Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Will Johnny Come Marching Home?

At left are two documents dropped in the scribe's not- very-matching luggage, during his recent journey eastward, by the Transportation Security Administration.

They were looking for "prohibited items" and somehow managed not to find any.

Luckily there were no locks because the screener would have "been forced to break the locks on your bag. The TSA sincerely regrets having to do this, however TSA is not liable for damage to your locks resulting from this necessary security precaution."

Yes, and screw you TSA. Stay outta the scribe's stuff.

Here is a poll on U.S. troops’ attitudes to the war, compliments of Dan Froomkin at the White House Briefing Column, “Washington Post.”:


It was conducted by Zogby/LeMoyne College and the upshot is that the troops want to come home.

One in five soldiers questioned don’t agree with the (p)resident’s point of view regarding staying until Iraq is a happy democracy where warring clans no longer hate each other.

They oppose “harsh prisoner interrogation” which one might be led to believe is code for “torture.”

Some 29 percent said the U.S. should leave Iraq immediately, another 22 percent think the pull-out should be after another 1,000 dead guys, or six months, and so on. Only 23 percent said the troops should remain, “as long as they are needed.”

And that’s with the vast majority (90 percent) having purchased the (p)resident’s pap about Iraq having been involved in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on Washington D.C. and New York City.

In the rainbow of American political thought, that would align a good 77 percent of the troops with the always mocked, far-out, fruit-loop left that opposed the war at the outset and has long been arguing that a pullout should begin soon as they can rev up the engines.

And you have to admit, that’s kind of funny.

the scribe wonders if this guy’s laughing:

Governor Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Twentynine Palms Marine

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today (Feb.28) released the following statement regarding the death of 2nd Lt. Almar L. Fitzgerald of Lexingont S.C.:

“2nd Lt. Fitzgerald’s unmatched courage and dedication to military service has protected the lives of his fellow Americans. His bravery will continue to be an inspiration to all who served with him in the Unites States Marine Corps. Maria and I send our thoughts and prayers to the Fitzgerald family for their loss.”

Fitzgerald, 23, died Feb. 21 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany from wounds received Feb. 18 from an improvised explosive device while conducting combat operations against enemy forces in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1 Marine Expeditionary Force, Twentynine Palms, CA. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, his unit was attached to the 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.

In honor of 2nd Lt. Fitzgerald, Capital flags will be flown at half-staff.

Monday, February 27, 2006

George Will Gets a Little Help, And You Get a Little highwayscribery

the highway scribe is back from a jaunt through the BosWash corridor: New York, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. as reported before last signing off.

The three-hour Amtrak trek is a cobbled collection of abandoned industrial sites, a great place for anthropologists, historians, and archeologists. The industrial titan that was once the United States is no more yet even in its state of decadence inspires with its vastness and distinction from present-day landscapes.

The imagination is easily prodded into an attempt at reconstructing the activity, the pollution, the unrest, the movement and money; to sprinkle it with easy and romantic devices like horse-pulled carriages and mule-driven drays, top-hatted capitalists with porcelain doll, neuralgic wives.

There is a pre-modern hint to a lot of the architecture. It is somewhat striking to one who inhabits a a faux adobe and stucco environment how foundries, granaries, assembly plants, and warehouses were constructed with an individual pride, graced with steeples or clock towers, laid-in with rich red brick, ornamented with angels and gargoyles.

It occurred to the scribe that a positive and popular initiative might be for government to launch a repopulation of these dead areas. Giving the structures and parcels away, free of liability, to the country’s besieged creative classes for their own.

Free warehouses and structures and tax breaks for smaller concerns in an effort to recreate the chain of manufacturing so vital to urban life and economic equality.

This instead of endless and senseless sprawl and the natural defoliation of (what’s left of) the countryside. A kind of efficiency to re-inhabit the shell left there by a mighty and more fearless breed of American. A sought after rediscovery and association with a successful past and an assertion of creativity and craft as treasured social values.

That’s just a little highwayscribery for you.

Getting on with our own times, today we invert a popular highwayscribery convention whereby the scribe’s own thoughts are mixed-up with those of superior men in article/posts that accrue mostly his own (dis)credit.

But today we reach down the ladder of excellence and extend an elevating hand to George Will, the bow-tied banner-carrier of a (r)epublican-type past (that we kind of miss). Will is capable of crossing lines now and again, but belittles those of distinct notions and has defended the administration (with a few exceptions) pretty consistently.

And that’s going to be remembered when the purge begins.

Anyway, he has written an article in the “Washington Post,” entitled “Less Freedom, Less Speech.”

You can find it here:


It involves the recent sentencing to prison of a man named David Irving who is a self-described “moderate” fascist and one of those people who doesn’t think Hitler killed millions of Jews in Europe, even though that’s what he really likes about Hitler.

Anyway, Irving’s going to jail, essentially for the beliefs he holds.

Will thinks this wrong, and that is why highwayscribery allies itself with him today, standing as we do for truth, justice, and the American way (from a “moderate” anarcho-syndicalist perspective).

“Last week, while Europe was lecturing Muslims about the virtue of tolerating free expression by Danish cartoonists, Irving was sentenced to three years in prison. What folly. What dangers do the likes of Irving pose? Holocaust denial is the occupation of cynics and lunatics who are always with us but are no reason for getting governments into the dangerous business of outlawing certain arguments. Laws criminalizing Holocaust denial open a moral pork barrel for politicians: Many groups can be pandered to with speech restrictions. Why not a law regulating speech about slavery? Of Stalin’s crimes?”

Will is absolutely right for free speech must be absolute. You start cherry-pickin’ and the tree of rights is done for.

The columnist argues that the right to free speech has been shrinking over time,
“increasingly ‘balanced’ against ‘competing values.’ As a result, it is whittled down, often by seemingly innocuous increments, to a minor constitutional afterthought.”

highwayscribery joins George Will in deploring the criminalization of marginal thoughts, however repugnant, and hereby introduces him to our many and influential readers.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Review of the "The Sidewalk Smokers Club"

the scribe is going to review his own book and say something about media concentration at the same time:

“Stephen Siciliano’s Sidewalk Smokers are the perfect post-political pariahs. His mélange of semi-employed rakes and rakettes occupy the ranks of a maligned American subculture. Driven to the sidewalks by the most selective kind of lawmaking, they find their resistance to the increased regulation of their lives symptomatic of a deeper, shared sense of threatened homogenization.

What’s different about The Sidewalk Smokers Club’s battle for individual sanctity is how it is carried on within that most neglected of institutions in our culture – the collective. Lethargic sensualists, craven in their drive for publicity, the group’s saving grace is that they are uncommonly kind to one another. Do we really know people like this? Probably not, which may, in the end, be what Mr. Siciliano is after.

At best unconsecrated makers of useless things, at worst a cabal of rootless cosmopolitans on the make for the big break, The Smokers are united behind one of their own, taking on a media giant over the publishing of some dated, nude photos. Understanding how outlandish behavior garners notoriety they climb into the public eye, their tendencies open to approbation or vilification by a society of “watchers”.

For a time they enjoy the first, fashioning themselves as a fashion, but are ultimately done in by the second, another minority skewered by the majority’s intolerance.

Along the way they have a few things to say about true liberty in the American polis, while holding forth on health care, class, art, gastronomy, ethnicity, marriage, babies, homosexuality, commerce, and corporatization.

A journalist of 20 years, Mr. Siciliano impishly details the consensus corruption that greases America’s machine, highlighting the absurd disparities in wealth and treatment, which disqualify the democratic experiment. A prolific screenwriter, his conversations crackle with the Noel Coward-like insight, sophistication and humor one might expect from a group of neo-bohemians sitting around breathing each other’s insalubrious emissions. A voluptuary himself, the author articulates the fact that most of us are charmed by some delicacy or weakness, and personalizes the persecution of those who partake of pleasures at the hands of those who do not.”

Check it out at:

Check it out at http://sidewalksmokersclub.blogspot.com/

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapter 75 and Epilogue

Okay, that's it. The end of the 129,000-word novel. This is the clean and final edit. The first post ran on April 9 of last year. The novel is blogged alone, and in its chronological entirety here:


Thanks for following along. Your interest has been both encouraging and surprising, your input invaluable.

Now, the scribe will be hitting the highway running through New York, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. next week. There may be a post or two along the way, the trip representing an actual chance to do some highwayscribery. Upon his return, with the novel now put to rest, the scribe will begin anew his crusade against the absurdities of our society.

Chapter Seventy-five

When Randall rounded up some of the anonymous sidewalk smokers along Joya’s retail strip and told them what a good idea he thought it would be to avoid a clash with the BID security detail and smoke somewhere else, he got something of surprise.

He’d been expecting (hoping perhaps) for a crestfallen look from his distant disciples. But there is no such thing as a distant disciple and one of them responded to his pleading with, “It’s not about you, asshole. It’s about smoking where we want to.”

“It’s basic,” said the woman next to the guy who’d just spoken.

All of which was true from Randall’s perspective, too, but his mission was rooted in that old bugaboo, responsibility. He told them that choosing one’s battles carefully is the surest strategy for survival and eventual victory. He told them that living to fight another day was the goal, that simply smoking, anywhere at all, was an act of considerable defiance and affirmation. He was giving them the “if you knew what I knew” old man’s speech that had repulsed him for years and thought it ignoble to reveal why (because they’d get their heads beaten in).

“The issue is whether we get to smoke here and now,” responded an attractive girl in a freshly cut maroon leather jacket and slightly yellowed fingers. Randall was heartened to hear these things from them and was torn.

But he forged ahead, infected with Corey’s passion for getting things done. “Look, if you insist on being here the day of the deadline, they’re going to come and beat your heads in.”

As he suspected, this caused something of an impression in the ranks of defiance.

They were good-looking kids, café kids concocting and re-concocting the configuration of cool on the fly and Randall would be damned if he had the key to what moved them. Perhaps it wasn’t him, or The Smokers, or rights at work here. His own respect for the invisible and addictive hand of caffeine provided the possible answer. “They’re wired,” he told himself.

And so, Randall departed with a full promise from the kids to absent themselves when the courts were done giving clearance to the sweep of smokers out front of the stores. His newfound skepticism regarding freedom was confirmed for he’d found the neophytes willing to abandon their cause at the mere mention of physical harm. And good for them.

His own talk had been borrowed from the practical crowd and its bread-and-butter sensibility made him want to throw up. The retreat begun, he now begged for the day when the whole thing was finally wrapped. He was no longer in control, merely executing motions predetermined by forces beyond the reach of his word, his mind, his people.

At home he kicked back with a Prince Edward, dirty in the mouth and sour.

He thought to himself, “How beautiful it is to do nothing and, after that, rest.”
Then he remembered, rising wearily from his reading seat, that he had to call City Attorney.

“Mission accomplished,” he promised the public official, hanging up before anything more might be said.

Chapter Seventy-six

The acceleration of information moving across the system of flows meant that everyone knew what was expected of them. Even the future mayor, who preferred avoiding inclusion in any network formation that counted on The Sidewalk Smokers Club, was in on the talks.

Again, they were each left to mull over the exquisitely difficult positions in which circumstance and their own machinations had placed them, with a hapless Jordan confronting the hardest kind of choice – that between bad and lousy.

It had come out over the 7 p.m. entertainment magazine shows that Vindaloo Baxley and Hat Midone had conducted a joint press conference announcing their intent to be present and sidewalk smoking when the BID began its street clean up. A firm deadline had been set. They made a great show of things, which was to be expected given their stock and trade. Irreverent they were, too irreverent. It looked like so much fun as such battles can be for those with little or nothing invested them.

Randall, who caught the tail end of a segment in which they hurled bum philosophies at reporters, knew a different reality and it was much less a rollick. Not a good thing – the press conference – for it had undone what he’d just finished doing. It was Vindaloo and Hat pumping themselves up and he knew who to call about it. Clarisse picked up, her voice hollow with fear.

She gave the phone over to her husband after the little civilities. “I didn’t think they were going to do this?” Corey asked his assertion, fairly sure it wouldn’t cut mustard.

Corey did not hear much of what Randall had to say because he was too busy explaining that it was, after all, his job to “magnify and dramatize” everything related to The Smokers.

But he heard the last part: “Now they are The Sidewalk Smoker,” which would have been true even if Corey had remembered to copyright the name.

Elsewhere, though nearby, bent on heading off a catastrophe of civil disobedience and para-police overkill, City Attorney made Jordan’s decision for him, closing off his paths to both freedom and love simultaneously; proving nobody is ever “almost” out of power. He directed his staff to blast a press release announcing the identification of a suspect in the Angel Without Mercy case. Next he left a message with Dumburton. Hanging up the phone he covered his mouth aghast at the turn of events.

Down in Beachtown, Eilin lay asleep naked beneath Jordan’s adoring gaze. She seemed floating in a parallel reality, not nourished by everything he had yet to tell her.

The smooth, arched, earnest brows and easy breathing of his sex girl and future mama hailed from a place Jordan knew he would never possess. She was not his, and not meant to be once he’d done what he’d done before having even met her. Oh hope.

There was a knock at the door. “It’s Dumburton,” came the response to his question of who had come to break this final moment of love and peace between them.

Those questioning City Attorney’s reasoning are not without cause given what is known about his ineptitude as a political strategist, the prime example of which was his association with The Sidewalk Smokers Club.

In this latest scheme for temporarily ensnaring Jordan in the criminal justice system and dashing The Smokers’ ship of fortunes on the rocks of the assisted suicide issue, City Attorney again underestimated the object of his manipulations.

The Club, and sidewalk smokers, and the assisted suicide crowd, and magazine girls, and the spoiled actor and actress with their ready-to-wear retinue of media could hardly be expected to wilt because City Attorney had smitten one of them.

Instead, Jordan became their primary indulgence. He’d been apprehended. It could not stand. Continuing the politics, City Attorney had called all Club members in the hours ensuing his betrayal: Joya, Yvonne, Clarisse and Corey, and tried to explain why he’d done what he had done. Naturally they were shocked (except Joya) that Jordan was linked to the high-profile case, even if it explained certain aspects of his peculiar in-and-out relationship to them.

The consensus response was that they understood completely and would never be able to forgive City Attorney.

“City Attorney, that’s silly,” Joya told him following the unveiling of his project to keep the streets from running with blood.

“Beside,” Clarisse explained, “dose smoker out dere won leesin to us anyway.”

And she was right. Fired-up by the opportunity to march with Vindaloo and Hat, and even the practical purposes of their cause, the smokers and their friends converged from far afield on deadline day and began to smoke in defiance of countless warnings to do the opposite. This was not a case where the dissidents were caught unawares by what befell them. They were cruising for a bruising.

Thorpe and Diaz had sought to apply a new enforcement technique that involved sealing off the area around the stores early that morning and shaking people down one at a time before letting them go through. This was designed to prevent the smokers from congregating into a less manageable mass and diminish their impact.

Some time ago the good people had waved their right not to be shaken down and electronically searched in exchange for the promise of security from the teeming and fundamentalist hordes, and so this was actually workable from a policing perspective.

But the merchants nixed the idea because it would hurt business. They were all expecting clean-up day to be a kind of payday, too, and in this their greed outpaced their common sense, the existence of which we know bum philosophy questions.

The sacred cow invoked, Thorpe and Diaz were helpless and gave up the only idea that might have saved the situation.

And so the true sidewalk smokers - not the club - gathered. Dressed for the event even. Gilded, delicious, a giant swarm of gadflies. People for order and opposed to jaywalking grimaced and hated. Those who spend their lives beneath another’s boot heel could only smile ruefully, pleased with the effort, saddened by what they knew to be its ultimate, inevitable fate.

Meanwhile, Jordan was having a rather unpleasant time of things in jail, CA’s promises to spring him aside. The actors’ coup and highjacking of the smokers’ salvation had City Attorney occupied completely. Worse, the lawyer had not imagined such a tepid response from the media. All eyes were on the smokers. Plans to have an activist bail Jordan out and hold a little something for reporters about an hour or so after his internment failed to take form. Still, around two in the afternoon, as the sidewalk smokers gathered to fulfill a tragic destiny, a guard came and sprung Jordan.

He was pleased to see that his only phone call had been put to good use and that Carlos had come through with the bail money and everything else (read: pouch of Drum and rolling papers) he needed at that moment.

Jordan was quickly filled-in on the fast-moving developments to which most of the city had been attuned all morning. He decided upon heading straight over to the brewing mess and Carlos agreed to take him. When they got within eyeshot of the El Camino and saw two police officers examining cuerno de chivo, Carlos made a break for it down the street and Jordan followed. The police yelled after them. A siren began to color the atmos-fear. Tires ripped themselves on the asphalt. Carlos ducked into a backyard and glided easily over to a shed for which he inexplicably possessed a key. He waved Jordan in and closed the door behind them.

The place was wired within – a refrigerator, television, and computer – a regular conversion job. They decided on having a beer and lying low for a while. Carlos cursed his lost car, machine gun, and lucrative career as an anonymous criminal.

“In Zacatecas jou can smoke in de streets, piss there eef you wan, take you beer from dis bar to dat one-”

“And....carry a combat devise without a license.” Jordan interrupted, trying to make a point about the freedoms Carlos enjoyed locally as opposed to those of his birthplace.

“No, I haf licence for el cuerno de chivo. Das de prolem man. Now day know me.”

“Yes, but have you done anything wrong?”

“Plenty man. In dis cuntry dat is easee,” which is something we know Clarisse is given to declaring.

J. turned on the tube. Carlos put a finger to his lips and his counterpart lowered the volume. Hat Midone was being interviewed. Young girls smiled and squealed all around him. He said: “We’re just here protecting our right as a free people to eat, drink, smoke, and kiss in the streets that belong to everyone.”

The program then cut back to the studio where one of the host journalists explained how what Hat said was no longer true in a world where everything was so dangerous and no one could be trusted.

At Jordan’s bidding Carlos called for a cab on his cell phone and soon the pair were on their way to Joya’s.

There the purple-shirted BID security, with the help of green-shirted security from the BID on the Argentine restaurant’s block (which really wasn’t fair), had formed two lines at opposite ends of the street, shutting off traffic and isolating the many smokers who’d come to participate in their own demise.

Through a bullhorn that shrunk his voice to a thin, electronic emission the security captain gave the smokers thirty seconds to wrap the party up and take it on the road, or absorb the unpleasant consequences.

Vindaloo rose up onto the shoulders of a smoker. She yelled dramatic things out while flashing her Indian inspired skirt/stop ensemble and elaborate headdress that hid none of her marvelous hair. She had a small pearl in her pierced nose, sandals on her little ivory feet. The actress looked great and everybody cheered as she used up all of the allotted thirty seconds.

Beyond the eastern security cordon, two blocks back, Randall observed, hands in his pockets. He saw Jordan – the old lady murderer – and some Mexican guy bully their way past the guards and join the smokers who were fast running out of space as the detail moved in a staccato lock-step, familiar throughout the highly successful annals of oppression, toward them.

It was, other than that, an unfamiliar group to him. To be sure, the crowd’s make-up of girls from magazines, smoke clouds, and media swarm mirrored The Sidewalk Smokers Club and everything it had been and encouraged. But The Club itself was not present en masse, replaced rather by what it had wrought.

He’d quarreled with Clarisse and Corey and they had stayed away on that pretext, although they knew perfectly well what was coming and opted for self-preservation. And good for them, too.

Joya was in her store, in the crowd, but not truly of the crowd for, were she so inclined she might have stepped out onto the hallowed concrete in question and joined the proceedings. But she did not.

Yvonne’s rope had run out some time back and she’d played along for the good of everyone else. On this day, however, she was just not going to be able to fake it and stayed away, too; opting instead for a facial, massage and steam.

Standing outside the thing he’d help create, Randall thought how different it all might have turned out had they shown up. Their status - yes their status - and collective personality might have turned the moment. He was certain of it now that he saw and sensed the mood of things.

But they, The Smokers, no longer had any business speaking for a group of people they’d instructed on how to speak for themselves. The Sidewalk Smokers Club had returned the borrowed name, in an improved condition to its rightful owners, the sidewalk smokers of all times and cities.

Security closed in from both directions. The sidewalk smokers were now doing so nervously. Vindaloo Baxley was on a cell phone asking somebody important to come to their aid. Hat Midone made his way up the front line.

Jordan and Carlos slipped into Joya’s Joyas and the former cut right to the chase. “Why,” he asked her, “are you going with him if you supposedly love me?”

She answered just as succinctly. “I love a lot of people hon, (which was true) and because that’s how it is. The powerful ones get the girls and the money.”
Throughout his recent trials much of what Jordan had learned was novel, but some was just a reinforcement of previously internalized lessons.

“And not necessarily in that order,” he spit bitterly.

“Oh hush.”

Which he felt obliged to do for this person who had done something quite strange and selfless for him. You could love her and not possess and he guessed he would learn to accept this.

Carlos had struck up a chat with Sadina.

“Where are Corey and Clarisse?” asked J.

“Oh, I don’t think she was too keen on him bein’ around that Vindaloo Baxley girl.”
Jordan shrugged, “I’m going out to get arrested again.” He turned to Carlos who indicated his desire to stay with Sadina. He shrugged yet again, not comprehending the link between third world children, and ran toward the fray. Inside, Joya directed Carlos and her shop girl to exit the back door and run for ten minutes, “Without lookin’ back.”

Then she was alone to watch, with folded arms, the security folks lay billy clubs sideways across the bodies of the smokers whom, for all their rage, weren’t in the best of health. A girl fell, she got stepped on. A cop rushed directly for Hat Midone, cracking him one across the jaw with a relish that reeked of an envious premeditation the actor should have anticipated. There are reasons why celebrities have bodyguards. And despite an order to the contrary from Thorpe and Diaz, a BID guard also took particular relish in smashing Vindaloo’s cute little face with the butt of his billy.

Randall cringed. Here was a another bummy lesson learned: The truth won’t protect you any more than being right will.

When Hat gamely struggled to his feet, bleeding in gushes, the BID guards surrounded him like jackals, poked mechanically, and drove him to the ground again. Hat Midone, so larger than life, he who had lent much-needed bravado to the lonely band, appeared, like most artists, diminutive when placed upon the stage of actuality.

And so there were injuries and beatings and very unjust things that happened before cameras, which station managers would refuse to run for many reasons without merit.

Some smokers were arrested and charged with things carrying penalties in excess of what they could afford. Among them was Jordan whom Carlos, Sadina by his side, immediately bailed out – again.

It was a traumatic and ugly assault that shook Randall. He’d always been sensitive to police violence, but what surprised him was the fury of the street people and he was more than a little doubtful about his link to them. “There is, after all, more to life than smoking,” he jotted down in the notebook carrying the alphabet concerto he’d long been composing.

For those who were victims it was not over in a day. The affair had resonance, had ruffled feathers, had been portrayed as a bunch of filthy arrogant law breakers getting what they had coming to them – old lady killers and what have you. Smaller, less public persecutions ensued.

Although not present (within the lens frame), Randall’s image and name were stretched, twisted, and battered beyond any relation to the real person: He was a leftist, he was a liberal, he did not love his country. Was against everything. He mocked apple pie and for this deserved (a few thought) to die.

Despite this rendering as a sinister-handed so-and-so, Randall suspected it was but a matter of time before some perverse commercial interest would willingly pay him to attach themselves to all that.

“Bad stuff gets good life!” He again as a beneficiary. He who had never thought himself capable of bad stuff, this purveyor of bum philosophy. In the end, Randall thought, the world’s problems were not rooted so much in there being too much evil, but in there being too many good guys getting in each other’s way. It was enough to make the bad guys smoke.


Weeks passed and Randall reflected anew at developments. City Attorney’s numbers shot up in hypothetical match-ups with other pretenders to the mayor’s throne. His handling of the matter was universally acclaimed a brilliant textbook for the new progressivism. Lesbian city councilwoman’s prior remarks on assisted dying caught her on the wrong side of the issue and it was promptly exploited by her resurgent rival.

City Attorney had broken with Joya and The Sidewalk Smokers Club; not only for reasons just explained, but also because they (if not her) had ceased to exist.The original and true sidewalk smokers had been eliminated from the life of the city and nobody but the victims themselves had fought the decision to do it. There were no libertarians come to their defense. No self-professed adherents of the free republic. The unions did not think the gathering worthy of their time, and political parties steered clear of having to deal with real emotions about a real issue. They were all for doing away with somebody else’s freedom (and moving right along, thank you). The smokers were completely on their own because it had been decided that they were disgusting and unworthy of the nobles’ efforts. Only City Attorney, for reasons not purely political, had gotten wet with them. As a result, he’d walked away with the prize – this time.

Almost every night of his life, thanks to the discipline of his days, Randall could retire content that he knew more and was a little smarter than the day before.

But the night of the riot changed this.

Nothing had turned out as planned and nobody had behaved in any way he might have expected. You never truly know until you lead the troops into battle, which of course, he hadn’t, rather making a mess of things, screwing up the real lives of real people.

Sure, when stretched you have breakthroughs in awareness, but Randall wasn’t certain if years’ worth of collected notions and hard-learned judgments, now useless to him, could be replaced with whatever treasures the disaster yielded. His compass had been crushed. The building blocks of his behavior had collapsed. He hardly trusted a green light when driving through an intersection. He smoked.

So that was that and it was a good thing hardly anybody reads the newspapers anymore.

The fate of The Sidewalk Smokers Club had certainly been determined, but there was a little housecleaning and some very small chapters to be played out. He looked forward to them because being The Club a few more times would be fun.

They had made money; good money and it would be split, not equally, but to each based upon need.

After that, there was the small matter of reinvention. Randall could accept The Club’s passing, but not so easily his own destiny. In years to come he would buck at being hired by some interest or other acting on behalf of the offended few. It would be his fate to attempt over and again what had occurred in a happenstance fashion with The Smokers; accepting the paycheck and failing to deliver, prisoner of his own triumph, but covered where three squares and a fluffy bed were concerned.

But that was much later.

Sooner after the debacle the phone rang. It was Jordan. “Carlos and Sadina bailed me out and we’re up the coast working in a marina.” Randall didn’t know who Carlos was or what had happened to Eilin and thought it best not to ask. “What about your case?”

J. sounded great, relieved, decided. “I get a job as poster boy for assisted suicide while City Attorney gets elected and torpedoes the whole thing once he’s settled in as mayor.”

It was true. City Attorney’s rehabilitation was complete following a spontaneous draft movement by powerful and undemocratic interests promoting his candidacy. A friend of CA’s at the metro desk wrote an insider’s article revealing how he’d handled the whole Sidewalk Smokers affair, from behind the scenes, just as recounted here.

When the piece ran, City Attorney feigned anger and cried slander. His opposites rose in support of a free and unhindered press. The politician, after much public agonizing, relented and accepted that, yes the whole damn brilliant scenario had been configured by him and that they had the right to print it.

Lesbian citycouncilmember, sensing what was in the wind, saw her chance and took it.

She was only too glad to say a few things in the name of a just, moral and efficiently administrated city, blessed with clean air and limpid watersheds, only too glad to withdraw her candidacy and return to the comfortable confines of these outdated notions and her safe council seat.

City Attorney had shed the whole thing like summer skin, snaked his way right out of the drying husk. It was the only way, he placated his guilt, for The Smokers were hell-bent on shipwrecking to make a point and that was not a viable strategy for him.

Joya, he realized, would have never truly been his as she had never actually and truly been anybody’s save for Sadina, an affair about which we know little other than its apparent constancy up until Carlos walked through the store door.

Not a word, a serious one anyway, was ever printed or broadcast regarding City Attorney’s prior relation to The Sidewalk Smokers Club. When the skinny girl from the liberal tabloid insisted on making a fuss about it, her editors told her to sit down little sister and gave her an unpleasant runaround until she quit her job and reentered the labor market without the benefit of unemployment insurance.

Randall knew this because she had called him and asked for a date to which he’d agreed.

Randall was not angry, but admiring. City Attorney was out their flailing, not hiding behind knowledge or the search for it. He was not creating a myth the way Randall and Corey had conspired to do. He was living a legend and that’s a tough trick these days.

These thoughts passed during what was obviously a long pause in the phone conversation. Each had been entertaining some or all of these questions and conclusions and it had tired them. Jordan broke the silence. “We were clumps man; surprised by what was happening to us. We were the objects of some great and powerful humor that shook up the neighborhood. That’s all. We never ‘directed’ anything.”

“One must admit to having been borne along by events,” Randall philosophized.

“Write it down,” Jordan said, “see you around,” and he was gone for good. Really.
Randall did write it down, but without Corey he was unsure of where to insert it in the compendium they’d curated, the logic of which seemed to be coming undone under the pure weight and breadth of the thing.

“We’re all bums and all philosophies are bum philosophies,” he said in between lighting an El Presidente and drawing the first chest-full of smoke. He coughed and it didn’t sound good. “What else could anybody who finds the time to philosophize be?”

The Smokers had, he thought, been peddling bum philosophy and gotten just desserts.

Bum was the brand, like a dirty diaper for a standard, and what a surprise that almost nobody got the joke! It was easy to be stupid and have fun. It was a smaller battle to fight over the rules than to win with the ones already in place. He was no longer interested in the former.

“We didn’t direct anything!” he laughed out loud, proud that at least they’d done something, whatever it was. And they had done it with and, to a certain degree, for women. A fact of which he was prouder still.

The truth was that he felt more comfortable with women. Randall had never been one to gather in the corner with the old boys and as a consequence, the old boys never came bearing gifts. He hated their blacks and blues, their petty merchant epistemology. He could never fully believe in a bottom line because of the way it dispatched with all mysteries when these, he knew for sure, existed. And they did so without eventual answers. That was a kind of truth nobody had time for or interest in.

The Yvonnes and Joyas and Clarisses and Vindaloos of the world seemed to understand this. The bad sex, unsatisfying men, the back of the line, the big pass-over, the glass ceiling, menstruation, whatever it was that deepened their understanding he did not know, but he sensed how being a woman was more difficult, more like a castaway floating a raft over rough waters. It required creativity and humility. He saw how the girl Smokers, despite his own high-minded regard for their feelings, had assumed the ancient role of woman, operating in support while the boys led the familiar and ill-conceived charge into the valley of death.

Corey rang. He’d needed time to think as well. Immediate apologies were issued on both sides and that was easy enough given the new circumstances and the fact their partnership was over.

Corey said he was sorry for the whole business with the celebrities etc. Randall made a joke of it. “Your poor execution was the perfect accompaniment to my incompetent strategies.”

Corey and Clarisse had copyrighted “Clarisse’s Pieces” and were going into business together. It turned out, perhaps thankfully, that love and its requirements possessed more vitality than the church of rebellion, although it hurt Randall to swallow this, too.

He was pleased to learn the plan included Vindaloo Baxley, who’d lost some of her verve for public life, along with a lot of work, in the wake of her street antics.

The police had hit both she and Hat where it hurt most, in their faces. Things being what they are for women in this world, her own visage disappeared from the magazines she needed to maintain her fame, while Hat’s new “look” replete with twisted nose-bridge was hailed as the next big thing.

Randall asked after Joya of whom he knew from news reports that her store had been shut down by fire inspectors later promoted to assistant fire chiefs. Corey knew the same and nothing more. They’d run into her on the sidewalk a few nights before and shared a smoke, because some places would take time in bowing before the inevitable, blanket prohibition. Joya kept a distance between the couple and herself by what she said and how. After that, she walked off down the street clip-clopping and free as the night they had met her. Both men admitted that they missed the hell out of her, and each suspected that this was by some divine design, that she was a sprite, a messenger, an illusion sent to inflame them before finally evaporating herself, unloved, but loving and loveable.

They talked briefly about ways of divvying up the money from the tobacco companies, from the lawsuit, from benefits and other things. It was embarrassing to talk about it, so the former cohorts kept it simple, never noting how the payouts were pretty substantial.

“Have you heard from Yvonne during any of this?” Even happily remarried Corey wondered.

Randall smiled at the genuine draw. So much of this had been about Yvonne, about the whore and how she was to be treated. When those who wanted to ravage her had finished, she sat stripped before them – bereft of armor and bikini – not overtly brave, only dutifully so, and that’s the same thing when ends, and not means, are the final measuring stick. She’d trembled in her flesh and caused the flesh of others to tremble in return. And she’d suffered; mirror that she was for all that is not quite right in any of us.

Even as the clouds of smoke hovered after the final defeat, they were lined silver with the news of whom the larger public ultimately favored. The charm of the distressed beauty was a drug it could not foreswear and she became a needle in their arms. History and time, thanks to Yvonne, would be kinder to The Smokers than the myopic present because nobody could resist falling for her.

“No,” answered Randall, “I haven’t been in touch with her.”

“Clarisse heard she got a deal as a spokeswoman for a new fragrance. Big-time stuff. Commercials, magazine advertisements, the works.”

“What’s the fragrance called?” Randall wanted to know.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Dead Dick Duck

Guns don't shoot people, vice presidents do!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Quality of Work Life - A Study

Michael Kinsman, a fellow with a column that runs in the business section of the “San Diego Union-Tribune” now and again, wrote an article on the balance between work and pleasure in our lives.

It was entitled, “A workplace culture valuing balance boosts retention,” and it can be found here:


This topic piques our anarcho-syndicalist leanings for the possibilities of leisure it proposes.

The greatest and most successful libertarian and communal organization ever was the Spanish Confederación Nacional del Trabajo or National Workers Confederation (see photos of textile workers’ council), a trade union of the 1930s...there was an old joke that its initials CNT, stood for “compañero no trabajes” or “comrade don’t you work.”

They're here: http://www.cnt.es/home.php

This group is portrayed through the vaguely disguised Iberian Syndical Federation in the scribe's novel, "Vedette" which you can get by clicking on the pretty flamenca girl at left. That's her, Vedette.

Enough said.

The basis for Kinsman’s article is a recent survey done by the Key Group


a business consultant based where the Pittsburgh Steelers play. It found high rates of dissatisfaction in the American workplace and a labor force bent on changing things “to bring a better work-life balance to their lives.”


The Key Group’s Chief Executive Officer Joanne Sujansky is quoted as saying, “I see this as an early warning of a huge turnover issue soon to face the U.S. Many companies simply don’t have a culture that emphasizes work-life balance. There’s a prevailing attitude among employers that employees are there to work and their personal life, or lack thereof, is irrelevant.”

Boy is there ever.

But the strain of CNT running through the scribe is not buying Sujansky’s prediction.

It does not account for the concentration of industries, the decline of labor unions (and hence, labor leverage) the insecure and short-term nature of work today, and the move (or push) toward independent contracting without benefits and other perks associated with belonging to a larger organization.

But one can dream.

More from the article: “You hear that companies say they have to compete in the global marketplace and that they have competitors breathing down their necks. That translates directly to the workers who are expected to do more.”

the scribe forgot, why did we get into this global economy thing?

And we’ll close on this final quote from Key Group’s boss and wish it to you as an adieu.

“But the demands of companies are always going to be consuming. It’s up to individual workers to take a stand and put boundaries on how much of their lives they will devote to the job. The companies won’t do it for you.”

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters 74

The first post of then novel was made April 9 of 2005 and roughly every week after that. Next week the final two chapters will be published.

Chapter Seventy-four

Jordan received a call from a deputy at the city attorney’s office asking him to come in for a few questions relative to his stay in county hospital and he thought it best to comply with the request.

He would have liked to ask City Attorney what to do in a situation like this, but something told him to keep that cartridge in the ammunition belt.

It was a good thing too, because the path at City Hall promptly slid him along and into City Attorney’s office, and it was not like running into an old friend.

“You pulled the plug on the old lady didn’t you.”

Jordan knew since the dinner at the Argentine restaurant when CA had mentioned “Andy Dumburton,” that his goose was got, but shocked all the same that this so-called member of The Sidewalk Smokers Club, this bandwaggoner, had used the cheapest machinations of his power to move J. around and to frighten him.

But CA still wasn’t aware of whom he was dealing with at this point. Jordan was already in battle with the criminal justice system of which City Attorney was part boss; already preconditioned to its clumsy and overheated responses to just about everything but real violent crime perpetrated on good people.

“Who told you?” he coolly decided to satisfy his personal curiosities before hearing whatever plan for closing off his future City Attorney had put together.

City Attorney’s response was but one word, but a word, which attached to the way he said it, took on scroll-like profundity.


“Oh,” J. said to the second surprise in as many interactions with this guy. Jordan heard contempt mixed with love in City Attorney’s mention of his paramour. He knew this had nothing to do with Eilin’s grandmother (who was dead). He would, in any case, play along.

“Why did you do it?”

“She had the right to die, that’s all.”

“I know you and your friends are big on rights, aren’t you?”

“Real pain in the ass ain’t it.” As the words leapt from his tongue, J. realized how much he already missed the antagonisms of Dumburton, and what a pleasure it was to keep his inner wise-acre sharp.

“You know she loves you?”



“No,” Jordan responded, feeling accused.

“You don’t know she’s with me partly because I agreed not to pursue the case against you?”

Jordan said that given this news, yes, he could see how her actions might be attributed to a deeper affection. “I just never thought I could get a girl like that.”

“You couldn’t,” City Attorney reminded him.

“So what’s the problem?” said Jordan, impatient and still searching for his lost life of coffee serving and late nights with jazz radio. “She’s all yours Mr. City Attorney.”

“The daily Joya, not the eternal one.”

“This sounds like a conversation you should be having with Randall.”

“Joya’s not in love with Randall,” City Attorney pointed out.

“You sure?”

He wasn’t, so he changed the subject to avoid emotional vertigo. “So the old lady was your girlfriend’s grandmother?”

“Can you believe it?”

“You’ve got yourself in a bit of a vice there, dontcha?”

Jordan pointed out that City Attorney’s situation was no less conflicting.
City Attorney agreed.

“Why’d you bring me down here like this?” Jordan began the pursuit of an entirely different thread.

City Attorney shrugged. “When you have power you exercise it. Just like The Sidewalk Smokers.”

Jordan failed to make a connection between the passion play that is the tale of these puffers, and a dirty trick played on him by City Attorney. But he let it slide because, again, it had been kind of sprung on him. He thought hanging around City Attorney was like being best friends with a machine gun that leans on you for target practice.

Jordan was, in truth, somewhat flustered by the idea of having once had an actual shot at Joya – Eilin’s warm and magnetic affect upon him put off to the side.

Paralyzed really. Learned in craft, City Attorney had set about to stun him and then circle a while before the telling blow.

It was time. “What I’d like you to do is admit to the crime.”

Jordan got up to leave. This was City Attorney’s back-up plan. Randall had committed to ending the fight, but things could, probably would, go wrong.

“We’ll bungle it and you’ll walk.”

Jordan sat backed down.

City Attorney pressed his case. “The new mayor will downplay the case, leak memos, bury it. Prosecution is something the lesbian city councilwoman has always been against anyway. She liked the Angel Without Mercy.”

“Good for her,” Jordan interjected, nonplused.

“It’s a free shot. A chance to come out on something that’s important to her and a ready-made smokescreen for all the problems her ill-fated incumbency will present.”

“She should hear that.”

“She has,” City Attorney marveled again at The Smokers’ collective innocence.“She already has. She agreed.”

Jordan knew it was time for City Attorney to get to the part about what was in it for him.

Sensing the rhythm of the thing, City Attorney obliged. “You yourself could become a spokesperson for assisted suicide.”

“Spokesman. Assisted Suicide Spokesman,” Jordan tried to imagine a business card with that very title. “No thanks. I’m moving myself and my girl outta here as soon as possible. I’m too young for the death business.”

City Attorney went into a brief explanation of why he thought Jordan and most of The Sidewalk Smokers Club would never have the opportunity to be real people again. Of how they’d made a name in the pushing-a-cause business and that is where their value to future employers resided – if they were truly interested in work.

“You’re going to be needing a cause buddy,” City Attorney told him. “This smokers thing has run the skein.”

Not a big sports fan, Jordan was not sure what “run the skein” meant, but the tone of CA’s voice left little room for doubt. The game was over.

Eilin slipped into his thoughts, Dumburton came banging on the door at the back of his mind. He reflected on his favorite part of bum philosophy, its nine commandments of being lazy or whatever it was: “We are born to live and rest; If work is good for you, let the sick do it;” and, the top of his pops, “If you see someone resting, stop to help him.”

A different set of ideas; a different arrangement.

“Aren’t you the nice man,” Jordan said. “You’re asking me to give up my love and salvation, my woman.”

Jordan did not see the selfless risk in this for CA, for if J. were cut free of his entanglement with Eilin, he’d be free to begin a new one with Joya.

So Jordan rejected this call to duty outright. He simply didn’t care half that much about assisted suicide as he did about his soft and sweet girl.

He’d arrived at the same place as Randall regarding the usefulness of causes without quite so many turns of the mind. J. told City Attorney that he didn’t understand what the ultimate goal of the scheme was.

“I release the news tonight,” CA explained. “We merely admit to your being one of The Sidewalk Smokers Club and by doing so brand the whole movement negatively, cutting off its support and media coverage.”

Jordan thought that City Attorney thought he must have been plotting the bombing of an Andean country or something. And that was before the idea itself was considered. “You’re trying to associate The Smokers with old lady killing?”

“Merely pointing out that the association is there.”

Which, Jordan had to concede, it was.

Jordan was surprised at the way he’d taken the affront, at how loyal he felt to his friends. His tribe was his family. “You’re betraying The Sidewalk Smokers Club,” he pointed out.

“Keeping people from getting hurt, pure and simple. There are more important things, after all, than smoking.”

So, City Attorney was the enemy. His little speech was scripture to those who had driven all smokers to the curb and now not even that would be permissible. Where else could they smoke? That was the crucial and overriding question to which there was no satisfactory answer.

So Jordan affirmed his “no.” He wasn’t interested and left wrapped in a warm “and-that’s-that” feeling about things; never once entertaining the thought that City Attorney might put his plan in motion anyway, because he didn’t think the politician would ever risk Joya’s affection completely. He confused his own feelings for her with City Attorney’s, both a grave and common mistake.

He walked home in the working crowd twilight all car horns and steel movement swinging with danger. Like dragons they overwhelmed the lower human rumble, weapons of sound. And Jordan felt assaulted, closed in. He was sullen and angry at having been stuck with (another) moral duty, with having to stand up for what he’d done. So he acted boldly over a matter of conscience, since when was that such a big deal?

He wanted everything to fall away and be left with Eilin.

He thought this request to just be left alone to love his girl modest. The truth is there is little affordable in a life apart with another, away from the world, living a perpetual garden party at which all the guests hobble about on muscles dry like jerky.

Friday, February 10, 2006


There are days when the scribe would simply like to abandon the tit-for-tat, your-side-did-this dialectic that characterizes national debate. It has been suggested in some quarters that progressives need to move beyond bashing Bush because opinions about him are set in stone.

Maybe so, but way back in November 2000 when this gentleman went before the people of the United States and asked us to drop our animosities and join him in implementing his vision, the scribe responded with a quick letter to the governor’s mansion in Texas (symbolism implied).

the scribe was stunned at the cynicism of the Bush team’s legal effort in post-election Florida and felt that the damage done to the American system was irreparable where faith and trust in government were concerned.

That letter said the scribe would not join Bush and would, instead, work his hardest to make life miserable for the false president, in print, electronics, on the streets and at cocktail parties.

The pledge must be honored and highwayscribery must be at least as tendentious as those who propagandize for power.

The (p)resident had the audacity to come out yesterday and make news with something that (allegedly) happened four years ago. The administration wanted to take credit for an attack it never told us about and insinuated eavesdropping is what made it possible.

That’s nothing new, and good for him. What sickened the scribe was the mainstream media’s willingness to make the (p)resident’s point for him. The story ran everywhere, yes with a critical counterpoint, but it ran, thereby helping the (r)epublican party in its effort to define November elections in terms of national security.

But it’s not going to hold. These pigs have been at the trough way too long and in one day we find out the following:

The former head of FEMA says he told the White House levees had broken in New Orleans earlier than the White House claims;


Scooter Libby told a grand jury Dick Cheney directed him to leak Valerie Plame’s name (or something very close to that);


By the way, the Libby revelation is old news and only comes up because the reporter took the time to read an entire document put out by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgeralds. The facts were found in a simple two lines.

Not when blogging, but when practicing journalism, the scribe will always opt for being a day late, if a lawsuit, study, or report stands waiting to be read. As he delves in, it becomes clear that reporters are probably the only disinterested people taking a gander at such things.

Questions of White House credibility on a number of issues being called into question;


Associated Press has Bush’s approval rating “stuck near bottom” at 39 percent (you have to watch an advertisement first);


Wednesday, February 08, 2006


The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is prepared to take time out from tending to potholes and wastewater systems and call for (p)resident Bush’s impeachment:

Here is the news:


According to the article by Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross, (“San Francisco Chronicle) the resolution, or at least an early draft, would call for a “full investigation, impeachment or resignation” not only of w. but of Dick Cheney, too.

Apparently, they have the votes to do it. Some guy named Sean Elsberg plans to oppose it. He said, “I have more important things to do than to vote for president Bush’s impeachment.”

Maybe. Maybe not.

But the board president, a guy from the beat/boho stronghold of North Beach, Aaron Peskin, is for it: “One of the fundamental tenets of a democratic society is the freedom of elected officials to express sentiments on behalf of their constituents.”

Which is certainly true, although the scribe wonders if liberals flatter republicans with appeals to their democratic sense when, actually, they have none. The iron-fisted defense of the right to spy on Americans whenever the president wants makes that very clear.

Why do they get this pass? Or perhaps it’s not a pass at all. People, it would appear, are angry and worried.

For example, here’s a piece by David Broder about discontent in the (r)epublican camp over the eavesdropping.


The Fox Network will launch a full-on blowhard attack once this vote is accomplished. When they are done San Francisco will not be a city of Americans, but a misplaced geographic mistake worthy neither of attention or Christian grace. They save that for themselves.

But hard as they may blow, this is San Francisco, not Santa Cruz (which has already passed such a resolution). It is a major American metropolis with an importance culturally and industrially that surpasses its modest size. The board's action is a symptom of the enmity that exists toward Bush in many places across America.

the scribe wouldn’t attempt to predict where something like this might go in these dramatic times, but he will point out that a considerable group of people have been pushing on Bush’s impeachment for quite some time.

It cannot be denied that this represents some headway and reward for their persistence.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters 72 and 73

Chapter Seventy-two

Randall had gone back and forth with City Attorney a number of times as the latter did his best to convince Randall of the need to head-off a heartbreaking defeat for his nicotine-addled allies. The politician’s flirtation with The Smokers had delivered on all the peril it promised and the time to end it had come. He was adamant. It was over. Although officially willing to accept CA’s advice, Randall was loath to give up that which had accrued to his credit. He had the support of people in the streets and now City Attorney wanted him to relinquish that loyalty without leading the fight – to waste their belief and disappoint them.

Despite City Attorney’s miserable track record with The Smokers (could anyone have done better?), his brass-knuckled insider’s view of things left Randall feeling naive about the workings of government, his present persona as iconic iconoclast not withstanding.

In short, he did not realize just how black the heart of the beast is nor how deep in he was.

And for all that, he procrastinated in his mission to convince the true sidewalk smokers, of The Club’s invention, that the party was over and that it would be safer to move along.

This had been a high point (excepting the hospital stay) for him; fun, exciting, edifying, educational, and ego-gratifying and now he had no idea what was next. He’d improved his station, his anti-status, his bank account and sense of self-worth, but his ideas could not yet take him beyond what had been achieved in concert with his strange bedfellows. He’d never seen quite this far before and was afraid the gift of vision would be lost along with the fight at hand.

Then City Attorney, who seemed more preoccupied than normal, called and told him about the new poll that had come out in the daily newspaper of record. Randall riffed through the pages to the article in question and began the absorption.

What he read came as something of a surprise (as City Attorney had hoped), because Randall had committed the sin of believing his own hype and because he’d been duped into thinking people wanted freedom and fought every incursion, not only for their own well-being, but as a duty to the larger collective of which they were a part.

Operating from the margins, he was unaware of how such a position was a kind of political pornography to be enjoyed in private, or with extremely close friends, and never to be mentioned in proper society.

But he knew there was a silent majority of people watching in the wings, supporting The Smokers in their effort to fend off yet another, small, but insignificant bit of everyone’s liberty.

Until he read about the poll.

Seventy-percent of bar owners and employees citywide had expressed a preference for working in an environment free of smoke. It was a 60 percent increase from two years ago among the same class of people who’d fought the law’s enactment because of its expected negative impact on their disposable income.

Randall realized that what he had really been sensing from the body politic was a silent minority of 30 percent instead of a silent majority poised to fill the public squares and buildings with raw voices of protest.

And there was more. Patrons had also been interviewed; among them those who swore never to frequent a restaurant where they weren’t allowed to light up. A disappointing 79 percent of them found it “important” to have a smoke-free bar, restaurant or lounge, and that, too, was up 20 percent from back when debating the proposed Smoke-Free Workplace Act was all the rage.

Randall tried to equivocate the figures away. “They’re patrons,” he told himself, “not smokers, not people who go out to the sidewalk to smoke when obligated.” He did so weakly, continued down the page with a deep sense of apprehension and rightly so because there was a clincher to come. Support among smokers for the law had increased from 24 percent to 45 percent, an (almost) doubling in the approval rate.

Of course, most smokers were still opposed. That gave hope, but not so much when Randall considered the final factoid, which revealed that, at the time of the Smoke-Free Workplace Act’s passage, 17.9 percent of people interviewed identified themselves as smokers and two years later the number was down to 5.9 percent, along with the incidence of lung cancer citywide.

There was a comment from the city fire department’s Oscar Diaz who had, along with his partner, gained a small fame or infamy depending on where a person stood on the question of indoor smoking. He said, “This is proof that over time people have come to learn what’s good for them, and what’s good for them is a clean workplace free from the hazards of smoking,” which was as safe as saying nothing at all.

While the optimist in him could torture a positive message or two out of the miserable document, Randall decided to interpret it in the same black-and-white with which it was expressed on the page. In the past, evidence of truth from the enemy camp was never reason for Randall to give up the ghost. No. But now there were one or two hundred people, young and old, who’d identified he and his cohorts as something to be admired and emulated. And because of this their heads were on the chopping block.

City Attorney would be glad to hear the message had finally gotten through loud and clear to Randall given that he’d already called up the paper’s managing editor and thanked him for the planted piece on the fake poll. He owed him one, he said, and the managing editor agreed, noting how other outlets had been calling for an explanation of the poll results only to be rebuffed with a flimsy claim that they were exclusive to his paper.

Freedom, Randall concluded, is something a certain kind of person or part of the populace can get very excited about. The modern consumerist lifestyle makes it almost an anachronism, because there is no place to be free from anything. It’s an acquired taste, freedom, and its usage may require more sophistication than our political and philosophical forebears surmised.

“The most important freedom is that which you permit your opposite number,” he wrote, but placed in a new file, for it was definitely unbum-like.
Maybe (and he sighed) the goal of describing the great things simply was simply not possible.

Sacred cows were falling like cut grass in the pastures of Randall’s mind. Things were adding up to a state of affairs that spelled unemployment for the rake and he permitted himself a real bout of fear over the future.

He reached for an El Presidente short cigar plucked from the jungles of Nicaragua and visited there through the history of scent and the representation of taste that carried the Central American rainforest in it.

Chapter Seventy-three

Corey and Clarisse sat in low-slung chairs of her own design. They looked very graceful but were, in truth, a little uncomfortable. And such are the travails of occupying a corner at Vindaloo Baxley’s latest fête.

The reason for their invitation this time around could be attributed to the fact Vindaloo’s heartstrings had now been struck by Corey and she had not the slightest respect for the sanctity of a marriage, no matter how tattered. She thought he was cute. A friend of Vindaloo’s backed her up on it. Another came by Clarisse’s studio and purchased some pieces. She invited them to the party as per Vindaloo’s instruction – the party being reported here. They were once again reaping the benefits of life as an integrated couple, united behind their days ahead together.

People stopped to chat, asked with familiarity about their work, which they all seemed most interested in and concerned with. It was a nice night. Hat was there. He came over with Vindaloo. They crouched down to achieve eye contact with Clarisse and Corey. They spoke of lawsuits, of the pending removal of the smokers at Joya’s place. They were polished and sophisticated beyond their age and wealthy beyond the quality of their work and Corey just had to love them for their support.

“I’m going down there Corey,” Vindaloo could barely control her rage at the injustice. The latest development had tipped the scale and deepened her commitment.

“You know you can count on me,” Hat echoed her sentiment.

Clarisse was going to clarify how the strategy was to discourage the sidewalk smokers and get them to move on, but Corey sensed this and squeezed her hand for silence. He was intrigued. They were lending The Smokers their powerful and unique claim on the valuable and limited stores of attention out there. And he knew it was his to capitalize on it. Sure there were plans, but there must also be great moments of pluck and inspiration (he told himself), too.

People of devalued stock, but more of them, would be drawn by Vindaloo and Hat – he knew. Perhaps a star might be born.

All of which passed through his now-sharpened mind and instincts in a flash. “Let me say for all The Club’s members, that your help is much appreciated.”

Everybody glowed. All the elements necessary for a wonderful evening that required purchase had been purchased. Those treasures too sublime to be bought outright were instead rented at considerable cost. The time was now.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Death of a Yippie

Stu Albert was a co-founder and more quiet member, if such a thing is possible, of the Youth International Party (Yippy) which was formed back in the maelstrom of the 1960s.

He follows more famous pranksters - Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin - to that great political protest in the sky, the one that truly smites the world as it is, and summons forth the land of milk and honey where we make it easy to love one another.

Albert once wrote a book called “Who the Hell Is Stew Albert” that made fun of his shadow-walk through American history, but the highway scribe remembers being taken by Rubin’s description of him in one of his books (not “Steal This Book,” the other one) as a long blonde-haired, blue-eyed revolutionary the kind of which nobody in middle class America (of that time) had ever seen before.

He was from Brooklyn and met with Hoffman, Rubin, Tom Hayden, and Paul Krassner out in Berkeley, California. He got caught up in the Chicago 7 trial as un “un-indicted” co-conspirator, whatever that means.

More importantly, according to his obituary in the "L.A. Times", “With his wife, Judy, Albert also co-edited 'The Sixties Papers,' a document-based history of the era published in 1984 that is a widely used college text. They assembled the book on a computer bought with the help of a settlement from a successful lawsuit against the FBI, which had planted an illegal surveillance device under their car in the 1970s.”

Albert was harassed and went after his tormentors, demonstrating how it literally pays to question authority (if you want it to go away). He took the money and constructed a monument to everything the FBI would like you all to forget- a little thing called the hippy movement.

Born a working class boy, he was profoundly impressed by the what he saw of the early Cuban revolution during a visit there. It changed the direction of his life.

So take that.

the highway scribe adores the kind of in-your-face, harmful-only-to-the-sensibilities political street theatrics the yippies were all about (serious/fun). He views it as the most noble form of American protest and something of a dying art today when a kind of street-theater-for-cable-television would be necessary to reach the people, such as they are.

Tom Hayden, in the obit, said “He had the ability to blend easily into any setting, from Yippie to Black Panther to New Left, partly because he had an infectious sense of humor...and partly because he was well-read and capable of understanding a lot of viewpoints and simultaneously. He was very much a self-made intellectual.”

That’s the best kind of intellectual. Who wants an intellect made by someone else anyway?

No self-respecting Yippie, that’s for certain.

Stew Albert just died and he will be missed.

So will this guy, whose death Albert probably protested to save, only to be characterized as unpatriotic...

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of La Habra Marine

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Lance Cpl. Hugo R. Lopezlopez of La Habra:

“Lance Cpl. Lopezlopez’s bravery is an example of the determination and courage that makes our nation strong. Those willing to sacrifice their lives for this country and our freedom deserve our utmost respect and deepest gratitude. Maria and I join all Californians in sending our condolences to Hugo’s family as they mourn the loss of this brave Marine.”

Lopezlopez, 20, died Jan. 27 at Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, from wounds sustained from an improvised explosive device while conducting combat operations against enemy forces in Rawah, Iraq. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, CA. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, his unit was attached to 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.

In honor of Lance Cpl. Lopezlopez, Capitol flags will be flown at half staff.

Maybe it's the patriots that kill.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A Pretty Girl's Perils

the scribe just finished reading Edith Wharton’s “The House of Mirth.” And it’s not that consecrated writers of classic, canonical literature need highwayscribery’s imprimatur, but this tale gets an A-plus.

The book was a Christmas gift from the scribe’s sister-in-law Laura and he is grateful to her for the journey through late 19th Century New York City’s high social class.

The greatest revelation in devouring this dense, but delicious tome is more personal than universal for the scribe determined that, after following Breton and Cocteau and Celine and the whole modernist crowd for so long, he writes most like...Edith Wharton (?).

Indeed, born to it, Wharton breezily confects a high-tone, baroque, and detailed English of the kind the scribe concocted, in a wheezing fashion, if not a breezy one, in his own “The Sidewalk Smokers Club.”

Reading Wharton is work. Don’t dare if you’re intimidated by 446 pages of tiny type filled-in with long sentences, characterized by many clauses, each of which slices the onion of truth a little more as you catch your breath so as to finish.

the scribe grew up in New York and is a product of its fine public school system and the fact he would approve, in the snobbish sense, of Wharton’s prose may say a lot about how much our English teachers of adolescence ultimately affect our tastes.

But enough about the personal.

“The House of Mirth” is an allusion to the high society world a mostly low-born girl of remarkable beauty, Lily Bart, would like to reside in.

This is the story of a pretty girl’s perils; not a pretty girl who has a job and a car and a sense of her own projection, but an old-fashioned pretty girl who was raised to behave as an ornament, whose fundamental purpose is to complete elegant tableaux.

Lily Bart moves amongst the sun-kissed of New York society (if that’s possible), but she is not truly of them. Her ticket to parties and outings of the rich people with whom she runs is her unique and singular beauty.

The story opens with Lily’s reputation a bit tarnished at the age of 29 by the number of suitors she has passed on. We join her in the opening fade to her personal blossoming. Because we know her innermost thoughts and fears, we can cozy up to Lily in the same way we can cozy up to a criminal who has escaped jail and is fleeing soulless police officers and their barking dogs.

But she is not a good person, having bought lock-stock-and-barrel into her mother’s vision of Lily as a piece of furniture that must be sold to the highest bidder.

Society turns out to be tricky and, as we meet Lilly, her swinging season is fast passing. The story details Lily’s descent out of society and into the working class where her beauty is naught but a hindrance to a gal trying to earn an honest dollar.

At first, it was a little hard for the scribe to determine what was going on and exactly whom had slighted or insulted whom at the parties portrayed by Wharton. These WASPy New Yorkers have always had a delicate touch and sometimes the scribe was forced to return to the scene of the crime, to see exactly what the crime was.

Keep reading. Soon enough you get the idea that being left off the yacht you’ve been invited onto is something like having a knife driven into your heart. Wharton literally provides an early 21st Century savage with a primer on manners so that by the time her one-time friend Judy Trenor runs into Lily at a restaurant, it is easy to see she has been slighted even though only the kindest of words have been exchanged between the ladies.

It’s a different world assayed here, one where a woman who has never had sex dies in shame, the victim of innuendo and false rumor. A world where a soft kiss to a suitor’s forehead is as “far” as things ever get.

Perhaps the only flaw in the story is the swift decline to death of Lily Bart after so arduous and complicated a fall from proper society. Maybe that’s what Wharton was trying to say; that a lady that’s good for nothing can find no way to live and will die shortly.

It would seem fatigue, hopelessness, and an addiction to a popular high of time, camphor, led to Lily’s death, but all along feckless men and rapacious socialites either watch her drown impassively, or duck her head under when she comes up for air.

In the end, Lily’s acts are characterized by nobility, but a self-destructive one that only serves to shorten her life. No Marxist scholar, Wharton nonetheless and slyly, throws light on the perils associated with trying to meet rich peoples’ standards and codes of conduct.

Stick with your own kind, Wharton seems to be suggesting, because being rich when you’re not can’t be done.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

No News is Bush News

The media was not very kind to (p)resident Bush’s big speech. You can read about it here at “White House Briefing,” from the “Washington Post,” one of the scribe’s favorite stop-offs:


the scribe, committed to a search for news, skipped w’s speech and if the accounts in Dan Froomkin’s assemblage/column are any indication, it was a good move that gave highwayscribery a leg-up on the major media outlets.

It’s certainly nice that the press has found its chestnuts and begun to call Bush on his boners. Of course, they should have been doing it some 60,000 dead soldiers and civilians ago.

The top piece from highwayscribery’s perspective was one entitled, “Bush Stretches to Defend Surveillance,” which is another way of saying, “Bush is Lying About His Power to Spy on Us.”

Here it is, from Peter Wallsten and Maura Reynolds of the “L.A. Times”:


the scribe does not know what happened to the deferential Edward Chen, “The Times” long-time White House correspondent, but Wallsten seems to wield a heavier and welcome hammer while Reynolds’ association with him can only accrue to her benefit.

Their piece opens up by observing that Bush’s defense of his domestic spying program “received a roaring ovation” Tuesday night. And that’s a good way of saying something important without having an opinion or overtly singling a specific item out for ridicule.

Maybe you think the roar was deserved.

the scribe doesn’t.

And how about the things that get these people excited anyway? Spying on Americans!

No greater tip-off to their reigning and under-commented deceit that patriotic (r)epublicans are the only worthy Americans; their cleanliness a standard for all to emulate.

Which is why nobody but Mormons can work for the federal government.

The Bush administration, Wallsten noted, has pointed to former presidents Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Wilson who used war-time circumstances to exercise “executive authority.”

But the reporters note that, “warrantless surveillance within the United States for national security purposes was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972 – long after Lincoln, Wilson and Roosevelt stopped issuing orders – That led to the 1978 passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that Bush essentially bypassed in authorizing the program after the Sept. 11 attacks.”

This is good hard-hitting reporting; just the stuff they loathe (when it comes to Bush) at Fox News. It’s a sign that not only have reporters taken off their kids gloves in dealing with the administration, more importantly, so have the ladies and gentlemen in the editorial board room.

They’re letting the critique get through.

Taking a page from Al Franken’s book(s), Wallsten/Reynolds called up an authority on national security at Syracuse University, William Banks, and came back with this: “He [Bush] might be speaking in the broadest possible sense about the president exercising his authority as commander-in-chief to conduct a war, which of course federal courts have upheld since the beginning of the nation. If he was talking more particularly about the use of warrantless surveillance, then he is wrong.”

the scribe would like to suggest that Bush was talking about warrantless surveillance, and that he is wrong.

And that wasn’t all. Wallsten and Reynolds point out the “stretches” between facts and fiction in Bush’s speech on such items as our reliance on Middle Eastern oil (only about 10 percent), the shutting down of the Syrian border with Iraq (a favorite entry point for holy warriors), the effect his litany of tax cuts has had on job creation (not so much and going south), the administration’s handling of the post-Katrina Gulf Coast (blind faith) and on and on.

But read the piece and tomorrow we’ll talk about Edith Wharton’s “The House of Mirth.”