaying the best-laid plans of our worst-read citizens.

All of which may or may not flick your switch because in America, kiddies, “union” is some kind of dirty word.

Which brings us to the strike at British Airways; a classic example of the kind of culture clashes we can look forward to with the entrenchment of globalized capitalism.

What you had was a company from George Bush's Texas, Gate Gourmet, that, just like the (p)resident, doesn’t have much use for unions. Problem was they were doing business in England where you join the union just ‘cause both your parents did and swore by it. You join because you know you're not getting out of having to work, but at least you're keeping an eye on the bastards.

Texas-style, the catering company up and summarily fired 667 workers one day last week, because they take all this business of Bush running the world at face value.

But London ain’t Lubbock.

The workers - not their union, which called the walk-out unsanctioned - went ahead and did a sympathy strike to shut down the entire airline, and which must have been quite a shock to Gate Gourmet.

We never have those here, sympathy strikes, let alone the threat of a general strike in the case of extreme policies and unpopular wars, and that may be why those four big unions left the AFL-CIO.

If that’s the case, then they have the scribe’s blessing, because he believes in militant, democratic unionism as a check on the advance of creeping fascism and rampant militarism.

And so should you.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapter 35

Chapter Thirty-five

It was the day of the benefit/press cattle call. Randall’s press release had been sent by mail, faxed, and transmitted through mysterious channels across a vast infrastructure of invisibility to various media outlets. He was helped by Jordan who had been fired from or walked out of a goodly portion of them. Some twenty reporters had confirmed attendance; no mean trick when that industry’s consolidation is factored into the equation. Of course, the element of titillation is what led their editors to forswear the habitual aversion to topics upsetting to the established order.

Joya had pressed her shop girl Sadina into service for the store’s proper preparation. Clarisse who, in between the time she stood Jordan up and called Joya to help, had added to her friends’ effort a smashingly odd looking table behind which the press conference was to be held. Joya loved it. “Hon, that has to be the biggest and coolest thing since the great glaciers!” And she wasn’t just piling it on. The table was truly franzy and, as is the case with all good artistry, seemed to whisper its purveyor’s very name as one stared at it. “Clarisse,” said Sadina in a tone that made the object of her address shift from one foot to the other and back again, “it really is something.” What with Corey and Clarisse mostly on the outs and their relationship decaying daily, they were not given to confidences of late, and yet without his input she had a good idea that Sadina was a girl who liked girls.

She looked over at Joya who was smiling at her, too, and made the connection. It didn’t change her attitude toward either of them a wit and she shrugged under the rain of compliments they were wetting her with. “You can haf it,” she told Joya in a state happier than the normal resignation with which she made such concessions. “At least someone weell gets to see it.”

“Sugar plum,” said Joya, “people are gonna see it and we’re gonna find you some clients who make big bangs.” Clarisse already felt better about enlisting in what she deemed an elaborate charade. The recent buffeting she’d undergone had inclined her toward postures of retreat and anger, but that was not how the great heroines in the books she admired acted. And now her mimicking the nobility of made-up people living in a very different world might well pay in spades. She was not going down or giving up or anything. She was going to persevere and this minor first step demonstrated to Clarisse just how important it is to keep fighting the good fight.

She had a little epiphany as she watched her friends prepare to make battle in a clash not winnable. “To keep fighting the good fight is the sole purpose of the fight,” (with accent) was the lesson and she promised herself to pass it onto Corey and his partner.

Yvonne came sashaying in shortly thereafter. Her outfit was a lean fitting blue business suit without a hint of exposed skin, for she had learned that the consecrated sex symbol no longer needs to flaunt her wares. As a caterer without any work, she took it upon herself to deal with the “benefit” aspect of the affair.

Seconds after her entry, two attractive college girls in French maid-style outfits walked in with some trays of food. Joya frowned. “Oh my, there go my sales,” and she permitted the girls, for the good of the cause, to begin piling finger sandwiches and pink/orange melon balls wrapped in prosciutto – among other culinary niceties – onto one of her glass display cases. That is, of course, once Sadina had put some appropriate looking material down over the top to prevent scratches.

But, back to Yvonne.

She looked fantastic, which is something that should never be taken for granted with anyone, for beauty is feckless toward its possessor. She was glittery with the attention about to be received and there was a moment of silence as the three ladies-in-waiting drooled up and down her before moving in for a rapacious session of hugging. Joya got something that looked like a kiss on the lips and Clarisse turned to see Sadina watching her response to it. Clarisse’s response was a smile and that was replicated by one from the Indian girl who then turned and shot a smile at one of the French maids.

“Oh, look at that table!” Yvonne declared and another round of attendant ego stroking on Clarisse’s behalf was quickly commenced and concluded. Then the girls kind of stood around wondering what to do, as it was the boys who controlled the actual agenda. “What’s next?” Joya said as she pulled out a broom and handed it to Sadina. “Well,” Yvonne answered, “Randall and Corey are going to bring all the cables for the press lighting. My girls have the food under control. The actresses should be here later than anyone else and, of course, the lawyer’s gonna tell us what we can and can’t say.”

“What’s the lawyer’s name, hon?” Joya asked as she flitted, devising the most ingenious modes of display for her jewelry, which (she felt) was as much on show as Yvonne, the actresses, bum philosophy or Clarisse’s table.

“I think his name is DeConcini,” said Yvonne.

“Oh hon, you didn’t get a Jew?”

Then Jordan walked in. He had been preoccupied. Nobody was quite sure with what, so that The Sidewalk Smokers Club (except for Randall) had almost forgotten about him in the excitement. He was dressed sensibly, but semi-formally, lest those bursting into their little world take The Sidewalk Smokers Club for some kind of shabby, two-bit outfit. It had not escaped him either, even with an interrogation planned in the Angel Without Mercy case, that this was something of a coming out for each particular member of the spontaneous formation, that never had any of them been quite so close to garnering this kind of attention before.

Oh hope (attention, attention, attention!).

“Jordan!” Joya effused with her normal high-octane enthusiasm, “come in shoogy,” and just like that he felt right at home. Yvonne winked at him, all subtlety now. He caught a glimpse of Sadina and worked his way up and down the little body to make her feel uncomfortable, for sport. He gobbled at a prosciutto-melon ball as Clarisse approached and gave him the biggest hug she ever had.

“Your new hair is cute.”

Jordan turned around surprised to discover the remark was Yvonne’s, but it was a pleasant imbalance that affected him and, rather than work to set things right, he reached for a cucumber and pesto-paste sandwich w/ garlic alioli and decided to walk around and savor the tipsy hormonal state into which the ladies had stirred him.
The reason for this blow-by-blow of pitter-patter is to demonstrate just how hard it was becoming to tell whether someone liked boys, girls, or both; just how much things had broken down and increased the sense of options, and confusion confronted by all.

Randall came in next, an important looking folio in his hands, horn-rimmed glasses and oversized tweed blazer lending the event a much-needed dose of dressed-down seriousness. It was entertainment (as all spectacle is), but it wasn’t. Corey was dressed similarly and carrying a wooden crate with thick cables and extensions and multi-socketed terminals to mount the media bordello required to make this thing work. It was a sartorial adjustment, a conscious decision the partners had made on their own, right down to the fake lens horn-rimmed glasses he also sported. Clarisse hardly recognized him and was knocked further off rail by the fact she found him more attractive than she had in a while.

“Okay, okay listen up man!” Yvonne’s media chief bellowed, “This is how it’s going to unfold.” And then Corey began going through the press conference script whilst simultaneously assisting Randall in the electrical complications that come with the medium-scale electronic happening.

The lawyer, DeConcini, arrived shortly thereafter. He was a handsome, blonde-haired and blue-eyed Italian with thick luscious hair and, why not, horn-rimmed glasses.

DeConcini looked like a fresh baseball boy on a summer field. His eyes burned with innocent ambition and held no reasons for complaint or unhappiness. His presence helped complete that balance of sexy frivolity (Joya, Sadina, Clarisse, Yvonne) with somber thought-laden post-academia (Randall, DeConcini, Corey) and just a dash of the everyman from Jordan’s updated, yet classical/contemporary dudewear.

He chatted with Randall and Corey, stiff, professional, without any fraternal sense of the task. Randall pointed outside at a thickening crowd drawn by what passed for hoopla, and DeConcini turned and grabbed Joya by the arm and pulled her aside.

Although they had never met, their mutual grasp of the plan secreted an air of things being well prepared. This pumped them up as it did each member of the club so that a supreme confidence began to pervade the store and environs.

Joya was trying to discretely cram some rings and things from the food-covered showcase to another display still available when Jordan approached and whispered in her ear: “The cops are on to me.”

She straightened up, shaking her silky strands in one sweeping motion over a single shoulder. “No!” she said conspiratorially.

“Yeah!” he matched her excited tone (without the excitement), “some detective named Dumburden is going to question me tomorrow.” She thought on it, perused the room and said, “Let’s get through this and we’ll come up with something.” He couldn’t imagine what she might come up with, but grew encouraged until she added, “if we can,” before bouncing off, cowboy boots clip-clopping over the sound of everything else going on in the busy hive her store had become.

Joya saw Clarisse standing by herself watching Jordan as he spoke with her. She turned around, retraced her steps, and told J. to try and make himself useful and he went out to the sidewalk in an effort to stay clear of the rising commotion. The Angel Without Mercy properly dispatched, Joya approached Clarisse and said, “Hon, why don’t you help your husband with all that wiring he’s tied up in?”

He looked so good that Clarisse’s response to the effect that, “he can manage by himself,” didn’t come out quite so aggressively as she had intended. Espying Jordan out on the sidewalk, she decided to join him. Leaving, she noticed how Corey failed to notice; his eyes focused all-too-obviously upon Yvonne and her ever-increasing mystique unattainable. Outside, Clarisse tapped Jordan on the shoulder and he reacted a little more violently than normal. “Yes she’s lesbian!”

“Who?” Clarisse asked, although she was pretty sure he was talking about Joya given her own reconnaissance. He offered her a ready-rolled Drumstick, but she declined. “Luckys or nuthin’ huh?” he said and she informed him that cigarettes were no longer a part of her repertoire. “You quit that easily?” Jordan followed up and Clarisse responded that, yes, she had. Then she asked him what was up after the press conference – if he had any plans. Jordan had already interpreted Corey’s interest in Joya and/or Yvonne as proof positive something irremediable had occurred between the couple and saw no harm in providing her with a little company. Besides, he needed some himself and told her this before adding, “Just don’t stand me up this time.”

She skirted the issue of her rudeness and informality by pointing out that, “de table in dare ees mine.”

“It’s beautiful,” he said, and meant it, the positive nature of Joya’s verbal generosities having infected him (and all of them) completely.

Inside, the Coloradan’s attempt to keep Corey occupied went belly-up and now he’d joined Yvonne for some chitty-chat focusing mostly upon her solid appearance and the sudden rush of optimism they were experiencing. The first television crew stormed in with an attractive, pushy blonde reporter in a faux Chanel skirt-suit leading the way. She scanned the room knowing what she wanted and honed-in on Yvonne. “That’s the girl,” she said without any attempt to mute her voice or intentions.

“The girl,” you see.

This was followed by an equally insufferable focusing of blinding camera light on a rather surprised Yvonne, followed by the intrusion of a microphone into her face space. She could come to grips with the fact her father had seen the magazine layout, that guys she was working with knew the contours of her physiognomy to the inch, that lesbians she was carrying a mild torch for had pored over the gems in her jewelbox. But she could not bare, um, bear the idea that perfect strangers whom rubbed her the wrong way at first sight had done the same.

Corey to the rescue. He stepped in front of his charge, blocking the camera’s view (its lifeline) entirely. “You can ask your questions during the press conference.
That’s what it’s for.” He pushed the camera lens down with a protective hand and then shoved the reporter out of the way with a brusqueness only a television journalist could not be offended by. “Randall will help you set up,” and just like that, his partner stepped into the breach and began positioning reporter and crew in a place marked by masking tape with their station affiliation scribbled in ink marker. Joya watched it all unfold and traipsed up to Randall. “Hey, you got this all wired don’t ya?” Randall pointed at the cables snaking across her shop floor and she got the little joke. “I’m impressed,” she said (and so was he).

It was clear that Randall and Corey were two bright lads who’d been waiting too long for their break, blokes put on the shelf to acquire the right seasoning. Their moment had come when they least expected, over the most unlikely of causes, and they were out ahead of the pack because they’d left the starting gate years ago.

Things began to move quickly. Another crew and yet another showed brandishing the same bombastic fanfare associated with the electronic media. Each reporter, the next more handsome than the last, made the attempt at mugging Yvonne and Corey repelled every unseemly advance, deflecting their energy toward Randall who enmeshed them in a vernacular so superior that it consistently brought the jackals to heel.

Three more crews showed and then individual reporter celebrities from the serious papers looking for a quirky tale speckled with local color. There was an attractive looking feminist Latina-styled gal from the Spanish-speaking daily and a tall, artsy gal with wire-rimmed glasses and attitude from the local edgy liberal/left bulletin.
Also a team from a Korean television channel wandered in, presumably drawn from another assignment by the assembly of rakes inside and out.

With those who spoke his language Randall employed years of wide reading and travel in dispensing tidbits that entertained with wit and aplomb, or humiliated with subtle yet vicious turns of phrase, depending on whether the reporter came armed or in peace. Corey looked over his shoulder during an attempt to shield Yvonne from one of the raptors The Club had so earnestly sought out, and smiled at his partner.

Randall hoped he wasn’t doing things too well. Shepherd to the mass media was not a job he’d meant to groom himself for. He was a genius and did not want the fact to be lost on anyone present.

One of the major actresses that had signed onto the effort arrived. She was an A-list performer, currently appearing in a racy, top-rated show, although she’d also had success on the big screen. With fame secure and her own offending pictures effectively buried by well-paid minions, joining this crusade was a perfect chance to embrace something mildly scandalous. Something that could layer her reputation with street credibility and proof there was a mind in there, a mind supple enough to grapple with matters of ethics and economics. As the star of her own show she was seen perpetually smoking, although in real life she was never much given to the behavior. Out in the public now, exercising the grand sweeping entrances so important to her craft, the cameras firing away at AK-47 pace, she pulled out a cigarette (brand name undetermined) and began to puff for the benefit of her legions. Joya might have preferred that nobody smoke inside so as to avoid the smell permeating the furnishings, area rugs and garments that made up the store’s “story” as Clarisse referred to decor. But she was way too smart a businesswoman and underground socialite to ever reproach so international a luminary as the one standing in Joya’s Joyas dispersing illicit driftings into the air. Instead she addressed the actress, introduced herself, and asked for a smoke.

Corey, Jordan and Randall saw, but did not hear, and thought to themselves, “Oh no!” But it was not what they thought. They had underestimated Joya’s natural ken for racing up and down rungs of the social ladder. As luck would have it the actress was nice. Smiles crackled between them. The star was, in fact, truly encouraged by Yvonne’s pluckiness in defending the rights of pretty young girls so long abused.

The less-than-starlets, let’s call them comets – those girls who’d posed in the magazines and made up the larger class of plaintiffs – were filling up the place fast. And with the Gypsies comes the dance. Some were classy and elegant and clearly engaged in pursuits that no longer required so obvious an exploitation of their bodies. Others were not quite so classy, and a little bit roughed-up, as if they were exploiting their sexuality as a last gasp and to little positive effect. And although they did not, all of them, add to the cutting edge sense of fashion and thought The Sidewalk Smokers were hoping to evince, these troubled women were exactly the ones the lawsuit, in its earnestness, had been drafted to protect. And it was they whom the attorney DeConcini seemed to spend the most time addressing, questioning and prodding to confession.

Jordan, still observing (still smoking), thought the lawyer a wonderful addiction, um addition, to the effort and had, what with all the fine people milling about, forgotten his personal nightmare.

Still other girls were stars from the adult film industry and the overall effect of their presence was to round out the selection so that it provided a very nice profile of urban American womanhood which, in turn, had reporters reaching for their cellular phones in search of back-up.

The second actress of note entered, the starlet, hoping to play the old, late-arrival card, but things were so electric, the crowd gathered so hepped-up on itself, that she almost went unnoticed. Jordan pointed her out to Clarisse who, characteristic of her mind state at this point, observed, “She doesn’t looks so hot,” and then, “she’s very skinny.”

Jordan would have begged to differ with the first part of this commentary, but the second was hard to contest. “You know,” he said in return, “sometimes it’s just a matter of them looking very good on camera, but not in real life.”

“Hmmph,” Clarisse answered, “and sumtimes eet’s just a matter of one pretty girl being luckier dan all de rest.” The positive strength of things was pulling Jordan out of Clarisse’s rather depressing orbit. He asked her to excuse him for a second and rushed back inside toward a cool, but very occupied Randall to whisper in his ear: “Sometimes it’s just a matter of one pretty girl being luckier than all the other pretty girls,” and Randall turned to him in mid-conversation.

“Would you repeat that?”

J. obliged. Randall nodded and returned to sparring with a reporter trying to bully his way into a front row spot that wasn’t really there. This left him ill-positioned to handle the lesbian city councilwoman’s sudden arrival. And sauntering in she came with an entourage of women young, old and betwixt. The lead vixen had a remote mini-microphone curved sexily around her neck, ending at the mouth, into which she whispered terribly important stratagems for moving her liege.

The councilwoman (councilperson) – was heavy-set, sporting a felt boater-style hat with a (fake) duck feather in its band, not attractive in any prescribed or popular sense. She fit the bill for a lesbian as Jordan and Corey and Randall understood it before Joya cloppity-clopped into their lives in those cowboy boots. Her level of achievement placed the woman in an age group somewhat older than that of Joya and Sadina, so nobody could be sure of what she’d looked like in the past. All of which was very important to those involved in and following the story.

Joya saw Jordan staring oddly at the overweight politician as all the attention in the room turned from the flowering girlhood present to this rather masculine specimen of the feminine and whispered things in his ear to set the record straight. “She’s a legend, hon. If you’re one of life’s throwaways, not pretty, middle-aged and fat, one-eyed, one-legged, a stray cat, battered broad, or queer, she’s a friend and that’s why she is where she is.”

Fair enough, Jordan thought.

In that special way the outrageous among us like to upend the demure, the savvy lesbian pol ditched the girl with remote wire and stratagems and waded toward the A-list actress and a wonderful photo-op. Randall was still trapped behind a bulky cameraman and groping after her. He stopped and held his breath before discerning exactly where the arch of her trajectory would land the influential one and came up with yet another spontaneous bum maxim: “Even at your own party you can’t control

The actress was melting someone with a smile and didn’t have much time to react as this coarse woman, whom she thankfully recognized as some minor star in the media constellation, bore down upon her with the force of a cannonball unleashed by friendly fire. She gathered herself up and absorbed a two-second-long kiss on the lips that was captured by all those who’d been enlisted to transmit whatever it was that took place. Randall exhaled with relief. The actress had played her part. “Sometimes it’s better not to control everything at your own party,” he amended his work-in-progress.

Soon the store was packed. The lady reporters, regardless of political ilk or status on the journalistic ladder, were unanimously interested in Joya’s jewelry and in Joya, too. The Sidewalk Smokers, a rare collective effort in a country obsessed with the individual mystique, was humming along as a well-oiled machine during what amounted to a maiden launch.

And it was just this moment when officers Thorpe and Diaz were strolling by, one of whom was in that part of town to break the old wallet over some bauble his wife had pointed out to him. As firemen it was only natural the sardine can Joya’s Joyas had become would catch their trained eyes so that as they passed the store, the sight of what they had just seen took a moment to sink in, and they went back for a second gander. Of course, it was not fire safety that had initially pricked their curiosity so much as something that had made their pricks curious. This was the overabundance of attractive women on hand and the vaguely familiar silhouette of someone smoking a cigarette whom they seemed to recognize from somewhere.

There were a number faces that struck chords of familiarity, but the actress of the hot television series with her oft-photographed, oft-disseminated image could not escape their keen inspectors’ instincts. Diaz (he was the one shopping for his wife) immediately thought how nice it would be to surprise her (his wife) with an autograph of the star along with the gift. In that way he would not be reduced to filling out an espousal purchase order and could enjoy the spoils of having proven himself to be thoughtful in the truest sense.

Then Thorpe said, “She’s smoking. We need to stop it.”

“But she’s a famous actress,’ Diaz sagely observed, “what do you want to do, get your picture all over television and the newspapers as the guy who told her to put it out?”

For men like Thorpe and Diaz, men of and for the corps, lessons are learned slowly but completely, and Diaz had learned to stay away from large groups of smoking, disobedient people sprinkled with stardust. “You have to pick your battles,” he added.

“Yes,” said Thorpe, sounding wiser still.

Diaz got the drift, though not sure he agreed entirely with his partner’s assuredness. Celebrities were touchy. It would not be their first run-in with a silver deity and things had gone both ways in the past. Sometimes their superiors lauded the inspectors for an even-handed application of the law. Other times their common sense had been questioned given that they’d put the department in a ridiculous light with an overzealous to-the-letter enforcement approach. The duo would usually point out the ambiguities in the law they were hired to apply; criticizing its drafting as unworkable, if not exactly in those words. It went like this (Diaz): “Lots of people are against public smoking. Not all of them think writing expensive tickets is the best way to stop it.” And he should have known, because he had to write those tickets.

Anyhow, it didn’t matter at present. Other were smoking, too, and trained to think on their feet, and given to favoring the law and their charge to enforce it in tricky situations with franzy people, the officers looked into one another’s eyes and saw the mutual hunger to enter the store and set things right. “Besides,” Thorpe read his partner’s mind, “they could all die tragically.”

Done. For nothing trumps public safety and/or national security. They sauntered in and the absence of stylisms, their standard-issue haircuts and unease at the tuggings and teasings of so many attractive women marked the two men as members of a distinct and probably unfriendly clan. People turned toward them in anticipation of some unpleasant business or other and that’s what they witnessed as the officers pulled out their badges, shoved them in the actress’s face and advised her she needed to put out her cigarette.

The star, of course, seemed pretty sure they couldn’t pull it off without making her just a little more famous and besides, there was a city councilwoman standing next to her. But the big woman remained mum on the matter, retreated into the background even; for while cavorting with sexy and rebellious artists might sharpen the public image (in some quarters) openly flouting laws she had supported was an altogether different matter. Joya abetted her escape by paving a wide way toward Yvonne’s catered finger foods.

The actress, meanwhile, despite the aforementioned fact that she did not smoke of her own free will, but rather in pro of her image, informed them of a disinclination to heed their order. Diaz and Thorpe may not have been up to speed on the mores and folkways of this particular flirt factory, but they were certainly no strangers to the obstinacy of celebrities. The investigators knew they enjoyed the state’s absolute monopoly on force somewhere (way) behind them and were glad of it. The press of personalities in the store stymied them and the men were convinced a stern application of the law that left no room for discourse, no give for some take, was in order.

“Who’s the proprietor?” Thorpe asked in an authoritative voice he practiced each morning on his unruly children. Reporters began to thrust microphones in the officers’ faces. Lights were trained upon the actress coolly puffing away, blowing second-hand smoke at her oppressors.

“That would be me, hon!” Joya worked her way through the parting crowd. The officers smiled immediately upon meeting eyes with hers. She was a number of good things, but damned if she didn’t come across as nice, too. “What is it I can do for you guys?”
Diaz waived his badge yet again.

“You’re cops?” she asked.

“No ma’am. FD. Fire Department. You can’t have people smoking in here. It’s a violation of the Smoke-Free Workplace Act.”

“Oh, I see. I’m so sorry. I thought that since it was kind of a party and I don’t have anybody, you know, to pay and well…” she lost her train of thought as the necessary prose grew thicker.

“It’s a press conference,” Diaz countered. “Press are working, for example. It’s a workplace. Just not the one you normally run.”

In the background, Randall and Corey writhed at this departure from the script and at their inability to do anything about it.

“Well then,” Joya said turning full circle in a sweeping move to address the entire pack. “Do you all object to putting out your cigarettes so that we can go ahead and have this press conference?” There was mild applause as folks dropped their butts to the floor and stamped them out, drawing a grimace from the proprietress who’d only just dispatched with Jordan’s bloodstains. She turned back to the investigators with that smile. “Is ‘at okay hons?”

“No ma’am,” Diaz pointed with his chin in the A-lister’s direction. “The young lady’s going to have to follow suit.” Both men smiled. They couldn’t help themselves, but it was clear that they were firm on the point and the actress smiled back and said, “Not a chance. Write me a ticket.”

Thorpe knew when someone was upping the ante on him and so he saw the actress and raised her one. “I’ll have to shut down the venue and have the proprietor arrested,” which wasn’t at all true or even possible. Joya suspected this, but when she scanned the proceedings looking for DeConcini, she located him outside talking up one of the comets. Citycouncilwoman, for her part, shrunk behind some cameras wanting no part of the mushrooming mess. Joya was in a bind. It was now hers to insist that the celebrity do something she did not want to, a task not unlike standing before a medieval queen of absolute dominion and calling her a whore.

And besides, it would have been ungrateful.

Randall came to the rescue. “Okay, let’s do it outside!”

Joya grabbed the line he was throwing her. “Great! Let’s do it outside. One big Sidewalk Smokers Club!” A tiny cheer rose up from the actual membership and through the force of their will and energy, Joya and Randall, with some authoritative prodding from the councilmember, managed to move the mass slowly out the door. “C’mon! A free cigarette for everybody,” Joya trilled as she gestured Sadina towards the backroom of her shop where, presumably, a carton of Dãrshãns was kept in case of an emergency not exactly like this, but an emergency just the same.

There was some grumbling from the press corps about the logistics of powering lighting and the like, but a general momentum toward the sidewalk had won the moment. Clarisse grimaced at the loss of protagonism her table was to suffer with the move, but folks who dream of being great learn to swallow such setbacks both with equanimity and frequency.

Outside people began to light up because when you talk a lot about something, you help bring it into existence. Some of the local media’s most attractive, up-and-coming hood ornaments allowed themselves to be photographed in the compromising activity.


A rare turn of ability these Sidewalk Smokers possessed; making or generating fun.

Cameramen and still-photographers reacted like water molecules over fire as things moseyed along to exactly where, nobody knew. The ending, unlike the endless parade of staged and stale events they were condemned to document, was completely in doubt and boy was this exciting!

Clarisse quickly overcame her initial disappointment and was now pushing Jordan – who as an off-duty barista had no real inclination to move furniture – for help in getting her table onto the sidewalk. “C’mon, c’mon,” she urged, “you do dees at de coffee chop don’t you?” These were not the best words for prodding him to action, but it seemed that the press conference’s soaring moment might suddenly falter without some focal point of attention for reporters and their helpers to train upon.

The thing (the table) weighed a ton and because it had a Plaster of Paris-kind of lumpy finish on top (practicality not being Clarisse’s strong suit) it was exceedingly difficult to grab at the edges. Struggling in fits and starts Clarisse and Jordan asked Randall to help as he alternated between outdoors and in, trying to get the whole thing going in the necessary direction. He huffed and twisted the features behind his glasses, but was of little help until he turned to Diaz and Thorpe and enlisted them in the effort. They assented. It was part of the job – written into the Smoke-Free Workplace Act in fact – to facilitate the configuration of safe surroundings and, what with the whole thing having been moved at their instigation, the two officers intended it as a tendered olive branch. The cameras whirred. The investigators sweated. As the quintet shimmied through the door, led by the bulky former firemen, the crowd cheered them.

“Bill,” the first reporteress squealed into her microphone while facing her hairy cameraman’s lens, “We’re here in front of Joya’s Joyas on a familiar and trendy stretch of commercial real estate where a most curious event is taking shape…”

And taking shape it was as Randall pushed both actresses, Yvonne, DeConcini, councilwoman, and one of the cuter magazine victims behind the most curious table.

The picture window filled with Joya’s jewels served as a nice backdrop – at least from the proprietress’s point of view.

“Listen up!” Randall managed to ratchet his voice above the crowd’s shambling volume, “Listen up man!” The din dulled a bit as everyone turned toward the table and the event suddenly took on the form of a traditional press conference. “We’re here,” and he had to say it again a little louder so as to beat the vocal stragglers into the herd of listeners and recorders he was aiming for. “We’re here today to announce the filing of a lawsuit by Yvonne,” and he raised an outstretched arm in his subject’s direction. She curtsied demurely and some of the rougher media backbenchers – mostly technicians and Teamsters – unleashed a series of catcalls that produced an abashed smile from Yvonne, which set off a chorus of delighted laughter in which everyone participated. Everyone, that is, save for DeConcini, whose job it was to project the severity of a juris doctor, and Thorpe and Diaz, for whom sobriety was also a job requirement.

Randall forged ahead, forgetting to laugh with the rest, intent upon making a point. “It’s a lawsuit which establishes her as the lead in a class of plaintiffs covering many of the young women you see here.” He then ill advisedly gestured to the actresses, comets, and gaggle of magazine girls he’d placed off to the side of the table so as to separate them from the media and growing collection of onlookers. Once again, a cheer went up. The gaggle giggled, excited at being celebrated and the crowed guffawed in return. It was at this moment when Randall realized exactly what dynamics he had unleashed and therefore decided that humor, informality, delay and other nontraditional techniques would be the most effective in guiding this happening to a proper climax and denouement.

“All of whom at different and difficult moments in their lives have posed naked for any number of the magazines contained in the list you have before you.” A fluttering of papers ensued and those who’d joined the street spectacle looked over the shoulders of reporters to see exactly what it was he was talking about. The air was, by now, thick with vanilla smoke from Joya’s freely dispensed carton, and the situation – the girls, the list of dirty magazines, the Dãrshãns – were all adding up to a heady aphrodisia that nearly scared the fire department investigators out of their pants. Given that such an event would be highly inappropriate for two members of a venerable and highly respected institution to be attending, Diaz and Thorpe decided to leave, glancing nervously over their shoulders at the growing amoeba of people they were largely responsible for having created.

And their timing couldn’t have been better for as they slunk away, a black limousine rolled up, forcing the crowd spilling off the curb either further into the street or onto the already congested sidewalk. A brash, fresh-faced white boy with a remote wire close to his lips leapt out saying very important things into it. A tall handsome black guy in a suit followed him and then a white guy in another suit who was obviously the Prince corresponding to the courtiers.

Jordan froze. The city councilwoman narrowed her eyes in distrust. “The city attorney,” Randall muttered to himself, and figured that news of another mayoral candidate’s presence at the event – the city councilwoman – had reached the earphone of a young aide and forced an imperative to crash the proceedings. “Ignore him,” the councilwoman hissed in his ear. Randall figured a deal was a deal and undertook to comply with her directive.

Jordan took off in the same direction as Thorpe and Diaz, unwilling to abet his own
capture and prosecution for a mercy killing the gods had deigned just.

“Before I turn over the press conference to those with a story to tell,” Randall soldiered, suddenly overcome with fatigue, “let me conclude by saying this case is about the exploitation of young women who oftentimes did not know any better or could not help themselves. The profits gained by those who traffic in photography of the flesh far outstrip those who provide the raw materials needed to do their business.” It was an unfortunate choice of words and Randall had carefully chosen them for just that reason. A silly, adolescent, “woowoo” went up from the gathered.

DeConcini leaned over and garbled into Randall’s ear, “Look, I’ll file the suit, but
I don’t really need this kind of screen time. It’s too much. Too dangerous.”

Dangerous! Randall, a rock thrower and traffic stopper if ever there were one, sensed a hot burst of triumph race from his solar plexus, through his heart to pierce the brain, and smiled.

“What do you say to the fact many former employers wouldn’t recommend you for a job?” came a rude outburst from the herd.

“I have no former employers,” Randall sought to set the record straight.

“How do you live then?” came the follow up.

“I’m still trying to answer that question,” Randall confessed and then switched. “Esquire Dennis DeConcini, who is generously lending his expertise on a free-of-charge basis, says it would be best not to bore you with legal mumbo-jumbo when Yvonne is the best person to articulate what it is these girls go through, blah-blah-BLAH-blah-blah,” he threw in for a touch of lackadaisical irreverence.

“Could you repeat the last part?” the girl from the liberal/left rag asked.

“Esquire Dennis DeConcini says it would –”

“No the part after that,” she said cutely and coyly.

“Oh. Blah-blah-BLAH-blah-blah.”

The print reporters earnestly recorded his every “blah.”

“Thank you,” she said, to sustained background chuckling and general gaiety. DeConcini rolled his eyes. Randall summoned Yvonne to center spot looking over the smoke-addled crowd that had begun disrupting traffic. Horns were blowing now and Yvonne, along with her interrogators, had to yell over them so as to be heard. “I just wanna say that, um, you know, it’s wrong for somebody to make these kinds of profits – profits that sometimes run thousands of times more than what was paid to the model who-”

“Did you sleep with the photographer?” one of the local entertainment reporters asked what was on everyone else’s mind.

“Um- ”

“I don’t see,” Randall interrupted, “what that has to do with the fact that an important economic lawsuit with potential ramifications in the area of intellectual property -” It was, again, a terrible choice of words, this time not planned and which led to a further lightening of what he’d envisioned as an epic affair.

“Quite frankly it is a -” and a car horn interrupted him for a moment, “STUPID,” he yelled out of necessity, “question.”

“Blah-blah-BLAH-blah-blah,” one of the media joshed him to more, greater, sustained laughter now rolling in waves between the yellow dividing lines out in the middle of the street and Clarisse’s curious table.

Randall moved from center stage aware that his last volley had gone out of bounds, but content that he was stoking the spectacle to maximum effect, sometimes knowingly, other times not. He pulled out a bandana and wiped his brow in a move that was interpreted by those who’d come for a show as theatrics, but which was simple relief to him.

Yvonne, for her part, was doing as well as might be expected for someone who ran a catering service and hadn’t spoken in public since her 11th grade English class required an oral presentation.

“Every time a single magazine issue sells,” she read from a prepared statement penned by Randall, “a hundred advertisements are launched and the positive results of those advertisements bring in more sales and revenues to the magazine. But the model sometimes only gets the shoot fee a freelance photographer pays her before signing a release that makes the pictures his property.” Despite the calculation behind the whole crazy thing, there was something plaintive in Yvonne’s voice that seemed to win her a better part of the crowd’s sympathy. And who with a heart could deny that there is merit in both her arguments and the equitable goal of the lawsuit itself?

“How did it feel to you when the pictures first came out?” asked a rival to the first entertainment reporter’s celebrity news magazine. Yvonne turned to Randall who again moved center. “Don’t any of the serious outlets have questions?”

He might as well have been looking for Ice-Aged fossils. “I mean, we have this brave woman up here bringing to light the kind of abuse young innocents are often subjected to when they arrive in the big city.” Like the best White House spin-doctor, Randall was taking advantage of every chance to define the suit’s raison d’être. As the cameras recorded and the scribes scribbled, he was confident the weightier points would eventually be expressed in spite of the circus atmosphere he’d cooked up.

“Man, the only things you people seem interested in are the more lurid-” Security being what it was – nonexistent – some clown sneaked in behind Yvonne with her magazine layout open to a provocative page and smilingly waved it over her head to the howls of tribal excitement and groans of moral disapproval. The liberal feminist reporter huffed, rolled her eyes at Randall (who smiled bashfully), and departed.

“How much did you get paid?” asked a reporter.

“Does it turn you on to see the pictures of yourself on the newsstands?” screeched another. A tear rolled down Yvonne’s cheek and she stepped off to the side and hugged Corey – a gesture that did not escape Clarisse’s or anyone else’s eye.

“Is that your boyfriend?” another reporter asked with an exquisitely bad taste and timing it had taken him years to cultivate and for which his bosses prized (and paid) him exceedingly well. The A-list actress was dripping with feeling and understanding for Yvonne who had clearly bitten off more than she could chew. With all the self-possession and power to dominate a gathering the acting craft had imbued her with, she assumed Yvonne’s place behind the crazy table. The motion, in and of itself, served to calm the raucous crowd somewhat. It was Bernhardt, it was Dunaway, Leigh. It was the ghost of a dozen icy silver-screen love goddesses rising up before the reverent – until she opened her mouth. “What’s wrong with you people?” she screamed, although it should be noted that it did come in a controlled fashion, rooted in her diaphragm as it was. “Are you all fucking idiots or what?”

Despite the obvious insult, the media pool gravitated closer to the table like cosmic debris to a black hole in space, for nothing trumps celebrity (except national security), however undeserved. In ten minutes they could all take the rest of the week off with the bounty this once seemingly harmless event was hurling at them. The A-lister, for her part, was buffeted with lurid queries in a free-for-all fashion.

“Have you ever filmed yourself making love?” “Would you perform oral sex before the camera for the right sum of money?” “What’s the right sum of money?” and so on so that the overall affect of her interjection was to discredit those whose fortunes she sought to enhance.

Sensing her moment, the lesbian citycouncilperson stepped to the fore and Randall returned to announce her, as the actress, fuming, stepped back and, yes, lit a cigarette – a vanilla one – to restore her calm. Two factors, the councilperson’s weight and her lack of beauty, lent the press conference an immediate gravitas none of the pretty girls whom preceded her could summons. She took up a goodly portion of the dais and seemed to reduce the media pool’s size just by standing there. “I think we need to focus on some of the important issues introduced into public debate by the filing of this important suit.” Her primary strategy was to use the word “important” a lot and see what happened.

The city attorney, there to steal his opponent’s moment in the limelight and simultaneously align himself with decency and family values, was instead being ignored, and that was not good. So he used his influence to pry a handful of reporters from the otherwise enthralled press pack. These were city beat hacks he knew and traded capital with in a symbiotic relationship between covered and coverers that assured neither did their job properly. When he suggested they listen to what he had to say, implicit was the promise that on some slow news day, or very eventful one for that matter, he could be counted on for news; but only if they might bail him out presently. Just as the city councilperson paused, he could be heard in the back sound-biting her moment saying, “I think the suit is incoherent and ill-conceived.”

Which, of course it was. The point of the thing was the girls, the publicity they were generating, and the use of it to ransom some concession out of the publishers in exchange for a little peace in their business of exploiting the young and vulnerable.

The lesbian legislator could hardly be expected to be outdone. As Joya had already informed Jordan, she was an advocate for the city’s throwaways, miscreants, and social maladroits, which was a job that required a lot of energy and a bullhorn the size of...the size of something very big. Her strategy in such an instances (it was not the first time bigger fish had made a bigger splash in a pond she considered her own) was to forge straight ahead with what she was saying at twice the volume she had been saying it prior. Of course, what with the presence of the city attorney, her political position needed to slide just a little bit over to the conservative side, but the councilwoman was swimming in a pond she knew well. “Now!” she bellowed, “I’m not here to say that what the ladies have done in the past is to serve as some kind of illuminated path for youth – far from it. What is important is to point out the importance of corporate greed here.”

The day had long passed when such an appeal to the lesser-class instinct drew a blood curdling response against the rich above, largely because everybody in attendance had a shabby scheme for moving up into those ranks themselves. But hers was a safe council seat and so she kept it up.

“We know who the magazine’s parent company is (a biennial contributor to her own campaigns) so we don’t have to name names.” Which of course she didn’t want to do.

“Immoral,” slipped in between the cracks of her discourse from over in the city attorney’s corner.

“It’s important that we understand that they have enough money to, to- ” and then she looked around for some kind of prop and Joya produced a pack of vanilla cigarettes. The citycouncilwoman was not particularly keen on the idea of using exotic and imported smokes as a public speaking aid, but was sage enough to consider her audience for a moment.

She took the pack, opened it, dumped the contents out onto Clarisse’s table and proceeded – quickly for obvious reasons – to use them in the construction of a ragged metaphor for just how much money the parent company had and how easy it would be to actually pay the girls a gainful wage (two Dãrshãns) and a small pension benefit (one Dãrshãn), too.

“So don’t tell me this is the only way to treat workers who are important to our society!” she thundered and waved her way through the thickening cloud of smoke over the sidewalk. This was her stock stump speech and she had twisted herself like a baseball stadium pretzel to weave the naked girls and The Smokers into it.

Anyway, that was the bulk of what Randall had scripted. There came, in that moment, a realization that he’d never developed an exit plan because he’d never thought the thing was going to reach such a (relatively) gosh darn successful conclusion.

If Jordan had stuck around for this not-quite-ending he would have noted accents of the beating he took at the hand of the Armenian Power gang in the air. Traffic was jammed, people were milling about as the star, starlets and comets began to break up and/or get picked off by the audience that had swelled the press pack’s size to five times the original list of invitees. The city attorney, for his part, wasn’t finished. He seemed to lose sensitivity in his political antennae; possessed by the drive to, in some way, mark the fact he was present. Perhaps his plan was to conjure as nefarious an image possible under the rather light-hearted circumstances and somehow connect them to the lesbiancitycouncilpersonwoman. She, by this time, had beaten a quiet retreat after mulling over sentiments best described as mixed where the wisdom of attending a press conference held by a Sidewalk Smokers Club she’d never heard of was concerned.

No matter. The shabby Randall would serve the city attorney’s purposes in a pinch. “So,” he bellowed prompting everyone present to turn in concert and see what had gotten up his nose, “the fine specimens here gathered are your class of plaintiffs and their loyal constituency?”

Randall appreciated the help in defining The Club’s mission. “Do you think sarcasm is becoming of so exalted a city official?”

“Don’t answer a question with a question,” the candidate parried, cameras engraving every glib utterance in some digital container or recorder.

Like all stagemasters, Randall thought his job done at this point and resented the insertion of new material.

“We’re a nation of mutts,” he said finally, coughing, “although we dress ourselves very well to hide the fact.”

The city attorney should have known better. For Bohemians reason, if they do at all, at different levels of consciousness and understanding than “serious” people. And yet they are just as smart: a fact that makes them deadly dangerous if and when they decide to engage the larger world around.

Maybe at a clearer place, after nursing a tumbler of scotch before a chimney fire, his eminence might have been able to respond in some long and circuitous way.

Instead, he let pass a long silence which left in evidence his search for words to all observers. The aide with the mouthpiece cringed. Finally, desperately, he blurted, “If mutts are what you consider yourselves, fine, but don’t paint the entire nation with the same brush.” Which wasn’t too bad a rejoinder, especially if you erase the time he took to come up with it and the fact he was a famous and semi-powerful man, while Randall was the mutt.

The aide with the headset decided to douse this brush fire before it spread, pushing his boss toward the limousine, which was parked illegally, but not subject to the surveillance cars belonging to mere mortals were. The candidate seemed more than willing to oblige, retreating with sentiments best described as mixed where the wisdom of attending a press conference held by a Sidewalk Smokers Club he’d never heard of was concerned.

“Good riddance,” Randall murmured as one city-attorney-leg stuck itself in the limo.

But Joya suddenly materialized out of what seemed thin air and immediately drew a smile from the candidate, who pulled the leg back onto the sidewalk. Randall could not imagine what it was Joya was up to, but he knew she was up to something as her long muscular arm snaked itself through the city attorney’s elbow and guided him inside.

Randall was snapped out of his observations by the A-list actress who announced her
departure, but left him with her publicist’s number and an invitation to a party at her place coming up very soon. He had enough presence of mind to say he’d check and see if the date was open when what he wanted was to drop to his knees and lick her wherever she asked.

Guys off the street grazed what was left of the catered food and the gutsy ones tried to wrangle dates out of the comets. Some left with them walking down the street sharing vanilla cigarettes. The roughest looking girls went away with the least appealing men and Randall wondered if they were rough because of the men they’d picked over the years, or if these were the men they were sentenced to entertain by the cruel court of declining charms. He saw Clarisse also exchange particulars with the secondary starlet who turned and left her after they kissed each other on both cheeks. He watched Clarisse watch Corey work with Yvonne for a second and then watched her watch Randall. Clarisse strode toward Randall who decided to stand tall and take whatever it was the sour face she was wearing had in store.

“So,” she said grudgingly, “you ware gret today.”

“You know what they say,” he said. “If you can’t actually be great, fake it.”

An utterly dishonest response in as much as Randall believed he was destined to greatness and felt he’d just taken a tremendous stride towards constructing such a perception, in his own eyes, and in those of the world as well.