Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A Review of "Vedette"

Why don't some of you new arrivals read this review of "Vedette" while the scribe cooks up something else:

Vedette, a flamenco heroine for our times
b y t a m a r a k a y e s e l l m a n ~ m a r g i n

VEDETTE, by Stephen Siciliano and released by iUniverse, enters the realm of the epic novel from the vantage point of a young girl in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia in the days preceding World War II and the rise of the Franco regime. Her picaresque, Gitano-inspired adventures (and misadventures) are written against the politically transformative landscapes of both the Andalusian countryside and the city of Seville. Readers witness the growth of a young, independent flamenca who, born with an intrinsic sense of duende, defines revolution through her honesty, haunting charm, charismatic leadership and capacity for pure love.

From the publisher comes this summary of Vedette:

"Born to a Gothic social order, branded a haunter of men's dreams, Vedette is traumatized when her small town in the magical wetlands of southern Spain's Guadalquivir River is overrun by hashish-smoking anarchists promising free love and a life without sadness to those who would follow them. … Entranced by their flamenco music, their philosophy of revenge and the concrete ability to deliver political results, the young woman joins a movement destined to annihilation and becomes its sole survivor, burdened with the task of keeping its memory and project for a better world alive through conversations with their flamenco shadows. … Transcending political viewpoints, Mr. Siciliano opens a new chapter in the understanding of the Spanish Civil War, opting for a literary interpretation that looks beyond right and wrong to more universal lessons only the passage of decades and the healing effects of time can reveal."

The term vedette (pronounced Beh-DET) isn't precisely defined in the story, but a basic dictionary definition gives us a couple of clues.

In military lingo, it's a kind of boat or person used as a sentinel. The word has its roots in the Latin "vigil," to watch, to keep vigil, to see, suggesting the work of a nighwatchman. Vedette in Old French means "watch tower." These are consistent with the character Vedette, for her role is one of vigilant witness to the injustices leveled against the poor underclass, and her life is spent in the lunar consciousness of the flamenco lifestyle; that is, she's up all night and perhaps at her most lucid then, even when drunk on manzanilla.

In more popular usage, a vedette might be thought of as a "Triple Threat"— a woman who can sing, dance and act; a showgirl. In Portuguese, vedete translates into the slang terms "star" and "big shot." This doesn't imply anything but a vocation risen to the level of celebrity.

However, it's in Siciliano's novel, right from the first page, that the term vedette is given its immoral connotations, which (unfairly?) define our heroine (whose real name is Gloriella) from the earliest years of her existence, in that a vedette is a title for a woman of loose morals. This usage first comes in the form of a lascivious chant from her incestuous and groping father, only to be legitimized by her other "father," Padre Olivares.

" 'It's an outrage of a name,' the priest would say. 'Not a name, but a title. A title given, in fact, only to the most immoral of women!' he pointed out to anyone in town who would listen. And there was plenty of them. Of course, he was a priest and the town of Marisalena was so Catholic that it made more gossip than olive oil and cotton."

By this proclamation, Olivares creates his own monster. Vedette's existence is a kind of torture because she possesses his dreams. She ends up being, ironically, both his greatest enemy and his raison d'etre. That is to say, he can't live in serenity while she's alive, but his life has no real purpose without her in it to define him.

My take on Vedette is a not a character with loose morals, however. There is a certain picaresque nature to her early womanhood that reminds me of Moll Flanders right off the bat. And to be sure, her early experiences as a tool for the sexual satisfaction of her father (and other men, eventually) casts her as fallen from grace (not unlike Dafoe's antiheroine). But, like Gabriel García Márquez's "innocent" Erendira, Vedette has her reasons for being that kind of girl.

Erendira soullessly services the men in her world in order to pay off a debt to her Grandmother. It is as if she is asleep or a ghost during her sessions. Her purpose is noble even if her actions aren't. However, Vedette understands early on that she is no puta; her sexuality exists as separate from her spirit. She is far more pragmatic about her role as a haunter of men's dreams; she uses her promiscuity as an art form, a tool for acquiring the most basic elements of survival: food, shelter, friendship. At the end of their stations in life, both women achieve a sense of spiritual purity by escaping the social and religious confinements that have ostracized them.

The difference between these two young women is one of power, however. While Erendira remains subservient to her Grandmother's crass greed throughout the story (and only in the end does she escape it), Vedette is owned by no one and, therefore, does not need to escape herself. Even the man she truly loves, the torero Paula, she refuses to marry, for she knows inherently that the only person she belongs to is herself.

The whole of Spain is popularly known for its Inquisition(s), but what isn't focused upon with equal fervor are its multicultural roots. In Spain's earliest and perhaps most golden times, the communities which comprised its southern region, Andalusia, consisted of several culturally different groups living for a time in harmony: the Moors (Arabs), the Jews, the Gitanos ("gypsies") and the Christian Spaniards.

Geographically speaking, it makes sense. Andalusia connects Spain with Africa via Morocco. The trade routes meant commerce between people from all manner of sensibilities: Christian, Jew, Islamic. The nomadic Gitanos of Spain (who are presumed to have descended from Indian immigrants) shared in shaping the culture of the times as well simply by the fact of their transience between villages and cities as they sold their wares and performed their arts.

When the Catholics began cleansing the region of nonbelievers, it is believed that the different ethnic groups who were oppressed by this forced conversion unified culturally to protect each other. From this melding of cultures, a new expression, flamenco, a fusion of Gypsy song with Andalusian folk music, flared to life in the Andalusian town of Jerez de la Frontera (so named for its frontierland between Moorish and Christian realms).

Flamenco figures prominently in the growth of Vedette as a charismatic force. She learns the dance and the cante (singing) from a band of revolutionary Gitanos she befriends after fleeing her monstrous father and the threat of convent life where her other "father," Padre Olivares, can't wait to "convert" her.

Flamenco is not simply a form of music, but a way of thinking. Similar examples in American pop culture might include the emergence of the blues or jazz, as well as the iconography and sensibilities of purist Grateful Dead fans, or "deadheads." It's as much a lifestyle and a mindset as it is a form of art.

The time that author Siciliano chooses to introduce Vedette to flamenco is an interesting one; flamenco was, by the 1930s, an extremely old tradition, so when Vedette takes on the task of dancing to palmas at the cafés cantates in Sevilla for payment in food and wine, she is actually entering the flamenco "scene" after its heyday. And she dances to the rich strumming of flamenco guitar, which only became part of the equation at the turn of the 20th century. Previously, instruments such as violins and tambourines accompanied the dancers, but they were optional and not the defining aspect of flamenco.

The spirit of flamenco has endured primarily as a combination of interactive clapping (palmas), vocalization of the woes of the underclass and a combined meditation in dance, where the upper body moves in graceful, sensual form while the feet pound out distinct, percussive patterns that aren't taught as much as felt.

Vedette was a barefoot flamenco dancer, which sets her apart from the modern interpreters of the dance, who use specially enhanced shoes to accentuate their rhythms. Vedette could only be the truly free person she was by dancing without shoes. Her barefoot lifestyle allowed her to be quick on her feet and closer to the earth she loved. Vedette lived as an authentic and sincere naturalist and pacifist who treasured animals, plants and the life force that fueled all that was good in the world. When she is forced into shoes later in the story as part of her internal exile, it comes as no surprise that she loses touch with her flamenco rhythms, or alegría.

Alegría might be defined as the positive expression of flamenco's duende—a spiritual experience characterized as dark beauty erupting from the core of the soul. Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca committed his life to the study of duende and gave the concept its timeless significance. Duende isn't something that can taught or measured in terms of skill; rather, duende is a life force that can only be experienced through the magica of a truly authentic practitioner in the arts.

Vedette is one such artist; in fact, she becomes famous throughout the region for being truly authentic, to the point of being an enchantress, a haunted dancer. Her unflappably positive personality, her natural beauty and her legendary ability to always tell the truth lend Vedette a larger-than-life reputation which she fulfills everywhere she goes while she is a free woman. It is only when she becomes neutered by fascism that the darker aspects of her duende return, such as at the very end, when she writes a final poem honoring her beloved guitarist and friend, the gitano Tomatito.

Las Marismas
One of the places she returns to, time and again, is the marshlands (las marismas) that surround the estuarine Guadalquivir River, or el rio. It's no mistake that someone as enchanted as Vedette baptizes herself in the waters of the nurturing Guadalquivir early in the story. The river is the most abundant source of life in the region, next to las marismas, where water moves in and out from the coast with the pull of the moon. The result is an expansive wetland region of brackish water that transforms into salt-crusted ponds in the summer. Animals and wild vegetation characterize both the river and this fertile delta, metaphorizing the wild fertility and longevity of Vedette's ideas. She frequently returns to the mysterious and everchanging landscape of the tidal flats to hide or to collect her thoughts. It's las marismas that ultimately hold for her the secrets of her duende, embodied by the "flamenco shadows" she consults there during desperate times.

It's this commerce, with both the living and the dead, which comprises the magical realist aspects of Vedette.

Antonia, the Card Reader
Early into Vedette's life, she visits the French Gypsy Antonia of Carmona at the demand of her mother, who wants to learn whether assertions from Vedette's father—that she would haunt and curse every man in her life—were accurate. In the staunchly Catholic community of Marisalena, Vedette's mother makes the journey at considerable risk, explaining that, though the local padres may believe in the cards, the Pope does not. The tarot is read, predictions are made. Vedette learns that she is "from and part of the eternal other side." Her mother leaves the reading convinced her daughter is a witch.

This is the first of three encounters Vedette has with Antonia, and in every case, her predictions are accurate to the tiniest details. In the third visit, it is Antonia who proffers predictions based, not on the cards, but on accurate observations about the coming moral and political reforms within Spain, suggesting the intricate liaisons bridging the institutions of faith and politics at the time. One did not need the mystery of the occult to forsee that future. Its evidence could be found throughout the countryside where Vedette lived.

Fernando Villalon
While traveling the las marismas via Sevilla to Carmona, where she plans a second visit to the card reader Antonia, Vedette gets lost looking for the lights of the city. She comes upon a "lonely rider moving slow," who tells her in a deep voice that "you can rush all you want, but in las marismas you can never move faster than the speed of el rio taking the water to sea!"

Vedette's reaction: the man's words don't make sense and yet they explain everything. That should have been her first clue that this mysterious man might be special.

They travel together for a spell and she learns the man is Fernando Villalon, the "poet of las marismas" and a breeder of bulls. He rode a horse named Clavileño, the namesake of Don Quixote's steed (another tip off that Villalon is extra-ordinary).

Vedette is familiar with his story, having been told all about him by her friend, El Fariz the Moor. She discovers that Villalon, in fact, knows her friend. He gives her points for orienting herself in the marshes and bores her young and impetuous mind with other details about horses, Moorish poets and the salty landscape. Though her lack of attention bothers him, he expresses admiration for her honesty and invites her to visit him on his island in el rio. She mentions how she never sees his eyes under the brim of his hate (a third indicator of something otherworldly at play).

It isn't until Vedette arrives very late at the cortijo of the card reader that she learns from Antonia that Fernando Villalon and his horse have both been dead for some time.

This is not the last we hear or see Villalon. In fact, he and his horse appear several times throughout the course of Vedette's journey, delivering letters from real people, cleaning Vedette up after being raped by one of her captors, informing Vedette when she is desperate for wisdom.
He's a flamenco shadow, just one of many which inhabit the real world of Vedette, Gloriella. As other spirits of the flamenco pass through her life, she comes to converse with them at important moments in the story: the troublemaking Rufian, the sacrificed Pilar from Vedette's early years of rebellion. There is never a question in her mind whether these souls are real; she accepts them as kindred spirits, and they do, in fact, aid in her survival, even if only she can see them.

This is one of the most engaging epic works I've read in a long time, a story which deserves comparison to the great classics, One Hundred Years of Solitude (for the sincerity of its political message and for its marvelous humor) and Don Quixote (for its demands for justice and Vedette's innocent and pure idealism).

I would also compare this novel to another favorite contemporary epic, Texaco, written by French Martinican author Patrick Chamoiseau. The timeless structure of the storyline (we are treated to the undeniable connection between past, present and future) is captured in Siciliano's ability to render, intimately and honestly, the harsh landscape of oppression reduced to its most personal level in a way that is universally meaningful.

Siciliano's personal love for Andalusia shows through prominently in Vedette. His use of the Spanish language to portray an authentic landscape is easily understood even by readers without fluency in the language. Siciliano builds characters who, through their own voices, reveal the kaleidoscopic cultural history of the region. I've learned more about Andalusia, and Spanish history in general, from this book than I've learned in any history class, as a result.

He incorporates little sketches in his book that add another level of understanding for the reader. The different images cast in tiles (azulejos) throughout the region, for instance, display the multicultural influences on Andalusia. Renderings of revolutionary icons used in flags (of moons and suns) support the underlying oppositions in the story: sun/moon, light/dark, "moral"/"immoral" and the like. And his drawings of lanterns in various villages express the underlying differences of each place and how they are made different by the geography and history of the region. Siciliano writes:"[These farolas] are simple trophies yielded by my, ultimately, very costly travels and hopefully reinforce [my] knowledge and affection for that distant land. Each town, no matter how poor, has its own design, yet they are always variations on the same flowery, wrought-iron theme. Some forays I made simply to collect my 'sample,' have a manzanilla and leave."

Perhaps most impressive to me was the way in which Siciliano drew for his readers the portrait of revolution through the lives and experiences of villagers. There is something of a grassroots nature to Siciliano's worldview, as expressed in his own real-life writings, which support liberal ideas, tolerance and peace. His motley crew in Vedette captures all that defines the formation of a political community at the most personal level. There is the cranky but sympathetic Santí, whose constant blasphemies and dour attitude yet inspire positive change. The noble leader Antonio Arleta, whose message of peace evolves over the years, comes too little and too late to their rescue. The valiant and famous torero, Espla de Paula, becomes a convert to Vedette's ways, not only out of love but of reason, after her federation usurps the village. His daughter, Acracia, aka Eva, comes into her own womanhood not as the French-educated princess she is expected to be, but as a pants-wearing militia leader with her eyes on undermining Catholicism's oppression of women. La Condesa is an aristocrat who comes to love Vedette's ideals even as she despises the lowborn ways of the masses. And El Fariz, the Arab complete with camel, the man who bathes himself in the tradition of the desert peoples by scrubbing down with dirt, is the resident keeper of Moorish history and perhaps the best living example from whom Vedette can acquire the Big Picture. These are all characters rendered completely believable because they are beautiful, yet flawed at once.

Finally, Vedette is a book to read as a way to measure our current global condition. The reflections of tolerance, freedom, feminism, idealism and creativity rendered as a political act may be paraded within the confines of this single moment in Spain's history, but their relevance for all of us is undeniably universal.

I must lament that this book was published using the print-on-demand services of iUniverse. My readers know me as a cheerleader for independent publishing, while being more tenuous about lending support to those who would self-publish their work or make it available only through electronic forms which require special technology for access.

I imagine the reason Siciliano took this route has much to do with the fact that his book may not be "sexy" in the eyes of New York publishing. He doesn't have the literary following of a García Márquez or an Allende, for one thing. He isn't writing around a trendy theme (writers of the diaspora, for instance); if anything, he may be criticized for being a white guy writing a story about a nonwhite girl, which I find one of the more irritating presumptions within the ranks of our contemporary literary community. It may be that the novel is simply too long, and that its accompanying timelines of real world events, pronunciation guide and bibliography might be conveyed as too offputting or demanding to average readers (a New-York-only misconception that I wish would disappear; people do have brains and they do like to use them).

For whatever reasons Siciliano holds for choosing the iUniverse route, I have to say I wish he would have found a "real" publisher, for these three reasons.

He could have used the talents of a real editor. There are far too many copyediting mistakes in this book. Please don't let this fact keep you from reading this book.

Siciliano could have benefited from extra promotion the publishing world could have offered his book. Now, while I know it's true that budgets for book tours and promotion have dwindled to hardly anything, and while I know it's become the domain of the writer to actively promote his book (which Siciliano, to his credit, did; it's how I got a copy of Vedette in the first place), there's still more promotional currency to access through traditional publishers than what iUniverse offers.

Finally, while I think it's a much better climate now than it has been in the past, self-published, print-on-demand books still possess the reputation for being amateurish, self-indulgent and of low quality. Despite the copyediting errors I highlight in my argument above, I have to say that this book is written with the deft hand of a real scribe; the craft within it brings layers of sophisticated texture which rule out any question as to its quality as a work of literature; and if there's anything self-indulgent about Vedette, it lingers in Siciliano's pure love for all things Andalusian. This book is not only a novel, but an artful devotion. It deserves respect.

The good news is this: in May 2005, Vedette was selected as one of thirteen "literary fiction" finalists in ForeWord Magazine's 2004 Book of the Year Awards, which focus on sparking the attention of librarians and booksellers by recognizing the literary achievement of independent publishers and their authors. This is one big leap toward validation and legitimacy that the print-on-demand press needs if it is going to bear itself out of the literary ghetto that the New York-centered publishing world has imposed upon it. With excellent novels like Vedette out there, I'm hopeful that alternative options for writers, like iUniverse, will continue to supply them with the recognition they have earned.

He's a certified blogger, penning the entertaining and thoughtful Highway Scribery beat. He's also a poet, a novelist, and a man of political conviction bold enough to put it out there in a politically conservative time when the voices of liberals and free thinkers are belittled or denigrated.

Siciliano wrote Vedette over the course of four years while living in Andalusia. While living there, he enjoyed reading Camilo José Cela's columns and used to see the famous author hanging around Madrid with his young wife. He describes himself, in the back jacket text for Vedette, as "a 19th century man writing his way through a 21st century nightmare. …haunted by this question: Where will the intelligence and kindess come from that can save us?"

Certainly, he grapples with this question through the depiction of La Vedette, Gloriella as she plays, as Siciliano illustrates in the use of this Whitman line from Song of Myself, "not a march for victors only…I play great marches for conquered and slain persons."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

More Gore

The highway scribe doesn't go in much for joining or labels, and he doesn't think his focus or content qualify him as a pure "liberal blogger," but some times he does the liberal blogger thing. Today is one of those days. Seeking to capitalize on his momentum, and in preparation for an upcoming opportunity to testify before Congress about global warming, Al Gore wants to bring a petition and he wants you to sign it. So does highwayscribery. Go to this Web site.

Meantime, below are some more unfortunate soldiers to honor in our humble way here. We are sorry. If you saw the ABC special about Bob Woodruff's recovery from his wounding in Iraq, then you're still wiping the tears away. It's terrible these men and their families must have their lives destroyed in this way.

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Winnetka Soldier

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Pfc. Rowan D. Walter of Winnetka, CA:

"Private First Class Walter served our nation with unwavering courage. Rowan will be remembered for his tireless dedication to our country. Maria and I offer our prayers to Rowan's family, friends and fellow soldiers."

Walter, 25, died Feb. 23 of injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his HMMWV during combat operations on Feb. 22 in Ramadi, Iraq. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Carson, CO.

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

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Winnetka Soldier

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Pfc. Rowan D. Walter of Winnetka, CA:

"Private First Class Walter served our nation with unwavering courage. Rowan will be remembered for his tireless dedication to our country. Maria and I offer our prayers to Rowan's family, friends and fellow soldiers."

Walter, 25, died Feb. 23 of injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his HMMWV during combat operations on Feb. 22 in Ramadi, Iraq. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Carson, CO.

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

Monday, February 26, 2007

Oscar and Al

Al Gore’s film about our impending incineration won the Oscar last night.

A Nobel Peace Prize may be next in the offing.

(p)resident geo. w. bsh’s approving rating jumped from 33 to 34 percent.

Life’s funny, mysterious and unpredictable, which is why most of us get up everyday and face the mediocre situations we configured for ourselves through self-defeating behavior and bad choices. There is no denying that you never know what’s around the corner.

One minute you’re getting ripped off by the Republican Party, the next you’re cleaning the same guys off the bottom of your shoe. One minute they’re riding high for efficiently flattening Afghanistan, the next, “The Washington Post” is writing an article about you entitled, “Al Gore, Rock Star.”

William Booth’s piece is kind and charming, an addition to the Gore bibliography most remarkable for its lack of unflattering and snarky comments. It’s a valentine really, with the telling paragraph informing of us what separates real and committed people from those occupying the White House:

“Before the film? He was more Willy Loman than Green Avenger. After his loss in 2000, a battered Gore began to schlep around the country, often solo, flying coach, giving his ever-evolving slide show about climate change, a threat that Gore, now 58, says he has felt strongly about since his Harvard days.”

Isn’t this what politics should be about?

The scribe scribbled in “The Gore Zeitgeist”... “Doing for his country and the world. Helping. That should be a new road to our presidency. Early in life, (not 18 months before an election) you start out helping the homeless guy around the corner with a meal now and then. You volunteer at the animal shelter. Then you organize a beach cleaning mission made up of your neighbors. And your circles or waves of mutual assistance move concentrically outward, catching on with others so that one effort, started earlier, merges with a different one started after, and so on until your use to the country is indisputable, measurable by something other than how much money you can raise for paid political spots.”

Apropos of everything, the scribe would like to note that Tom Vilsack, the governor of Iowa, has dropped out of the Democratic presidential sweepstakes, a year ahead of the primaries. the scribe never even got to see what Vilsack looks like, never got to hear him speak, never got a chance to be presently surprised or not disappointed.

Some say he has tremendous talent and it's too bad voters didn't get to see him, coopted as they were, by the Donor-ocracy.

As the scribe’s brother observed, “It’s terrible for Democracy. There used to be a way for these unknowns to hang around and maybe deliver a surprise in a caucus, but now that’s gone.”

Okay, we’re not going to get into the virtues of Barack or Hillary, or the respective campaign strategies of they and others, but the scribe was thinking, instead of raising $100 million to pay for two years worth of commercials, why wouldn’t one of these folks raise $100 million TO CHANGE THE WORLD.

Like Gore, they could pick an issue, “schlep” around flying coach as do the rest of us, and spend that money helping people: “and your circles or waves of mutual assistance move concentrically outward, catching on with others so that one effort, started earlier, merges with a different one...”

But that’s just the scribe musing. Maybe THE BIG DONORS don’t want to change the world so much as put a friend in the White House to serve their own purposes.

And the presidency? There are many great lives that fall short of ruling the world. And furthermore, we shouldn’t go where we are not wanted and Washington D.C. has never wanted Al. Gore. So screw ‘em.

What’s better, living like the guy who rules the whole word and whom the whole world abhors, or finding a niche with friends who accept you and with whom you can work to do something life-changing and important?

Having voted and proselytized for Al Gore over the years, the scribe can tell you it is much more satisfying to be "right" about the former Veep than it is being right about, oh say, how stupid it was to go to war in Iraq, because being right about the latter came at the hands of so much innocent blood.

Congratulations Mr. Vice President, the White House seems like a much lonelier place than the “Vanity Fair” party.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

"The Liquid Life" (installment fifteen)

"The Liquid Life" remains the object of mild commentary about "Lolita-lit" and its utterly inapropriate content matter. Others say it's just a dirtier, less organized and less skillful kind of "The Sidewalk Smokers Club." Around here those are all compliments, but what scares the scribe is what people aren't saying. And sometimes, scrolling down, it seems like "The Liquid Life" is swallowing up highwayscribery. And the scribe thought about pulling it this week in exchange for a book report of Roger Vadim's account about life with Brigitte, Jane, and Catherine. But after all this dreary Camp Gitmo news and the terrible loss of these fellows below, maybe "The Liquid Life" - a little time in the frivolous, far-out and insular world of Elendele and Saturn and Dominique - is just the right way to find a little joy and devilishness.

So here's the...


It all started to change the night I couldn’t get to Elendele and Saturn’s party on time.

Elendele suffered me, and clutched me, leaving a little present behind. It was another bobby pin she claimed to have found in my clothes, which I hadn’t asked her to wash.

There was a band so hot crammed into the oversized salon as to rise it full of flora and fauna, a radon mist keeping everything moist, wet raging. There were firedancers, thunderbirds everywhere.

Saturn was dressed in the undressed fashion and Elendele flowered in the green with tangerine dots of a flamenco outfit she’d sold her body for, one night in Andalusia, on a summer off from prep school.

It was such a city crowd and there were tons of Elendeles and Saturns with looks brewed in distant places by contrary races and I could see the future in their faces. The type of people you never run into during the day, that you never know where they come from or end up.

The flash of it all caught the eye. So what if it was made-up and part-time? It worked. It prodded workaday lives into the glazed heaven of colors and dreams were born there, too.

These were times of pretty people and their passion for neon and pretty. Times of lending one an ear and a smoky eye to another across the room. Times of dancehall daggers that could slice a heart into sandwich meat.

These were altogether perfumeries full of uselessness and self-satisfaction and tainted riches. Riches one is never conscious of having during a time together beneath poverty’s porous umbrella. Striving to be a God and creature of pure and unpolluted spirit. Failing continuously, but with heads steeped in separately conjured heavens.

My first contact was with Maynard and Sleeping Terri. They were lovers and social butchers. They had taught me much about stinging party razors. So had Saturn’s copy of The Confessions of Salvador Dalí; influences which had rid me of an automatic tendency to niceness.

“So what brings you here?” probes Sleeping Terri, triggering my fail-safe. “It’s really nice to see you. You look wonderful,” she puffs me genuine.

“It’s good to see you,” says Maynard with earnest hand. “Hope you’re having a good time.”

This is too much.

“Actually, I’m here as a social obligation. I don’t usually run with this kind of crowd,” I carelessly slash them, yet they were not staggered or bushed. They were just sweet and relaxed and wished me well. I credited them freely, then.

I tiger-ed my way down the hallway to the cool of Elendele’s room and jumped the bed when I arrived. Gina Night was there and she read me some of her Gothic poems. They were beautiful, enhanced by the baby’s breath pinned to her breast. She could save the world; I was sure of it, and I told her, to make her blush a rosé into merlot inflection.

A sturdy kid in short sleeves came and talked familiarly with Gina about how sick he felt after treatment. So sick he couldn’t sleep. It’s not that he was getting worse.

He was just not getting better. No, actually, he was getting better. Just not as better as he would like to. He just didn’t know what was worse, he clued in, cancer or the chemo.

“Sometimes I feel so sick I can’t even sleep,” he shut us up with his downer.

“How old are you?” he asks me after Gina had left for the powder room and we had stringed a small talk together.

He tried again, “Do you live in town?”


“Do you like it.”

“Yes, but not as much as I used to. I’m more scared now. There’s more violence and traffic.”

“There’s more theater, too,” he countered, “and you must like that, having fallen into the company of bad actresses.”

“The deeper the city, the higher the love and confusion quotient.”

“It can get expensive when they’re not working,” he noted and I agreed, a little.

“Depends on where in the cycle you catch them. If you catch them when they’re working they take you out a lot and spend lavishly on things they promised themselves they would always spend lavishly on… Then when their commercials stop running or their series get canceled, if you haven’t read the ratings and planned your move, they make it for you, and then you’re two… I also like the way they’re taught to move their faces and project feeling. It makes them easier to read and figure out. Except, of course, when they’re acting on you.

“But the best thing about them, is that they are beautiful in the sense that women are commonly appreciated as such. Little sartorial madnesses or physical variations from the seven or so standard goddesses. Yet they’re only prototypes, play-acting at it… Guileful, but vulnerable, dangerous and fearful. Walking, as they do like thin statues in gardens of clover, heavily inhaling their glasses of rye in between heartless auditions. And, still, they’re not what they once were…when they hung around and drank liqueur at cafes all day. Now they all work out and the business is competitive, the romance a thin gruel… and the survival factor more intense… like it is for everyone.”

“I know what you mean,” he gloomed, “I feel cheated. Like I was born at the end of time, in the worst of eras. It’s not a nice world,” shook loose from his burning throat.

When he left I shut the light and breathed deeply of the clear darkness. Somebody with a scratchy voice touched me on the back of the neck and said, “Hey,” scaring me into the wall against which the bed leaned.


“Sorry man,” he said. “I just heard you talking and decided to wait ‘til that cancer lunatic quit his ravings so we could have a talk.”

“About what?”

“About actresses,” he clarified.

“I don’t know anything about actresses.”

“You just gave a whole speech on them,” he testified.

He was right and I warmed in the sudden realization that I was just as full of shit
as anyone else. Everything was becoming relative in the careless encampment of glittering, transient souls.

“Well yeah, I know,” I shoveled further. “Elendele and Saturn are sort of actresses. Their lives are movies and their apartment’s a studio. They are a resident dance troupe; purveyors of a lace and negligee ballet.”

He looked at me like I was a museum piece. I realized my world was now so insulated, and the girls’ influence so strong, that I had begun to talk like them, in rhymes and declarations, which was not the way normal people talked.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “Look, why don’t you just let me meet them ‘cause I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

He told me his name was Cassius and he was from the devil school of handsomeness.

“I just want to meet ‘em,” he bullied me twice. “Introduce them to me will you?”

“What for?” I pony-traded him.

“It’s slice like that I need to meet…Naturals…Unpolluted by techniques and device – natural showgirls with a look. With style, speed, and substancelessness.

“Two out of three ain’t bad.”

He ignored me again for the indulgence in a discussion of himself and of how he’d parlayed a private school education into a money-rush in international finance. Of how he always carried three types of currency with him: dollars, francs, and pesos.

About how the only thing he ever learned in five years of traveling and trade was about women. How to find them, talk to them, and understand them. Of how he’d dropped finance, and on the urging of his old prep school friend Cortez, had moved in with a scheme in a sack.

He definitely head-started on the rest of us. He was a very pretty guy and girls were so surprised and so full of mischievousness when they heard he wasn’t gay. In that bonus, and in his business background, were the credentials he needed to make his plan for marketing the feminine commodity work for him

“Women sell,” he’d say, pointing out that his target market, was a size half the world’s population. “They sell themselves. Almost no work involved.”

What a mind. I had to get away. Just the sight of him, the sound of his plans for my two gospel kittens, made me think of the bathroom.

There, I found Gina Night who was kind enough to share with me the Nyquil she had found in the medicine cabinet. Booze were bad for her voice and she didn’t like Maria. Nyquil was the only thing she drank, and she did so on ice. She said it unlocked things in her, and I believed in her, and her fluffy kingdom come.

In the kitchen J.T. sits with a golden scorpion hung from his neck down. He is big with a heavy lower lip and is of the dark Godiva chocolate variety. We talk about marriage and he tells all, “There are three rings to marriage. The engagement ring, the wedding ring, and the suffering,” before he gets up to leave for the bathroom and out of my life forever.

A thin vanilla girl coats the chair he left in torn jeans, French sailor shirt and patent leather pumps. I want to talk to her, be hers if the situation will unfold its arms, but balk when she looks at me, on her guard. She leaves and what a world of ghost-girls and missed opportunities.

In the powder room everyone is sniveling satisfactorily and I am just seconds late according to the dust on the mirror. Special clocks tell different kinds of time. I recognize certain of the Li’l Criminals gang, from behind, by their long coats as they leave now that the job is done. At the door three turn together. Sunglasses, weird Burberry wolves skulking the door out on their way to reign in another century. Thank goodness for the Nyquil. Thank goodness for Gina Night.

I’m still brooding my lost vanilla girl that was never mine really, when I see Elendele, which brightens me. But she dulls my point with her lively lady dimmer.

She’s still mad at me about the mysterious bobby pins and I suggest that since an apology doesn’t seem to suffice, maybe she’d like to shoot me.

“I don’t care much for firearms, nor for men who view my parties as social obligations,” she spurts from grape lips, turning her back on my singed party personage.

“Now come meet my friend Jill,” she orders me crossly from the door. And so we negotiate the human pungency, with Elendele working her own special alchemy, until we meet the girl in the French sailor shirt and blue torn jeans for introductions. Jill.

Overheated, I bumble Elendele, “You never told me about her before!”

“Oh yes I have,” she says, launching her evening stiletto. “The one with whom my relationship is not yet clear. The lesbian girl who sells shoes. You know, the dyke.”

Friday, February 23, 2007

Ahlquist, Escalante, Howey, Thomas, Madore and Seigart

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Camp Pendleton Marine

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Sgt. Clinton W. Ahlquist of Creede, CO:

"Sergeant Ahlquist has inspired us with his unyielding commitment to defending our nation. Californians are grateful for Clinton's honorable devotion to this country. Maria and I offer our sincere condolences to the family and friends of this brave Marine."

Ahlquist, 23, died Feb. 20 of injuries sustained while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, CA.

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

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Twentynine Palms Marine

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Lance Cpl. Brian A. Escalante of Dodge City, KS:

"Lance Corporal Escalante undertook the most noble of professions. Brian will be remembered for his remarkable loyalty to our nation. Maria and I offer our thoughts and prayers to Brian's family and loved ones."

Escalante, 25, died Feb. 17 of injuries sustained while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Twentynine Palms, CA.

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

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Glendora Marine

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Lance Cpl. Blake H. Howey of Glendora, CA:

"Lance Corporal Howey embodied ultimate selflessness. Blake bravely served our nation's armed forces and sacrificed his own life in his determination to bring freedom to the oppressed. Maria and I extend our condolences to Blake's family, friends and fellow Marines."

Howey, 20, died Feb. 18 of injuries sustained while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Twentynine Palms, CA.

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

Governor Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Roseville Soldier

Governor Schwarzenegger today issued the following statement regarding the death of Pfc. Kristofer D. S. Thomas of Roseville, CA:

"It is with tremendous sadness that Maria and I offer our condolences to Private First Class Thomas' family and friends. Kristofer was a true hero, and his sacrifice helped safeguard the freedoms of our nation. Our prayers are with his loved ones during their time of mourning. "

Thomas, 18, died Feb. 18 of injuries sustained when the Chinook helicopter he was in crashed in southeastern Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Fort Benning, GA.

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

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of San Diego Soldier

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Spc. Ronnie G. Madore Jr. of San Diego, CA:

"The men and women of our nation's armed forces are dedicated to protecting our way of life. Specialist Madore sacrificed his own life so that others may enjoy the liberties we cherish. Maria and I offer our condolences to Ronnie's family and friends as they mourn this tragic loss."

Madore, 34, died Feb. 14 of injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle in Baqubah, Iraq. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

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

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of San Luis Obispo Soldier

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Sgt. Carl L. Seigart of San Luis Obispo, CA:

"Maria and I were saddened to learn that Sergeant Seigart lost his life in the fight to preserve our freedoms. Carl's bravery exemplifies the spirit of patriotism on which our country was founded. Our prayers are with Carl's family, friends and loved ones during this difficult time."

Seigart, 32, died Feb. 14 of injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle in Baqubah, Iraq. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

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

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Revisiting Guantánamo

The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it."

Article I, Section 9, Constitution of the United States of America

A little less than a year ago, highwayscribery reported on the comings and goings of one Heather Rogers, an attorney representing detainees at the United States base in Guantánamo, Cuba.

That piece was entitled: “Gitmo Girl (or Lady Lawyer in Yemen.)”

It recounted Ms. Rogers’ adventures through Yemen (on the Arabian peninsula) and provided an in-close look at true circumstances and stories of these purported terrorists detained by the world’s one-time preeminent advocate of democracy and human rights.

It was the story of innocent schlumps getting caught in a superpower dragnet through the rugged mountains dividing Afghanistan and Pakistan, during the U.S. war dislodging the Taliban from power in the former.

Moved to a sort of extra-territorial refuge not subject (says the Bush administration) to our nation’s laws, nor those of the international community, these guys were sitting around in cages, incommunicado from family members or legal advocates, mostly unaware of the charges against them.

Ms. Rogers is an employee of Federal Defenders of San Diego Inc. – a unique, nonprofit community defender organization, funded by the U.S. Government to defend the people the U.S. Government brings charges against – who somehow ended up hopping around the world on behalf of certain Guantánamo detainees.

Anyway, last Thursday (Feb. 15), she was joined by colleague Stephen Demik for an update on what Amnesty International has referred to as an “American gulag.”

Their remarks were prefaced by a review of the legal framework compliments of Marjorie Cohn, a professor at the Thomas Jefferson Law School, where the two-hour symposium was conducted.

Cohn noted that in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent WAR ON TERROR, Guantánamo was identified by the administration as a “legal black hole” where some 750 detainees could be held indefinitely, without being charged, while subjected to torture and inhumane treatment.

Cohn said that when some prisoners began hunger strikes out of desperation, they were force-fed thick plastic tubes funneling nutrition to their empty stomachs. Not surprisingly, three detainees have died in custody.

Three deaths nobody must answer for.

A long time later, (for a detainee) in 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in, via the case Rasul v. Bush and said detainees had the right to invoke habeas corpus and find out exactly what the legal foundation for their detention was or be released without further adieu.

“The ink was barely dry,” Cohn told the gathering of 40 sapling legal minds, “when the Bush administration cooked up their Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT), or military tribunals, to ‘comply’ with Rasul.”

The military tribunals, designed to “replace” habeas corpus, precluded witnesses, evidence, or the presence of a true attorney. Amnesty International said that a prisoner’s right to the presumption of innocence was flouted by the CSRTs, and that international covenants on civil and detainee rights were also violated.

Congress then passed the Detainee Treatment Act, which stripped the Guantánamo guests’ right to habeas corpus the Supreme Court just said they possessed.

“The Supreme Court stepped in again,” noted Cohn, in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and ruled, with John Paul Stevens writing for the majority, “that Congress did not intend to deny court jurisdiction when passing the Detainee Treatment Act.

“Unrepentant,” Cohn recounted, “the administration sent in Dec. 2006, seven detainees to Guantánamo for trial by CSRT.” The (p)resident then “rammed” the Military Commissions Act through Congress that put the finishing touches on his efforts at denying myriad Constitutional protections to these folks.

Among other charming features, that law defines an "enemy combatant" as any person who engages in hostilities against the United States (Okay), or "supports" hostilities against the United States (hmmm), or anyone who "challenges or speaks out against government policy" (!)

As former White House mouthpiece Ari Fleischer said immediately after 9/11, "People need to be careful of what they say, careful of what they do."

On Monday, a Court of Appeals ruling upheld central provisions of the law effectively stripping detainees of the right to relief through civilian courts.

Which brings us to the presentations of Ms. Rogers and Mr. Demik, who must both operate within the framework so ably depicted by Professor Cohn on Thursday and confirmed by the federal appeals court days later.

Rogers opened her remarks by noting that the administration’s policy toward detainees on Guantánamo is, “a travesty that we should all be angry about. It is only a matter of time before they try to bring it back to the mainland.”

The young legal advocate has been working on the Guantánamo detainee cases since Nov. 2005 and noted that, “these litigations really defy belief.”

Nonetheless, she opined, the administration’s understanding of the base on Guantánamo to be a legal “black hole,” wound up, “much to its dismay, as more of a ‘gray area’.”

The beginning of the detainees travails began with the filing of habeas corpus “postcards” in their native language seeking the free assistance of U.S. legal firms. Federal Defenders of San Diego Inc., was appointed four cases, three from Yemen, and one from Afghanistan.

Upon dumping the detainees of its Afghanistan war in Cuba, the administration told the world they represented the “hardened terrorists,” “the worst of the worst,” and the “most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the earth.”

But one of Ms. Rogers’ clients was obligated, by violence, to work for a powerful Afghani thief’s honey bee project and was rounded up when U.S. military forces raided the same thief’s compound. Sent to Guantánamo, the man joined many others at “Camp X-Ray,” where he was placed in a cage exposed to the sun, like “animals in a zoo,” she said, before being released and sent home.

Rogers’ slide show contained a Central Intelligence Agency poster promising millions of dollars for those fingering Taliban collaborators, “Enough money to take care of your family, village, and tribe for all of your lives.”

“They put a bounty on heads,” said Rogers. “How could people resist the temptation to turn over foreigners, people they didn’t like, or the disenfranchised in exchange for these millions?”

Apparently they couldn’t. All told, 775 detainees were interned, 340 of whom have since been released, 110 that are ready for release, and 70 deemed “ready for trial” by Pentagon standards.

Of those released, two were clients of Rogers. Two more remain in custody.

With so many restrictions on legal rights, and the naturally disbelieving dispositions of their own clients, Rogers said a unique regimen of very public advocacy was required of she and her colleagues.

Prior to meeting her clients, she traveled first to Yemen. “The detainees interrogators had passed themselves off as lawyers and so we met their families who we hoped would inform them of our names, appearances, and intentions.”

In other words, the prisoners were trusting no one.

Investigation of the government’s claims against family and friends’ accounts was also part of the pre-meeting strategy.

While in Yemen, Rogers and other Center for Constitutional Rights attorneys began laying the groundwork for their clients’ eventual return. “Unfortunately, detainees have been released through a policy of ‘rendition’ to their home governments and subjected to more interrogation and torture. We wanted to let the Yemeni government know we were watching them.”

The group also sought to express their solidarity for human rights workers and families of the Yemeni prisoners. “It is thought of as dissent to help and support these people [the detainees] and we wanted to show them that the administration does not speak for all Americans.” she explained.

Finally, the legal defenders turned to the age-old tactic of increasing awareness of their cases through the dissemination of press reports; holding press conferences with Yemeni journalists and contacting others around the world for exposure.

Rogers recommended “American Gulag, Prisoners’ Tales from the War on Terror,” by Eliza Griswold for “Harpers” magazine as an excellent, long-hand account of stories beyond her own.

One Yemeni detainee, Abdulsalam (not a Rogers' client), was a prominent businessman on a work trip in Cairo, Egypt. “He was arrested and put on a CIA plane, waste-cuffed and gagged. He was then interned in a black [secret] prison in Afghanistan for two years; hung from the wall by chains, naked. His family had no idea where he had gone and he finally ended up at Guantánamo...He is still waiting there for justice.”

Stephen Demik focused more on conditions under which legal advocates are forced to work as well as those to which detainees are subjected.

The camp, “Gitmo,” is spread across two sides of Guantánamo Bay, prisoners kept on one side, lawyers alone on the other. “The paperwork and bureaucracy work are dumbfounding,” said Demik. “The security clearance takes four months and at one point I was accused of revealing trade secrets to Communist Russia.”

Which gives you an idea of the mind set Bush has brought to THE WAR ON TERROR.

“Any information you get [from interviewing clients], belongs to U.S. government and cannot be disclosed to anyone,” said Demik, further explaining that all notes compiled by defense attorneys are sent to a “secure facility,” in Crystal City, Virginia. “If you want to look at your notes, you have to fly there. Same for filing petitions or correspondence with your clients.”

He described the base layout as “surreal” with its Wal-Mart, KFC and McDonalds for U.S. military personnel, on the one hand, and authoritarian prison complex on the other. Halliburton, naturally, is working on a $30 million “upgrade” of the facility.

Now, the scribe wonders how the heck they did they get chosen for the job?

Prisoners, Demik said, are forbidden to talk in groups of more than three, are blindfolded during any transportation, subject to pepper spraying, sleep deprivation, beatings, mock executions, the infamous “waterboarding,” and anything else normally associated with a beacon of democracy and human rights.

Fried chicken anyone?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Pitching Vito

(This is a query letter the highway scribe is trying out on editors in the African-American media. It makes a good post anyway, bringing to light a personal hero and someone highwayscribery readers might like to know about.)

“Coming from the neighborhood [East Harlem], there was also a Communist person who was a big hero in our house, Vito Marcantonio. He was a Communist, and he came from that part of Harlem, Italian Harlem. Vito Marcantonio was a very liberal person. See, these lines are blurred, because to be in favor of treating a black person as an equal, some people would say, ‘Oh well, he’s a Communist,’ automatically. This is the thinking that prevailed, as you know, in many parts of the country. Vito Marcantonio was great, and he was from where we went to school, that area. So I was a politically active person. I was always interested in how to make the society a better place. I still am, because it’s not a perfect place.”

Saxophonist, Sonny Rollins


I’m a freelance writer looking to sell an article raising African-American awareness about a mostly forgotten Italian-American, Rep. Vito Marcantonio, in conjunction with Black History Month.

“Marc,” was the congressman from East Harlem, New York from 1935 to 1937 and then from 1939 to 1950. Dubbed “the bread of the people,” he was way out in front on issues that would take years in coming to fruition:

- Long before the civil rights movement, Marcantonio annually introduced civil rights legislation into Congress. He sponsored a bill to make poll taxes illegal and another to make lynching a federal crime.

- He fought, often a lone voice, to desegregate Washington D.C. and introduced a resolution in 1945 directing the Secretary of Commerce to investigate the employment practices of major league baseball clubs to determine if they discriminated against African-Americans, thus paving the way for Jackie Robinsons’ breaking of the sports color barrier.

- As a lawyer for civil liberties he represented W.E.B DuBois and other members of the Peace Information Center charged with failing to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Dubois dedicated chapters 12 and 13 of his book “Battle for Peace,” to the trial.

- He encouraged Frank Sinatra to speak to students at Benjamin Franklin High School in 1944 to foster racial harmony after an incident between Italian-American and African-American students.

He said in debate on the House floor on Feb. 21, 1950:

“The gentlemen [Mr. Keefe] infers that it is communism to insist, as I have been insisting, that there must be an end to Jim Crow; that you can never solve this problem by degrees, by gradualism. The Negro people have waited too long and have suffered too much under Jim Crow to wait for the success of gradualistic solutions. He implies that I am intolerant. I am intolerant. I am intolerant of any who would tolerate conditions of segregation and Jim Crow. I am intolerant of inequality. I am intolerant of those Jim Crow conditions, and I shall continue to do all that I can in my limited capacity to destroy them.”

Best known as a representative of the American Labor Party, Marcantonio won primaries in the Republican and Democratic parties as well.

Marc cast the lone vote in dissent against the Korean War and was, undoubtedly, a very cool guy who worked himself to death for the disenfranchised of this country, expiring of a heart attack on an East Harlem street at the age of 52.

The piece I propose would draw from commentary by a few historians, a contemporary writer or two, and DuBois’ book, but mostly from Marcantonio’s own words found in a collection of, “Debates, Speeches, and Writings, 1935-1950.” I’d like to discuss his importance to the African-American story, and draw some parallels on stands he took at the time on issues that remain relevant today.

It can be ready in very short order.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

"The Liquid Life" (installment fourteen)


Two Tuesdays removed, Saturn and Elendele were taking nibbles out of my ear, fluttering it with little licks, giggling, trying to wake me kindly, because they were often capable of consideration. In that warm coating was the good morning glazed and we got up snapping our fingers for life.

But then Saturn and Lydia had a mother/daughter fight over rap music. The paper said all over itself that the writers strike was still going and it offstepped the morning’s natural joy. Elendele tried to soothe things with oatmeal and apples, tried to demonstrate for Saturn the kind of patience that it takes to have a third world child. But there was a twist in the air and it wasn’t any fragrant fruit. It was toxic and Elendele and I decided to walk out to the Upstage Café for champagne brunch.

I was out of clothes because Lydia hadn’t done the laundry. So Elendele gave me a T-shirt she had designed with just one sleeve and the words “rAyS Of hope” stitched into the chest.

We talked about adventure and yearned for it on our walk to brunch. We still had that feeling we were missing something important someplace else – that we needed at least three bodies to avail ourselves of the world’s goods. We were talking about running away to Mexico and living poor and free when two gang kids came up quickly behind us and said, “Give us all your money.”

I was reaching to obey when Elendele flared out, launched herself into the traffic, and caused a car to screech stop. I took her cleared path without even thinking, and we were both running down the street with those two knife guys waving and running behind us. She was fast. So was I. So were those knife guys.

“Heellllllllllllp,” she foghorned the local community.

“Heelllllllllp, hellllllllllp,” I filled in where she caught breath and those guys were still behind us after a minute of full sprint. They weren’t kidding around, but we had the advantage of being scared, which is faster than mad, and those little dogs finally returned to the porch where they belonged.

I wanted to call the police, but Elendele stuffed me short. Instead she picked up a stick and said, “Let’s go eat champagne brunch.” I was looking for a cop car anyway, ready to wave my banner when it appeared. But it didn’t.

“You see,” she sharped me, “they’re out writing traffic tickets. Our concerns don’t rate because our concerns aren’t even revenue neutral. Victims don’t bring in any money. Victims cost.”

They told us the brunch was over when we got to the café. It was still early though.

We figured it was either because Elendele refused to put her stick down, and jumped like a drunk mongoose when the milk steamer went off, or because of the sleeve that had been designed out of my shirt.

“Probably all three,” said Cortez after the later recounting.

Then we went out to the street where Trini usually was, but he wasn’t. There were police everywhere and we got sold some crumpled leaves from a crooked dealer, and so then the brunch money was gone and the sun, too.

When we got back to the salon, Saturn and Lydia were all made up between themselves. They were eating lobster and getting ready for a white chocolate mousse and raspberry dessert. Elendele knew immediately that Saturn had scabbed a production somewhere and she told her so.

Saturn knew it was coming and she was ready with her hand-picked venom. “The cash talks today, Elendele. I’m not going to let your ideological lynchpins hang me out to hunger. This was a very easy decision. What have those writers done for me?”

Everybody was waiting for the quick rebound, the one about how the writers put the words in the actress’s mouth, but there was nothing to resound. Elendele was grown up for the day. “I’m glad it was so easy for you,” was all she said after that moment. So much had happened already that it made Saturn and all the life of the salon seem smaller.

I found Elendele crying just a little bit in her pillow. She wasn’t sad or beaten, she was just a little disappointed in Saturnina. She pulled back the sheet for me and I slid in, shuddering in coziness, in surrender to the dark that followed her switching of the nightlfe.

“I don’t suppose it means too much if you tell your step-sister to take her ideals and stuff them in a pipe,” she whispered then. “Especially if you can get a good day’s cash out of it.”

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"Bring It On".....(Home)

SAN DIEGO – The highway scribe is actually cruising the highway for once, down in San Diego, on assignment, where he is the beneficiary of cable television in his favorite staying place La Pensione Hotel at the confluence of Date and India streets.

That means C-Span and the rare privilege of watching our House of Representatives debate a resolution bitch-slapping the (p)resident for not understanding the November bitch-slap the American people gave him.

It is something of a pleasure to watch people of varying stripes from the four corners of these United States arguing the virtues of the Iraq war. Some observers are surprised at the lack of polish, the stuttering and stammering of certain of these representatives, but the scribe finds it refreshing that not everybody in government comes from Harvard, Yale, Princeton et. al. That they speak for all of us, and not just the well-heeled, who are always ably represented.

The contents of the bitch-slap are simple enough and they are that the House, as the representative body of the American people, disapproves of the (p)resident’s plan to escalate the war.

Whoever is chairing the debate is constantly reminding the House members not to personalize the proceedings by mentioning geo. w. bsh’s name, and repeatedly the members find it too difficult given that the war is his.

Meanwhile, the two sides are discussing different projects.

The Democrats have the advantage of arguing a debate they’ve already won once in the past general elections. They are blessed with employing four years of lies, misrepresentations, and military failure as evidence on their side.

The (r)epublicans, stuck with a turkey, are twisting their rhetoric into conceptual pretzels, attempting to equate this ghastly affair (the scribe’s favorite sobriquet) with the (American) Civil War, the American Revolutionary War, and yes, that canard of “appeasement” they used so effectively when scaring our people into going along with invasion of Iraq.

Democrats correctly see our troops as “babysitting” or “mediating” a flare-up, brought on by the (p)resident’s war, of a 1,400-year old disagreement between two Muslim sects.

The (r)epublicans see the resolution, not as a condemnation of the (p)resident’s decision to escalate the war in the face of the American peoples’ rejection of same, but as a “retreat” in the great battle of our times against a for desiring to rule us and the whole entire world.

Of course that’s poppycock. Saddam Hussein, whose country was subject to daily surveillance by American fighter planes, should not have been compared to Adolf Hitler, who guided the most potent military machine the world had seen, and had flattened and invaded a number of countries.

Similarly, while the radical Islamist threat to kill innocent train and plane riders, office building workers and disco dancers is real and worthy of urgent address, it’s stupid to suggest these angry young men in their urban cells and Internet chat groups can “rule the world.”

(r)epublicans never explain how the jihadists are going to overrun Nebraska while they’re at each other’s throats and spend more time quoting that Al-Zawhiri guy than listening to the majority of the American people.

Among the interesting speeches was one by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), who pointed out that the House of Representatives had been guilty of such defeatism before. Namely during the Revolutionary War, when the Continental Congress decided to slash funding for General Washington’s troops and limit the size of his army.

Washington, of course, went on to win with what they gave him, so the scribe is not sure what point Rep. Poe was hoping to make, but is sure he made it very poorly.

the scribe, of course, wasn’t there and Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.) was and he pointed out that Washington was surrounded by men like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson; leaving the (r)epublicans an opening to argue that guys like Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, and “Scooter” Libby were cut from the same cloth.

None took it. Rather they spent a lot of time complaining that the Democrats had “no plan for victory.” But who could win this thing? The debate is about preventing an escalation, not turning shit into gold.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla), from Miami, argued that Democratic protestations they had no plan to begin de-funding “our” troops (the troops belong to the (r)epublicans, you see) were dishonest. Then she went on to read some bills introduced by different Democratic members of late, clearly intended to put an end to the military campaign - as the American people made clear they desired in November.

Ros-Lehtinen, like most of the hand-wringers on her side of the aisle, was being disingenuous. If Majority Leader Stenny Hoyer says the Democrats plan to do no such thing, you can rest assured the Democratic leadership is not quite ready to take that step.

But the fact that some in his caucus got the message right and aren’t taking the bait as to their “appeasement,” their “micro-managing” the war, their “dividing” of the American people, and their “sending the wrong message” to “our” troops, is something to be excited about.

And that’s because it’s time to bring it on (home).

Here are some more soldiers to remember:

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Folsom Soldier

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Sgt. Robert B. Thrasher of Folsom, CA:

"Sergeant Thrasher's tireless dedication to preserving freedom will not be forgotten. Robert's bravery in the face of danger is an inspiration to all Californians. Maria and I extend our deepest condolences to Robert's family, friends and fellow soldiers in their time of mourning."

Thrasher, 23, died Feb. 11 as a result of injuries sustained when his unit came in contact with the enemy using small arms fire during combat patrol in Baghdad, Iraq. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Bliss, TX.

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

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Newhall Soldier

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Spc. Dennis L. Sellen Jr. of Newhall, CA:

"Our nation's soldiers put their lives on the line to protect the freedoms we enjoy every day. Specialist Sellen's loyalty to our nation and commitment to preserving freedom represent true heroism. Maria and I join all Californians in extending our heartfelt sympathies to Dennis's family and friends."

Sellen, 20, died Feb. 11 as a result of non-combat related injuries in Umm Qasr, Iraq. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 185th Infantry Regiment, Fresno, CA.

In honor of Spc. Sellen, Capitol flags will be flown at half staff.

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Three Camp Pendleton Marines

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the deaths of Capt. Jennifer J. Harris of Swampscott, MA, Sgt. Travis D. Pfister of Richland, WA and Sgt. James R. Tijerina of Beasley, TX:

"The noble sacrifices of Captain Harris, Sergeant Pfister and Sergeant Tijerina serve as a reminder of the tremendous cost of our freedom. Maria and I join all Californians in expressing our gratitude for these Marines' ultimate acts of selflessness. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Jennifer's, Travis' and James' families and will keep them in our prayers."

Harris, 28, Pfister, 27, and Tijerina, 26, died Feb. 7 as a result of injuries sustained when the helicopter they were flying in crashed while supporting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq. They were all was assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, CA.

In honor of Capt. Harris, Sgt. Pfister and Sgt. Tijerina, Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff.

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of San Diego Soldier

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Pvt. Clarence T. Spencer of San Diego, CA:

"Private Spencer dedicated his life to preserving the liberties of our great nation. His bravery will forever remain an inspiration to all Californians. Maria and I offer our deepest condolences to Clarence's family, friends and fellow soldiers."

Spencer, 24, died Feb. 4 as a result of injuries sustained when his unit came in contact with the enemy using small arms fire in Baqubah, Iraq. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, TX.

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

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Big Bear City Marine

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of 1st Lt. Jared M. Landaker of Big Bear City, CA:

"First Lieutenant Landaker undertook the noble endeavor of risking his own life to ensure the safety and liberty of others. This Marine's sacrifice epitomizes true patriotism. Maria and I extend our sympathies to Jared's family, friends and fellow Marines."

Landaker, 25, died Feb. 7 as a result of injuries sustained when the helicopter he was flying in crashed while supporting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq. He was assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, CA.

In honor of 1st Lt. Landaker, Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

War: Only Wrong In Iraq?

The House of Representatives, packed with new arrivals whom rode a wave of anti-war sentiment into power, has taken up debate on a resolution condemning the (p)resident’s plan to increase the number of troops in Iraq.

The Senate couldn’t get that done. There’s been a lot of criticism against that body’s having fobbed off a debate on the war, but the bottom line is that its hoary traditions are meant to better reflect the true deadlock that exists between the two Americas.

The war is increasingly unpopular. It is a fashion to spit on it. The (p)resident’s core support has eroded just a little bit, but that’s because we’re all on “teams” now and the fact the other guys were right on an issue is not enough for their opposites to give up the goose.

Or, to put it another way, admitting Bush was wrong is just too costly politically for his followers.

Except for those of us who were in opposition from the start (that flyer's the scribe's proof of where he was), those following the anti-war fashion must explain their change of heart. The usual excuse is that they believed the administration’s drub about weapons of mass destruction, a “mushroom cloud over an American city” and all the rest.

This is maddening to the highway scribe for it begs the question of why?

What in this administration’s hackneyed and corrupt rise to power would make them so trustful of its motives? Was it the lawsuit in Bush v. Gore to stop a simple recounting of the votes in Florida (if you've won you've won, no?) and the ensuing Supreme Court ruling that the U.S. Constitution, in fact, provides no guaranteed right to a vote?

Not long after Bush took office, the chief of his faith-based initiatives program resigned and publicly accused the administration of being driven by politics over policy.

And there were other signs this was not a group that shot straight.

The war debate itself did not occur in a vacuum. There was vigorous and sincere analysis on the opposition side. Those of us who marched in the streets, of course, were only crazy Bush-haters detached from the real way the world works, which is at the end of gun barrel.

But Hans Blix, the guy in charge of the United Nations weapons inspection program in Iraq expressed real doubts about the administration’s claims, only to be pushed out of his job. So did the U.N. entity that looks into nuclear programs around the world.

In fact, to jog your memories, the U.N. as a whole chose not to endorse the administration’s bid for a war resolution. And so on. Voices official and otherwise were warning us that the war was a bad idea, as it usually is.

In response, the (p)resident flattered our national conceit that, “the United States doesn’t need to ask anybody’s permission.”

Red meat to the red states.

“Washington Post” columnist Richard Cohen tells us as much in his column skewering Hillary Clinton and some other Democratic senators who originally voted for the war.

Cohen notes that he supported the war, and adds that, “If I were running for the presidency, I might call my position a ‘mistake’ and bray about being misled. But it was really a lapse in judgement.”

An atheist’s “amen” to that.

He recalls, (as the scribe does above) that, “They all had sufficient knowledge to question the administration’s arguments, and they did not do so. Not a single one of them, for instance, could possibly have believed the entirety of the administration’s case or not have suspected that the reasons for war were being hyped. If they felt otherwise, they have no business running for president.”

Cohen points out that the zeitgeist has changed and that, not coincidentally, so have most Democratic senators’ positions on the war.

And that is true, but the scribe would like to do him one better in saying that the current recanting of former war supporters is a bit too particular for his liking, particular only to Iraq.

That is to say that no larger lesson has been learned to date about the virtue of war, let alone preemptive war, as a tool for proper foreign policy. There has been no second guessing the general wisdom of flying into a country, shattering it with shock and awe, and then expecting to be treated as liberators.

No larger lesson has been learned about the costs of rebuilding countries in a complex global economy being more than what they used to be. Not to mention more than the American people should have been expected to pay for.

No recognition that the murdered aid workers, beheaded journalists, calcified contract workers and countless innocent tragics are part and parcel of any policy that leans upon death and destruction and that nowhere, ever, do we hear an airing of concern about them when the chests are puffed out and the flags flying full and proud.

Question authority.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Liquid Life (installment thirteen)


Elendele says its because she found a bobby pin in my pants, and that neither she nor Saturn wears them.

Saturn says it’s all because Elendele has to have an abortion.

The room and its warmth are stilled in a shivering silt. Recrimination and tears overwhelm the breezy sway of warmer days and subtropic décor, and pink Capri pants.

Not even the crazy coconut, rice pudding, and tamarind flavors I treated them to at Pepe’s could bring them back to where they belonged.

Saturn, currently allied with the oriental mind, thinks Elendele should try to center herself and go with it, which is irrelevant, as long as she is pure.

“Saturnina. Please shut up,” she slices her, sobs her, when the step-sister says she has seen the blue eyes of the baby in the sea of Judea.

The subject of Elendele’s baby becomes a matter of caucus, too. In the low glow of the salon she sucks in enormous quantities of the Maria because, she says, she wants to get the kid going early in life, in case she decides to have it.

She’s just a product of the Twentieth Century Bestiarium. A new centauress with a phone stuck to her ear. A young woman who has loved so much till she is old.

But mostly she’s leaning towards having the termination, as they call it down at the Women’s Health Center. The cost strikes me heavy.

“Don’t complain,” instructs Elendele. “The last time I needed one was when I lived with an up-and-coming bullfighter in Sherry. He didn’t want to cramp his career or his chances of marrying the Vicecountess of Villafranca…We had to fly to London under the cover of night…to get it done…to avoid the white light of the Spanish Catholics.”

As for the bullfighter, she informed, he was later killed during a rash of fatalities in the ring that helped restore dramalogue and popularity to the ancient and deathly dance.

Saturn, upon hearing the story, has a rare lapse of morality and accuses Elendele of having abortions like manicures.

“What if you can’t have babies from this time?” she searches, hitting Elendele’s shudder button.

“Saturnina, please,” pleads the vulnerable mop girl, but the politics of family have come now into play. She only calls her by the full name when they talk family.

“What,” Saturnina pries, “what about the whole little issue of murder and the denial of the gift of life?”

“What kind of life?” Elendele wrenches from her deeper self. “What about murder by suicide, or rushing things before their time? What about latchkey children and health care shortages? Times of limited expectations? Times without trees? What about shrinking childhood years and the genetic licensing of animal life?! I am not your goddess and I am not your witch. I am myself and I am out of control.”

“I myself,” Cortez jumps us all at the inception of her dry cry, “have found certain natural rights out there in nature that say a person belongs to himself and not to society as a whole.”

“Herself,” Elendele edits him lightly, tearfully, because she agrees, and because he has sold her.

The next Tuesday she had that abortion and all she could say was, “I wish it could have been you.”

And I thought I wished it could have been me, too.

“When we walked home it felt like everyone knew,” she prayed me that night, more asking than telling.

I tendered her. “It’s over now. Let’s put it behind us and work at what we were working at.”

And then she said, “Listen. I was so strong, but I’m finished all my pretending. It wasn’t wrong,” she excuses, “but I’m so hurt and I’m so very, very mad.”

Stardust sprinkling of empty hours, though we’re together in the kitchen, warming our broken hearts and hands by the stove. She keeps crying and she swears that this time it’s never going to stop.

She tosses my hand from her head when I try to clasp her curls, and she wets me tearfully, rich in her lemon spite, “Show Schumannn and his Arabesque dancing down the hall to the door. I cant’ take it anymore.”

So I stop all the music in the world for her. And then, maybe her one-thousandth tear sizzles, here on her quivering cheek, and drops without soundtrack to the floor.

“I just wish it could have been you.”

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Six Soldiers to Remember

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Hemet Soldier

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Chief Warrant Officer Keith Yoakum of Hemet, CA:

"Maria and I join all Californians in expressing our heartfelt condolences to the family of Chief Warrant Officer Keith Yoakum. Keith's sacrifice is a reminder of the tremendous sacrifices made for our liberties. Our prayers are with his loved ones during their time of mourning."

Yoakum, 41, died Feb. 2 as a result of injuries sustained when his Apache helicopter was forced to land during combat operations in Taji, Iraq. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, TX.

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

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Los Altos Hills Soldier

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Sgt. William M. Sigua of Los Altos Hills, CA:

"Maria and I extend our condolences to the family and friends of Sergeant Sigua. William valiantly fought and willingly risked his life for the liberties of the oppressed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his loved ones."

Sigua, 21, died Jan. 31 as a result of injuries sustained when his unit came in contact with the enemy using small arms fire during combat operations in Bayji, Iraq. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.

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

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Los Angeles Marine

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Sgt. Alejandro Carrillo of Los Angeles, CA:

"The members of our nation's armed forces risk their lives each day to protect American citizens. Sergeant Carrillo dedicated himself to preserving the freedoms of our country. Maria and I pray for Alejandro's family, friends and fellow Marines as they mourn their loss."

Carrillo, 22, died Jan. 30 as a result of injuries sustained while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq. He was assigned to Combat Logistics Battalion 7, Combat Logistics Regiment 1, 1st Marine Logistics Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Twentynine Palms, CA.

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

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Twentynine Palms Marine

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Lance Cpl. Adam Q. Emul of Vancouver, WA:

"Lance Corporal Emul dedicated himself to the noblest of causes - obtaining freedom for the oppressed. There is no greater act of selflessness than what Adam did in giving his life to fight for the rights of others. Maria and I extend our heartfelt sympathies to Adam's family and friends."

Emul, 19, died Jan. 29 as a result of injuries sustained while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Twentynine Palms, CA.

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

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Long Beach Soldier

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Pfc. David T. Toomalatai, of Long Beach, CA:

"Private First Class Toomalatai's brave sacrifice reminds all Californians to treasure the freedoms preserved by selfless soldiers like him. This brave soldier fought courageously so that others may enjoy the same liberties that Americans do everyday. Maria and I offer our condolences to David's family and friends as they mourn their loss."

Toomalatai, 19, died January 27 as a result of injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle during convoy operations in Taji, Iraq. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, TX.

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

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Thousand Oaks Marine

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Lance Cpl. Anthony C. Melia of Thousand Oaks, CA:

"Lance Corporal Melia served his country with courage and determination. His noble sacrifice exemplifies the true patriotism that makes our nation great. Maria and I join all Californians in expressing our condolences to Anthony's family and loved ones."

Melia, 20, died Jan. 27 as a result of injuries sustained while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq. He was assigned to Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, CA.

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