The Rogue Voice


April 08, 2009

Rogue Voice Online!

As the economy falters and print goes out of fashion, we're putting our energy into publishing online. A new venture for old dogs, who grew up with ink in their blood.

We haven't given up on print, which many of our readers love, but we're being pushed to go digital. So we shall.

Please click on the link below to view our emerging online presence:

The Rogue Voice

Meanwhile, we will continue to build both the online and print versions of The Rogue Voice, and welcome your suggestions and support.


Stacey Warde, Publisher

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May 01, 2008

Bar Mitzvah thwarted

Purim explained to dad that he’d rather be captured and tortured by Egyptians than have me in his Hebrew class.

During this chanting, dad hunched down like a man about to be sent to the guillotine, while mother, the real spiritual Jew in the family, coaxed him to get up there and recite his important Jewish prayers.

A confessional, spring 1953

By Dell Franklin

Since I’d been around 5 or 6, my parents had continually reminded me that when I was 9 I would begin Hebrew school in preparation for my bar mitzvah. I was now 9. Already bored and unbearably rest-less while forced to sit at services in the drab, cinder-block-like Compton synagogue, I had blocked the possibility of going to Hebrew school from my mind as I would a visit to the dentist. During ser-vices, as mother moved her lips to the prayers conducted by the rabbi and stood with the congregation, dad dozed off into a resonant snore from which he was jabbed awake by mother, who chastised me for squirming, making untoward noises, pinching my sister, and aggravating adults who were dead serious about services and appalled by my father and me.
It was torture enough being cooped up in Sunday school when was bursting with energy to flee to the playgrounds to play baseball or football with my hellion gentile friends, but now they expected me to go straight from school (instead of the park and playgrounds) to the synagogue three afternoons a week for Hebrew lessons.
I pleaded with mom and dad to let me “wait a while,” but dad claimed HE started at 9, which was late for most serious Jewish boys, and so now I had to go, too, and be like him and make my bar mitzvah. Dad, for all his defending Jews with his fists, for growing up in an antisemitic neighborhood in Chicago where he beat the shit out of Poles, Germans and Irish who called him sheenie and kike and Jewboy, was a pathetic example of a Jew on those stifling hot days at ser-vices on high holidays, when Jewish man after Jewish man, yarmulkes on heads, shawls on shoulders, walked humbly yet proudly to the stage to recite in perfect nuance and verse from the Torah while the rabbi nodded approvingly. During this chanting, dad hunched down like a man about to be sent to the guillotine, while mother, the real spiritual Jew in the family, coaxed him to get up there and recite his important Jewish prayers — a few lines so simple a gentile could conquer them in two weeks.
When dad was at last spotted in the crowd by the rabbi and beckoned to the stage, and actually stood over the Torah, he appeared stricken, petrified, and this man, deep-voiced, assertive, forceful to the point of intimidation, ex-boxer and Major League ballplayer, was reduced to a sheepish wimp, a blushing wretch as he mumbled in near-inaudible incoherence and stammered under his yarmulke, an old shapeless black rag compared to the shiny white satin caps worn by his fellow Jewish men. Celebrity and hero he was to most of the congregation, they cringed in shocked disbelief and whispered furtively to one another as they witnessed his disgraceful and embarrassing butchering of the Torah, voice growing weaker and weaker.
The poor rabbi, too, was stunned, though he tried to coach and encourage dad and feigned patience until finally nodding to dad that he was released from his misery and could at last sit down, for the good of all, and especially, I suppose, God.
“Some Jew,” I said, jabbing my idol with an elbow, after he sat down beside me. “You were a real pussy up there.”
“That’s enough out of you,” he snapped, mopping sweat off his face and neck. “You’re no one to talk.”
“But I’m just a kid, dad. You’re a grownup.”
“Just shut your mouth, wise guy. You’re starting Hebrew school this week.”
“So I can be like you? Ha ha ha.”
“One more word, and so help me God, I’ll drag you out of here and beat you into a thousand bloody pieces.”
I reported to a tall, scholarly-looking sourpuss named Ben Purim, who would be my Hebrew teacher for the next 3 1/2 years. Already my Gentile running mates were clustered at the window of the room at the synagogue, pogoing up and down to gape in, baseball equipment in hand. Purim shooed them away, fixing me with a reprimanding gaze, as did my fellow students, all studious about learning Hebrew and making bar mitzvah.
When I looked at the backwards book with a strange, hieroglyphic-like language, I closed it and yearned for what I was missing on the playgrounds. Purim repeatedly glanced at me as I fidgeted, cleared my throat, snorted, doodled, yawned, clacked my teeth menacingly at Bernie, Shelly, Norman, Steven, Sheila, Ester and Sidney, eventually punching Shelly in the nose and pummeling him into tears when he stuck his tongue out at me and mouthed the word “stupid.”
Purim, shocked and troubled, sent me home and called dad that night. Purim was from Israel and wanted me banned from his class, intimating to dad I was some kind of vitriolic Jew-hater bent on sabotaging his class. Dad bullshitted him for a long time and after hanging up pinned me with a vicious look and informed me that disgruntled Purim had agreed to give me a “second chance after deep misgivings.” Dad made me promise to put a halt to my shenanigans or he was going to “beat me into a thousand bloody pieces.”
I told dad I hated Hebrew school and was miserable there, but he said that part of being a good Jew was “suffering with things you didn’t like and learning about my people and learning Hebrew and making my bar mitzvah.”
This made no sense. “Dad,” I pleaded. “I don’t wanna learn that weird gooble. Look at you…you hate it, too. You can’t recite a word of the Torah, and you know it. Even mother says your bar mitzvah didn’t do YOU any good, or else you’d be able to recite your prayers like those...geeks.”
“At least your father tries,” he argued. “I’ve forgotten a lot because with baseball, and the war, I haven’t had time to go to services.”
“Those geeks who go up there, they been to war, and they work. You HATE it up there, and I don’t ever wanna go up there and chant those prayers.”
“Yes you will!” He was fired up. “You’re a Jew. You should be proud of your religion, and your Jewish heritage. Millions of Jews died and made sacrifices so you can be here today. I fought every Jew hating no-good bastard I could, and I have all my life, and now what do I have for a son? An antisemite, a Jew hater.”
“I’m no Jew hater. I just don’t like any of those Jewish kids. I like my own friends, dad. Why can’t I be with my friends, if they’re not Jews?”
“That’s not the point,” he burbled, getting flustered. “You’re changing the subject. And I’ll tell you what wise guy — you’re going back to Hebrew school tomorrow afternoon, and that’s that! You hear?”
Next class, Purim asked me to recite a few words. I hadn’t read the book and knew nothing. He glared at me, and I glared back, while my fellow students snickered. Sheila, beside me, a future replica of her yenta nonstop gabby mother, issued me a look indicating I was a loathsome putrid slime-ball, and when I returned the look she slapped me and I pinched her hard on the ass and she squealed and jumped up and ran around the room sobbing, and then Purim went crazy, also chasing me around the room, babbling at me, face all red.
He chased me out of the room and through the synagogue and out front, where my pals were waiting for me, baseball equipment in hand, and I hightailed it down the street, leaving him puffing and glowering on the front steps of the synagogue.
That night Purim explained to dad that he’d rather be captured and tortured by Egyptians than have me in his class, maintaining I was worst student he’d ever had.
Dad did not “beat me into a thousand bloody pieces,” which I had a hard time visualizing, but he did render me a tepid strapping. He’d never been this angry with me before. And right off he and mom, who was also miffed and shocked, managed to dig up another Hebrew private tutor for me across town. I had to take a bus and then a street car through the black part of town to meet this tutor in a Jewish neighborhood. He proved to be a reasonable and understanding man with long whiskers. After an hour he told me he could not teach me Hebrew because I refused to learn it and was so unhappy he felt terrible and could not endure being around me. He called dad and reported this fact, and then dad and mom engaged in a long, serious discussion which I listened to, my ear glued to their bedroom door.
The discussion grew into a raging argument, and finally a shouting match and verbal war. Mother refused to back down in her defense of me. Dad’s sticking points were the usual: He’d had to do it, it was the right thing to do, so I had to do it, and he didn’t see any-thing wrong with raising me like his father raised him, because HE’D turned out okay!
They argued into the night, were barely talking the next morn-ing at the breakfast nook. An agreement was made that I was hereby released from Hebrew school, and, if I changed my mind later, I could always go back when I was more mature and realized the importance of making my bar mitzvah.
“Honey,” my mother said. “I can’t bear to see you so unhappy.” Dad stood with coffee cup in hand, glowering down at me. A relentless, vicious competitor who could not bear to lose, he’d lost this round, and he didn’t like it. §

Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at

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Washing windows across America (episode 32)

Poor old Kmart. Once the country’s feature mart, it was now stuck over here on the alleyways, sharing the gravel with strip joints.

I decide the worst thing I can do is to sit still. I decide to take action. Gambling that my one asset was that I outweighed Drew by fifty pounds, I step out of the vehicle.

Photo Illustration by Stacey Warde

Houma’s big tumor
The missing ingredient to a Friday night

Part 1
By Ben Leroux

In the summer of 2003, I discarded all I owned and loaded a troubled 1975 Plymouth with clothes, books, a guitar, a cat named Reggie, and $17.94 worth of window-cleaning equipment. I drove across the United States, stopping in nowhere towns, pail and squeegee in hand, cleaning windows for another day’s pittance. Free of any attachments, I floated vaguely east, wandering in a private stratum without itinerary or expectation. I became a true outsider, a fugitive from the banal, suffocating cycle of madness that passes for a “normal life” today in America.

Episode 32
Route 182 between Morgan City and Houma coaxes the Plymouth and me along a lazy bayou shaded with drooping cypress. It’s a Friday afternoon in November and there are roadside pecan stands to watch go by, and yellow alligator-crossing signs every 5 miles or so. From the back of prolific lawns, stately mansions look out at humble little neighborhoods crouched along the bayou where small boys lay back on docks soaking up the final rays of autumn. Fishing poles dangle over the water beside them. Timeless drives like these could go on forever, as far as the Plymouth and I are concerned.
Then without warning, the city of Houma (population 32,000) gets us in her clutches, and before we can protest or run back for 182, begins whipping us up and down two gray one-way streets of pawnshops and liquor stores. She unleashes her tailgating citizens upon us, who delight in bullying us into secret turning lanes that force us into the crosscurrent, one street over. For what seems an eternity, we travel in a long narrow circle, and just when we start to find a way around Houma’s exitless amusement ride, identify some landmarks, she lashes us around some more. She bats us around like this till dusk, when she grows bored with us and spits us out into a Kmart parking lot.
We don’t stay for long at Kmart. Something seemed out of whack. It wasn’t even on a street really, but a graveled drive across from two “bikini bars.” Poor old Kmart. Once the country’s feature mart, it was now stuck over here on the alleyways, sharing the gravel with strip joints. These days it wasn’t even allowed near the other marts.
It isn’t hard to find Houma’s Wal-Mart and the pulsating cancer that feeds off it. You simply join the flow of vans, trucks and other cars coursing voraciously through the night streets. Like any other tumor, it’s hard to tell where Houma’s ends or begins. During my initial drive through though, I am pleased to find a Books-A-Million, the no-frills, straight-rowed, plastic-couched, southern cousin of Borders.
Coffee and book in hand, I go in search of a reading chair, but find something much better — a secluded spot on the floor behind a tall rack of entertainment magazines. The space was almost too good to be true and I’d hold onto it for dear life. Only narcolepsy or incontinence would make me give it up. I peek into the book I’ve grabbed. Lately I’ve been reading the plays of Tennessee Williams.
But I feel I’m being watched and I look up. Two beady little eyes are honed in on me. They belong to a boy standing next to his mother, a woman lost in the pages of Us Magazine. No more than four, the kid is more stunted adult than child, with pallid skin, dark quarter-moons under severe eyes, thin serious lips, and tiny snot encrusted nostrils. I ignore the little guy as long as I can, but he is unwavering. So I shoot him a quick smile and a wave then cover my eyes with the book. This twofold gesture lets a gawking kid know that while you may not be interested in interaction, you are not at all a bad man.
The unaffected kid holds his stare though. And when I look over the top of the book, I find him squinting doggedly at me. Then real low, lips barely moving, he growls: “Git the hell out.”
His mother looks up from her Us and in a protective reflex, my hand leaps to my mouth and I flinch. I suddenly want to protect the lad from the clout he had coming. I want to intervene before she lifts him off the ground and shakes him unconscious for embarrassing her in public. I’m ready to jump in and say something funny like “Ah, kids. Shit sometimes falls out of their mouth, doesn’t it? I don’t know about you, but it used to fall out of mine all the time.” I prepare to diffuse the situation. The last thing the kid needs however is my help.
His mom doesn’t lay a hand on him. In fact, upon discovering her little darling’s feat, she has laughed proudly, hugged the tyke and led him away, ruffling his dirty-blonde hair.
It sends me back out to the Plymouth where I lay down and hide from Louisiana. With two words that kid had confirmed every gut feeling I’d been dismissing over the past two weeks. I was hated here in Cajun country, was seen as a trespasser. I no longer cared why. What I wanted to know was how they could tell just by looking at me. The constant dirty looks were wearing me down. Not even the checkout clerks or librarians ever cracked a smile or said a kind word. Usually, no matter where you are, you can get a woman to show a little warmth. The stewing tires me into the early stages of sleep.
Shortly in though, the Plymouth begins to jiggle and I hear amorous cooing outside. In the rearview I find that a young couple has chosen the back of the Plymouth to make out against. Thinking they’ll soon move on to better accommodations, I decide to ride it out. But their dry-humping gets furious and starts to rock and sway the Plymouth. I get jostled around. I have to hold onto the armrests! Jesus, I’m on the high seas! I sit up and bang on the back window. The couple unlocks their faces and gives me a pair of piqued frowns.
I move the Plymouth closer to Wal-Mart. There would be little quiet here, but there were large vehicles to disappear between. I’m just settled in when I hear breaking of glass, and shouting outside. I sit up and the blurs of two laughing teens sprint past. Seconds later, a fat man in a Wal-Mart vest stops outside my window. Wheezing, he hurls empty bottles after the juveniles, promising them that if he ever sees them on Wal-Mart property again, he will cut their little nuts off.
Starved for a modicum of quietude, I move as far away from vehicles or stores as possible, out into the open spaces of Houma’s vast tumor. There is risk involved here. You are a sitting duck for cops or anyone else who may be curious. But after a few moments I discover that Houma could care less about me and I fall into a nice snooze. It is promptly disrupted by the rumble of a truck that pulls up a good distance behind the Plymouth and parks.
I lay and listen for a while. Over the popping of beer cans I begin to hear the voices and giggles of two couples. By their casual playfulness I can tell I am nothing more to them than an old abandoned car. I keep still and out of sight. No need to spook them. How long can they party here anyway? A few beers and they’ll be gone.
But time passes and many more beer cans pop and the musk of weed drifts my way and I start to get nervous. My knowledge of human nature, and redneck nature in particular, tells me that once discovered I was going to be the missing ingredient to their Friday night. So I decide to get the inevitable over with. I turn on the dome light, sit up, and cough loudly.
For a long, dead moment there is neither sound nor movement from either vehicle. Then there is rustling and tense, layered whispers from the truck. One distinct set of whispers stands out from the rest. One male says to the other: “Git ‘im, Drew.”
Drew doesn’t get out of the truck right away, which I see as a good sign. His hesitation gives me a flicker of hope that reason and peace will prevail this night. But then the little whores have to chime in.
“Yeah, c’mon Drew. Go git ‘im,” they giggle. “Yeah, beat ‘is ass, Drew,”
Damn bitches.
I shut off the dome light and concentrate on steadying my breathing and observe the physiology of the body. Nature has some remarkable ways for preparing us for conflict. Shaking must prime the muscle groups for grappling, striking and tossing motions, I deduce. An essential trait for Homo sapiens’ survival. The dry throat must have given the caveman’s voice a bit of a growl to make him sound ferocious to predators. Crucial. But why do intestines descend in the abdomen? To remind one of death perhaps.
Houma’s tumor assumes the remoteness of Siberian tundra as the cold standoff escalates. Drew, with his reputation on the line, stalls. This is what I imagine at least, since I’ve yet to see. I, on the other hand, have time for a visual search around the Plymouth. I search for assets — anything that could be used in battle. It doesn’t take long. The only potential weapon I had was the guitar, and I needed that.
On the liability side however, I was quite rich. In addition to being outnumbered and having nowhere to flee, my footwear was a pair of flimsy sandals. Just for wearing sandals in November I deserved a good beating. Sandals were no good for fighting or anything else really but walking the beaches of California. Slipping them on, I pledge to dig my old sneakers out of the trunk first thing in the morning. That is, if I survived the ordeal at hand.
The tone of the four voices from the darkened cab begins to change and I don’t like it. It takes on the territorial, self-righteous edge of persecuted rural folk. I decide the worst thing I can do is to sit still. I decide to take action. Gambling that my one asset was that I outweighed Drew by fifty pounds, I step out of the vehicle.
I let Drew get a look at me. I stretch for him and yawn. I widen my stance, spit, scratch, inflate the chest and try to look as tough as a man can in sandals and shorts. I walk around to the front of the Plymouth and open the hood and pretend to check oil. I stare at the Slant-6 engine and think back to that lazy, silky drive along 182 just hours ago and how nice it would be to be back there. The Louisiana bayou air had been just like you hear it described in books — “velvety” or “creamy.” There were only a few fleeting drives like that left in America, where you could go back in time and pretend there were no big tumors.
Drew’s headlights split open the darkness of the tumor and obliterate my vision and his engine screams and revs. I don’t jump to any conclusions. For all I know, Drew is getting ready to hightail it out of here. No, Drew is too far in now. His buddy lets out a whoop and the two girls cheer. He must come for me and does.
There’s little I can do to prepare. The few fighting moves I knew were designed for one-on-one playground combat, not parking lot free-for-alls with hostile banshee-cackling girls in the background. And definitely not for sandals. For my type of self-defense, a stable pair of athletic sneakers worked best. Yet, as the heat of Drew’s approaching headlights thaw my chilled gooseflesh, my fear levels out into a crystal state of expectancy and my hands twitch impatiently. Maybe I’d received one too many dirty looks…. §

Editor’s note: The second part of Houma’s big tumor will continue in the next installment of Ben Leroux’s Window Washing Across America.

Ben Leroux continues to ply his trade as a window washer and writes from his home in Morro Bay. He can be reached at

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Replacing a legend

He was a darling of the front office and the fans, a man who in Detroit could do no wrong.

HALL OF FAME Charlie Gehringer of the Detroit Tigers was considered the greatest second baseman of all time.


Stories of the early days of Major League Baseball by Murray Franklin as told to Dell Franklin.

Next to Rogers Hornsby, Charlie Gehringer of the Detroit Tigers was considered the greatest second baseman of all time. He was a home-grown Michigan native who’d been holding down second base since 1926 and was going to the Hall of Fame, and there was no more popular player in the history of the franchise. He was a darling of the front office and the fans, a man who in Detroit could do no wrong. He was a better fielder than Hornsby and a more all-around player, probably the most fundamentally sound ballplayer in the game, a guy who went about his business as a total professional, and a master of every phase of the game — running the bases, sliding, bunting, going out on pop flies, going to either hole, making the double-play, hitting behind the runner, moving runners, stealing a base, getting a sacrifice fly, stealing a sign, anything you needed to win a ballgame.
He was a quiet reliable guy who, like DiMaggio, never made a mental error, but since he led by example he could freeze you with a look if YOU made a mental error, because you were hurting the club and taking food out of his mouth; he was the kind of leader you didn’t want to disappoint, all business, respecting the game like religion, a guy who could make your life miserable if you didn’t show the same respect, and since he was who he was you were gone if you disappointed him or disrespected the game.
He hardly said boo to me when I came up, never went out of his way to help me or give me advice, and he knew who I was, knew I’d been the top infield prospect in the organization and was being groomed to take over his position, and he knew he was just about finished as a ballplayer, but he wasn’t about to give up his position to some interloper written about in the papers as his replacement. Gehringer knew that helping me would help the ballclub, and the ballclub for years had been his life’s blood, and it was obvious he wasn’t helping the club anymore, because he could no longer hit or cover any ground. The team knew it, he knew it, everybody in the league know it, and finally, in ‘42, when he was no longer able to do anything but hang on as a pinch hitter, they kept him on the roster for the fans, and one of the writers wrote a column in the Detroit paper with a headline: “Franklin takes over for Gehringer today.”
He didn’t say a word to me that morning in the clubhouse. When I took batting practice there was already a crowd around the dugout and along the lines booing my every swing, my every move, and during infield it was the same: boos, boos and more boos, filthy insults, and when the game started and the public address announcer boomed my name to the crowd that I was the starting second baseman, well, the entire packed house booed me, and they kept on booing when I ran onto the field, and when I ran off the field at the end of the first inning the boos were so loud I couldn’t hear myself think and a bunch of wolves near the dugout dumped bags of garbage on me, coat hangers, corn cobs, filthy rancid stuff, and they cussed me and insulted me like I’d murdered Gehringer, telling me I’d never be able to hold his jockstrap, and Gehringer sat in the dugout and never said a word or looked at me, and I had to wipe that shit off me and clean my face at the water fountain, and later, up at the plate, the booing got worse, Jesus Christ, it didn’t stop until I pulled a single into left field.
But it started all over again. God forbid I booted one in the field. Every eye in the stadium was on me, hoping I’d boot one, so they could run me out of town, and every morning in the papers another writer compared me to Gehringer, and they kept right on booing me in Detroit, so that I was happy to get on the road and away from those Detroit fans, real animals. As for Gehringer, he sat on the bench with his arms folded and never said a word, never offered me one word of encouragement, and I never held it against him. He was a proud man. A legend. He’d been so good, so great, and it couldn’t have been a very good feeling to look out there and see somebody else playing a position he held down for 20 years. §

Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at

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A memory of trains

Photo illustration by Stacey Warde

Now clouded by the ever-present threat of whisky and red fists, the memory gleamed through abruptly with the sound of the trains.

The bottle almost seemed to grin horribly at her with animal’s teeth covered in a fresh film of blood bubbling up from pulsating, infected gums, cat-whiskers gleaming with drops of molten fire, wet with the stench of terrible magic.

by Larry Narron

Maggie was sitting on the couch curled up next to her father, watching the baseball game. By the fourth inning he was already very drunk, and she, saying she had calculus homework to finish, slipped away quietly upstairs to her bedroom. It was only eight o’clock by the time she turned off the light and slipped under the covers. Minutes later she began to hear the sound of her mother and father screaming at each other in the living room downstairs. Maggie hoped that that was all they were going to do, but she knew that it would get much worse very soon, probably even before she had a chance to fall asleep. In the morning her mother would drive her to school again, and Maggie would look over at her in the driver’s seat and see her wearing the scarf again. Her mother didn’t wear scarves when there were no bruises to hide.
She pulled the comforter up over her head. She tried to ignore the muffled sound of her father’s sporadic, drunken mumbling, his violent screaming at her mother. She shut her eyes and focused instead on the sound of the trains outside her open window. She lay alone in the dark and listened to the train whistles screaming softly in the cored -out night, hearing the whispering kisses of old metal and new steam, the singing of heat being pumped up into the aching December sky. In the darkness she tried to imagine what the trains might look like winding up over the hills, out of the city, into the north, up along the dim-mythed shores of the southern California coast, north to some magic place where nothing existed but darkness — darkness, the sound of train whistles in the elastic distance, and antique, grandfather clocks striking four in the morning.
She remembered:
She was four years old and she was surrounded by white mountains that towered over her. It was winter and the world was pregnant with an undiscovered wonder, bloated with a sense of mystery that would never be again. Maggie and her parents had not yet moved away forever from those white fields that stretched between the mountains of the country world just outside Salt Lake City. Now clouded by the ever-present threat of whisky and red fists, the memory gleamed through abruptly with the sound of the trains. She had been four, and her father had taken her to Salt Lake to see the trains pull out of the station, to watch them chug away to some other ancient place, away into the immortal mountains. Her father hoisted her up onto his bulk shoulders. Maggie clung affectionately to his dirty, smoke-stained hunting jacket and watched with untainted joy as all the trains roared away into fields of snow. She watched from high atop his shoulders as all the unnamable people came and went from nowhere to nowhere.
It wasn’t the trains alone that enchanted her, but her father’s own deathbed clarity devoid of drunkenness, full of affection and love. Being there, near the trains, there had been no guilt, no shame, no fear of what bad things might happen any moment.
It was a dream from which Maggie wished she never had to awaken. But now she was awake — in a dark room where the trains abandoned her, winding away into the darkness and the distance outside. And if her father came upstairs right now and opened the door and poked his head inside, it wouldn’t be her father in the doorway anymore but someone else, his breath reeking with the sour stench of bad dreams, his face possessed by a groggy leer of anger, sadness, and something else she could not name.
Her father.
In the living room.
“Come down here a minute, Maggie”
She pulled the comforter from her eyes and just lay there on the bed, frozen. She squeezed her eyes shut and clamped her teeth hard together in her mouth.
“Come here, honey!”
Finally, Maggie stood. Without turning on the light, she headed for the door, went out and descended the stairs.
Her father was slumped down on the couch in the living room, a glass of whisky nearly filled to the rim clutched in his red and swollen fingers. He dipped a finger into the glass and swirled it around. He grinned at her, his face a puffed up fire of reddened flesh, eyes glinting dully in the dim light coming from the kitchen. The bottle was at his feet, the familiar black and white label that wrapped around the glass almost seeming to look at her and say, Hi, Maggie! Remember the trains? Well, guess what? You’re daddy doesn’t remember them anymore, and even if you told him he wouldn’t care! I’m gonna make him hurt you so much! You know you really shouldn’t go out in the wintertime without putting on a nice big scarf to wrap around your neck. I’ll wrap around your neck, you bitch. The bottle almost seemed to grin horribly at her with animal’s teeth covered in a fresh film of blood bubbling up from pulsating, infected gums, cat-whiskers gleaming with drops of molten fire, wet with the stench of terrible magic.
Trembling, Maggie sat down on the couch next to her father. He moved closer to her, his breath burning in her face. She put her hands behind her back, making fists and finding pools of sweat in her palms. Her father slipped one huge hand behind her and gently undid each one of her trembling fists, uncurling her fingers one by one. She let her fingers go limp in his grip, surrendering completely. Her father rubbed her fingers together in his bulging red hands.
She closed her eyes and just lay there against her father, resting her head on his chest. She waited for him to speak, but he said nothing. She felt her heart beating furiously in her chest. She could not slow it down.
Where’s Mama where’s Mama they were just yelling why can’t she come back in here and make him go to bed…
But he was snoring. Maggie opened her eyes and looked at him. She saw him now passed out, his head slumped against his shoulder. He breathed slowly and heavily through his thick, wet lips.
Maggie undid his grip from her fingers — slowly, one by one so she wouldn’t wake him — and stood. She backed away from the couch, turned and headed for the stairs. As she reached the wooden railing of the staircase and took hold of it, she braced for what she was so certain was about to come: The hard, hard, heavy smack of her father’s thick belt against the back of her head, and the sharp, numbing sting that was sure to follow; the swelling growing beneath her torn hair even before she could cry out and crash, stunned, to the hardwood floor; her head hurting not just because of the cuts and the blood but because of the strands of her hair that would be ripped out of her head, caught in the big copper buckle with the blood; and, finally, the screams and the taunts and the accusations and then the sudden rush of big cowboy-booted feet behind her before she finally rolled over and looked up into the eyes that no longer belonged to her father but to someone else grinning down at her and laughing as he took the belt and made the loop for her neck — it gets cold in December, baby, you can’t go out without a scarf to wear — and began tightening it slowly, slowly, letting her feel the sharp points of the big metal buckle digging into the skin of her neck.
Maggie froze on the stairs, waiting, certain. She risked a glance over her shoulder and saw her father still there on the couch snoring, out cold.
She turned and hurried up the stairs. She went into her room and closed the door softly behind her. She left the light off and crawled back into bed.
The last of the trains had left through the hills, had wound up toward Oceanside and whatever lay beyond. Outside there was nothing but the distance, an oppressive darkness and the open wound of the silence. §

Larry Narron is a freelance writer who lives in San Luis Obispo. This story is from a work-in-progress.

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SLO county tightens belt on indigent law services

San Luis Obispo County’s Probation Department recently began billing indigent individuals.

County officials ‘are supposed to provide free defense to the indigent,’ said Bill Hassler, attorney of the day at the Office of the State Public Defender.

By Karen Velie

County administrators have pulled the plug on easy, free legal counsel for the indigent.

In a move resulting in considerable confusion and contention, San Luis Obispo County’s Probation Department recently began billing indigent individuals who have claimed the right to be represented by an attorney after being charged with a crime.

A county official called the collection effort “a work in progress.”

County officials “are supposed to provide free defense to the indigent,” said Bill Hassler, attorney of the day at the Office of the State Public Defender. “They can set the bar wherever they want, but it seems pointless to seek reimbursement from the indigent.”

“We represent those who can’t afford counsel,” said one Public Defender employee. “The word on the street is having a chilling effect on the system. People know that if they ask for a public defender, they will have to pay.”

Though county officials claim indigent legal representation is provided at no cost, numerous bills demanding payment have been sent to impoverished persons.

Following an arrest for marijuana possession, James Dugger filled out a financial declaration and requested a public defender. Unemployed at the time, Dugger claimed he had no assets, not even a car.

“I was told there would be no charge,” Dugger said. “Then I started getting bills from the Probation Department’s Revenue Recovery Unit.”

Public defenders are appointed by the court when the accused do not have resources to hire a private attorney. This safeguards the constitutional rights of the poor; expenses are paid from the county general fund.

In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Sixth Amendment mandates the government to provide indigent persons with competent legal representation. Each government entity can establish its own requirements for making an “impoverished” determination.

Approximately a year ago, SLO County administrators asked the Probation Department’s Revenue Recovery Unit to help protect county funds from possible misuse. Applicants for legal aid are required to fill out a financial declaration form, and are asked to provide tax returns and bank statements, according to county administrators.

“Is it appropriate for the taxpayer that we just take the word of an individual that they have no assets?” asked County Administrator David Edge. He defended the new system: “Should (just filling out) a form be okay? Yes, you have a constitutional right to an attorney. We are looking for those people who can afford to pay.”

No county policy has yet been established to deal with indigents not having access to the required documentation.

“They just asked me to fill out the financial declaration. That is all,” Dugger said. “They did not ask for any documentation. I could have given them a tax return and a bank statement showing a zero balance. It’s unfair and I am not going to pay.”

Officials from the Probation Department, Public Defenders Office, and representatives of the court have agreed to get together for a review of the new collection procedure and its results.

“The Public Defender Reimbursement Program is a work in progress,” said Jim Salio, assistant chief probation officer in an e-mail. “We have no intention of wanting to collect from indigent defendants, who truly need and deserve public defender representation. We are setting up a meeting with the Public Defender’s Office to work on improving the process.” §

Karen Velie is co-editor of She can be reached at

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Cabby's corner

‘I’ve been sick all winter. First, it was a cold, and then the flu, and then I got a yeast infection, and it wouldn’t go away…and I hate to be sick, I’m NEVER EVER sick, but I’ve been sick all year….’

It’s very late, after 2 in the morning, and I picked them all up at the pickup mill on the main drag of San Luis Obispo, and all I want to do is get rid of them and go home.

The girl who talked too much

By Dell Franklin

This pretty mid-20s girl is squished between me and a tall, rangy Hollywood handsome guy with a cast on his right arm from knuckles to mid-forearm. The girl is drunk and won’t shut up, and the guy beside her is scowling and silent as a clam. In the back seat, another girl sits between a well-dressed guy with a $75 haircut who is directly behind me and a kid in a watchcap who can’t keep his hands off the girl, who is too drunk to do much about him, while the guy behind me keeps tapping me on the shoulder and insisting he will pay.
“Don’t take any money from anybody else, dude,” he keeps saying.
It’s very late, after 2 in the morning, and I picked them all up at the pickup mill on the main drag of San Luis Obispo, and all I want to do is get rid of them and go home, for I’ve been at it since 3 in the afternoon. Meanwhile, the girl is telling me of her troubles….
“My favorite uncle died…he just DIED! He was my best uncle, my best friend, I love him so…and I cried and cried, I still can’t stop crying….”
Nobody else is saying anything, they’re all too drunk and tired or distracted, but not this girl.
“I’ve been sick all winter. First, it was a cold, and then the flu, and then I got a yeast infection, and it wouldn’t go away…and I hate to be sick, I’m NEVER EVER sick, but I’ve been sick all year….”
“You should booze it up more, that’s my advice. Booze kills all those nasty germs….”
“I like doing things, and staying busy, I’ve got a good job, I love my job, and I missed so much work…and then uncle Jerry died, he just up and died, and then my best friend, she broke her leg skiing, and her back’s all screwed up, she’s bedridden….”
“What about your little dog?”
“Don’t you have a little lap dog?”
“My parents have the dog I grew up with…Lucy, she’s a little weiner dog, she’s almost twenty years old! She can’t see and she can’t hear! I know she’s going to die soon, and it just tears me apart, it’s one thing after another….”
“But at least you got your job, right?”
“Right. I’ve got my, job. I….”
“Don’t forget, I’m paying,” says the guy behind me, tapping me on the shoulder again. “Their money’s no good.”
“If you didn’t have your job, things’d be much worse.”
“Well, I know, but….”
“And you’ve got a roof over your head…?”
“Oh yes, I live with Frank, in the back seat, in Avila Beach, in a townhouse he just bought, so I don’t really NEED to work, I mean, you know, to survive and all, but I want to work, I need to be doing something, I’ve always been that way, you know, I was a very hyper kid and I’m still hyper and I have a lotta stuff going….”
Her cell phone rings. She’s right on it. Uh-huhs a little, and then goes on a verbal rampage about the night she’s just experienced, with the bar being so crowded and wild and she was bored and would the person on the other phone like to come over for a nightcap? But that person cannot and she feels oh so bad, almost like she’s going to cry, and she insists, implores, “please please please come over, I need to talk to you, I love you so, we’re such good friends, yes, I know you love me, and I love you, too, why don’t you come over and Frank and Rick and you and I can have a nightcap….”
I’m tapped on the shoulder. “Don’t let, anybody pay pal.”
“I won’t.”
We’re nearing the offramp to Avila Beach. Their townhouse is not situated in the once-old funky part of town that has been razed and transformed into a high-end tourist mecca, but in a gated community adjacent a golf course. They are all so young, possibly 26, 27, and I wonder where they get the money to buy homes that start out at well over half a million when I, an old cabby, have to scrimp for dollars, a beggar at the mercy of the new rich, barely making enough at the end of the month for a moldy old dilapidated beach shack.
She is off the phone. “Mr. Cabby, can I change the music on your radio, please please please?
I always play jazz, blues or classical but I nod, and she goes through a bunch of stations and settles on rap, turning it up, and I let it go, what the hell, there’s only a mile or so to go, who cares about what I want?
“Here here here!” exclaims the girl pointing frantically. “This is where we get off!”
The guy in back is tapping again. “Here, here, yeh, here….”
“I know where I’m going, kids.” I hit the offramp. “I know where Avila Beach is. I’ve made this trip a hundred times. I’ve driven a cab for years around here, I’m not a goddam moron….”
The girl grabs my arm. “I’m sooo sorry.” The music is so loud I can hardly think. “I’m really really sorry. Please don’t be upset.”
“I’m not upset.”
“You’re upset. I’m so sorry. Please don’t be mad at me.”
“I’m not mad at you.”
“You don’t like me, I know you don’t like me.”
“For God’s sake, kid, I don’t dislike you! Relax. I’m just trying to drive my cab.”
“Oh God, you hate me…I know you do.”
“I don’t HATE you. You’re a nice girl. Just a little drunk.”
She starts to cry. “I know I talk too much…I know I bother people. I know I make people mad. I apologize….”
“Stop apologizing. Look, I LIKE you. You’re a sweetie, a dear, an angel. Now just sit still and don’t say anything, we’re almost there, almost home, just calm down, please, calm down….”
She sniffles into a handkerchief and squeezes my arm. “I’m just too sensitive. You’re really a doll. You really are. You remind me of my uncle who died. Just a sweetheart. It’s just that, oh, I’ve had such a bad night, such a bad year!”
I pull up to the gate. The gatekeeper is dozing. A fat Latino. We’ve been through this before. I give him a quick honk. He blinks, sits ups pushes a button, waves me on, the gate lifts, and I drive through. The girl beside me is finally silent. The guy beside her is rocking back and forth, gritting his teeth, scowling horribly. The guy in back with the watchcap is draped all over the girl in the middle, and it looks like he’s trying to fondle her ass and feel her bosom at the same time while he plants a wet one on her lips. She’s not fighting it.
At the directions of the guy behind me, I pull up to a townhouse. Among identical townhouses. There’s a Jag and a Mercedes SUV in the driveway. He hands me a hundred dollar bill. The fare is $18.50.
“You keep the change, cabby,” he says, “on one condition — you take this asshole in the backseat as far away from here as possible.”
Everybody gets out. The guy who paid me goes over to a little garden amid the slabs of stone and plaster and urinates on a rose bush. Meanwhile, the guy with the cast, who is at least six-foot-three and built like a stud athlete, is on the verge of clubbing the guy with the watchcap, his cast raised menacingly as he steps toward him. The guy who paid me hurries over and gets between them as the girls scream and try to pull the attacker back.
“Asshole!” he shouts at the guy. “He jumps in the backseat un-fucking-invited, and tries to fuck my girlfriend! I’m killing you you little piss ant!”
The girl from the backseat who was being sexually mauled shouts at me. “Rick’s an ultimate fighter! He’ll kill him and go to jail forever! He’s not supposed to fight. His fists are deadly weapons.”
The watchcap, believe it or not, is still trying to get his hands back on the girl he’s been mauling in the back seat and I grab him and turn him around and take him by the scruff of his neck and begin march-ing him toward the cab, while the other three people try to restrain the guy with the cast. The back door is open and I throw watchcap in and slam the door as the ultimate fighter lurches toward the door, pre-pared to open it and beat the watchcap to death, most likely.
“He’s an idiot, a pantywaist,” I plead. “Don’t hurt him, guy, go in and have a drink.”
“The fucker, he’s hitting on her all night, he knows she’s with me, goddammit, he jumps in the car….”
I run around and jump in the cab and lock buttons and tear away, leaving four figures in the driveway. I take a deep breath. I come to the gate, where the keeper is back aslumber, and it opens automatically and out on the road I begin to wind down, but now the watchcap is breathing down my neck, wanting to talk.
“That dude, he ain’t givin’ his bitch no play,” he says. “He’s a miserable asshole, man. That bitch, she wanted me. She was mine. Did you catch me in the backseat, dude? She was all over me, wanting it, cuz that guy ain’t givin’ her no play, Man, I know when a bitch wants me, and she was comin’ onto me at Mother’s man, I was dancin’ with her, and she was hot, all over me….”
“Okay, fine. I don’t wanna hear about it. I’m tired.”
“Man, I know when a bitch wants me. You know how many women I’ve screwed, and I’m only 24? I’ve screwed 42 women. How many women did you have when you were 24?”
“Hardly any. I was in the Army. We screwed hookers.”
“Well, I’ve had 42 different bitches, so I know what I’m talkin’ about. I know when a bitch wants me, dude.”
“You keep track? You count ‘em, write ‘em down in a diary?”
“I’ve had 42 different women, and that bitch was gonna be 43. But hey, cabby, my man, when we get to town, let’s cruise Higuera street and see what we can find.”
“It’s two thirty. Everybody’s off the streets.”
“So…we’ll cruise, man. That dude gave you a big tip, so you can cruise, and I can find some pussy.”
“I’m not gonna cruise, kid. Forget it.”
“Why not, man? Come on.”
“Where do you live in San Luis?”
“Don’t worry about that. I just need to find a bitch right now.”
“Listen, kid, I kept that ultimate fighting beast from pulverizing you, so don’t push it.”
“Hey, dude, mellow out, huh? You’re all up tight, all stressed out, we’ll just cruise, man.”
I don’t say anything. I’m beginning to feel like Raskalnikov in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment before he axe-murdered his landlady. There is something about this guy that cuts right through me, compromises tolerance, self-control, compassion, understanding, a sense of humor or perspective….
“Man, that bitch, she WANTED me. She was grabbing my dick, man.”
I slow down. “You’ve got to shut up, kid, or I’m gonna pull over here on the freeway in the rain and throw you outta this cab.”
“Hey, the dude PAID you to drive me, man....”
He sits back, falls silent. One more word and I’ll unload on him. But he keeps his trap shut. I get into San Luis and drop him off on the main drag, Higuera, and he gets out and starts walking, looking around for a chick, but the street is stone silent and empty but for a cop car cruising slowly.
A couple weeks later I’m sitting in my cab in front of Mother’s Tavern on a Saturday night and there’s a long, long line waiting to get in. Those in the line who know each other converse and laugh. Others are engaged in cell phone conversations, I spot the watchcap. He’s by himself, but not on a cell phone. He looks slouchy and forlorn, like a man about to go for a job interview here he knows he’s got no shot. §

Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at

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Hambones and hooknasties

He doesn’t actually look like Brad Pitt, but he does look like a movie star. A little too much like a movie star, which adds to the allure. Like he was created, chiseled, and sculpted at a Hollywood studio.

‘That’s her environment, that’s her life. Upper-crust town, good looks, private high school, private college, marry some big-bucks hambone, pump out some kids…’

By Matthew Powers

I gaze upward at the spatial, futuristic dome of my cafeteria as soft streaks of sunlight pierce through the Plexiglas, oval-shaped summit. The Atrium is quite an achievement. Completed just before I arrived at The University, it’s the most expensively built college dining hall in America. Most dining halls at The University sit in the bowels of academic buildings. They’re all claustrophobic and smell like urinals. But the Atrium is different. Aural and spacious, it feels liberating, refreshing, even occasionally intimate.
I usually meet Sebadoha and Plinkerton after Theories and I’m always the first one here; Gardner Hall, after all, is virtually next door. I walk to the west end of the cafeteria. Long, rectangular tables stretch across the surface.
I plunk my backpack down and wrap my jacket on the back of a chair. As always I deliberately choose a table at the perimeter of the food court. The opening corridor is unobstructed from this angle, allowing us a perfect opportunity to check out everyone who enters. Glistening hooknasties, baseball cap-adorned dudes, our friends. No one escapes our notice, our acerbic critiques, our ruthless evaluations.
The main reason I sit here, however, is because no one will be near us. Orienting ourselves in the center of the Atrium would be far too dangerous. We usually get pretty zany during lunch — the vulgarities, the sex stuff, the loony stuff. People don’t want to hear that. And I certainly don’t want people listening.
Due to its superior architecture, you’d expect the Atrium to have better food than the other dining halls. It doesn’t. Maybe I’m too familiar with the place, but the quality and choice of the food is consistently mediocre. My eating habits are terrible too. I’ll eat anything that is available and edible. Really. Although I appear pretty fit I’ll probably die of a heart attack before I graduate.
As I walk into the food court I see the erupting smile of Sebadoha as well as Plinkerton in the distance as they enter the building. I spot the pasta service center and weave my way through the elastic tape-designated lines. Food lamps glow like a synthetic sun across a plastic horizon. There are few people around and virtually no waiting. Without fail, the Atrium is almost empty of students during lunchtime. It’s packed during breakfast and dinner. But lunch is not a real meal for college students. Between 10 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon kids are all over the place with class, errands, meetings, practice. People’s schedules are just too erratic, too unpredictable in the middle of the day to schedule a time to meet up with friends. And just about everyone is too embarrassed to sit alone. So people just snag some chicken fingers on the way to class, a burger on the way back to the dorm.
I return to the table and instinctively whip out an essay I just received back from Professor Gladstone. I am not much of an exception in this embarrassed loner phenomenon. Although I am willing to eat alone, I always need something to occupy myself. Usually it’s a newspaper or something. It’s more about creating the appearance that I’m not a loner, however, than finding something stimulating to do. I know that Sebadoha and Plinkerton will return from the food court in a second but I still follow instinct. Conspicuous solitude is not a cool thing.
“Sexy monkey,” Plinkerton welcomes, quickly back.
“Hey muffincakes. How’d the mid-term go?”
“All right. I didn’t really get the section on diathermic systems. The last third was pretty hard too. Otherwise it was okay.”
“What was the last third?”
“Section on entropy. Mainly entropy outside of an internally modified state.”
“Oh…,” I nod, badly feigning knowledge and interest.
“Hey, what you got there?” Sebadoha arrives, with a tray full of greasy garbage: French fries, hamburger, buffalo wings.
“Are you gonna eat all of that?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“You know gluttony is considered a sin by….”
“Did you guys see Brad Pitt over there?”
“No, where is he?” I respond.
Plinkerton points forward to my right and I see him. Brad Pitt is the most perfect archetype of a hambone, and I sort of have a fascination with him. His name isn’t really Brad Pitt. Bradley Pittsfield. Putnam. Pittman. Pliny. Pliny the Elder. I don’t really know. Something like Brad Pitt. I think he actually goes by Brad Pitt sometimes. He ran for Student Congress last year and posted all of these fliers around campus with his face superimposed on the body of Tyler Durden. In the background, a series of epigrams ran: “The first rule about Student Assembly is you don’t talk about Student Assembly. The second rule about Student Assembly is you don’t talk about Student Assembly.” And so on.
And he won too. He won a spot on the student assembly, assuredly and singularly due to that advertisement. What a guy.
But I’m genuinely fascinated by him. He’s so exaggeratedly one-dimensional, his hambonic gestures and movements congeal so seamlessly with his physical features that it’s hard not to be fixated by the guy. He doesn’t actually look like Brad Pitt, but he does look like a movie star. A little too much like a movie star, which adds to the allure. Like he was created, chiseled, and sculpted at a Hollywood studio. A mechanized, celluloid beauty.
“That girl is smokin’,” Sebadoha says.
Sebadoha and Plinkerton start scrutinizing the hooknasty Brad Pitt is talking to but I just keep staring at Brad. A cosmetic sheen envelops his face, from his gravity-rejecting gelled hair to the pristine, artificial glow of his chin. He’s one attractive man, I must admit. Still, I don’t know he pulls it off. Getting the girls and all of that business. He’s more beautiful than handsome, more debonair than rugged. But somehow he epitomizes masculinity.
“She’s got a nice rack too,” Plinkerton interjects.
“Hells yeah,” I join the conversation. I think I know this hooknasty. And she does have some nice jugs. I can see in the protruding outline of her right breast encapsulated within her sweater. The fact that I can make any delineation whatsoever through that thick sweater is testament enough to her rockin’ bod.
“I haven’t seen her before,” Plinkerton remarks.
“I recognize her,” I say.
“From where?”
“Seen her around campus. At parties around frat row.”
“What’s her deal?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, ‘What’s her deal?’”
“What’s her deal!? The same deal with these three hooknasties by the entrance. Same deal with every hooknasty I’ve come across at The University. Same deal with every girl I’ve come across at this school. We all know what happened to her, what’s happening to her, and what’s going to happen to her. Her life is one long, determined narrative. We all know this!"
“What do you mean?” Sebadoha asks and I glare at him uncomprehendingly. “Like, the whole ‘narrative’ thing.”
“First off, it’s a near certainty that she’s from a wealthy suburb. Greenwich. Wellesley. Westchester County. That place Plinkerton is from.”
“Old Westbury,” Plinkerton answers.
“Right. And she went to that school Plinkerton went to.”
“Woodmere Academy.”
“Right! That’s her environment, that’s her life. Upper-crust town, good looks, private high school, private college, marry some big-bucks hambone, pump out some kids — there ya go! The cycle of life!”
“The Origin of the Hooknasties by Jeremy Burnsides,” Sebadoha says dourly.
“Hey, I’m just sayin’, if you were born in a palace you’re gonna want to live like a queen. I don’t even know if I’m arguing against it. Just explaining. I think.” I pause, eat some of my lunch, and take in a momentary joy, self-satisfied by my spontaneous exegesis. Could I write my senior thesis about this?
“I don’t buy it.”
“Buy what?”
“The whole academic thing. That they’re not smart. It doesn’t make any sense. If they’re such idiots then they’d never get accepted here.”
“I never claimed that. That they’re idiots. I think they get in legitimately. Totally legitimately. People always say legacy or their dad has connections. Bullshit. Just about all of them make it on merit.”
“So what the hell’s your problem?”
“Well they’re not legitimately intelligent by any means. I’ve never said that. It’s the internalized academic pressure that gets ‘em going. Nobody really pressures them. Their parents, teachers, whoever. It’s culture. It’s part of their genes, it’s part of their environment. Like oxygen and carbon dioxide and YouTube. All they’ve seen since elementary school is success. All I’ve heard about since middle school is college. I mean, when the climate dictates success, you better do well. And the pressure is so frickin’ internalized that you really have no option. You become part of the gristmill without even knowing it!”
I pause briefly. I get something of a high after monologues like this and right now I really feel it. I slurp my swamp of spaghetti and meatballs and stare at the trio of hooknasties now exiting. Plinkerton and Sebadoha follow, only the faint hum of rock music from the cafetaria’s speakers is audible.
Sebadoha finally breaks the silence, moving his chair.
“You’re going already?” I ask.
“You’ve only eaten half of your meal.”
“Are you my mother?” he retorts. I have a no response and no one talks for a few seconds.
“You got class?” Plinkerton asks.
“No. But I gotta study. Got a mid-term in an hour, at 4.”
“Why don’t you stay here?”
“You think I’m gonna learn anything with you clowns?” We can only coyly glare at him, defeated, as he departs.
Plinkerton and I finish our meals silently, and the silence is strangely restorative after my vitriol early during lunch. We walk out as the blinding fall sun beats down on us. Friday afternoons are the weirdest time of the week for college students. There is a strange characterlessness to these late afternoons. No one seems to be on campus. Classes are over and no one is in an academic mood. But everyone, especially episodic alcoholics, would feel too much like an alcoholic to start partying at this time. I don’t know where everyone goes but I also seem to drift into this autumnal black hole. This enigmatic black hole that fuses with the sun and dips and dies over the hills of The University and we only wake when the sun is dead, the dusk is fresh, and hambones and hooknasties prowl the streets like jackals. §

Matthew Powers is a freelance writer who lives in San Diego. He can be reached at

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America's ruling clique

War is a form of corporate welfare cloaked in patriotic language. One need only follow the money to understand what it is really about.

Illustration by Donald Archer

By Charles Sullivan

Neoconservatives derive much of their political strength from the portrayal of big government as the enemy of the people — a belief that plays only too well in America. Big government is indeed the enemy of the people when it does not serve the people’s interests, or when it betrays them.
Where the neoconservatives and the chicken hawks have been spectacularly successful is in the field of perception management. The super rich — or the ruling clique — make up no more than 0.1 percent of the U.S. population. Yet they control the mainstream media, every branch government, the electoral process and the country’s major financial institutions.
Thus, 99.9 percent of the people are being manipulated and cannibalized by a tiny but powerful minority. It is the interests of this powerful minority that are served by government and it is their interests that are defined as the national interest or as national security; and it is hardly benign. Robbing the poor to pay the rich causes irreparable harm to the victim.
There is a continual conflict between the super rich and the remaining 99.9 percent of the people in this nation. Not only is democracy subverted when a tiny minority rules over a large majority, the majority is diminished and betrayed, and social and economic servitude is instituted. The relationship is not only adversarial; it is fundamentally unequal and unjust. You have a situation where a large majority suffers all of the hardships and makes all of the sacrifices but the small minority reaps the reward, without incurring any risk themselves. One should never call this intolerable and immoral situation a democracy.
Through subversion, coercion, and intense perception management the ownership class always gets what it wants, and almost always at the expense of the working class. We pay the price and someone else reaps the financial reward.
Consider, for example, the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the United States military and who has benefited financially. The military, comprised almost entirely of working class women and men, is being used to secure Iraq’s nationalized oil fields and turning them over to private firms and foreign investors. Those firms have profited from the theft of Iraqi oil by the United States armed forces without running any risks themselves.
The armed forces ran the risks for them, and turned the profits over to private oil companies who subsequently realized record profits. The entire country has been similarly privatized by a host of corporate predators. War is a form of corporate welfare cloaked in patriotic language. One need only follow the money to understand what it is really about.
Similarly, George W. Bush is not fighting a war against terrorism as he purports: he is committing unconscionable acts of terrorism against innocent people, and his cohorts in Congress are providing him the funds to do so. It is not Islamic terrorists that are spying on law-abiding citizens and intercepting their emails or tapping their phone lines; it is the United States government, authorized by Bush.
The president behaves like a fascist dictator because he is a fascist dictator representing the interests of the ruling clique, while masquerading as a protectorate of the people and the national interest. Never lose sight of the fact that Bush is an emissary for the ruling class to which he belongs and it is on their behalf that he is acting, not ours.
Consider also the fact that during the occupation of Iraq thousands of no-bid contracts were awarded to private corporations — such as Halliburton, Bechtel, and Blackwater — with connections to the Bush White House. Thus, it is evident that terms such as free trade and free markets are not only misleading, they are disingenuous and fraudulent.
Not only is the ruling clique stealing the wealth of other nations through overt militarism, they are simultaneously bankrupting our nation’s economy. Their intent is to privatize government in hopes of changing it from a service oriented entity into a for profit body. Their goal is to eliminate all social spending in order to further facilitate the ruling clique’s personal wealth creation, and to finance future military invasions, to impose capitalism on the world by means of brute force and coercion.
If they are successful, those with enough money to buy services that are now provided by the government will continue to enjoy those services. Those who cannot afford to pay — the poor, the elderly, the sick or injured, the unemployed and uneducated — will just have to suffer and die. They will be forced to subsist on whatever they can beg, barrow, or steal and slip into the realm of non-persons. It is worth noting that the infrastructure for delivering those goods and services were created with public funds. As always, we are talking about socializing costs and privatizing profits.
Paradoxically, neoconservatives and their media cohorts have succeeded in persuading working class people of modest incomes, conservative and liberal alike, into supporting a wide range of policies that are detrimental to their class, especially those with the lowest incomes.
That is the role that neoconservative icons like Rush Limbaugh plays in the corporate propaganda apparatus. While actually part of the ruling clique, Limbaugh has persuaded his followers that he and his economic brethren are on their side. In reality, Limbaugh and his class are preying upon the fears and prejudices of his followers while accruing tremendous personal wealth from their support, much like George W. Bush. Such is the power of disinformation, fear, and propaganda.
Limbaugh’s mindless blathering is like the kiss of Judas. He and his kind are impervious to scientific fact and without empathy for the people they so ruthlessly exploit.
Leaving no economic stone unturned, the ruling clique is even privatizing the military. The average soldier assigned the rank of private first class receives a yearly salary of about $40,000, whereas a mercenary working for Blackwater — a private defense contractor — doing the same job in the same place, earns about $400,000. The mercenary soldier costs tax payers ten times more than the government soldier for the same services and is not accountable to anyone.
The privatization of the military began under former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and it continues to this day. Private contractors have such close ties with government these days that it is difficult to tell where the private sector ends and government begins. There are revolving doors that continuously sweep corporate executives into government and government officials into corporate boardrooms. That is how fortunes are made in Washington — through crony capitalism and theft.
Rumsfeld, a man who sanctions torture, has long deified Milton Friedman of the Chicago School of Economics; and it is Friedman’s economic and social theories that are being put into practice. Lest anyone think that the disciples of capitalism are limited to the neocons, they aren’t. Every contending presidential candidate is a Friedman disciple. The president, his entire cabinet, and virtually every member of Congress are disciples of Milton Friedman; and that is why voting does not often significantly change policies: The ideology behind them remains the same, regardless of who is in power.
That is where this country is heading but most Americans are sitting on their hands and allowing it to happen. The people need to know what is being done to them and who is responsible. We the people must organize and mobilize to protect ourselves from the ruling cabal or we will be forever cannibalized by them.
Like it or not, we are all in this together and long-term survival will depend upon our ability to organize and to cooperate with one another. It will require long-term economic boycotts, strikes, work slow downs, dramatically curtailed consumption, civil disobedience, sustained protests, self-education and personal sacrifice. The key is to get organized as quickly as possible.

Charles Sullivan is a nature photographer, free-lance writer, and activist residing in the Ridge and Valley Province of West Virginia. He welcomes your comments at

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The lost Congress and the party of crushed hopes

Democrats need to find their mojo, brutally enforce some unity and take some political risks.

This moment of beautiful intoxication, after the Democrats regained control of the House in the November 2006 election, lulled the populace before a December hangover came on like a jackhammer at dawn.

By Max Talley

In November 2006, there was a brief glimmer of optimism in America. After six years of corruption and lemming-like adherence to Bush administration policies, the Democrats took back the majority in the House and evened the score in the Senate. Thrust into power by a tidal wave of anti-Iraq War sentiment, then further helped along by the gland-handling of hypocritical perverts like Larry Craig, Mark Foley and the Rev. Ted Haggard, the Democrats promised change. The people had given them a specific mission and they knew what it was: End the disastrous Bush war and bring our brave troops home.
After the votes came in, even George W. admitted he’d taken a “thumping,” and as an early Christmas present to Democrats (and many Republicans) he served up the head of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on a silver platter. This moment of beautiful intoxication lulled the populace before a December hangover came on like a jackhammer at dawn.
Rejecting the sober findings of the Iraq Study Group, Bush announced his plan for a “surge.” And for those with short memories of what the surge was supposed to accomplish, or those with early senility (“McCainus Syndrome”), let me be perfectly clear: The addition of U.S. forces was meant to tamp down the anarchy and violence long enough for the Iraq government to become a stable working model, and for Iraqi forces to be trained to take over security, enabling American troops to return home forthwith.
Typically, the Bush administration shifted its goals midstream with, “The violence is down, so the surge must be working.” Yes, as long as we spend 12 billion dollars a month for decades to come and let the U.S. slide into a recession, we can sustain an “acceptable” level of deaths in a broken, shattered Iraq that is neither ours nor theirs: A limbo of the lost. Imagine what that money could do for the rotting infrastructure of America.
After the jubilation in January 2007, when Democrats actually took over, some bad warning lights started flashing. Madame Speaker Nancy Pelosi promptly stated: “We’re taking impeachment off the table.” (Had she received an anthrax love-letter like Tom Daschle?) It was an idiotic move. Whether intending to impeach Cheney, Bush and their whole gang or not, why would anyone take the option off the table? This is an administration that only capitulates, only bargains, when there is a dire threat to its offshore bank accounts and to its political future. Dennis Kucinich, Robert Wexler and very few others were the only heroes through this abject surrender.
On the Senate side, Harry Reid raises his voice to a barely audible hoarse whisper to say (more than once), “I will not rubber-stamp the president’s request for more military funding.” But as soon as he utters it and sends a Senate bill with timetables for withdrawal, you can be certain that within days of a presidential veto over strings attached, Reid will be rubber-stamping the request.
Harry Reid seems like a decent guy, and as far as Mormons you’d want to have a drink with, he comes in miles ahead of Mitt “game show host” Romney. However, as leader of the Senate, Reid is seriously lacking in the demeanor, the stentorian voice and the brass gonads to stand up to the Republican minority — much less to Bush. I do give Reid credit for holding the Senate in session over recent vacations to block the kind of disastrous John Bolton appointments that Bush likes to sneak through during breaks. But Harry is in way over his head: A goldfish thrown into the shark tank. The Senate needs a tough leader who can call in favors, bend or break arms, and walk the walk with balls the size of coconuts. In short, Hillary Clinton should abandon her doomed and desperate attempt for presidency and instead take over for Harry Reid. As Senate leader she would wield immense power and could put all of her grandstanding and character assassinations to good use.
As it stands, because this weak and ineffectual Democratic Congress gets so little done, their ratings have sunk even lower in the toilet bowl than the president — one of the least popular leaders in history! Puzzled voters are left with an abysmal choice between a Republican majority that will force a lot of bad ideas through as quick as possible, or a Democratic majority that will talk a big game, maybe start a few oversight committees, but essentially sit back and watch in silence as the ship goes down. At least the Republicans deliver for the richest, most rabid and moral-less minority of their party. The Democrats end up pleasing no one and come off as “Republican-Lite.” They are too cowardly to stand up against the administration on the war lest they be painted as “unpatriotic” and “appeasers of the terrorists.” Sadly, their ongoing soy milk resistance to Iraq policy is a rerun of the Democrat majority fighting Nixon over Vietnam. At the time, many pushed timetables for withdrawal, but would not dare cut war funding. Even their spoken dissent caused Nixon’s pit-bull Spiro Agnew to accuse them of “sticking a knife in the back of our troops and providing sympathy for the Communist enemies.” Sound familiar?
On political news shows, Democrat whiners say, “We need 60 votes to accomplish anything,” or “We have too slim a majority.” Scumbag that he was, Tom Delay made his Republicans march in lockstep on a slim majority. Democrats need to find their mojo, brutally enforce some unity and take some political risks. Otherwise, continuing under Pelosi, and especially Harry Reid, they will remain the party of impotence, the party of compromise verging on surrender, and the party of crushed hopes. What a legacy.
Has Pelosi accomplished anything? Yes, she raised the minimum wage and her first hundred days were impressive. But it’s the year since then that has revealed the flaws in her leadership. Congress needs a Tip O’Neill, a flat-footed Irishman who’s bought everyone in town a drink, knows who is screwing whom, and who is being screwed, you know, a big lug with a lump of dough for a face and an Idaho potato for a nose. Lightweights like Harry Reid and Tom Daschle are too polite, too mellow, too medicated. If they ever shouted or pounded a fist down on a table, their freaking hearts would give out! We’re in the big leagues, where you need someone who wields power with ease, someone who is feared and respected, not the guidance counselor-type who asks, “How are we all feeling today?”
On the primary front, Hillary Clinton is splitting the party into two rancorous sides. Her plan seems to be to stay in the race until Obama self-destructs, or until she or the Republican character assassins can find a way to discredit him completely. At that point she hopes to lure the superdelegates to her corner to save the day.
Brief history lesson: In 1972, a certain maverick outsider named George McGovern won the Democratic primary. Because he beat out the Democratic establishment candidates, Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie, they and their supporters held a bitter grudge. Instead of the party coming together to defeat Nixon, the selfish rat-bastards let McGovern dangle in the wind alone. Without the support of his own party, McGovern lost in a landslide election to Nixon. Democratic leaders blamed McGovern (and not themselves) for the crushing defeat and created this stupid superdelegate system. The idea was, if the people ever elected a weak-kneed, peace-talking liberal for president again, they could override the popular vote and install their establishment candidate. True democracy.
I mention this as Hillary’s only hope to win is through the superdelegates overriding the will of the people. However, that outcome will alienate the black vote, the educated vote, the liberal anti-war vote and the white male vote, and her legacy will be the politician who installed McCain for yet another term of Bush diplomacy. §

Max Talley is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara.

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