Fall-Winter 2005 Vol. 21, Nos. 3 & 4
New Orleans: Survival of the Richest
This issue features a variety of writings about the hurricane Katrina tragedy. The authors vividly and passionately illustrate and condemn the race and class contempt shown by the Bush administration toward the poor of New Orleans and especially towards African Americans.
Here I would only add that the Democratic New Orleans mayor and governor of Louisiana were equally to blame, especially for failing to organize an evacuation of the poor and for demonizing the suffering people as "looters," subject to orders to "shoot to kill." The failure to evacuate is obvious; as for the demonization, recent investigation has proven all the scare stories about rapes, murders, shots at helicopters, etc., to have been untrue
In fact, if anyone followed the crisis closely, and wanted to see, they would have witnessed a many-chaptered tale of heroism by the ordinary working people of the area and the country. Evacuees in the Superdome and Convention Center, in the worst of conditions, maintained order and organized themselves to get supplies. People "looted" for survival. Groups tried to walk out of the city: some were blocked by FEMA, or by sheriff deputies, who even fired over their heads. Workers used their skills to help people survive. Boat owners swarmed to rescue people. The highway from Houston was flooded with cars, trucks and vans, largely driven by working people, helping where the government did not. Aid trucks were sent from as far away as Wisconsin and Maine. And a wave of revulsion towards the do-nothing government and of concern for the Black and other poor masses swept the country.
The depth of the crisis was not the result of natural causes, but of the long-standing neglect of the infrastructure and of deepening environmental problems by both Democratic and Republican administrations and local officials. Both Clinton and G.W. Bush repeatedly cut the funding for the Army Corps of Engineers to maintain and strengthen the levees, which burst even without being overtopped. Developers have been unleashed to ravage the marshlands, weakening natural defenses against hurricanes. The authorities do not recognize the warnings by the broad scientific community that global warming and rising sea levels pose a deadly threat to low coastal areas. There is no Big Quick Fix for New Orleans. Only a socialist society run by the workers will allow planning and construction that will benefit the poor and protect against environmental problems.
Work has begun towards clean-up and reconstruction. But the money is going to big capitalist firms like Halliburton, not to local people. They are trying to pay immigrant workers as little as possible, often nothing. Thousands of evacuees are vegetating across the country, lacking the resources to start a new life, and no effort is being made to bring them back to help re-build. Many of the remaining poor, largely Black, in the city are facing evictions from apart-ments and housing projects by landlords who see the chance to charge astro-nomical rents and by government officials as well. New Orleans is being ethnically cleansed of its historic Black population and of the poor generally. The masses are struggling against this gentrification, but they face an uphill fight. With this issue of Struggle, we hope to contribute to that fight and to continue the exposure of the brutal, racist capitalist system in the U.S.
By Tim Hall
Republican Visits New Orleans
(on the Republican Convention, 1988)
The Republicans are in New Orleans.
They are well-dressed as always,
venturing into Al Hirt's nightclub,
sipping polite whisky, listening to white jazz.
"Turn up the air," says a voice, and across the bar
a black hand adjusts the conditioner dial.
(Later, forensics reveal in the prints
smudged grip the traces of slavery in century-old DNA.)
The Republicans look nice.
They are cheerfully insular
as funeral bands play outdoors,
as ghosts hunt the river shanties.
Dank vapor rises over the docks like voodoo
and George Bush sets his fogged glasses
on the mahogany hotel stand.
"I can't wait till they drop the balloons," he says.
The Republicans sleep in creaseless sheets
at the hotel, money on their minds,
while outside, very late,
The black janitor walks jig-sawed streets
home into the delta night.
A witch's perfume rides the riverwind.
A tall bearded man seems to wait for him,
and nods, as if to affirm his steps,
as if to bless his toil.
But then disappears. Janitors know
their own way home. And though it
is late, a sweet music trains across the
quiet, forsaken streets, of its own
volition, as if there were
No such thing as darkness.
Peter C. Robinson
A Requiem for New Orleans
While the city and the abandoned people in New Orleans drowned and begged for help
Oooh, yeah not the lucky ones who were the winners in the present-day winners-take-all
United States of America
Those who had enough money to consider the fleeing a real adventure for a change
Or even those who had families and friends wining to shelter them for a few nights
As the federal, state and the city government called on everyone to evacuate the Blues City
Seemingly overlooking the fact that many would not be able to do so simply for the lack of funds and transport and a place to stay
But then again, these folks are the inheritors from the Great Communicator of the holy notion that
Big government is the real and the pressing problem facing this country
While the city and the abandoned people of New Orleans drowned and begged for help waving white blankets and shirts from rooftops in this country at war
The President was in San Diego comparing the War in Iraq to the Second World War
Katrlna, which at least for a few days bad been on a collision course with the city
But where was the FEMA and all of the great emergency plans they are always talking about?
Where was the preparation for a hurricane of this magnitude???
What had come of the plans that long had been in place to protect the city exactly against such an eventuality for a mere 14 billion dollars???
Suppose that money was now tied up in an irrelevant and wasteful war in Iraq and much of it had drained away in tax breaks for his wealthy friends
Causing the levees to break and the city of New Orleans and many of its desperate people to pointlessly die in the process
But, nooh, you can hear the hypocritical elite voices of protest crazily screaming and shouting that nobody could have foreseen this catastrophic event
Sometimes things just happen
Katrina, which at least for a few days had been on a collision course with the city of Louis Armstrong
That now was not the time to apportion blame but to rescue people and start the process of rebuilding
And what about the tens, the hundreds and maybe the even the thousands..... who died uselessly
What about these dead people then???
Who will ever speak for them???
Yeah, sometimes or nearly always in this country things really just happen to the poor, the sick, the forgotten and the rejected now floating in the stinking sewer and highly polluted waters where New Orleans once proudly stood
While the city and the abandoned people of New Orleans drowned and begged for help in a collapsed and collapsing state from which most of its social care infrastructure has been violently ripped away
With only the well and endlessly funded military infrastructure left with its gung ho Generals about to go or just back from Iraq leading the charge to help in this so-called democracy with all of the trappings, the empty forms and hypocritical ceremonies of democracy, but little of the content
While the city and the abandoned poor, sick, elderly, young of New Orleans drowned and begged
The President and his administration were drafting regulations to ease pollution controls on older, dirtier power plants all across this land
Only leading to maybe more and certainly fiercer and more destructive Katrinas down the road
But then again the President and his good pals in the energy sector do not really believe that Global Warming is occurring
These people who claim to stand in direct and constant contact with the Almighty
While the city and the abandoned people of New Orleans drowned and begged for help
The corporate-owned and dominated media and its well-paid reporters focused on what they called looting with only a few exceptions who pointed out that the people were cut off and isolated and desperate for food and water in a capitalistic state of nature
Suppose this is what happens when Big Government is really the most pressing problem for the unaccountable plundering wealthy classes in a dictatorially operated neo-liberal economy
While the city and the abandoned people of New Orleans drowned and begged for help
No, I am not kidding, many of the journalists focused on "looting" while the city and its desperate and overwhelmingly black people sank ever deeper beneath the stinking and rising tide of toxic water pouring in
Never questioning who were the real looters and criminals directly leading to this tragic situation
While the disappearing city and the abandoned people of New Orleans drowned and begged
Which everyone always feared could occur and that is why the plans to regenerate the continually sinking New Orleans area and the protective marshlands
But then again, I suppose, such vexing and investigative questioning and reporting do not get you hired and certainly not promoted by the corporate dominated and controlled NBC, CBS and ABC or even 24-hour-a-day CNN
New Orleans, a once vibrant and distinct city, with its resistant mestizo traditions and ways of doing and soulfully solving things
New Orleans, the latest and ugliest symbol and loudly-ringing warning sign of the nightmarish class and racial cul-de-sac of an explosively disintegrating and rotting myth-infected society.
By Gilbert Gregory Gumbs
of My Discontent
This has been the summer of my discontent. Nothing more has reminded me of my second-class citizenship in this country than this war and the catastrophe in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I am brown. I am not wealthy. My life is fragile. I've been watching this disaster on the Gulf Coast and especially horror happening in the parish of Orleans for the past few days like everybody else. I've been watching television like we all watched the television that day on Sept. 11th.
I'm starting to get disgusted. The powers that be knew that this was the possibility for at least 40 years. They have known a category three storm or higher could practically wipe the city away. For 40 years at least. This was a category five hurricane until it reached the coastline. They didn't do shit to be prepared for this. So I warn all of southern California residents, when the big one hits out there, be prepared to not get jack from your government. There won't be any warning, and you'll be on your own like all these people wading through the filthy waters like an old Negro spiritual to escape the disaster.
I say it is a class of people in this country that chooses to overlook the people that don't resemble them. Whether the differences are economics, ethnic heritage or sexual prerogative. Yeah I am brown. Middle class up bringing has everything to do with perspectives of hope for the future. Being middle class is an illusion, I'm poor and brown. Right now all I see on the news is poor and brown people trying to climb out the "big bath tub" formally known as New Orleans.
Why do poor people suffer so much in this often-called great country? It goes back to that CLASS of people in this country that determine how the rest of the country runs. While most of us will stand in line on Election Day believing we live in a democracy. Your leaders will sit on camera and tell you that they could never imagine this crisis.
Just as Mark Twain pondered, I suppose our leaders are stupid people and they mean it.
Hearing our leaders condemn the looters. Condemn the looting? These people have lost everything. They probably barely had anything to begin with. Wal-Mart can replace their imported crap. How can a brown mayor, in a city 70 to 80 percent brown, not realize that there would be a huge population unable to evacuate or even make it uptown? There isn't any food or power. These people are carrying away TV's. Who gives a FUCK? How are these many people still in a modern city when all of these stupid leaders knew that this city would flood if hit by a hurricane? The levees will break and everybody will have no place to stay.
I know the eye-wall didn't hit the city. The eye made goal posts out of Biloxi and New Orleans. The only contingency plan the city had, after knowing for almost four days that a killer was coming, was come to the Superdome. They even knew that the bottom floors would flood but our stupid leaders forgot to tell anybody you know sleeping on the arena floor.
Poor people, the fact that they are brown is because well New Orleans was king of the slave trade. Descendants of former slaves carrying everything they own on their back and condemned for going crazy when chaos arrives back at your door expecting to receive a tip.
Desperation. It is clear that the CLASS of people usually have no objection to invading brown countries and giving them "freedom." To be free of Saddam but to become slaves to capitalists? I think I am going to find the American flag somewhere around my workshop and jog around my block.
This proves my point. There really isn't a such thing as a middle class. It is just varying degrees of poor. I do believe there will be 1,000s if not 100,000s of people's middle class existence irrevocably damaged by this disaster. So who do you know who can miss oh six months of not working and survive? That's right, we are all poor depending on these paychecks that never amounted to our worth. When I am watching the news, I see myself splashing through those waters. I empathize not just because I am brown because I am a human being. Over and over again, I am reminded that when the shit goes down in this country poor and working people have little control over their life. At the mercy of the wind and rain.
What could be done right now on the Gulf Coast if the stupid leaders didn't decide war is the only and best course of action? President Bush can't console anybody. He can't put anybody at ease because he has eroded the country's trust. He had help.
Now we are about to see who are the real hard middle class and who are really just poor people in disguise. How many people can keep putting 100 dollars in their SUV to fill up? It cost me 30 but I am driving a beat up Prism.
Even the worst here doesn't compare to what is happening in Iraq. So let me get a hoo hah Fat Tuesday for this country that will have to come terms with its soul real soon. Real soon. I am taking my disposable camera everywhere I go.
In Baghdad Rumsfeld said looting
Resulted from freedom's flow shooting
When lootin Orleans
Surviving for means
They're damned not aided a hooting
By J.J. Keane
The reason of idleness and crime is the deferring of our hopes. Whilst we are waiting we beguile the time with jokes, with sleep, with eating, and with crimes.
Emerson, Essays, Second Series: Nominalist and Realist.
Daniel "Danny-Boy" Boudrieux nodded at his best friend and smiled. It was August 17, 1992 and they were listening to a radio broadcast of a tropical depression that had just turned into a tropical storm that was threatening to reach hurricane strength and was already being predicted that it could turn into as high as a category 5 storm. They were sitting on Danny Boy's porch in the Mid-City area of Orleans Parish, where the two teenagers had grown up together. High school dropouts, both boys were unemployed and constantly looking for a way to make some money. Audley Jason "A.J." McGuire, shook his head resignedly and spat:
"C'mon Danny-Boy, it'll give us a chance tah get outta New Ahl-ee-yuns for awhile.
"Shee-it niggah, I din' say I wood-din go witch'choose. I said we gone wait tah see if it becomes a full-fo'ce hur'cane man."
"Well, dey says inna reports it be ah good chance ah it Danny, y'know, and youse know we shouldn't be takin' no mo' chances innah Qua'tah after youse coppin' dat samish and den dah cops chasin' youse like dey did."
"Shhh and just fo' liftin' dat po'boy too; dat'uz las' week anydamn-way A.J.?"
"Well they ste-ill probably recognize us Danny-Boy, shee-it, I still 'membah youse jumpin' off dat gallery man, shee-it I t'ought youse done broke yah treaddahs man."
"Shee-it tha' gall'ahee was only on'nah second flo' man, I done jumped from higher'n dat man, ain't no beeg thang fo' a niggah anyway A.J., youse know dat."
A.J. nodded and smiled at his best friend. He had known Danny-Boy all his life and well-knew Danny's mother was an Irish Catholic white woman and his father had been a light-skinned black man with French, Indian and Haitian blood flowing through his veins, but, in New Orleans, as in most cities throughout the country, if you had any Negro blood in you at all, which usually translated into "looking black," you were black and subjugated to that class, which, in New Orleans, usually meant you were either a musician or worked in the service industry in some capacity, tourism being a major staple of the Crescent City.
"Yeah well, Ah only wanted to see BooZoo anydamnway man, youse shouldn't ah copped dat samish anyways Danny-Boy."
"Shee-it A.J., I'uz hungry man and so was youse, c'mon youse know it was good man, youse ended up scoffin' half-fah dat po'boy down yah'damn'se'f."
"Shee-it Danny-Boy, Ah hadda get rid ah the evidence."
Danny-Boy smiled and looked out upon New Orleans, framed as it was by the Mississippi River on one side and Lake Pontchartrain on the other, it was a veritable soup bowl and Danny-Boy wondered silently for a second what would happen if this Hurricane Andrew that was headed for Miami was to change course and land in his city, because as everybody knew, if the levee walls, the only thing keeping the water out of the city, ever broke, and a level 4 or 5 Hurricane, as this Hurricane Andrew reportedly now was, hit, it would break them and the city would be virtually underwater. But then Danny-Boy thought of his father, who had died the previous year of poverty. He had had cancer but he couldn't get in the hospital and the doctors wouldn't see him, as he was without health insurance coverage and too proud to beg and, as every poor man knew, the poor died every day in the land of the free and the home of the brave, especially after two terms of Ronald Reagan and one of George H.W. Bush, both men ultra-conservative Republicans who did the bidding of the large corporations and conglomerates whose money had put them in office and who slashed programs that benefited the poor at every chance, even as they made certain that they awarded huge defense contracts and enormous tax dodges to those same conglomerates and corporations. Danny-Boy's father had been a musician, he played "the horn," the trumpet, and, even in a city that was home to some of the best trumpeters in the world, his name had been known; he had been a member of the "Purple Knights," at the tender age of 15, and had played in many of the Jazz and Blues clubs that lined the streets in the Big Easy, it being well-known that he had sat in with everyone from Satchmo to Wynton Marsalis but, unlike them, he hadn't made the trip north, to New York, to try his luck at the big-time and unlike local legends Fats Domino and Al Hirt, had also failed to make enough money to escape his everyday existence of keeping food on the table for his family and clothes on their backs. Although they had never starved, they had never known anything other than a daily hand to mouth existence that included, at times, deep pangs of hunger especially near the end of the month when the food stamps ran out and Danny-Boy was forced to eat more than one peanut butter and air sandwich, which was two slices of bread slapped together with a dab of peanut butter and little more than air in the middle. But, his father had always been true to his New Orleans heritage and had always said to just "let the good times roll," even in a hurricane warning, in point of fact he had said especially in a hurricane warning, and so Danny-Boy mimicked his father now, when he turned towards A.J. and barked:
"Shhh, let's go jump onna streetcar A.J. and let the good times roll."
So shall poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.
Old Testament: Proverbs 6, 11.
The road south was taken a week later, on August 24, 1992, and they traveled as they always did, by their thumbs, as they could neither afford a car nor the gas that it took to run it. Both boys had a little less than five dollars in their pockets but hoped to make a killing in Miami within the next few days; they were both hustlers of the nth degree, having learned those skills on the streets of one of the poorest cities, in one of the poorest states, in the lower 48. They got a ride with a trucker who lived in the Ninth Ward, who A.J. knew, all the way up to Mobile, Alabama, where they were dropped off on Interstate 10 heading south. It had only taken them two hours to go the approximately 150 miles and they were in good spirits when they climbed down from the big rig, the trucker having wowed them with his stories of how he had pulled off some scams himself before he got steady work with the trucking company he now drove for and stories of how he knew Fats Domino, who lived just a few blocks away from him, in the Ninth Ward. They had figured it would take them all of a day or more to make the nearly 1000 mile trip but now they were hopeful of getting there by mid-morning, if only they could catch a break and get another 18-wheeler to stop for them. It was just past noon and as they stuck their thumbs out they smiled at one another, it was an adventure for both boys, they were both pushing 18 and they were heading down south to try their luck and their highly-honed hustler skills in a metropolitan area that they knew resonated with wealth. They knew it from what they read, heard and saw on TV, on shows like "Miami Vice" and interviews with celebrities who lived there. But, as it turned out, they were only partly right about their arrival in Miami, they did get there in the early morning hours but not the next day, August 25, but the day after that, on August 26, 1992, after having slept on the floor of a truck stop for eight hours, just off Interstate 75 in Ocala, where a trucker took pity on them and had them in Miami less than nine hours later. They stood at a truck-stop in downtown Miami and looked at each other and both boys had the same thought running through their minds. Now what?
A POCKETFUL OF CASH
A trick to catch the old one --Thomas Middleton. title of play, 1608.
Danny-Boy smiled at A.J. and folded the wad of dollar bills and fives, tens and twenties over and stuffed them into his front pocket, which then bulged so profusely that he retrieved it, split it in half and put half the wad of bills into his other pocket. He nodded at his partner A.J., who was nodding back at him and smiling broadly. It was August 29 and they had been in the Greater Miami area for nearly three days and had been cleaning up for the entire time. They had hit the homes in the hardest-hit areas and were in Kendall, in an exceptionally hard-hit area of houses and manufactured homes, where it had been easy pickings, so easy that they were in danger of overstaying their welcome and they knew it, but what was life without a little danger and what was a scam without a little risk-taking? A.J. rubbed the business card in his hand, one of 250 that a friend in New Orleans had made up for them and that identified him as an insurance adjuster and Danny-Boy with a bundle of cards that identified him as a sales rep for a general contractor who specialized in roofs and storm damage repair. Danny-Boy also had 93 blank contracts left, out of over 200 that he had stolen from a local contractor he had worked for in the past, in New Orleans. The job had barely lasted a week but Danny-Boy, always on the lookout for any information that may lead him to a source of income, had left the job a little cagier than he had arrived. He had over a thousand dollars in small bills, all gotten in the same manner; their M.O. being to approach the home owner with their sad, practiced condolences and set the trap, explaining that A.J. could expedite the insurance payoff, directly to the contractor who employed hundreds of sub-contractors and that they could get the job done within the next few days at the very latest. Once the hook was in it was a simple enough job to get them to sign the contract and give up the necessary deposit; which, they explained, had to be made for the contract to be legal. The deposit, of course, was anything that they could entice the sucker to give them. They started with a hundred dollars but usually ended up with but a ten or twenty; thus far the smallest "deposit" had been a dollar bill and the largest had been a hundred. The boys were exhausted, it was nearly dark, and A.J. spied trouble, a police car parked at a manufactured home they had gotten a twenty dollar bill from just a few hours earlier. Danny-Boy gritted his jaws when he saw the old woman pointing in their direction. He shook his head and grinned lopsidedly at A.J., then hissed:
"Din we jus' get a double-sawbuck from her a lil' while ago?"
"Yeah, we did. I tol' jew we shouldn't woik one place more den a couple hours."
"Well, what we gone do man?"
A.J. looked up to see the cop walking their way and then looked across the street, to a neighborhood of crumbling wood-frame and stucco houses and apartments where they had worked many of the houses the previous day. A.J. leaned in to his partner.
"Wait'll he gets up to us and then we splits across the street niggah, say?"
Danny-Boy nodded, he and A.J. had both run the hundred yard dash in under eleven seconds, being on the track and football teams together until they had gotten expelled from their high school for cutting too many classes. As the policeman came almost abreast of them Danny-Boy smiled and glanced over his shoulder; his patrol car was at least sixty or seventy yards away and Danny-Boy stretched out his hand and the cop did likewise just as A.J. hissed "less boogie," and took off and Danny-Boy quickly turned on his heel and joined him. At first the cop scowled and reached for his service revolver, then turned and headed for his patrol car.
The rich grow poor, the poor become purse proud.
Cowper, Hope, 1. 18.
It was a 1981 Pontiac Grand Prix and it was red with black trim and got around twenty-five miles a gallon. It was a six-cylinder and it was the first car Danny-Boy had ever owned. He got it for five hundred bucks but had to put a rebuilt transmission in it and A.J. helped him with that and also got him some shiny new hubcaps. They were sitting on the hood of the car and riding on the passenger ferry towards New Orleans. The Mississippi was in a high-river stage and both boys looked over into the soup-bowl known as the Big Easy and could see into the upper windows of many of the houses. Danny-Boy glanced over at the levees and then at his best friend.
"Youse know what A.J., if dat freakin' hur'cane woulda hit us we be underwatah right 'bout now?"
A.J. glanced at the levee walls that held back so much water from so many canals and waterways that originated in the mighty Mississippi or Lake Pontchartrain and smiled.
"Man Danny-Boy, diz be New Ahl-ee-yuns baby, we get a hur'cane we do what we always do baby; we let the good times roll."
Danny-Boy nodded and stared at a floodwall, then laughed.
"Yeah, yeah you right A.J., you right. Let the good times roll and we rollin' in our new wheels baby, yeah-uh."
ALL IN THE FAMILY
is a melancholy truth, that even great men have their poor relations.
Dickens, Bleak House. Ch. 28.
Angelina "Angel" O'Brian Boudrieux patted her son Danny-Boy on the head and gave him a hug, to which he grimaced reflexively. His mother was an uncomplicated woman and a very spiritual person but believed in none of the voodoo legends or allowed any of their rituals or voodoo charms inside her house. When Danny-Boy had come home with a small gris-gris bag one day at age 12, she had thrown it into a trash can and had warned him of ever hanging out with any of the local gangs that thrived on the heathen rituals and animal sacrifices that the voodoo clans practiced. She knew her late husband had relatives who still practiced voodoo, sacrificing animals through their Yoruban and Fon ancestors in order to call down the oristas and loa's, their ancient ancestors or spirit gods but she allowed none of it in her home, being a strict Catholic who had baptized Danny-Boy, her only child, when he was barely out of the womb and demanded he attend church every Sunday. She had been born and raised in Mid-City and had graduated from Cabrini High School, a Catholic girl's school and had been one of the first to attend when it was converted from the Orphan Asylum it had been for five decades, to a girl's high school, in 1959. She was hugging him tightly when he pulled away from her, embarrassed, and said:
"Ma'ahhh, Gee'zuz Kee-rice, Ma, I ain't a goil y'know?"
Angel O'Brian's lips parted in a sneer. It was common family knowledge that she had wanted a daughter, a daughter that would become the metropolitan opera star that she could have been if she hadn't gotten married right out of high school and given up pursuing what her mother had pushed her towards ever since childhood. Her mother, Kathleen O'Connor, had been a high soprano back in Belfast, Northern Ireland and had followed her husband to New York, after he had gotten into trouble with the IRA. They had fled the Bronx after a dozen years when her husband had almost been killed by a small-time loan-shark after reneging on a thousand-dollar loan. They settled in Mid-City with her sister and brother-in-law, who was a New Orleans policeman and they took over their in-laws' house when her sister and brother-in-law moved to Algiers Point, a community separated from the main part of the city by the Mississippi River. She regularly visited her sister, usually on Sunday when they would attend the Holy Name of Mary Church. Her brother-in-law, Shawn O'Banion, graduated from law school, quitting the police force and opening a law practice just off Patterson Rd., just down from the Algiers Courthouse and with a splendid view of the mighty Mississippi River. He would go on to open two other law offices, one in the Central Business District, or CBD, and one in the Uptown district and just down from O'Banion's alma mater, Loyola University. Angel O'Brian's face turned slightly pale, even as she jumped up when her front door opened and A.J. McGuire strolled in.
"A-yay-Jay, Bay-jaysus, why'nt youse knock once in ah while."
A.J. smiled, he had known Danny-Boy since they were both 4 years old, and he knew that Danny-Boy's mother showered her son with almost obscene affection and wasn't the least bit shy or ashamed of doing it publicly, but she let her arms slide back to her bosom, as she stood up, even as Danny-Boy jumped up off the sofa and smiled at his best friend.
"Where y'at niggah?"
A.J.'s smile widened, as he glanced at Danny-Boy's mother, who he knew hated the N-word and always berated her son for using it. But she said nothing, and A.J. hissed:
"Aw'ight Danny, let's roll on man?"
As Danny-Boy stood up and walked towards the front door, his mother barked:
"Now youse boys stay outta trouble and youse t'ink 'bout youse great-uncle's offer to git you onna poo'leece Danny-Boy, youse know he could probably get A.J. on'nair too?"
A.J. smiled as they walked out Danny Boy's front door; he knew they both needed to pass a G.E.D. test to apply to the police force and also knew that Danny-Boy wasn't adverse to the idea of becoming a cop, everybody knew that the cops and politicians in the Big Easy made good money; of course they also knew that many were as crooked as a dog's hind leg, especially the politicians; the astute governor for four terms, Edwin Edwards' name being in the paper almost daily for one alleged crime or bribe or another and, as everyone knew, shit rolls downhill, especially in the Big Easy.
we have prisons it matters little which of us occupies the cells.
Bernard Shaw, Maxims for Revolutionists.
Danny-Boy tickled his little 4 year old son, Danny Jr., and smiled then put him down and watched him run out of his bedroom. The toddler stopped at the door and glanced back at his father. It was a game they played almost every Monday, his father's regular day off.
"Dah'ee, youse ah gonna catch me ain'cha?"
Danny-Boy smiled and stood up to chase after his son. He had finally given in to his mother's cajoling about getting his G.E.D. and then had, with his great-uncle's help, gotten a job on the New Orleans Police Department. At first, it had just been a job but Danny-Boy, as street-smart as any 20 year-old, had taken to police work like a duck to water. He had been a patrolman for six years before finally, thanks to his great-uncle and a 4 year degree from Loyola University in Criminal Justice, making it onto the detective division. He had been promoted to Detective Lieutenant in 2004, after a decade on the force and he loved his life; he was married to the former Maria Marcello who had uncles on the police force on one side of her family and uncles said to be in the mob on the other side. They had met at a police fund-raiser and Danny-Boy had chased her relentlessly for almost a year before they married in the Holy Name of Mary Church in Algiers Point and he still remembered it because it was the last time he had seen his childhood best friend and life-long pal A.J. McGuire, who hadn't fared as well as Danny-Boy.
A.J. had been his best man and it had been a happy day all around for sure but then A.J. had seen the looks and he knew those looks. Danny-Boy could still remember the conversation, even after all these years:
"Man Danny-Boy, you see 'at shee-it?"
Danny-Boy knew what A.J. meant but played dumb.
"Man A.J., what ah youse talkin' about?"
"Lotta dese people don't like a niggah Danny-Boy and youse know it."
"Man A.J., youse ah nuts'soid."
"Yeah, dey din' know youse ol' man Danny-Boy and I know yah moms ain't said shee-it 'bout it even though I know it ain't her fault."
"Man A.J., it's nineteen-ninety five man!"
"Yeah and youse ah ah cop too?"
"A.J. youse couldah got on?"
"Youse know I flunked that G.E.D. shee-it?"
"Yeah youse can still take it again."
"Danny-Boy, I don't care about dat. We bruddahs dough, me'yun youse."
Danny-Boy opened his mouth to answer and that was when his brother-in-law, who well-knew Danny-Boy's blood-lines but hadn't passed the information on to any of his family members, came over and cajoled him away from A.J. and onto the dance floor with his new bride and that was the last time Danny-Boy had seen his life-long friend again, until that day, less than a year later, in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, in Angola.
It seemed that A.J. was driving the getaway car, even though he hadn't known it even was a getaway car, when two acquaintances of his from the lower Ninth Ward held up a liquor store in Baton Rouge; the trouble was an attendant had been shot and A.J. and his confederates, as the prosecutor referred to them, putting them all in the same boat, had gotten five to ten at Angola, as luckily, for them all, the attendant had lived; had he died the shooter and his accomplice, along with A.J., might have gotten life or even the death penalty. As it was, his mother had been the only family member who had known about it, A.J. had never known his father and his only sister was married and living in New York. His mother had tried to contact Danny-Boy but had suffered a heart attack and been hospitalized and by the time she had recovered it was already too late, as A.J. was tried and sentenced in a trial that gave new meaning to speedy justice, the public defender assigned his case barely making an attempt to interview him or his alleged accomplices.
When he found out about it, Danny-Boy had visited A.J. almost every week but his job made it harder and harder to drive the 300-mile round-trip to the State Pen and his visits dribbled to barely twice a year, on Easter and Christmas. A.J. had been turned down twice for release on parole, even though Danny-Boy and his mother and several childhood friends had appeared to testify on his behalf and even though there was no proof that he had even known his two acquaintances were going to stick up the liquor store. Danny-Boy had just visited him on Easter Sunday, March 27, of that very year of 2005. A.J. wasn't due for release until the following year and Danny-Boy was already lining up possible jobs for his best friend. And then the hurricane season, which was no big thing for Danny-Boy until that fateful day at the end of August when they predicted a hurricane they had named Katrina was headed for New Orleans and she was gaining a strength that would compare her to Hurricane Andrew, the same Andrew that had devastated Miami and had sent a young Danny-Boy and A.J. McGuire thumbing down south to see if they could make a score. As he read about the coming storm in his morning paper, Danny-Boy's mind slipped back in time to that day, 13 years ago and he could hardly remember anything, it seemed now, as it was so long ago, so long, long ago and so many things had happened since then.
Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples!
Shakespeare, King Lear, Act iii, sc. 2, 1. 1.
A storm in a cream bowl.
Duke of Ormond, Letter to the Earl of Arlington, 28 Dec., 1678.
As he walked out of the Louisiana State Penitentiary A.J. McGuire smiled benignly; they were letting him out six months early and he couldn't figure out why but he wasn't about to question the decision, as his smile widened when he saw his friend Billy "Mad Billy" Baldwin, and then saw his prized 1981 Pontiac Grand Prix; the same car that Danny-Boy had given him just after his wedding when his new in-laws had given Danny-Boy a new 1995 Lincoln Town-Car. Mad Billy had jacked up the body and had oversized wheels on the car that made it look like a race car. He had changed the gearing to a five speed and put the shifter on the floor and then had dropped a brand-new 2005, 200 hp, 3.8 liter V-6 engine under the hood, an engine he had paid less for than the five hundred smackers Danny-Boy had paid for it a little over a decade in the past and it was a hot engine, in more ways than one. Mad Billy hugged his friend and they quickly got inside the car, where Baldwin handed A.J. a cup of ice and a Pepsi-cola, causing A.J. to smile widely. Mad Billy had just gotten out the previous year, he had served five years for passing bad checks and was out on a year's parole, of which he only had two months left. He turned the ignition and the engine roared to life.
"Hey t'anks fah dah cold drink Mad, youse really did drop dat new engine in, huh?"
"Sure did A.J., sheee-it man, youse know I do what I says. Crazy Leroy done got the day-yum t'ing right off'fah ah Uptown dealership's lot too, just like I tol' jew he would."
"Crazy LeRoy? Man, he a two time losah man. Shee-it, he jus' got outta dah joint hisdamnse'f! He gone go back fo' good he get caught! Man, 'at one crazy niggah Mad, how much youse give 'im fo' it anyways?"
"Shhh, I gave 'im t'ree bucks fo' it A.J."
"T'ree hundred smackers? Good deal bro'ah."
"Hey, t'ink dey let youse out cause ah diz hur'cane headed fo' New Ahl-ee-yuns?"
"Yeah, mus' be sumpin' to do wid it Mad, dey done let a half dozen ah us out early."
"Yeah, we gone duck diz one too A.J., youse know dem hurricanes never gets us."
A.J. frowned and shook his head. He knew Mad Billy lived in possibly the lowest section of the Lower Ninth Ward and that that's where he'd be staying too, as his mother was in a nursing home in the St. Bernard Parish, a nursing home that Danny-Boy, still his best friend after all these years, paid for.
"Yeah, youse better hope so Billy, if dem levees evah breaks we be goners fo' sure."
"Dey ain't gone break A.J., shee-it niggah, when dey evah broke before?"
A.J. just shook his head and scowled and Mad Billy smiled.
"Hey, we go see yo' moms A.J., cheer youse up, huh?"
"Yeah, yeah, youse know Madman I ain't seen ah in 'most ten years."
"Yeah, I know baby, we go visit her man, we go visit her. Where's she at?"
"In St. Bernard Parish man, in a nursing home by the name ah Saint Rita's."
As the reports came in that a hurricane-force storm, now named Katrina, was surely going to strengthen and make land-fall in New Orleans, off-duty police officer Michael "Big Mike" McKeon sipped a beer in a bar-eatery in the French Quarter, Molly's at the Market, that never closed. He had sat through 3 hurricanes in the past 7 years, usually in this very same bar and the last one, Ivan, was a category 4 that had veered off to the east and wreaked its havoc on the Florida panhandle, bypassing the Big Easy almost entirely, and the majority of the inhabitants, then as now, especially those too poor to leave, had breathed another sigh of relief and let the good times roll, just like they were doing this very Saturday evening of August 27, even though Governor Kathleen Blanco had declared a State of Emergency, the previous night, and Katrina had just been upgraded to a category 3 hurricane.
McKeon, a bachelor who lived in the French Quarter, glared at the television set and blinked unsteadily. He glanced at his watch and saw it was half past nine in the morning and realized he had been in the bar-eatery for over 12 hours. He had sat through the upgrading of Hurricane Katrina from a category 3 to a 4, at 2:00 a.m. and then to a category 5, five hours later, and now he was staring at the television screen and into the face of Mayor Ray Nagin, who was declaring a first ever mandatory evacuation. His cell-phone rang and he realized through the fog in his brain that he would be desperately needed, as he let the phone ring and ring. He went to the back of the bar, to the bathroom, and noticed that he had several unanswered messages on his phone. When he checked, he again realized he was being called in to work but simply smiled and got another refill.
Big Mike watched as Max Mayfield, the Director of the National Hurricane Center, in Miami, talked to President George W. Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, during a video conference call and told him that he had called the governors of Louisiana and Mississippi and the mayor of New Orleans and told them how bad Katrina was going to be, even as he was now telling the president the same thing. The president smiled politely and made his usual inane comments about a lot of hard work ahead.
Big Mike didn't want to go to work but they were actually closing Molly's and he began to realize how bad this hurricane was likely to be, as the bar had never closed before. He decided to go in and already began formulating a story of why he was so late to report in.
Big Mike pulled his squad car up to an overpass next to the New Orleans Superdome and scowled. It was almost midnight and as Wednesday August 31 turned into Thursday, September 1, Big Mike, who had barely slept for the past three days thought he was going crazy. The house he rented in the French Quarter was partially flooded and the city of New Orleans looked like a war-zone, there was water and sewage everywhere and it smelled like death warmed over. There was no hope of any relief and Big Mike, who had taken all his worldly possessions from the house, just in case, thought he might evacuate himself, as he had been shot at several times, over on Canal Street and again just before nine p.m. that evening as he was pulling away from the Superdome. He walked towards the Superdome and was immediately accosted by several people, who demanded food and water. Big Mike, who at 6'6", 285 lbs., towered over the small group of people, scowled and then ducked down when shots reverberated into the harshness of the night and Big Mike turned just in time to see his squad car pulling away from the curb. He drew his service revolver and ran towards the car but it was no use, it was long gone. That was when he saw the red Pontiac Grand Prix. It was jacked up in the air and could ride easier through the water than most automobiles, as many of the police cruisers were stalling out when water hit their alternators or starters. He glanced inside and saw the keys and then saw that it had a half a tank of gas, which was a half a tank more than his squad car had had, as gas was gold now, and he jumped in and quickly made his decision; he knew many of his brother officers had bailed out and why not, your life was in your hands in this burned-out war zone and he quickly made his decision when he pulled away from the curb and headed east across the Mississippi River; he knew if he could make it to U.S. 90 he could get through Jefferson Parish and onto I-310 which would then connect him to I-10 West, which would roll him straight into Baton Rouge. He had a girlfriend in Baton Rouge and he visualized her warm bed at that very moment and stepped onto the gas pedal and the Grand Prix shot away from the curb. He would just have to make one stop, at City Hall, where he had some personal belongings, some personal belongings that included a black leather briefcase.
A.J. scowled at the sight and Mad Billy Baldwin shrieked:
"BeJaysuz niggah, somebody copped ah-wah ride."
"We'uz dumb enough to leave the keys in it and we had gas in'at suckah too niggah!"
"I know brothah but how was we to know dese niggahs ovah here be goin' crazy? Shee-it, youse know we gone have to get a boat to g'wan get yo moms outta Saint Rita's anyway, too much water!"
"Yeah, but where we gone get ah boat?"
"Well somebody done took our ride so jus' maybe we take somebody's boat now!"
Mad Billy Baldwin was mad, he had too much money and sweat in that ride and now it was gone and he, like thousands of others, watched helplessly as helicopters, empty buses and National Guardsmen passed them by. Where were they going? Mad Billy Baldwin scowled now and waved his fist into the air just as a helicopter flew overhead and growled:
"Dey goin' to the French Quatah man, Uptown, dey done broke the leh-vee on'nuz so's they could save dem rich suckahs A.J., youse know it's true."
A.J. stared into the distance and watched the helicopter head towards the French Quarter and Uptown and suddenly the one man he knew who lived there, the benefactor of his mother's nursing home bills and still the best friend he had ever thought he had, Danny-Boy Boudrieux, popped into his mind and he wondered silently where he was; where was his best friend, where was Danny Boy?'
"Did youse hear Fee-dell offered a t'ousan' doctahs and medical supplies and Bush toined 'im down?"
Danny-Boy inhaled deeply and stared at the broken levees and then at his cousin, Shawn Jeremy "S.J." O'Banion, a police captain and barked:
"Hell wid the doctahs, S.J., why in dah hell din' dah damn leh-vees hold?"
S.J. O'Banion, an engineering major at Loyola, shook his head and hissed:
"Danny-Boy dah leh-vees been messed up fah evah. Had ovah five t'ousan' pounds ah lead and hundreds ah pounds ah arsenic poured in the Mississippi from dat petrochemical complex in Baton Rouge for decades. And youse know all dese leh-vees and canals been here for ovah 50 years an'nay speed dah Mississippi's flow intah dah gulf."
"Yeah, so what S.J.?"
"Danny-Boy, ain't no sediment left to make wetlands anymore. Shee-it, we been losin' probably forty square miles of coastal wetlands every year. Danny-Boy it's the fastes' disappearin' land mass on dah face ah dah earth. Hell dey had oil-wells since the beginning ah the twentieth-century, ovah a hundred years. So much drillin' done caused dese underground faults tah slip and the land above jus' slumps right on ovah, sucked down, just sucked right on down; like somebody suckin' onnah straw innah col' drink."
Danny-Boy took all this information in and scowled. Like so many people he hadn't ever thought too much of the consequences or impact of what the environmental policies of the political parties, who owed their jobs to corporations and conglomerates, had on the earth, and therefore, also on the human race.
"What's gone happen S.J.?"
"It's probably already happenin' Danny-Boy; the Army Corps ah engineers, of which I was once a membah, as you well know, is more'n likely gonna breach some leh-vees to save some dry land."
Danny-Boy stared into space and suddenly remembered that A.J.'s mother, his best friend's mother, who he paid the freight on at the nursing home in St. Bernard Parish, was in an area that was likely to be one of those intentionally flooded. His own mother was safe at high ground, with relatives, at Algiers.
Danny-Boy frowned and stared at the floor. Something was gnawing at him; it didn't make sense, the mayor had just ordered 1500 police officers to stop rescue efforts and concentrate all their efforts on stopping the looting. All the looting that Danny-Boy had seen had been done by people who were obviously starving and/or suffering from dehydration from lack of water, or any other liquid. And all around them, these same people were forced to stand in knee-deep water that was so putrid and infected with disease that even a mouthful could potentially end their life. Danny-Boy wondered if he had been living Uptown too long; he recognized these people, they were his people, mostly black, poor, most of them from the lower-lying areas of New Orleans, Mid-City, the Lower Ninth Ward, Orleans and St. Bernard parishes, and they were stuffing them in the Superdome and the Convention Center and there were reports of people shooting each other, raping women and children and committing suicide and the mayor and governor were blaming the federal government. The Bush government, led by George W. Bush, the son of George H.W. Bush, who had taken the White House, in the same exact manner as his father had, by exploiting a well-oiled network of oil and gas money and political power that was long-ago bought and paid for by these same conglomerates, did what was only to be expected of him, as it would have been of his father; he did nothing, a not unusual maneuver for a man whose entire life had been lived as that of a spoiled, sheltered rich kid, who knew how to work a crowd of well-heeled gas and oil magnates but wouldn't know a working man if he bumped into one on his way to his seat at a fundraiser. But, if there was one thing the ex-governor of Texas did know, or at least thought he did, it was that it wasn't the working poor who got you elected, no, it was the non-working rich, the elite and super-elite, the haves and have-mores, and he considered himself one of them, as could well be said that he was. And so, he went to Arizona for a photo-op with Senator John McCain, who was celebrating his 69th birthday and then visited with some Arizona seniors to push his social security reform and tell them how his Medicare Drug Benefit was going, then flew off to California to repeat more of this same nonsense about what a great president he was and how there was so much more hard work ahead. He then told the FEMA Director, on television: "Brownie, you're doin' a heck of a job!" His Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, not to be outdone by her boss, went to New York, where she went directly to Fifth Avenue and went shopping, she needed a new pair of shoes and where else was a dignified Secretary of State supposed to find a decent pair of shoes these days, if not on New York's Fifth Avenue?
Danny-Boy had so many thoughts rumbling through his head that he had totally forgotten about the evacuation of St. Rita's nursing home in the parish of St. Bernard but quickly remembered it when he saw Eric "Easy E" Slidell, a deputy with the Sheriff's Department of St. Bernard parish. He smiled when Slidell walked over and handed him a Pepsi and a cup of ice.
"Hey t'anks fah the cold drink Easy; jew evah find out about Saint Rita's?"
"Yeah you know dah noisin' home I ast youse about?"
"Oh, oh yeah. Yeah Jack says they got a contract wid Acadian Ambulances Danny-Boy, they should be evacuated by now."
"Hey, hey good, glad to hear it man; t'anks."
"Anytime ol' buddy, youse hear about Compass'siz publicity guy? Dude shot 'isse'f inna head bro'."
"Shhh-it. I heard Woody Clemens domed hisse'f too man."
"Yeah, Buddy Rebs tol' me 'bout dat. He rode wid 'im fo' t'ree years man. Said he t'ought his wife and kid was dead but dey was'sin, dey showed up at dah Superdome."
"Yeah? It's sad man; youse know Easy, diz place is becoming a freakin' war-zone!"
"Don't I know it bruddah, I got shot at over at dah convention cen'ah."
"Yeah man, I hoid 'bout dat place. Why'ny dey get some buses ovah dere?"
"Don't know bruddah. Youse know dat writer dude in dah Times-Picayune been telling us diz could happen for years? I remembah him writing it at least a couple ah years ago. Man dey been knowin' it could happen and dah mayah and governah both din' do shee-it. Politicians ain't got nothing but ice watah in dey veins, youse know Danny-Boy?"
"Yeah youse ask me it's Bush and his big money what's to blame. Dude don't give a shee-it 'bout nuffin' but money and his rich friends."
Easy Eric Slidell smiled crookedly; he knew Danny-Boy's family had a wealthy side too. He rubbed his tired, reddened eyes and Danny-Boy barked:
"Youse get any shuteye Easy E?"
"Ahehh, I'm gonna try right now man. Been on twenty-fo' straight."
"Yeah, aw'ight den man. Catch yah latah."
"Latah Danny-Boy, latah."
A.J. McGuire cradled his mother's head behind his elbow, as the tears streamed down his cheeks and he kissed her cheek and whispered:
"Moms, Moms, I love you Moms, cah'mon Moms, youse can't die, please."
Mad Billy stepped over and clasped his friend on the shoulder and leaned down.
"C'mon A.J., she's gone and we gone drown too we don't get outta here?"
A.J. looked up to see dozens of bodies floating around in the waist-deep water inside the nursing home and grabbed his mother's body, as they headed up the stairway they were sitting on. They had been dropped off by a man in a rowboat over an hour ago.
"We get to the rooftop and den what? Dat dude said he might not be back diz way!"
As they crawled out onto the roof, five minutes later, Mad Billy Baldwin shook his head and hissed:
"Don't mattah what he said, we ain't got but one choice, we wait brother, we wait."
Five hours went by and just when they thought they'd never live through it, as the daylight was now turning into night, they spied a rowboat heading towards them and waved and screamed at it. When it pulled up to the roof, Mad Billy couldn't stop himself from laughing, when he saw who it was: Crazy Leroy.
"Hey Craze, where youse get dah boat?"
"Shee-it, if I din get it I'd be drowned like a dead rat, like all dese people I been seein' floatin' onnah watah. Hey don't put dat dead body inna boat man, c'mon man, dat gone be extra weight? Man, we ain't got dah room anyway, you'll nevah get it on?"
A.J. stared at Crazy Leroy but Mad Billy quickly grabbed his elbow and hissed:
"Craze, youse remembah A.J. McGuire man, from nah joint?"
Crazy Leroy, a two-time loser who would do life the next time he was sent up, smiled, showing a mouthful of cavities and gold-capped teeth and barked:
"Oh yeah-uh, I remember youse but whose dat stiff?"
"It's his moms Craze!"
Crazy Leroy, whose mother had died while he was inside, bowed his head.
"Oh yeah, saw'ree den A.J., bring her on in."
As Crazy Leroy put his paddle into the flood-tide and A.J.'s mother's body stuck halfway out of the boat, Mad Billy looked around the bottom of the boat and saw a rifle and three handguns, two knives and what looked like several boxes of ammunition."
"Damn Craze, youse preparing fo' a war or sumpin'?"
Crazy Leroy snapped his head upwards and glared at Mad Billy, then croaked:
"We aw'ready in one Mad, we aw'ready in one."
Danny-Boy smiled at the absurdity of it. He and other police officers were backing up several members of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Response Team, or ICE, as they searched various buildings in downtown New Orleans. They were armed to the hilt with night-vision goggles and M-16's and had been searching various hi-rise buildings that had been identified as potential threats, meaning a sniper could establish a dangerous position from there. They pulled up to the curb of the Hibernia National Bank Building, which was considered a double-threat, that is, it posed threats from the availability of positioning a sniper in it and also the usual bank-robber scenario, not to mention any potential "highly-sensitive papers" falling into the wrong hands, meaning any hands other than the president or a trustee of the bank. It was 9:00 p.m. and this was their fifth building of the day and so far nothing had been found, whatsoever. Danny-Boy smiled sarcastically, he figured it would be another wasted effort, if there had been any snipers in these buildings they were long gone, as it was well-known on the streets of New Orleans that the ICE and SWAT teams were sweeping the streets and any snipers would obviously be disproportionately outnumbered and outgunned.
Crazy Leroy threw the files down on the floor and barked:
"Ain't nuffin' here man; t'ought maybe I could get sumpin' on dese tricky politicians 'round here, youse know wha' I mean?"
A.J. McGuire shook his head and Mad Billy Baldwin repeated the gesture, Crazy LeRoy was indeed that, now, crazy. They had lost A.J.'s mother's body to the floodwaters when their boat had tipped and almost flipped over and they had been searching for food and water steadily since then. It was Crazy Leroy who suggested they hit the bank building, saying there would be food and water as well as information against the fat cats who ran the city. He had an AK-47 and a .45 pistol and A.J. and Mad Billy Baldwin both had .357 Magnums that Crazy Leroy had given them. They had barely eaten anything and had only shared a half-gallon of water in the past week. They had found no electricity working or drinkable water in any of the buildings they had been in thus far and had seen the confusion and insanity at the Superdome where they had watched as a man had leapt to his death, saying that he was starving and there was no longer a reason to live. That had been three days ago and Crazy Leroy had said then that he was ready to rob a store and now A.J. and Mad Billy were thinking they were ready to listen to Crazy Leroy when he kept talking about looting any store that had food and water, as the trio were all severely dehydrated and, with nothing to eat in over a week, they were also becoming malnourished. Crazy Leroy stood at the window and stared down, then called A.J. and Mad Billy over. They all looked down and watched as a half dozen soldiers dressed in full-combat gear entered a building across from the one they were in. Then Crazy Leroy pointed downwards and they all watched as two soldiers and a man dressed in plain clothes exited a Hummer H1, a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV), a Humvee, and entered the building they were in.
Danny-Boy followed the two ICE Special Response team members inside the building, even as Crazy Leroy took up a position behind a desk and motioned for his two partners to do likewise, which they did. They were whispering amongst each other when they heard voices and A.J. thought he recognized one, as Danny-Boy barked:
"Hey put yah weapons down, we been t'rough a half-dozen buildings and haven't so much as encountered a mouse and I'm tired, I dunno 'bout youse guys but I'm all in."
One of the ICE team was about to start another argument with Danny-Boy when his superior shrugged, then took his weapon from his shoulder and hissed:
"Yah know what? Lieutenant McGuire's right, let's shut it down for the night. Tomorrow's another day Rock, let's go. I'm dead anydamnway."
Sergeant James "Sgt. Rock" Rockiguilliuo nodded and turned on his heel, just yards from the door that three desperate men waited behind, but stopped when Crazy Leroy's elbow knocked a staple gun off a metal desk and to the floor. The two ICE team members turned quickly, Danny-Boy fast on their heels now, and headed for the darkened room where Sgt. Brad Morris shouldered his M-16 and, when he saw a movement through his night vision goggles, immediately opened fire, which was returned by Crazy Leroy, Mad Billy and A.J. McGuire.
After the firing died down, A.J. rolled over and saw that he was still alive and uninjured and he falteringly got to his feet and immediately saw that Crazy Leroy and Mad Billy were both dead, their blood-soaked, bullet-ridden bodies lying ignominiously on the floor, pools of blood still forming around them. Crazy Leroy's head was so torn and chopped apart that he was virtually unrecognizable and the left side of Mad Billy's chest was so bullet-ridden and blood-splattered that there was no longer any visible clothing there. A.J. heard some moaning in the other room and staggered out the door. Both the ICE soldiers appeared to be dead, one with an eye socket blown out and the other leaning against the wall, the back of his head blown completely away, the white dry-wall splattered with enough blood, bone-chips and brain matter to look as if a new-age painter had been fast at work at his palette. A.J. walked over to the plainclothes cop who was moaning and bent down until he saw who it was. His face went ashen and he cradled his lifelong friend's head in the crook of his arm.
"Gee'zuz, Gawd Ah'mighty Danny-Boy, Danny-Boy?"
"Ah'ehhhhh, A.'yay'Jay, I jus' hoid yesterday that youse was out. I was . thwack, ahhhhaccck, ahhhhh .
A.J. watched as Danny-Boy spit up blood and leaned down as close as he could, to hear Danny-Boy say:
"Gee'zuz A.J. I hoid about yah muddah, I'm so sorry, I .haccck, ahahah .
"Danny-Boy, Danny-Boy please man, please Danny-Boy ..wait .
A.J. could see the bad shape Danny-Boy was in and tears appeared in his eyes and began rolling down his cheeks, as he considered the possibility that it had been his bullet that had ended his life-long best friend's life. Then Danny-Boy coughed and rasped:
"I love youse A.J., I love youse brother, I love youse, ahacck .ah
A.J. felt for a pulse and there was none; and after 30 seconds he knew his best friend was gone; Danny-Boy Boudrieux was dead. His felt a hard weight cave in his chest and that was when he heard the front door, a story below, flung open as a half-dozen ICE riflemen barreled through it and hit the stairs running. He let Danny-Boy's head softly down to the floor and ran up the stairway and out into the hall.
The world's chief idol, nurse of fretting cares,
Dumb trafficker, yet understood o'er all.
William Alexander, Doomsday: Tenth Hour.
Big Mike McKeon smiled at the real estate agent and put the black leather briefcase down on the table. She returned his smile and opened her light brown briefcase and pulled out a blank contract for sale and purchase of real estate.
"And your name sir?"
"Joe Higsbee but forget dat baby, put it in my goilfriend's name, Susan Kristopher."
"Well, Mr.Higsbee, is your credit bad or ..
Big Mike waved the back of his hand at the agent, as if at a troublesome fly.
"Naw, ah, like I said I'm offerin' cash."
The agent smiled politely.
"We're having a lot of cash offers lately Mr. Higsbee, you understand, and like I said I've already had one full-price cash offer on twenty-twenty-two Curry Drive?"
"I'll offer ten kay over dat."
"What? That's three hundred and twenty thousand dollars Mr. Higsbee?"
"Yeah, t'ink it'll be enough?"
"Well, I will have to inform the other buyers and ..
"I t'ought youse said they had an agent?"
"Well yes, yes sir, I'll have to inform their agent."
"Katy, youse don't need a biddin' war, youse liable to lose the double commission."
Katy Ryan blushed slightly.
"Mr. Higsbee, I'll have you know that ..
"I seen on dah sheet where dey'll only payin' a t'ree percent commish."
"Well, with this hurricane Katrina causing all that damage we have a lot of people, like yourself, coming up here to Baton Rouge and offering full-price and it is still a seller's market. Something like this just intensifies that and the seller gets greedy."
"Yeah-yeah, greedier, huh Katy? One and half percent ah t'ree-twenty is forty-eight hundred smackahs, t'ree percent is double dat."
Kathryn "Katy" Ryan inhaled slightly.
"Do you plan to write me a deposit check to go with this offer?"
Big Mike removed a small key from his jacket pocket and turned the clasps on his leather briefcase, then snapped them open and lifted the lid. He turned the briefcase slightly and Katy Ryan sat staring, hypnotized, at what had been 100 stacks of hundred dollar bills inside the briefcase, and now there was 99 of them intact and a half a stack or more scattered over the other tightly bound stacks, just under a million dollars.
Katy Ryan stared lovingly at her God and Big Mike smiled and grabbed a dozen of the bills. He slipped them into Ryan's hand and she closed it tightly when he said:
"And here's somet'in' extra fah youse Katy. Now den, when can me and my lady move into ah'wah new house?"
Katy Ryan moved her lips to within inches of Big Mike's ear and cooed:
"Whenever you say sweetie, whenever you say!"
Instability in the Middle East severely threatens sources of our petroleum imports from that region of the world.---George H.W. Bush, 1970.
George W. Bush was at a meeting and his eyes were slowing closing; he was almost asleep but he suddenly came alive when oil and gas money was mentioned, as a recent spillage at the Murphy Oil refinery in Meraux, Louisiana, where over 85,000 barrels of crude oil had been spilled into water so low as to become almost immediate sludge in numerous neighborhoods in the St. Bernard Parish.
George W. had learned at the feet of an expert oil man, George H.W. Bush, his father, and throughout both their lives and careers in the Oval Office, the Republican Party, the oil and gas industry, the national interest and the Bush family interests, became so inseparable that the line between enriching themselves through their political connections had virtually disappeared. The economy depends on cheap energy and in order to continue to have a high standard of living the country must continue to have cheap energy, which translates into gas and oil production and most Texas politicians owe the big producers their loyalty, as they are elected by their benefactors' contributions, as were all three of Texas' past presidents, Lyndon B. Johnson and the Bush father and son team, all three who owed allegiance to Halliburton. Of course, American politicians had always owed their allegiance to the power-brokers and chief among them are the oil and gas companies. In point of fact, it was during Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration, in 1953, that the decision was made, by Eisenhower's approval, to take out Mohammad Mossadegh, the democratically elected leader of Iran, when it became known that Mossadegh planned to nationalize Iran's oilfields. Just after the C.I.A. took out Mossadegh and installed the Shah of Iran, five U.S. oil companies were given major shares of the conglomerate of Western corporations that controlled Iran's oil production.
Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton from 1995-2000, and was paid $45 million dollars and is a politician who is shamelessly proud of the invisible line between enriching himself and his friends and family through his business and political connections, which is why he was the secretary of defense under George H.W. Bush and is the vice-president under George W. Bush.
When the Shah of Iran was overrun by the Ayatollah Khomeni, Kellogg, Brown & Root, the engineering and construction arm of Halliburton, simply began doing business with its next-door-neighbor, Iraq, and Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party, and when George W. decided to get rid of Saddam, of course K.B.R., Halliburton, was "awarded" the no-bid contract to rebuild the country's gas and oil industry. After all, it had been Brown & Root who had built many of Iraq's pipelines and had been paid billions of dollars to do it.
George H.W. Bush had many oil cronies in his cabinet and staff, James A. Baker III, his secretary of state, being chief among them. His son, George W., having Cheney as vice-president, Condoleeza Rice, his former national advisor and a director of Chevron, now his secretary of state, Don Evans, commerce secretary, a former CEO and chairman of Tom Brown, Inc., a Colorado oil company that George W. Bush owns stock in -- it appears that if you are tied to the gas and oil business there is a job for you in the Bush Administration, somewhere. Like Zalmay Khalilzad, a special national security assistant and a special envoy to Afghanistan, whose past ties with Unocal, a California gas & oil consortium, garnered him the job of working with Condi Rice in an attempt to construct a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan. But then, it was oil money, 3 million plus from energy companies and almost the same from the auto sector, that helped elect George W. Bush President and G.W., besides owning stock in Tom Brown, Inc., owns stock in General Electric, BP, Duke Energy, ExxonMobil and Pennzoil. And now there was big trouble in New Orleans, the drilling would have to stop, the money would have to flow backwards for a while, into repairing the off-shore rigs and apparatus' in order to start the green paper with dead presidents pictures on them flowing once again and George W. Bush was worried. Another hurricane was threatening the Gulf Coast region and it was reported to be as big, or bigger, in magnitude and scope than Katrina; and it was said to be headed for the president's State of Texas and not that that wasn't bad enough but this was a section of coastline with the nation's largest concentration of oil refineries. It was being reported that it may even hit the greater Houston area and this worried the 43rd president of the United States no end; not because so many New Orleans evacuees were now attempting to take up residence there but because just outside of Houston proper, in the eastern side of Harris County, there resided huge petroleum refineries that had the awesome ability to provide almost half of the petrochemical needs of the entire country, and this was George W. Bush's Houston, a town whose leaders exemplified the good ol' boy Texas gunslinger mentality of no restrictions on zoning or growth, let the market determine the outcome; in other words money rules, and still does, and when its results became an urban infrastructure that provided enormous amounts of wealth to only a small percentage of the population while it wreaked havoc on the numerous ghettos that sprang up in Ward after Ward, or Parish after Parish, this was of no concern to any of the city's politicians because so many of them sprang from the likes of those whose wealthy families had ruled for so many eons; like James A. Baker III, a close confederate of George H.W. Bush, and his secretary of state, whose family ties went back to Baker's great grandfather, who moved to Texas from Alabama and became a judge, a member of the Texas legislature and who would move to Houston and join a law firm that would become known as Baker Botts and would become one of the top law firms in the State of Texas, specializing in representing looters, polluters and anyone who had the money to hire their "six-shooters," and George W. Bush's first summer job was in the law firm's mailroom. Yes, George W. Bush was firmly entrenched in the oil business, primarily because of one stark and startling truth: that despite the fact that even while businesses that he ran went bankrupt, and his first oil company's investors lost upwards of $3 million dollars, G.W. got an exceptionally generous salary and office operations money. He had easily borrowed money for this venture, as oil investments were useful tax shelters for his billionaire friends, and others, like when he became the chairman and third-largest owner, with 16 percent of the stock, of Spectrum 7 Energy Corporation in 1986 and when Spectrum 7 was on the verge of bankruptcy, due to plummeting oil prices, he called upon friends at Harken Energy, and they easily bought Spectrum out by swapping out one of its shares for every five of Spectrum's. G.W. got stock worth over a half a million dollars, a Harken directorship and a 2-year consulting contract that paid him $80,000 the first year and $120,000 the second year and thereafter. And, G.W. had found God, not coincidentally in 1986, a year that the price of oil hit an all-time low of under $9 a barrel. G.W. well knew that his father had been weak with the Religious Right and when he stated that none other than Billy Graham had been the one to help convert him, it would greatly help to elect him Governor of Texas in 1994 and again, as president in 2000, when it was said that Graham called him and urged him to run and to remember to tell the voters that he had always been faithful to his wife. And so, with the help of the Religious Right's voting power and Big Oil's money, George W. Bush was elected in 2000 and again in 2004, and now, on September 23, 2005, he was facing his greatest test. Unlike 9/11/2001, however, this test couldn't be passed by photo opportunities and short one-liners, no this crisis was even bigger than that, this was something that only God could intervene in, for another hurricane was racing towards the Gulf Coast and not just to the already battered States of Louisiana and Mississippi but to his State of Texas and it was threatening another god of his, the gas and oil business.
déjà vu: the feeling that one has seen or heard something before.
Some day the earth will weep, she will beg for her life, she will cry with tears of blood. You will make a choice, if you will help her or let her die, and when she dies, you too will die.---John Hollow Horn, Oglala Lakota, 1932.
George W. Bush was smiling when he said it and he meant it, as everyone knew only G.W. could say what he meant; of course he could change his mind and probably would but when he said something, gosh-darn, by-golly, G.W. Bush meant it. And, he definitely meant it when he said that he would make sure that the Gulf Coast, where over one-quarter of the country's oil refineries were located, would be rebuilt, no matter what the cost, and that HE, George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States, just wanted to let all his constituents know that he would pay for it and the Iraq War and without rolling back any of his nice fat, juicy tax-cuts for all his billionaire friends, corporations and conglomerates; of course what he really meant was that the American taxpayers would pay for it. When his father left office, he left the incoming president, Clinton, with a $290 billion deficit and when Clinton left office, 8 years later, he had turned that around and handed his predecessor's son almost $290 billion back, but in a surplus, and now, in 2005, the deficit was almost $8 trillion dollars, as both Bushes were great at talking out of the side of their mouths. And, of course G.W. would never think, or even consider any environmental bills that might restrict or stand in the way of any wealthy developer wishing to weaken or erode the land by building upon it, or restrict zoning or building at or near flood-plains or anything else that might dampen the spirit of the numerous millionaire and billionaire developers who ran like moths to the flame towards beachfront property or property that overlooked the water.
Of course, the oil derricks and refineries would continue unabated and, in fact, Florida Republicans in the U.S. House are backing a deal that would relinquish numerous protections in exchange for permanent restrictions closer to shore, creating, in effect, a 100-mile buffer around the state, out of sight of any land, where Big Oil could put their derricks, as if by being out of sight of the land, no damage would be done, for being hurricane-prone, erosion-prone and flood-prone were only words to G.W. Bush and most politicians, whose lives were moved and ruled by money and that money sprang from such as the corporations and conglomerates that moved these politicians' mouths much like a martinet moved his dummy-puppet's mouth. And never let it be said that George W. Bush was not as big a dummy-puppet as ever held the office of President of the United States, as he said on September 2, 2005, quote: "Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house, he's lost his entire house, there's gonna be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch."
What he forgot to say, of course, was that Trent Lott's house, located on the Pascagoula beachfront, is backed by federally subsidized flood insurance programs and state subsidized beach "renourishment" programs that guarantee that any damage done by flooding will be paid for by, yes you guessed it, the taxpayers. The Gulf Coast, along with the Texas and California coasts, the Florida Keys, the Outer Banks and coasts in states that dot the coastlines throughout America, have recently experienced a sudden building boom and the developers are getting wealthy off the lack of zoning restrictions. Gambling casinos rule along the Mississippi coast and two dozen have been destroyed by Hurricane Rita but never fear, G.W. is here and he will help get them rebuilt; wouldn't want the big money to stop flowing into the state of Mississippi's coffers. An Army engineer lost his job when Senator Trent Lott demanded he resign. What was his crime? He had the temerity to state the truth and suggest that it would be wise if the State of Mississippi stop building casinos along the flood-prone coast.
And so, G.W. smiled, Rita hadn't done enough damage to dampen his spirits and maybe it was God who he could thank but first he would have to ask his speechwriters and maybe Dick Cheney, if he could find the V.P., he was in hiding at an undisclosed location. No reason had yet been given but his spokesperson was working on that.
Passed from death unto life.--- New Testament: John, 5:24.
weep when we are born, Not when we die.!
Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Metempsychosis.
It was hot and getting hotter inside the building that A.J. McGuire stood inside. He was sipping on a bottle of water that he had been given earlier by a man with a Red Cross patch on his shirt. He hadn't eaten in three days but he wasn't worried; he had gone for longer periods without eating over his life and he knew he probably would again, as he was poor, and was without wheels now or any money, or even any friends, as it seemed like he knew no one in this section of New Orleans, anyway, for he was in Algiers Point, where he saw almost exclusively white faces. It was dry and comparatively comfortable but very humid and A.J. had stayed inside an abandoned building and had slept more in three days than he had in the past month, since he had been released from the penitentiary anyway, and so much had happened that his mind seemed to be in a constant state of "spin-cycle." He walked outside now and glanced at his watch, it was 8:00 a.m. and he walked and walked; he walked past the courthouse and up Verret Avenue, then strolled down Pelican Ave and walked past the library, then walked back onto Verret until he came upon the Holy Name of Mary Church and strolled towards the front entrance. He was on holy ground, he was at the church where Danny-Boy had gotten married and he was alone and waiting but he knew not what for. It was a Sunday, the second day in October, 2005, and he walked in and sat down in a pew in the back of the church. He sat and waited but he knew not what he was waiting for, then he felt an arm on his shoulder and he turned and looked into the smiling face of a priest, who said:
"Good day, my son. Do you wish confession?"
A.J. smiled back at the priest but shook his head.
"Naw faddah, I ah-er-um, that is, I that is .
"Yes-yes, what is it my son?"
"Well, that is, I dunno faddah, youse know, I, I jus' felt diz overwhelmin' desire to, to, well to come inside, youse know?"
"Of course, of course, and how long has it been since youse have been in church?"
"Well, dat is, I used to go to choich allah dah time youse know but, well, it's been ah while youse know? I used to go wid my frien' Danny-Boy and his moms youse know, we went down to Saint Paddy's once ovah in dah warehouse districk, youse know?"
"The warehouse district, of course, on Camp, I know it well."
"Yeah, well she used to go ovah here once in awhile too, youse know. Yeah, I was in here a couple ah times, many years ago faddah dough, youse know? Yeah me an Danny-Boy, yeah Danny-Boy, my frien', my bes' frien'." A.J. stared into space and the priest put his hand back on his shoulder and rasped:
"Ah youse here for his funeral then, my son?"
A.J. jerked away from the priest as if slapped and his face turned ashen.
"Wha what? What ah youse talkin' about faddah?"
"Why, youse ah a friend of Danny-Boy Boo'drow ah youse not?"
"Yeah, yeah of course, how, how'd youse know dat?"
"Why my son, they're having his funeral here today."
"For real? Man, man, dat can't be, it can't be faddah. Danny-Boy wuzza pooleeceman, he, why, dey gone have a parade, dey gone have pooleece everywhere, dey gone have bands and it gone last ah week or mo', man, I know Danny-Boy's muddah? I ..
The priest rubbed A.J.'s shoulder and sat down next to him. A.J. had tears streaming down his face but was unaware of it. The priest leaned in towards him and rasped:
"Youse know son we've been hit by two hurricanes, Katrina and Rita and although we've been blessed here in Algiers Point, we've not yet gotten the city anywhere near the condition it should be in. No one is prepared for a real New Ahl-ee-yuns funeral my son."
"Bu .but how youse know I mean Danny-Boy's funeral? I mean ..
"His muddah couldn't wait any longer, we've promised her the church this afternoon and maybe sometime in the future he'll get a real New Ahl-ee-yuns police burial."
"Yeah, yeah, ah-er, what time, ah .is dah funeral, faddah."
"Twelve o'clock, my son." A.J. glanced at his watch. It was 11:30, a half an hour until then, and suddenly he awakened; he must have been in the church longer than he had thought.
"Geez, how long have I been, ah-er ..
"Since nine-toytee. You've been here for two hours my son."
A.J. heard noise in the rear of the church and noticed several policemen in uniform and he shivered involuntarily but the priest tightened his grip on his shoulder and said:
"Don't worry my son, the Lord makes everything right."
A.J. looked up and noticed that several cops were setting a casket in the front of the church and it was open.
"Wha .what? Dey have dah body? Dey have Danny-Boy's .
"They do my son. I'm sure youse can stay. There are only a few people going to be here. About a dozen I think his dear muddah said. You understand he'll probably have a real New Ahl-ee-yuns funeral when the city gets back to normal? Ah, I must go now, my son. Stay, stay and pray for your friend's soul. I'm sure youse were close?"
"He was my bes' frien' faddah, I, I loved him faddah, I did. I did."
The priest clasped A.J.'s shoulder tighter and then he was gone, heading for the front of the church.
A.J. sat in the pew and heard the eulogy, then noticed that there was a pianist and several members of a choir and they sang three songs. Then A.J. saw Danny-Boy's mother and he watched as Angelina "Angel" O'Brian Boudrieux walked to the microphone and began singing in her falsetto, New Orleans accentuated voice with now a somewhat pronounced Irish accent clinging to some of the words as she sang the song "Danny-Boy." Her voice was like that of a real angel and A.J. felt he had never heard anything so beautiful in his life. When she got to the end of the song, to the words, "Oh Danny-Boy, I love you so," A.J. had tears streaming down his face, as he walked to the front of the church and stared at his life-long best friend's corpse and continued to cry like a baby when Danny-Boy's mother approached him and hugged him tightly.
A.J. went with Danny-Boy's mother to the post-funeral meal and ate and ate and ate. He noticed the distant stares of most of the cops but he didn't care; he was free now, he was free, the voice he had prayed to had told him it hadn't been his bullet that had killed Danny-Boy and it forgave him everything he had ever done and had put an electricity inside his body that was still there. He would have to talk to the priest about that but for now he just ate and talked to Danny-Boy's mom; about old times, about how much he had loved Danny-Boy and about the first time they had ever played together when he was only four years old and they had been in kindergarten together. Then S.J. O'Banion, captain with the New Orleans police department and Danny-Boy's cousin, and Maria Marcello Boudrieux walked over with her son and A.J. stared into the face of Daniel "Danny-Boy" Boudrieux Jr. He was four years old and the spitting image of his father. A.J. couldn't stop the tears and neither could Maria Marcello Boudrieux and neither could the 4-year-old and neither could Danny-Boy's mother. When finally the tears did stop flowing, A.J. McGuire hugged the boy and the boy said:
"Youse ah A.J., aren't youse? My daddy talked about youse all the toime!"
"Oh yeah, what'd he say about me, heh, not all bad, I hope."
The 4 year old appeared confused but only for an instant.
"No, he said he loved youse."
By Keith Laufenberg
at Black Family Reunions
Strange how history constantly repeats itself for some highly marginalized and very poor people in this land of plenty for a few called North America
Just like after the end of slavery
In this land called North America with its exploding and continually recycled myths of broken black families
Single young African-American mothers
Absent and they make you believe uncaring fathers and men who never ever seem to take the responsibility to look after their kids or their womenfolk Strange how
Strange how history constantly has a tendency to repeat itself for some very poor and highly marginalized and mostly African-American people in this land of plenty for nowadays everyday a fewer called North America
So many black families were chaotically evacuated, as the entire ugly process quickly came to be known, paying little or no attention whatsoever where they were dropped off or sent to
Obviously, they were blacks therefore they came from broken families and they could not have any meaningful family lives
No, uuh, uuh
Some were sent to Baton Rouge
Others to Houston eventually by bus
Some were even flown to Utah of all the places in the U.S.
Suppose they needed some black people there
Maybe they could even work a little bit of magical "mission civilatrice" on them
Others arrived in an ongoing state of shock in LA and DC
Strange how history constantly repeats itself in this blessed land for some very poor and highly marginalized African-American people
With now only the great, great, great grandchildren having to play the roles of the painfully missing and the ones searching for beloved brothers, sisters, small kids and babies
Aunts and Uncles
Grandmothers and Grandfathers
And Husbands searching for Wives
Grandfathers worn out from backbreaking slave labor with sick grandmothers and the remaining grandchildren on horse drawn carts
Or in utter desperation even on barefoot tirelessly walking the vast distances of this often vast and brutal land eagerly looking for any and all family members, who had been coldly sold to the highest bidders
Strange how history has a way of repeating itself for some very poor and highly marginalized people in this land of plenty for a few called North America
Only now in the wake of Hurricane Katrina
Using the Internet
Tightly holding their only pictures to send messages to lost and misplaced loved ones
On message boards scattered all over the overcrowded and highly disorganized receiving centers
For, at first, these mostly African-American called refugees
Refugeees, just like in Africa, how appropriate
The mostly very poor, fundamentally isolated and highly marginalized Black internal refugees
of a so-called booming early 21st century United States of America
Refugeeees, not really from Hurricane Katrina
Strange how history constantly repeats itself for some very poor and highly marginalized African-American people in this land of plenty for just a few
Where one of its most popular and still widely read founding essayists during the War of Independence wrote about this being the place with the "power to begin the world over again"*
Not refugees from Katrina
But, REFUGEEEES from conscious and historically imposed multidimensional and intergenerational
Political malign neglect and contempt uglily uncovered and daily unpacked time and again
In New Orleans
On the part of the powerful, the privileged and the wealthy bored white
These plundering classes, according to the above-mentioned and beloved political essayist
In this land of plenty for each and every day
* Thomas Paine in "Common Sense".
By Gilbert Gregory Gumbs
From A Balcony
The balconies of the French Quarter are actually Spanish in appearance. Two great fires in the late 1700's destroyed most of the original French buildings, so the Vieux Carré was rebuilt during the Spanish Possession in the Spanish style. Thereare two kinds of ironwork in the French Quarter, classically austere wrought iron and baroquely ornate cast iron. In the 1800's, people stretched canvas over the cypress floors of their balconies and painted the canvas; that kept the balconies from rotting away under the rain. In recent times, they have tried everything from fiberglass to a
rubber base that soaks into the wood. The rubber base made people slip on the slightly slanted balconies, so then they mixed it with black walnut shells, which do not rot. However, most balconies are just painted with no covering. The new wood lasts only five years under the incessant dampness of New Orleans. Cypress is said not to rot, but the new wood does. All the tough old trees are long gone. The new ones being harvested now are still too pulpy to withstand the damp atmosphere. Rain in South Louisiana is sudden, sharp, short but almost daily. People wait the rain out under balconies and then go on about their business. Or they run from balcony to balcony and get across the Quarter without catching hardly a sprinkle.People really live on their balconies. They barbecue, eat and drink, sunbathe, flirt, have parties, and just watch the scene on the streets.
Someone sitting on a balcony, waiting for, hoping for a phone call about a job, idly watching people pass on the street below, noticed the two men and the woman. The men wore scruffy beards and patched jeans, not a designer look, definitely funky. The woman was a rather heavy blonde who wore white shorts, a stretch halter top, and high heeled sandals. She carried a dingy white poodle. They went to a light blue van parked in front of a Creole cottage.
The woman looked straight up at the balcony and yelled, "You SUCK! This whole city SUCKS! Let's get out of here!"
The three of them piled into the van and drove off, all three jabbing their middle fingers up at the balcony, totally startling the observer by so much hostility from strangers, just out of the blue like a message from the universe.
The Creole cottage was owned by a rich man in Dallas who used it for Mardi Gras and special events and let friends and clients borrow it. The World Fair had just opened. The cottage was full of strangers, different bands of them every week; and their cars were parked up and down the street. The light blue van had Texas plates. The people passing through the cottage, if they noticed it at all, assumed it belonged to someone in the neighborhood. People in the neighborhood supposed it belonged to someone in the cottage.
A woman who lived in the slave quarters behind the house next to the cottage and used the side exit between the two buildings noticed that a man seemed to be hanging around the area. He looked bad -- poor, ungroomed, tattooed. He had a sour but desperate look that frightened her. It frightened her that he ducked away down the street when he caught her eyes on him. Sometimes he was there, sometimes not. When she came in late and saw him hanging around, she was alarmed. She stopped wearing her watch and pearls. Early one morning she saw him pooping on the street behind the van. She went back inside and told the owner of her building that she was not leaving the house again as long as that man was out there. He went out to investigate. When he came back, he said he looked into the van and saw the man asleep there. He called the police and concluded, "Good Lord, he doesn't even have sense enough to travel with a Folger's coffee can!" The police banged on the van door. They checked his ID. He said he was in New Orleans with two friends, a couple, looking for work. He lived in the van, and they lived in a cheap hotel on Decatur St. The police gave him an hour to get his friends and get the van somewhere else.
He was destitute, hungry, at the end of a long bad string. If this life were not bad enough, there was now this humiliation, the final breaking of him. He climbed out onto the sidewalk in his shorts to pull on his jeans and then set out to get his friends. They had enough money for a flophouse and food, but the transportation was his -- that was why they were together. The Quarter seemed to be the safest place to live in a van -- take it to the waterfront or under IS-13 and he would just get killed. When you're really trying to do something for yourself, it seems everyone just wants to make it hard on you.
Someone looked down on them from a balcony. The only person in sight on the street, that had to be the one who made this trouble for them, gloating over them now. There was nothing they could do but violate that distance, force
obscenities on those smug ears, degrade those sheltered eyes. They could do that.
By Billie Louise Jones
wash n' save
some would say
the road to salvation
begins in the
this lower east side
where next to the
stands a display of
Bible teachings on HELL
HELL, Destiny of the Doomed
Forty-Eight hours in HELL
as if god
could teach the
patrons of this
a thing about
By Bill Ward
Life after Welfare Reform
The waiting room is jammed with chairs. Adults sit stone-faced,
clutch rumpled envelopes filled with birth certificates,
social security cards, alien registrations -- their poverty passports.
They stare at outdated flyers, missed opportunities pinned
to dirty walls, in English and Spanish as if those who can't read
will somehow comprehend.
Children sit cross-legged on the floor, leaf through tattered
magazines, eyes on glossy ads for iMacs and muscle cars.
The entrance door opens and shuts, blurts drafts of cold air.
Chorus of coughs. A tired child whimpers
Marlsol shoves her shopping bags closer to her feet
At welfare, Marisol signs in to be certified, fumbles with paystubs,
receipts, prays food stamps won't be cut any more.
At WIC, her six-month-old son, three-year-old twins are measured
and weighed, so she can claim formula, orange juice, Cheerios,
peanut butter, hardly enough to float her from paycheck to paycheck.
Summoned for eviction, she cowers outside the courtroom, listens
to words she can't understand. Two abogados arguing -
one for the landlord, one from Legal Aid.
When she gets to the front of the line for kids' winter coats,
the Salvation Army's got nothing left
At the free clinic, Marisol crosses her fingers deep in her pockets,
waits for test results of her viral load, unwanted pregnancy,
hepatitis, x-rays for bruised ribs. The doctor reassures her
with proper care and medication, but she already owes
last month's rent, there's a shut-off notice from PSG&E,
and the twins are sharing one winter coat
Loaded with bags of potluck donations, she takes three buses
to get home where her older son cracks the backs of roaches
and keeps them in jars. After early Mass, she'll walk the children
to daycare, check the clock in the corner bodega, then catch
a taxi to get to work on time or an angry boss will find
someone else to stuff envelopes for minimum wage.
By Nancy Scott
Frost on the Stair Leading Nowhere
we poison you for growing flowers,
spread our deadly hoar
across the traditional fields
older than words.
you should have known better
than to disobey.
now you can eat the bitter frost.
we imprison you for holding flowers
to your breast, flowers
from south of propriety. flowers
with unsubtle fragrance. flowers
with secret money at the root.
we bind you still
with stainless chains.
call you scum. freedom
is a privilege. granted
but for the privileged.
no, we prefer you stand forever.
in endless lines, absent pride, beg--
gared in squalor. hand
outstretched in a fingerless glove.
for thin soup, discarded clothes.
we liquor you up with discouragement.
fill our fat-bellied arrogance
with your ill fortune.
heap your tired carcasses
as stepping stones to heaven.
for we are righteous. we are good.
the wrong god.
By Jamie Cavanagh
In the spirit of giving
And community involvement
McDonald's will arrange funerals
For indigent families flee of charge
The deceased will be buried
In a yellow and red McCasket
Eulogies to he delivered by ordained ministers
With stipulation to include
The deceased, "loved going to McDonalds."
Tombstone provided will display
McDonalds insignia golden arches
In upper right hand comer
McDonalds will provide catering at wake
Including soft drinks, French fries and hamburgers
A small surcharge will be added for cheese
By David Ochs
Here on Earth
Big screen televisions - VCRs
Exercise equipment and stereos
Brand-new plush carpet
on a brand-new floor
A chef's size kitchen
in a Gods' size building
Fleets and fleets of
I hope Heaven cam compete
with the amenities of a church.
By Jerry Terrell
to the theocracy
"It is easier to depend on Heaven
than it is to be responsible on Earth" -- Sheri S. Tepper
my eyes cross every time i hear
some flag-wrapped plutocrat utter "The Monosyllable."
it means i'm on the wrong side of the fence again.
i certainly haven't been blessed with health insurance,
nor a cult of seraphim to protect me from rising taxes.
no matter a lifetime of consume...reproduce...obey,
the working poor are always left behind.
& just when you think existence
on our pale blue dot couldn't get more precarious,
those who presume to know what's best for us
mis-anthropomorphize The Absolute, give it
two right wings & a political agenda.
self-anointed martyrs believe my lack of morals
would be remedied with a terminal plane ride.
they resent the pork & alcohol on my breath.
they can see i haven't bruised my brow with prayer.
these turbans scorn their own Islamic scholars,
turn a deaf ear to any regrets i may offer on behalf
of G.I. Joe & G.I. Jane, deployed to draw another line
in the sand beneath which generous dinosaurs sleep.
Judaic hardliners won't rest
until they cut my throat in the tabernacle.
it isn't my fault Moses didn't live to spit
on pagan plows, & who isn't aggrieved when
Yahweh's tanks hammer eviction notices to
the doors of Muslim homes? when
Allah's suicide bombers overpay the bus fare to paradise?
let me compound my sins:
i applaud the U.N.'s declaration that the tribes of
Israel must allow the Palestinians a state of grace
within the land of milk & honey, the same respect
accorded the Star of David in 1948.
back home, the attorney general
is itching to mandate sackcloth & ashes.
Jesus saves, but dominion theologians want my soul
napalmed at the stake because i refuse to embrace
intellectual cowardice as a virtue, because i'm
not threatened by feminists & have given sanctuary
to purple tellytubbies, because i still haven't heard
an argument good enough to convince me why
a superstitious dread is better than hope,
sister, i'm waiting for love & compassion,
the source of so many rumors
to inform the religious reality.
brother, after another hard day of building
these wailing walls brick by bloody brick,
our palms burn with the coin of the realm -
hatred, hypocrisy, hysteria, hostility.
i wonder if it's sufficient to put me
behind the wheel of an armored SUV
By Roibeárd Uí-Neíll
23d Psalm According to Dubya
Bush is my shepherd, I shall dwell in want.
He maketh logs to be cut down in national forests.
He leadeth trucks into the still wilderness.
He restoreth my fears.
He leadeth me in the paths of international disgrace for his ego's sake. Yea,though I walk through the valley of pollution and war, I will find no exit, for thou art in office.
Thy tax cuts for the rich and thy media control, they discomfort me. Thou preparest an agenda of deception in the presence of thy religion. Thou annointest my head with foreign oil.
My health insurance runneth out.
Surely megalomania and false patriotism shall follow me all the days of thy term.
And my jobless child shall dwell in my basement forever.
All I can say is, Amen.
23d Psalm According to the Democrats
The Donkey is my shepherd, I still want,
He goeth before me in union bureaucracies, in state legislatures, halls of Congress and presidential and mayoral campaigns and lo! in city council chambers.
He is known as the Braying Ass.
He restoreth my boss when I fight him,
He maketh compromise with Monkey Boy in the workers' names' sake,
He leadeth me to concessions in exchange for mere pennies from the rich.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of mass struggle he pretendeth to be
Till I refuse him, I will find no exit
For thou art the hijacker of the mass movements.
Thy rhetoric and false promises they disorient me,
Thou preparest a sellout agenda without consulting me,
Thou kisseth the ass of my worst enemy.
My patience runneth out.
Surely until I defeat you opportunism and class collaboration shall follow
me all the days of my life
and I shall dwell in the darkness of the Bush forever.
No way, man!
By Tim Hall
When elephants look like donkeys
And this bullhead ass plays monkey
Science lends the thesis
To classify these species
By the kinship of both to money
By J.J. Keane
Albany, the Capital of New York
I'm from the city
That showed no pity
And shot Diallo one more time
Let four cops get away with one more shot
Murderin' his civil rights and mine
By Katisha Burt
Animals react with rage.
And use their head.
To gun down a defenseless man
Shows a coward gone insane.
Shoot to kill at will.
Fetch me a noose
The beast is on the loose.
By Rozell Caldwell
Don't Feed the Pigeons
Floyd could hear the newsgirl's sugary voice on the living room tv describing yesterday's attack upon two city cops in a Northside park.
"...Both officers are listed in serious condition at Cook County Hospital with multiple injuries. Their assailant is described as being an African-American male in his early thirties. Because of the viciousness of the attacks, police are considering the assailant to be extremely dangerous. We'll have a sketch of the perpetrator to show you before this broadcast is over..."
Just then, Floyd's wife, Roxanne, strode into the kitchen where he was sitting at the dinette table sipping his coffee. She was a tall, good-looking woman clad only in her underpants, and shower shoes that clapped against the tile floor when she walked. Her dark hair was slicked back with a glistening sheen, lips full, brown skin smooth and radi-ating a healthy inner glow.
"Sounds like whoever jumped them pigs was a complete fool," she remarked while opening the refrigerator and taking out a carton of orange juice. "They say one of those cops got beaten unconscious. I'm surprised they're talking about it so much on the tv. I figure the brass at City Hall wouldn't want folks to know a couple of their boys got whupped."
Floyd grimaced when he sat down his cup and the pain shot through his wrist. A little swelling showed around his knuckles and the skin was scraped on his thumb.
The newscaster moved on to talking about the war in Iraq.
Floyd looked anxiously toward the window when a police car rushed by outside, siren screaming like a hysterical clown.
"What're you doing today?" Roxanne asked, pouring juice into a glass.
"Why is that? With all these bills we got hanging over our heads you should have plenty to do."
A profusion of curses strangled in his throat, coming out instead as a low groan while he glowered at the woman he had been married to for the last ten years.
"You made them folks mad at that printing company," she went on. "But I guess they really didn't have to fire you. You'd been working for them for six years. You saved that company a lot of money because you knew what you were doing."
"I know they didn't have to fire me," he replied. "They wanted to fire me."
"You shouldn't've said anything contrary about this war that's going on. And you really shouldn't've ripped down their old damned American flag and stomped on it. That's why they contested your unemployment benefits and said you were fired for fighting on the job. You're lucky they didn't have you locked up."
"I wasn't fighting."
"You shoved your supervisor."
"I didn't feel like biting my tongue for them!" he roared, leaping up and banging his fist down on the table, sending another painful surge shooting through his wrist, all the way up along his arm to his elbow. "That war is wrong, Roxanne. I know it's wrong, because my guard unit got called up and I had to be over there in Iraq for nine months. Those chumps at that printing company are just sitting over here on their fat, alcoholic asses, reading about it in the newspaper and watching tv. People in this country are like the Germans were in the Thirties when Hitler did his thing in Europe. Look here, I saw an Arab man in Baghdad get shot in the face, in his own house, because he took a swing at a soldier for calling his wife a towel-head bitch."
"Why don't you check with old man Henderson?" Roxanne suggested with a grimace. "He might let you go out with him as a helper on one of his roofing jobs. He was your father's best friend."
Floyd's gaze became transfixed on the wisp of steam rising from his coffee while the pain in his arm continued to throb.. He didn't want to ask Henderson for any more favors. Unbeknownst to Roxanne, he had borrowed two hundred dollars from the man a couple of weeks before to make up their mortgage shortage.
"... United States forces continue to pound insurgents' positions in the Holy City of Najaf, " the newscaster went on. "Two American soldiers have been reported killed in the latest fighting, as well as sixty-five Iraqis... "
Roxanne drank her juice, and sat the empty glass on the sink. "Just be glad you made it back here in one piece. Look what happened to your friend Rudy. Face all burned up. And he was a nice-looking man. Just be patient and ask the Lord for some help. You'll find another job pretty soon."
He wanted to explode again, the way he had exploded the day before in the park when he went ballistic on the two cops. But he had no intentions of hurting Roxanne. No, no, not his sweetie. None of what was happening to him, or to the world, was her fault. So he just sat there stewing in his own bitter juice, listening to the newscaster's continuing report on the fighting in Iraq.
"Kendall needs new shoes," Roxanne piped up. "And school will be starting next month and he's going to have to pay all those fees."
"I know what all we gotta pay," Floyd replied, dryly, his mouth turning down. "And I also know we've got a shut-off notice from the light company."
"I'll be able to put in some overtime next week at work," she said.
"I need me a drink," he muttered. "And a joint."
"Floyd, are you crazy? If you smoke a joint, you won't be able to pass a pre-employment drug test. It takes at least a month for marijuana to run out of your system."
Something tumultuous convulsed in his belly as he got up from the table, feeling pain in his shoulder from where one of the policeman bad struck him with his nightstick. "What's the matter with you?" his wife asked, noticing his scowl.
"Twisted my shoulder some kind of way," he lied before grumbling on. "So here I am in pain and I can't get high the way I want to get high because of a damned drug test, after I put my life on the line fighting for some bullshit in some desert. That don't make sense to me. Just what exactly was I fighting for over there, when I can't be free here?"
"Is that what freedom means to you, being able to smoke reefers when you get ready?"
"Damn right. That's part of it. And besides, my smoking a joint ain't nothing compared to the destruction one of those American bombs can do. I saw a kid over there, same size as our Kendall, both his little arms blown off, and his momma was lying dead in the street. So what's really good and what's really bad in this scenario? You tell me. I know some reefer ain't bad."
"It's about tragedy, Floyd. That's what's wrong with all wars."
"I don't know nothing about all wars. I just know about this one."
Roxanne nodded and proceeded to go about preparing her breakfast before head-ing out to work.
"I'm going to take a hot shower," Floyd said, moving slowly to the bathroom, feeling more pain in his arm, and there was discomfort in his foot too, because he had kicked those cops with a viciousness he hadn't known before. The battle had gone down quickly and very intensely, and he had called upon more strength than what he thought he had; certainly more than he had ever summoned during his fighting days in Iraq. But he had taken some licks. The cops put up a decent fight.
He stepped into the bathroom and closed the door. He could still smell the sweet fragrance from Roxanne's earlier bath. He raised the window that looked out on the backyard below. Several pigeons were there, strutting around and pecking at the ground the same way they had done yesterday afternoon in that park. Maybe some of them were the same birds. After all, they could fly and they were free unlike him. He noticed a large pigeon that looked familiar, with white markings on its back feathers and the side of its head.
At first, Floyd intended to just stand in the shower and let the warm water drench his aching body, but then he decided to fill the tub and sit down in it so that the heat could seep into his bones and muscles. He needed to relax, give his nerves a chance to settle down. He hadn't been able to sleep at all that night, lying in bed all tensed up, eyes open, thoughts racing from one disastrous episode to another.
He held his breath when the sound of another siren came near.
Had the police located him? They were definitely hunting relentlessly. News reports hardly described the severity of the beating and injuries he had inflicted on the officers. He was sure that he had broken one of the men's arms.
When were the cops going to knock down his apartment door and storm in to arrest him, or kill him? How would he respond? Fight them? Or go along peacefully so that his wife and child wouldn't be put in harm's way?
But the siren passed by, fading into the distance.
He got undressed and drew his bath, settling down into the tub while the water still poured in. Closing his eyes, he allowed his limbs to relax, the tendons and ligaments to stretch, while his thoughts took him back across the sea to Iraq where the blazing sun and dry heat had threatened to smother him. He could hear the guns firing, shells explod-ing, women screaming, children crying, and the men running through the streets frantic-ally calling to each other in Arabic, the braver, younger ones, referring to themselves as the Mujahedeen, shooting back, trying to defend what was theirs from the alien crusaders that came from the other side of the world. These American invaders had looked like the Imperial Storm Troopers from the Star Wars movies; all trussed up in their body armor, tall boots, and helmets with the infrared scopes mounted on them so that they could peer around comers and in see the dark. Floyd could also see in his vision the Arab corpses lying here and there, twisted and blown apart, some still twitching while their life-blood oozed out, making red puddles on the ground.
His squad had stormed through the cities and the countryside, invading the neigh-borhoods, feeling majestic and righteous, shooting and killing anyone who so much as raised a finger against their white American authority, while he and many of his fellow soldiers were African American, and more so Latino, some Native American and Asian, even Muslim and Arab. But they all had a mission -- whatever it was -- though none of them really knew its true nature, because everything about what they were doing looked and sounded vague, the same way the Iraqi terrain had appeared vague beneath the hazy sky as they rolled through in their monstrous vehicles, shrouded in the blowing sand that seemed to be alive, swirling in the wind.
The sound of his wife's voice called him back from his agonizing reverie. "They showed the man's picture on the tv."
"The one who beat up those cops."
He turned off the faucet and eased further down into the water.
"It was an artist's sketch," she went on. "Whoever the man is, he looks a little bit like you."
A chill surged through his body despite the heat. Now he felt sure the police would be coming for him. They'd probably surround the building and burst in with their guns drawn. Someone at the scene, perhaps the Hindu woman, had given them his des-cription, and someone else, maybe even a neighbor on the block, would recognize him from the tv sketch and turn him in.
Now he wanted to smoke a joint more than ever, and it irked him that his chances for securing employment could be diminished if he did so. Then he laughed to himself.. If he got arrested for beating up the officers, it wouldn't make any difference about a job. The court would make an example of him and put him away for a long time because he had done something so despicable. He had raised his hand against the ultimate authority symbol, and triumphed.
Closing his eyes again, his thoughts carded him once more into the past, to the foreign land where he had been an unwilling participant in a deadly debacle. His heart sank when he remembered the day when a young Latino boy from Alabama, with shifty eyes and wavy hair the color of coal, got both his legs blown off below the knees after stepping on a land mine. That kid had hollered longer and louder than he ever heard anyone holler, the young soldier's blackened, mangled limbs lying in the dirt, totally disconnected from his body.
Right then Floyd thrashed his hands in the water and squirmed around, groaning and trying to shake off the bad memories that seemed to always seep up into his thoughts, like bad sewage that wouldn't wash away.
The Alabama boy had cried while the medics placed him on a stretcher, his red face made redder from the blood that oozed from a scalp wound and mingled with his tears. They picked up the legs and put them on another stretcher.
"I'm gonna die!" the boy had shrieked as he slipped into shock and was loaded into a helicopter to be taken someplace where he would be prepared to spend the rest of his life -- if he lived -- as a wheelchair invalid, maybe be fitted with a pair of those artifi-cial legs that looked like sticks with curved prongs on the ends for feet.
Now Floyd thought about his own son, Kendall, eight years old and in the third grade, a skinny kid who looked just like his pretty mother, full of life and rushing with wide-eyed wonder into the future. Supposedly it was for the protection of that future that Floyd had been called up as part of the army reserves, snatched away from his family and his job at the printing company, to fight in Iraq, supposedly to free its people from the clutches of a brutal dictator and fight the Islamic terrorists that were hell bent on destroy-ing America.
Again, his wife called, snapping him out of his maelstrom of troubling thoughts. "I'm leaving now. Make sure Kendall eats his breakfast before you let him go outside and play."
"Yeah, okay," Floyd replied.
"And I think Kendall wants to talk," she added. "Something's on his mind." Floyd heaved a sigh and considered what he might do about the boy if the cops came for him while his wife was at work. He didn't want his son taken to some kind of holding facility until Roxanne could come and pick him up, and he didn't want the boy to see him being beaten and handcuffed, or maybe gunned down.
He heard the door click open then shut when his wife left the apartment. Closing his eyes again, he allowed his thoughts to carry him down into the morass of bitterness and violence seething at his core. A place he didn't really want to be. But he couldn't keep the feelings and memories from coming back.
He sloshed some water over his shoulder. A noise came at the window when a pigeon landed for a moment on the ledge, then flapped its wings and flew away. Floyd sunk further down into the tub, letting the water come up to his chin.
What a fool he had been to ever sign up in the army reserves! He shouldn't've expected such an institution to just dole out money and benefits to him and not come up with something unpleasant for him to do -- like a tour of combat duty in Iraq. But that was how the world worked. Always had and always would. His father, dead now for five years, had told him several times: "Never expect to get something for nothing out here, son."
Floyd remembered the previous afternoon when he had stepped out of the house, feeling blue and agitated because nothing in his life seemed to be going right any more. His bad situation had nothing to do with his own shortcomings, but stemmed instead from the overwhelmingly negative economic and political situations prevailing in the world, specifically in his town, Chicago, where he had been born and raised. Since his return from Iraq, his mood stayed down, and he felt to be under great pressure because of his lack of money.
Most of the apartment buildings along the tree-lined street where he lived bad been rehabbed and converted from rental units to condominiums, and there were new single-family homes being constructed that were earmarked to sell for at least a quarter of a million dollars each.
He recognized a man named Mr. Wolf standing and leaning on a cane near the comer, staring off into space. He appeared frail, legs bowed; most of his hair had turned white, fluttering like scraps of feathers in the breeze. His dark-colored pants hung low on his waist, cuffs dragging the ground beneath his heels. A few years back, Mr. Wolf had been a community activist who also served as their precinct captain. He had always been the kind of fellow who talked up as a black man.
As Floyd neared the comer, Mr. Wolf turned toward him and smiled, showing his brown teeth and blackened gums.
"How're you today, young man?"
"Hanging in there," Floyd replied.
The old man gave him a curious stare, nodding as though he understood in an intuitive way that Floyd was troubled.
Mr. Wolf pointed with his cane toward a construction site on the opposite side of the street. "Just look at all these expensive barns they're building around here for the new gentry. Nobody I know can afford to buy any of them. But I tell you, I'm sure glad I don't have to face this shit any more. I'm seventy-six years old now. Got my social security check to tide me over for the rest of the time I got left in this funky world. Got me a little apartment in the senior citizen building up the street there. At least I can enjoy some peace, reading my books, and writing my plays -- that nobody wants to produce any more."
"I'd come to see one of your plays," Floyd said.
The old man sneered, tapping the pavement nervously with his cane, eyes darting around, ears flaring back. "Let me tell you something. They called me a communist, back when I was stepping and stomping out here. Only certain underground theatres would put on my plays. For the life of me I could never understand why they wanted to brand me a commie, because I was always interested in making some money. But America was funny like that back then. Anybody who spoke up for any kind of civil rights or labor unions got labeled as being a communist."
"America's still funny," Floyd said. "But it's got a different kind of humor now. They don't worry about communists any more. Now it's terrorists. On one hand, they say the terrorists are Arabs, but these fascists are watching all of us all the time on cameras they're putting up everywhere. Any and everybody with a cell phone can be a snitch."
Mr. Wolf nodded and started coughing, his chest rattling with phlegm. "I'd probably be homeless if it wasn't for the rent subsidy they give me. Can't say that I really like living there though. Too many rules and regulations. Guests have to sign in and out. Petty bureaucrats even come around, making inspections. Sometimes it feels like being in a prison. Can't have no little chickadee visit me the way I want her to."
A red pickup truck driven by a white man with straw-colored hair turned the comer, carrying buckets and ladders in the back.
"Look at that shit," Mr. Wolf muttered while rolling his eyes and nodding toward the truck. "That's who you see getting all the construction jobs around here. Nothing but white folks. And some of them can't speak English. A black man can hardly even get shit work."
"Maybe things haven't really changed all that much since those times when you were considered a communist," Floyd replied.
Mr. Wolf sneered and pointed again with his cane toward the new buildings that were going up. "You know, for a long time this was a black neighborhood, a lot of it dirt poor, but a lot of it was nice. Then it got full of drugs and the gangs got real bad. But now all that's changing."
Floyd nodded and got ready to hear the rest of the old man's lecture. "You see, back during war time --the Second World War, I mean -- lots of Negroes came up here to Chicago and settled in these Southside and Westside neighbor-hoods. White folks ran like scared rabbits to the suburbs to get away from them. Landlords let the buildings go to pot and businesses folded up. Some places got burned out during the rebellions. Now the white folks realize they made a big mistake letting the blacks have all these neighborhoods near Downtown and the lake, and they're taking them back." The old man coughed again, snorting mucous down from his sinuses that he spat out on the ground, before going on. "So you see, now they're pricing the poor and working folks like us out of this city. They're building houses around here that cost a half-million dollars! But their plan still ain't working the way they want it to work because the big shot Negroes are moving in. So, the next phase of their plan is to get rid of that affirmative action shit so the black folks won't get those good-paying jobs any- more, because you know that no matter how qualified a colored man can be for a job, a white man won't hire him if be don't have to."
Floyd sat up suddenly in the tub when he thought he heard a sound. Were the cops at the door? Had they already broken in? Or had Kendall gotten out of bed and gone to the kitchen to raid the refrigerator? Floyd waited, but the sound didn't come again. He ran more hot water into the tub and settled down so that the heat could soothe his shoulder.
His thoughts wandered back like a high-flying bird to the previous afternoon when Mr. Wolf's reflections on the changing neighborhood had stirred up the sour brew stirring in his innards. Having had no leads on finding work, Floyd still went ahead and boarded the Green Line El at Cottage Grove and rode downtown, staring out of the windows at the alleys, back porches and vacant lots as the train rocked and swayed along the tracks. Having no particular destination in mind, he figured he might end up sitting at the basement bar in a little restaurant he knew about on South State Street where he could get a draught beer for two dollars. The jukebox there played good music, and the conver-sation at the counter could get interesting, hitting on politics, philosophy, or some other heady subject, when the right mix of people happened to be there.
In a childish kind of way, he thought that he might get lucky downtown, maybe pick up a job lead. But he had to laugh at himself for thinking so naively. Employment agencies usually screened people first, for any kind of decent job, before sending them out on interviews. Most times there was a resumé involved, the Internet, a fax machine, or some other kind of annoyance. Then came the drug tests and background checks to determine whether or not one would be allowed to make a living.
He got off the train at Madison Street and walked down the stairs from the platform. A shriveled old man with a long white beard sat on a fireplug, hawking news-papers. Bold headlines screamed about a hit-and-run car accident in the city that left a child dead. Lesser lines spoke of more death and mayhem happening in Iraq.
He crossed Wabash Avenue beneath the El tracks where the pavement was splattered with pigeon poop that had been walked down into a waxy film, greenish-brown and white, coating the pavement. A couple of birds waddled quickly out of his path, hunch-ing their fat necks.
The streets were teeming with people, most of them in a hurry to get away from each other, while Floyd walked amongst them. But he didn't feel of them. He felt like a stranger, a phantom. It was an agonizing feeling that had been with him for a long time, and he had grown accustomed to it.
But while serving in Iraq, he had sometimes longed for the bleak Chicago streets, that hustle and bustle, those neon lights, the skyscrapers, the pictures of pretty girls on the movie screens and in the magazines, the espressos and electronics, the excesses and frivolities, and ail else that was the American flavor to life he was so used to. But now that he was submerged again in that big city stream, he yearned to be free of it, to shake loose from its chains.
Such was the irony in life when he couldn't be free. Only a God could really be free. But he and thousands of other men and women had marched to war under the pre-mise that their army would be liberating an Iraqi people who weren't free, and yearned to be free.
Suddenly, he was over there again, storming through on a Baghdad street, bring-ing death and indignity to a people he didn't know, who really did want to be free, just like all men wanted to be. His army had dropped bombs on their houses so that they could be free, slaughtered and locked up their young men, and looted their cities' treasures.
Now the people he passed on his hometown street became the same as those he had encountered on those Baghdad thoroughfares. They all wanted to be free from the whims of little tin Gods who ruled them with iron fists and constant threats to their well-being, keeping them longing for excess while at the same time withholding the susten-ance they needed just to stay alive.
He had kept walking past the Downtown tavern, not really feeling in the mood for conversation. He would stop off at a package store and buy a drink to take back home with him, when he was ready to head in. He just wanted to feel some air blow on him for a little while, and imagine how it might be to be free.
He noticed a tow truck about to put the hook on a green sedan, while a little woman wearing a blue uniform and a cap went about writing a parking ticket for another car.
He kept walking, and soon turned onto a street where some of the finest shops and boutiques sold expensive wares to the people that had money to spend on the excesses they thought they needed. These well-to-do citizens figured they could buy their freedom and live above the morass in the tallest, most secure buildings, and move to and fro in their cars and trucks.
He drifted to the near north side, and decided to sit down on a bench in a little park where there was a children's play lot equipped with sliding boards, swings and a sandbox, but no children. Shrubs were clustered along the wrought-iron fence that encircled the park, and a newly planted sapling stood beside the water fountain. Several pigeons were strutting around, pecking at the ground and making their "coo"ing sound.
It wasn't long before an old woman pulling a shopping cart with squeaky, wobbly wheels entered the park, head down, talking to herself. She was wearing a heavy sweater fastened in the front with safety pins, and faded blue jeans that were frayed and stringy around the cuffs. A flower-print headscarf was tied in a knot beneath her chin, and a fleshy growth sat in the crease beside her nostril. Her sunburned face looked wrinkled, and hairs sprouted from her ears.
"I told Charlie I wasn't listening to his radio no more," the woman grumbled, more to herself than to Floyd, as she parked her cart next to the bench. She scratched at the side of her neck and shook her head. "I don't like hillbilly music. Told him that more than once. I'm no hillbilly. Always wanting me to listen to his music." She did a stiff little shuffle dance and made a twangy sound with her mouth, trying to emulate a guitar.
Then she flopped down on the bench, crossing her leg at the knee. "Damn it," she rambled on. "I told Charlie and I meant it." Then she looked over at Floyd, the whites of her eyes muggy and yellow, front teeth gone in the top, caked with tartar in the bottom. "You like hillbilly music, young fella?"
Floyd shrugged. "Sometimes it sounds all right."
She dismissed him with a wave of her hand. "Ain't nobody got any sense out here. This is the big city."
The pigeons waddled toward the bench, keeping up their aimless pecking at the ground. A scrawny bird with soggy feathers stopped and wrenched its neck so that it could use its beak on itself, nipping at its wings.
"I come here so I can get away from that Charlie," the old woman babbled on.
"He won't follow me here where all these rich people live. Do you know Charlie?" Floyd shook his head.
"Well, you ain't missing nothing by not knowing him, that's for sure. He's a stupid duck."
Suddenly, she stood up and started scratching at her neck again, lapping out her tongue and making a hoarse hacking sound.
Birds came strutting around the bench, still pecking at the ground, their red eyes like little cranberries.
"I'm no hillbilly," the old woman announced, perching her hands defiantly on her hips and stomping her foot, causing the pigeons to waddle away, a couple of them taking flight. "I came to this country from Bucharest when I was little girl, with my mother, when King Michael gave up his throne." Then she started jabbering in a foreign tongue, waving her hands angrily at the sky.
A couple of small children dashed into the park, laughing and chattering, and headed straight for the swings. Following them came a brown-skinned Hindu woman wearing a lavender sari. She glanced first at the old crone, then at Floyd.
"I'm going to see President Johnson next week," the old woman announced, flopping back down on the bench. "Him and Lady Bird invited me to the White House."
"President Johnson was before my time," Floyd chuckled.
The old woman cut her eye at him and made an ugly face. "It's a cruel world out here, young man. Don't let any of these rich people fool you." Then her expression softened, and a twinkle came into her eyes. "I used to be rich myself, you see. Had me a chauffeur, a Negro fellow like you. But I didn't care anything about being rich."
The children started shouting, and one of the playground swings made a squeak-ing sound over and over again when it swung back and forth. The Hindu woman sat down on a bench and took a book from the shoulder bag she carried, and started reading.
"Just look at those birds," the old woman said. "Always hungry and can't get enough to eat to fill their little stomachs, the poor darlings."
The pigeons were strutting about, pecking at the ground, sometimes picking up pieces of trash, little buds and twigs.
"It's such a hard life for all of us," she lamented on. "Human beings, animals, birds, fish, all the living things on this planet. We're all trying to eat and stay full. But I tell you, I'm sick of that crazy old Charlie." Then again she cocked her head and pointed at Floyd. "Do you know Charlie?"
Floyd decided that he liked the old woman. He sensed a kind and sensitive spirit inside of her.
"I can't stand it no more," she announced, standing up all of a sudden. "Pecking at that ground and coming up with nothing. You hungry birdies."
She went for her cart, reaching down inside the bundle it carried, and came up with a bag of popcorn.
Floyd noticed a faded sign attached to the fence: Do Not Feed The Pigeons.. "Come and get it," she sang, tossing the food.
The pigeons moved quickly on the white puffs strewn across the ground, creating a commotion, pecking ferociously and moving aggressively, wings flapping and feathers flying whenever more than one bird tried to grab up the same piece of popcorn.
A look of satisfaction softened the old woman's grizzled face as she watched the feeding creatures.
Just then, two policemen on bicycles pedaled into the park; both wearing shorts, with socks pulled up on their calves. Their pointed helmets made them resemble alien characters from a sci-fi movie, the same way the American soldiers had looked in Iraq. They rolled right over to where Floyd and the old woman were sitting.
Some of the birds flew off, others scampered away, then strutted back, determined to feed.
"Can't you read the sign?" growled the first officer, a burly, red-faced fellow with a squared off jaw.
"These birdies are hungry," the old woman came back.
The second cop got off his bike, hung his helmet on the handlebars and stomped over to the shopping cart. He was slightly built with a long neck, and a large brown mole sitting on his Adam's apple. He wore his flaxen-colored hair in a crew cut, and there was a little fuzz on his chin. "Rules are made to be obeyed," he snapped at the old woman.
Then he kicked at her cart, jostling the wheel. "What've you got in this thing?"
"That's all of what I own in this world, sonny."
The cop frowned. "It's old pieces of crap like you that brings neighborhoods down!"
The big cop got off his bike, sneering over at Floyd, and kicked at the pigeons, sending a few of them flying. "You're not supposed to feed the birds!" he yelled at the old woman.
She turned to Floyd, fluttering her eyelashes. "Did you say you knew Charlie?"
Suddenly, the crew cut cop kicked over the shopping cart, spilling an apple, another bag of popcorn, and a long-handled hairbrush from the bundle it carried, out onto the ground.
"I'll have Streets and San come and pick up this junk," the cop said.
Floyd felt a bilious rise in his belly. For an instant he was taken back to Iraq where he had seen men, women and children forced to lie face down on the ground with their hands crossed behind their backs while arrogant soldiers did whatever they wanted to do: loot, rape, abuse, threaten, torture, and disrespect.
And back then, just as now, he had stood by and watched, holding his gun ready, hoping he wouldn't have to use it. But he had fired it more than once, because he had been expected to, although he always intentionally missed his targets. And in doing so, had he committed a traitorous act?
"I'm going to tell President Johnson about you," the old woman warned, shaking her fist angrily at the crew cut cop while spittle flew from her mouth.
"Who's President Johnson?" the big cop taunted.
The old woman stood there looking back and forth, from one lawman to the other, an expression of helplessness building up in her eyes.
"Gimme that," the big cop ordered, angrily, reaching for the bag of popcorn. She snatched away from him and tossed another handful of puffs to the birds.
"Okay," the big cop declared. "That's it for your crazy ass."
"These birdies are hungry!"
The law moved in on the woman. The big cop easily subdued her flailing arms while his partner maneuvered in to snap on the cuffs.
"Jesus Christ, this old hag stinks," the big cop said, turning up his nose.
Trying to pull away, the woman stumbled and fell to her knees instead, letting out a gurgling howl of pain. Because her hands were cuffed, she toppled over and banged her head on the cement.
Floyd's muscles twitched while indignation roiled in his chest.
The old woman started crying as the crew cut cop snatched her up by her arm.
"You don't have to hurt her," Floyd interjected, rising slowly. "She's just feeding some birds."
The cop glared at him while he pushed the woman and made her sit down on the bench. "You better mind your own business, pal."
"The birdies are so hungry," the old woman whined.
The crew cut cop advanced on Floyd. "You shouldn't meddle in police business."
That was when Floyd threw the first punch, a driving fist that bashed the cop squarely in the face, sending him stumbling.
The big cop reacted quickly, landing a solid blow with his baton across Floyd's shoulder, but instead of stopping him, it incited his rage to rise to a higher pitch, and he fired with a tremendous left, knocking the officer's jaw crooked.
Then Floyd started moving like a whirlwind, calling on all the fighting skills he had ever learned, using fists, feet, knees, elbows, and even his own skull.
"People are still dying for nothing in Iraq!" Floyd screamed as he kicked the crew cut cop in the mouth while he struggled to get up off the ground. Then he struck the big cop as hard as he could in the face, bringing out the blood.
Both policemen were down, but Floyd didn't stop with his kicking and stomping. When the big cop tried to pull his gun, Floyd grabbed his arm, twisting it until he couldn't twist it any more. Then he heard the bone snap.
"It ain't right!" Floyd ranted. "We invaded a country and killed thousands of people so you pigs can do this to an old woman feeding the birds?"
Looking around, he spotted the Hindu lady standing with the two children in the playlot, watching him, nervously.
"You showed them," the old woman cackled, still sitting on the bench with her hands cuffed, an awe-struck gleam in her eyes.
Keeping his head down, Floyd stepped quickly from the little park and made it to the crowded main avenue and the subway entrance a few blocks away.
Just then, another sound interrupted Floyd's wild remembrances, and he sat up suddenly in the bathtub. This time he heard Kendall's little feet patter along the hallway and stop at the bathroom door.
"Can I come in, daddy? I got to pee."
"Come on, son"
Kendall pushed the door open and stepped in. He was the spitting image of his mother, with the same big brown eyes and soft, dark hair.
Floyd settled back down in the water while the boy stood at the commode, taking a leak.
"Daddy, can I ask you a question?"
"Say what's on your mind, son." Closing his eyes, Floyd slipped into yesterday again. He had made it back home safely. No one on the train or the streets had paid any undue attention to the scant bloodstains on his pants and shirt, which he immediately took off and burned in an old garbage can out back.
"Did you kill anybody when you were in Iraq?" the boy asked after a long silence. Opening his eyes, Floyd shifted around in the tub and stared into his son's face. "Momma told me not to ask you. She said you might get upset because you hate the War."
Floyd sighed and flexed his wrist. The hot water had helped to ease the pain.
"Look here, Kendall. I'm going to tell you the honest to God's truth: I never killed anybody. I never believed that war in Iraq was right, and I still don't. The battle that needs to be fought is against abuse and tyranny right here in this country."
The boy eked out a smile, and a new light sparkled in his eyes as he turned away. "I'm glad you didn't kill anybody, daddy."
"Be sure you eat your breakfast before you get out there with your friends," Floyd told him. "And stay close to the house today, you hear?"
The boy hurried from the bathroom, forgetting to close the door, as Floyd sat there in the tub, contemplating how things were going to be from now on. He would have to stay totally off the Northside and probably avoid Downtown, too. Every lawman in town was hunting for him now, and those two cops he beat up would surely recognize him whenever they saw him again. Since he didn't have any kind of police record, his picture wasn't in their mug books. All he could do was wait and see what happened and listen to the news.
Floyd felt good about what he had done in that Northside park, as he eased back down into the water. In time of war, he had struck a good blow at the true enemies: the swell-chested hypocrites who monopolized the money and ran the government, and their heavy-handed flunkies who wore uniforms and liked to humiliate people and break heads. And he also felt good about what he hadn't done in Iraq.
He heard a rustling noise at the window. Another pigeon had landed on the ledge.
By Paris Smith
Cry for Us
(For those Murdered by Cops)
Cops come together in mourning
when one of their own has fallen.
The culprit is the earth's worse savage,
in effect, a dead man walking.
But who's gonna cry for us
when cops pull out their weapons
and gun us down in cold blood?
Where's Timothy Stansbury's justice?
Who'll take up Amadou's cause?
For Malice Green who'll carry the torch?
Who mourned with Nathaniel Jones' family?
Who's gonna cry for us?
Street Justice for some is sweet justice.
For some cops it's a day at the office,
But these same cops scream bloody murder
when one of their comrades fill the coffin.
And in society's eyes it's tragic,
as well it should be thus,
but when a cop murders a mother's child,
why does nobody cry for us?
By L.A. Lewis
To the Man Who Asked Me to Pose
Butt Bootie Ass Naked
calves were what he needed
big black juicy calves
to round out female body parts
he kept in plastic binders
mine were perfect or
as he described them
dark thick flawless flesh
curving into a slightly bowlegged stance
toned to the bone these athletic calves
sculpted in fast delirious steps
to unwrap drunken fingers
from around mama's throat
chiseled by every year of madness that made them
quick firm ready to run so she'd stay alive
yes they were perfect
he'd studied the specimen well
tinted light a bent over pose
beautiful calves long legs naked buttocks
and who had to know he assured me
all evidence ceased to exist without
a face that had no merit
a face not good enough
a headless woman in a photograph
as insignificant as mama's throat
had been to daddy's hands
who had to know i woke up from nightmares running
that somehow i crushed my soul beneath my feet
that the juice in the bones of my calves
still burn with sorrow
By Lolita Stewart-White
with bibles and bullets
patriarchs pillaged the people
pinning imperialistic powers
next to meaningless pendants
and patriots smiled
at how shiny the lies were
and prophets cried
at how dirty the minds were.
protests have been pursued
from Palestine to Phoenix
to fight the propaganda of
peace thru war.
that's a pretty polluted plan,
of a fascist party!
i had to ponder--
will we ever get it?
cause profits before people
but a stone cold reality
with 1 in 8 in poverty.
i wonder if J.P. Morgan
could lend a dime
and if i had a penny for
every time i thought that
i'd be partying with R. Perot.
but i'm as po' as Pittsburgh labor strikers
and i'm panicking !
i'm panicking at our
with these putrid politicians
and the perceptions of ourselves.
we at the bottom of the pit.
it's time to climb out
and close this
E. Foster, Jr.
999232 - Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351
Into the Fields
In the dark,
the workers collapse make-shift tents
into tightly folded tablecloth squares,
truss them to their backs and trudge,
with their lives in their hands,
into the fields.
A truck waits, shrouded in rust and thick
underbrush that scratches like long nails
across the motto "Ohio or Bust"
written on its side.
It smolders and sputters uninterrupted
the 200 miles to the next harvest,
off of their blanket-humps and tossing them
with their neighbors and their meager bags of belongings
like mixed salad
as it bumps along.
They arrive, and the bus drives directly
into the fields.
There is coffee --
stale and recycled from a pile
of old, soaked grounds.
It is weak.
It is enough --
passed around in one tin cup
-- keeping them moving 'til noon, when lunch
over-ripe pickings to supplement
the script-bought scraps
-- perhaps an egg or two
hand-pulled from the heirloom hen,
if she has settled in
enough to set, then back
into the fields.
Some wear sacks in front like fishermen
preparing to net a catch, some
on the side, cross-hatched shoulder to hip,
some on their backs -- to avoid
the slow pace the other ways impose:
They pick the most
-- 2-fisted and well- balanced,
grabbing fast handfuls and tossing
across the other shoulder with accurate aim
for 12 hours
-- paying later with arthritic wrists.
The sun slacks, picks
its meticulous way beating through the cotton
on their backs as they radiate farther out
into the field.
Bandanas bend and bounce,
sweeping the neat green crooked with their jouncy colors,
and rippling like a shook quilt.
Finally, the sun sets like a bent stem,
one by one
back from the fields
-- gather in camps,
coughing up insecticide by the light of obsolete lamps,
nursing bruised knuckles and scratched shins
before eating charred food and turning in.
But for the briefest of moments
-- there between sun and sun --
their eyes seem to run across miles as they sit,
backs unbent --
the flames shining in their irises like little houses,
alive and trembling with life.
By Ellen Palmer
" What?" I shouted over the din of the dog food factory. I hadn't seen my machine shop foreman sneak up behind me. I lurched out off my shop stool and stood between my machine and the boss, effectively blocking a close-up inspection of what I was doing. It was about 7:30 p.m., and I was working second shift as usual. It was a hot summer night but I was wearing my sand colored khaki uniform complete with a shirt with a big name tag that read "Pete."
I hope to hell this dumb fucker doesn't see that my boring bar isn't cutting steel.
I had set the bar to cut air for the last half hour before lunch time. The cutting tool would inextricably advance on automatic feed toward the headstock of the lathe until it hit a stop. I would then manually back the apron of the lathe back to the starting position, then resume operations. From a distance or to untrained eyes, I looked busy, boring out a fixture for large dog food containers. In actuality, I was fucking the dog.
I want to see you in the office." He yelled in my ear.
:Why?" I yelled back, trying to make myself heard over the roar of the nearby punch-press department.
"Because I said so, that's why."
"Is this a disciplinary session?"
The foreman, a young man, not yet 30, stared at me with an exasperated look on his face, "Yes, as a matter of fact it is." His spotless white shirt and plain black tie was complemented by his bright red face.
"I'll need my union committeeman, then."
"He's working up front on an important project. What's the matter, can't do your own talking? Why do you have to stand behind the union every time I have to talk to you?"
"Because I have a civil right to have my union committeeman present. That right is backed by the full weight of federal labor law."
This time, they intended to fire me.
"Ok, have it your way." He threw up his hands then waved me off the way people do to street peddlers. He strode off toward his block house office in the front of the machine shop.
I shut down my lathe, cranked the cutting tool to within a few thousands of an inch of the interior steel wall I had been boring to get rid of the evidence of my malingering on the job, then set off to find my union committeeman who was wandering around somewhere beneath the roof of the 20-acre factory.
I loathed the union committeeman, "Doc," a short, fat hillbilly because I was convinced that he had been bought out by the company. With conspicuous slowness, I carefully removed and folded my shop apron on top of my tool box, then leisurely cleaned and put away my precision measuring tools, and finally locked the boxes. I noted that Attila the Douchebag, my pet name for our new boss, seemed to be watching me from his desk. He looked more agitated than usual. I strolled over to the drinking fountain and took a long drink before I ambled out of the department on my quest for my union representative.
They're going to fire you this time, man. I got 250 bucks in the bank. I'll get one more check to pay the rent and utilities. I can apply for unemployment, but these motherfuckers are going to challenge that. Man, what kind of job can I apply for? I've got a degree in history and twenty years of work history as a machinist.
I started wending my way through the punch press department looking for "Doc." The women operators each waved to me as I passed their massive, rapidly stoking machines.
It's the petition, man. You're gonna get fired for passing around that petition. You had to do it. If that's what it's about, then this is worth it. You had no choice. They cut down the first flag-bearer, so you stepped up. Be proud, man. You don't want to live like a wimp. Don't be afraid. Be angry. Act like a fucking communist.
The company had recently fired a woman, Linda, who they claimed had taken too much sick leave collecting "workman's compensation." Nothing existed in writing contractually or in law regarding the amount of time anyone could take. The basic reasoning had been, if you're hurt, you're hurt. When you're better, come back to work. Work paid a lot more than compensation, so there was no incentive to stay on it.
When they announced Linda's firing at the union meeting, people were very upset with the company for doing it, and with the union for permitting it. The union, the IBU, (nobody knew what the letters stood for -- we called it the International Bureaucrats Union or alternatively, the International Bullshit Union) claimed they had filed a grievance on her behalf.
The following Monday on first shift, her long time friend, Carmen, started passing around a petition protesting the firing. She did it legally, moving it around during breaks and lunch. The company promptly fired her. We wouldn't know the official reason for that for another month at the next union meeting. But her friends were saying she was fired for passing the petition.
So, after Carmen went down, I retrieved the petition from a fork-lift driver and started it back around the factory. I redid it, demanding reinstatement for both women. But that caused double work, and I had to get the thing re-signed by everybody. I did have one helper, Vicky, a middle-aged woman a couple of years younger than me whom I suspected was both alcoholic and a coke addict. But she was the party type and had lots of friends so I handed her another copy to pass out. Naturally, word got out immediately from the snitches that I was doing it.
You know the way it probably leaked out? People were probably discussing it in the lunchroom and a supervisor overheard it and asked a few questions. One of the dummies probably just flat-out gave up the information. No concept of the importance of the information or how it could be used. And now it's my ass.
For some reason, images from a Hollywood "B" movie that they had aired on a cable TV the night before kept cropping up in my consciousness. Cops and robbers, totally boring and repetitive. Superheros who fight off super-vicious bad guys.
Why couldn't they just make one movie true-to-life where somebody gets pissed off at their moronic boss then blows them away? Just once I'd like to see a movie about a punch-press operator who loses her cool after her boss unjustly chastises her, and she calls in a bomb threat to the factory, or comes to work after a three-day disciplinary vacation and blows her boss away with a 45 caliber automatic. Then I realized you do see that movie from time to time. On the nightly news.
Of course, I'm your basic, marginalized, underemployed lunatic-fringe type who's been overeducated for manual work. A monster lurking in the social fabric, I'm the type the corporations and government dread: educated and working class. Educated and working class equals totally alienated, the kind of people who join the socialist parties, and the forces of oppression understand that.
So, as a classic misfit in the Psychotic Atomik Empire, I yearn for insurrection, sabotage and disrespect for all forms of authority. When I hear about a guy packing bearings full of lapping compound, I laugh. When I learn one of friends has called in bomb threats, I'm delighted. Most people are fried by the time they hack their way through the traffic congestion to get to their work place. Then they have to survive 8 to 12 hours of alienating work. The only thing I can't figure out is why the majority never seems to catch on and overthrows the government to put an end to the fucking bullshit. Probably because there is no convincing alternate.
Everybody in the punch-press department waved to me as I passed. Some of the set-up men tried to duck me. Chickenshits don't want to sign the petition. Afraid of me because I'm trouble. Man, they're afraid of losing their jobs. They don't have a college degree. As if the fucking degree was anything anybody could fall back on anyhow. Somebody in The Fourth International wrote a paper one time that mentioned the acute anxiety most people experienced in daily life. I remembered a book from distant college days, a survey course on existential philosophy. The title of that book was The Age of Anxiety. And that's what the class war boiled down to in the factories and offices of the Psychotic Atomik Empire. You never knew when you were going to lose your job due to the economy, company consolidations and buyouts, or when some asshole will simply decide to fire you on a whim.
I found one of the set-up men skulking back in the poorly lit area where they stored steel coils. "Charlie" was smoking inside the building, a major offense against the corporation. Clouds of blue smoke boiling out of the screw machine department made smoking in the building into a joke. The burning cutting oil they used could be smelled in the parking lot.
"Hey, Charlie. Got the new petition for you to sign." I handed it to him. A skinny, middle-aged white guy, Charlie or whatever his real name was, never had much to say. He never went to union meetings.
He slowly wiped the machine oil off his hands onto his pants. He removed the cigarette from his mouth and studied the petition.
Comon chickenshit. just fucking sign it.
"It's the same one you signed last time, man. Only difference we added Carmen's name."
He took a greasy pen from his chest pocket and signed.
"You think this is going to do any good?"
"Yeah, I guess." He turned his back and resumed looking at the tags on the coils, presumably looking for the next roll to mount on his punch press.
Our organization had some members unofficially linked to the Fourth International (because it is illegal in the United States for workers to form organizational combinations with workers from other countries, but legal for corporations to go multi-national). Once we participated in a peace march in the Chicago suburb of Rolling Meadows. The object of the march was to reach the gates of the U.S. Army Psychological Operations unit. Helicopters flew overhead from the start of the march in a forest preserve all the way to the base. When we arrived, dozens of civilians and soldiers pointed video cameras, film cameras, and regular cameras at us. They pointed more surveillance devices at us than firearms. In the past I had been accosted by the Chicago Police going berserk, the National Guard with bayonets and teargas, and even police on horses. But that demonstration remains in my mind as one of the creepiest things I had ever witnessed. I'm sure some of those cameras weren't loaded, but they were more effective than firearms.
I carefully wiped off the grease that Charlie had inadvertently smeared on the margin of the petition, then refolded it, and placed it back inside my shirt. There's not much difference between the way factory workers had to do things back when Gorky wrote The Mother and today. We still have to smuggle in socialist literature. We still have to pass petitions around like the country was occupied by Nazis, and we still have to live in fear over every move we make. Then, we had no civil rights to be violated. Now, they give us civil rights on paper, then take them away on the shop floor.
Curiously, the United States is the only country in the world with a left without working-class representation. In the United States, the most of the left is composed largely of middle-class intellectuals. So, working-class socialists wind up fighting the corporations and the government, their own bureaucratized unions, and on some occasions their own middle-class- dominated sectarian left.
Why do you do this shit, man? The only rewards are getting fired, having the police hassle you, having the FBI create files and maybe a case against you, or maybe just plain get shot and thrown into one of the swampy ponds in the industrial districts around Chicago.
I paused at an open door that led to the shipping dock and the August night glimmering over the Illinois prairie. I glanced to see if anyone was looking, then slipped through the door. Outside, I found a woman press operator and a mechanic quietly smoking on the cracked cement steps. I knew their faces from passing them in the factory for years, but not their names. The outside air felt cool on my face. A vast orchestra of crickets chirped away in concert under the stars.
"You guys want to sign the petition protesting the two firings?"
"Sure." They said in unison. I carefully unfolded the petition and handed it to the woman first. I knew from long experience women were quicker to sign than men. If I handed it to the skilled mechanic, he might start raising issues over it, then find a reason not to sign. Of course, he would never admit he wasn't signing out of fear. But fear was contagious and then the woman wouldn't sign either.
After she signed, she handed it to him, and I realized these two were lovers in their late 30s. I wanted to remain outside with the chirping crickets and the fresh air, but I thanked them, and returned to the rancid odors, dust, and noise of the factory.
You do it because of the indestructible streak of idealism in your wretched personality. You do it because your genes are programmed to do it. Just like carpenter genes are programmed to produce beautiful cabinets. They create cabinets because that's what they do. You raise hell because you've been programmed to be part of the conscience of a race of hairless, tailless monkeys.
I crossed a main aisle between the presses and the dog-food-can machines. When I did, the straw boss, a guy in his sixties, spotted me. He nonchalantly approached me.
"Hi, what are you doing up here? We don't have any machines down."
"I'm looking for the union steward."
"Doc? He's in the cafeteria up front."
"Thanks." I walked on.
That fucker was one of the most effective bosses the company had on the shop floor. He never started any shit, but he knew everything that was going on. And he wrote out so much disciplinary paperwork that the workers called him Shakespeare. I didn't bother stopping to hand the petition around even though a couple of people were trying to flag me from their machines, because I knew Shakespeare was probably prowling somewhere in the shadows taking notes. He wouldn't stop tracking me until I was out of his department.
Instead of going directly to the grungy cafeteria with its fluorescent lights, I stopped off in the men's washroom by the time clocks. I found a variety of Puerto Rican forklift drivers and Mexican machine operators holding an animated conversation. Mainly young guys, they were formed in a large semi-circle around one of the wash basins talking about women.
One of the guys, Rico, a tall handsome man with raven hair and light skin, had been in the Puerto Rican Socialist Party. He asked the others in Spanish to sign the petition. They all did. And then they resumed the conversation like I wasn't there.
I'm in a dream. Didn't William S. Burroughs say that in one of his interviews or books? Your life is a series of encounters with others, punctuated by daydreams, reveries, memories, sleep, and dreams. But when they haul you in the office in front of several ugly faces, that's no dream. You're fired and you can have your next daydream at the unemployment office where you have to fight to try to get your unemployment turned on. Or when you're standing in front of the lathe trying to figure out how in the hell to make a part, with sweat pouring down your face, that's not a dream either.
In the cafeteria, I found Doc sitting at one of the long, dirty lunch tables having coffee with the second-shift supervisor. They were sharing mutual laughter over a joke when I walked in.
"I need to talk to you."
"Ok. What's it about?"
"Attila the Douchebag wants to talk to me."
"So? I'm busy. Go talk to him."
"He says it's disciplinary, Stewart." He hated his own name, Stewart.
"Well, find out what he wants, and then I'll come down if necessary."
"I'm officially asking for union representation in front of a witness, Stewart." The manager made a face and looked down at his coffee.
"Ok. Go back down there, and wait outside his office. I'll be down directly, and we can go in together."
"Right." I swiveled around and left. My ass. Motherfucker is going to call down first and see what's up. Then he's coming down and both those assholes are going to pile on me. I decided to take another route back.
I found a pack of electricians working on the main slitter for the factory. The machine was down, but no bosses were in sight. I walked up to the group and asked the lead guy, Roy, a former local president to sign the petition. I didn't show it to him, because I didn't want him to see the names on it.
"I can't sign that, Pete. That's up to the local officers to decide what to do. Bring it up at a union meeting. That petition isn't going to have any weight."
"If the whole factory signs it, they gotta know its trouble if they don't hire them back."
"Yeah? Who's gonna cause that trouble? You?"
"Me and everybody else."
He turned back to the panel board in the machine. "I'm not signing it." The others kept working and acted like I wasn't there. I knew it was useless to approach them in that situation. I might get a couple of the younger guys to sign if I caught them alone, away from Roy.
Skilled trades make more money than some "professionals." Of course they have to work 60 hours a week, week after week, year after year, but they make a lot more money than a forklift driver or a machine operator. Lots of these guys have part- time businesses on the side, too. They own nice houses in middle class subdivisions. They own nice cars and big toys like motor homes, boats, snowmobiles, jet skis, and vacation homes. They like the union because they get big pay. And the US left worships them because they think they're going to lead a working-class revolution some day. What the US left has yet to figure out is that the non-union workers are the ones who are going to lead a social revolution some day. Those are the sans coulettes of our time. Not the big-pay union workers.
People asked me why I volunteered to help organize more locals of the IBU. I told them belonging to a bureaucratic union was better than no union.
Besides, then you get to fight both the company and the union for your rights and decent pay. But at least with a bureaucratic union you had the opportunity to fight. It's a step-by-step process.
I found a Mexican janitor next, and he signed. He had been demoted to janitor while the union stood by, as usual, and did nothing. Then I passed two white millwrights in their 60s in the aisle. They were filthy from crawling under a strapping machine. Neither one had a high school education and neither had been through an apprenticeship. They were "shade-tree mechanics." They both signed.
The last time I had volunteered for an organizing drive at a small factory up in Woodstock, Illinois, where they had imprisoned Debs in the county jail after the Great Railroad Pullman Strike of 1893, I had encountered white and Mexican workers who were renters, drove battered automobiles, and accepted revolutionary ideas as readily as the morning weather forecast.
Of course, there was no welcome mat placed out for them in the U.S. left, so the United States remains the only country in the world where there is no discernible working-class presence in the left.
I strolled through the forklift repair shop, but nobody was home. Before heading down the aisle, I peered around the corner looking for Shakespeare or Attila, but didn't see anyone, so I headed back to the machine shop.
In the can test shop I found three women water testing the dog food cans to make sure they didn't leak. All three had signed Vicky's petition, or at least they said so. As I passed through the truck drivers' waiting room, I placed the rank and file bulletin from our organization on the table. With great difficulty, our grouping had made progress organizing drivers and other Teamsters over the years in the battle against that union bureaucracy.
I handed out our organization's rank-and-file union newsletter at union meetings, then fought to have a motion passed to get the local to buy it and distribute it. I won the vote by a margin of four votes. I had to go to every single union meeting to keep the IBU from rescinding it because the bureaucrats hated it. It linked our shop's battles to the national and international ones. And it showcased the bureaucratic problem in every issue. That was not the kind of labor journalism the big shots or the little shots wanted in the union hall.
As I passed by the Quality Control bulletin board on my way to the shop, I noticed someone had left the dry erase marker in the little tray beneath the board. I looked both ways down the aisle, then carefully erased the daily safety slogan and number of days since the last industrial accident. In big black letters I printed, GIVE LINDA AND CARMEN THEIR JOBS BACK.
As I finished, I turned around to find an African American machine operator, a taciturn man in his 40s, had watched my propaganda efforts. His name was Ted.
"They said I would find you over here. I want to sign the petition. But not here. Let's go over by the welding shop." He nodded at the bulletin board.
"Yeah, I hear you." We moved quickly to an empty welding booth about 100 yards away from the board. Before we could finish, I noticed Shakespeare walk past the board toward the QC department. Either he hadn't seen the new safety slogan, or he didn't care. What really concerned me was that he might have been tailing me, and I hadn't noticed.
A couple of the evening welders signed the petition. Several others said they had signed Vicky's. The evening boss in the welding area, a guy in his mid-60s, waved me out of the area. A short guy with a grey crew cut and standard black pants and white shirt, he was a good guy who had come up through the ranks. He never reported anybody. He just didn't want any trouble. And I was definitely trouble.
I wasn't passing a petition around. Do you have a witness saying I was passing a petition around? I walked up front to see my union committeeman. He sent me back here to wait. I don't know anything about the bulletin board. Do you have a witness who says I wrote that on the bulletin board?
When I reached the shop, I was pleasantly surprised when the die makers said they had signed Vicky's petition. That made it a lot easier for me. Arguing with those boneheads, skilled labor, was a pain in the ass. As I made the rounds, tool box to tool box, I realized she must have come through at the start of the shift and signed them all up. They all wanted to get into her pants, so they signed. They'd probably remind her, too, when they met up with her again at the tavern down the road from the factory.
There's a swamp on one side of that road where people dump stuff they don't want. And there's an abandoned gravel pit filled with deep water back in the woods on the other side. Make sure you don't wind up there instead of the tavern.
I folded the petition back into the safe spot between my khaki shirt and t-shirt. I would compare notes with Vicky the next morning. I would drive down to the tavern to meet her about six a.m. before she started her shift. Sometimes when we met, I realized she had never gone home.
I meandered up to the blockhouse and peered inside. No Attila. I leaned against the block wall with all the indifference I could muster. Shortly, Doc appeared.
"What's this all about? What did you do? And call me Doc like everybody else would you?"
"I didn't do anything, Doc. I don't know what his fuckin' problem is."
"Well, maybe that's the problem. You didn't do anything. Maybe he wants you to do some work."
"I work as hard as you do, Doc." That was a reference to the vast amounts of time he spent either up in the front office enjoying air-conditioned hospitality all summer shooting the shit with the big shots or sitting the cafeteria with one department boss or another discussing baseball scores or where the best fishing existed in the area.
"I spent my time productively taking care of y'all. If you'ns didn't get into so much trouble, I'd be out on my machine more."
"Is that right?"
"I know you been pushing that petition around again. You're asking for it, you know. They're gonna fire anybody has anything to do with passing that thing around."
"Yeah, right. You're gonna get it one of these days, MacNaughton. And there ain't nothing the union is gonna be able to do about it, neither."
"I heard that song before."
"And you're gonna hear it again, before it's over with, goddamnit."
"Yeah, I'm sure."
"Some people never learn."
"You got that right."
Attila came storming up to the blockhouse with an engineer. They were holding a big assembly print for the main coil cutter. The engineer must have stayed overtime. The big boys wanted that machine running. Attila glared at me as he slammed open the door to the blockhouse. Doc and I followed in their wake.
Attila turned to us right away. I noted the bright red hue of his face. "What do you guys want? I'm busy. Can't you see that? What's the problem now?"
"You told me you wanted to see me," I said.
"For what?" Attila demanded.
"For how-the-hell do I know?"
"I want you to get to work. Get some goddamn work done."
"I was working when you interrupted me."
"Well... work faster."
"Is this a verbal warning?" I asked. Doc stood by completely ignorant of the rules of engagement or grievance writing. I realized as I stood there, the dumb fuck had probably never written a single grievance in his two years on the job as a committeeman.
"Then, I'm going to file a grievance."
"You'll have to do that on your own, partner," said Doc.
"Well, if you refuse, then I'll take the day off tomorrow to go down to the labor board, and file on you, too, Doc." That was complete bullshit, but neither one of those two turds knew it. "And, you can't charge me for the day off either, because it's against federal law."
"Can he do that?" asked my boss. Doc looked at my boss with a blank expression.
"OK, then this is not a verbal warning."
"Then what the fuck is it?"
"I don't know. Just quit fucking around so much and do some work for a change."
Then, my boss made an elaborate show of ignoring me. I walked out and left Doc behind. I heard some yelling inside the blockhouse, and as Doc exited I could distinctly hear the words, "Get out!" all the way from my toolbox. Doc didn't bother to debrief me.
I put a little notebook on top of my tool box. I kept notes of all the transactions between myself and the union and company. I always put the thing on display so news of the little book would get back to both management and the union hacks. I boxed each entry against the others to prevent any future tampering and ensure the thing could be used in any legal procedures.
I missed my meeting with Vicky in the morning because I couldn't get to sleep until 4 a.m. I generally got off at midnight, but I had to pound down several beers before I could relax and sleep.
I did meet her the next day when I pulled into the parking lot around 3:30 p.m. Vicky came running out on the hot asphalt to greet me, her long, unkempt blonde hair trailing behind her.
"Did you hear what happened?"
I just got here." I made sure my windows were left open a crack before I got out of the car.
"Carmen got her job back!"
"Really? What about Linda?"
"The union says they're working on that."
"How did Carmen get her job back? We didn't even turn this in, yet." I handed her my section of the petition.
"Well, after you wrote that on the board, everybody took out markers and wrote it all over the factory all morning. Everywhere you looked: GIVE LINDA AND CARMEN THEIR JOBS BACK."
"I wrote on the board?"
"Oh, bullshit. Everybody knows you did it. Anyway, at noon they posted an announcement on the union bulletin board that Carmen was coming back to work next Monday -- they reduced it from firing to a week off."
"Hear anything regarding me?"
"Just curious," I said.
"Meet me after work at the tavern so we can celebrate."
"Sure." I walked into the factory for another shift in an infinity of factory shifts in the Psychotic Atomik Empire.
By Gregory Alan Norton
To "partner" with business their creed
No worker party they'll heed
Led from "top-down"
Defused strikes all around
With wage cuts and job loss for greed
By J.J. Keane
Eight-hour workday was won
Not by vote nor congressman
Won like all fights
To gain Labor's rights:
On the streets, surrender to none!
By J. J. Keane
I lay up in the bed sometimes crying at night
burdens and my dreams in a continuous fight
Life is a struggle like four centuries ago
head held high like water I flow
In my anger and determination
the love for my people is my sole motivation
The pain that I feel runs deep
a volcano explosion at its peak
Confinement in this cage breeds my thoughts
battles so hard, yet still they're fought
no-one will stop my walk.
By Roderick T. Morgan
You cannot stop the Revolution,
You cannot hold back its might nor majesty.
You cannot halt its grand procession toward freedom.
You cannot stop the Revolution.
Embrace the Revolution.
It shall carry you on a shining river of progress
to wherever it empties into a classless sea of
equality, free of oppression and exploitation
that have polluted it for so long.
Join the Revolution.
It will lift you up on its back
and soar higher than the American eagle
has ever dreamed of flying.
You cannot stop the Revolution.
You cannot halt its grand procession toward freedom.
You cannot stop the Revolution.
Red (Albert Thomas Coleman)
James V. Allred Unit H.S. C.-110T
2101 FM. 369 N.
Iowa Park, TX 76367-6708
Face of a Revolutionary
Will the real revolutionaries
please stand up?
You can't be discerned
from all the sitting ducks
who quack and cluck,
cry and complain,
but are clueless as to how
to bring about change.
Bestow upon us the spirit
of revolution, change.
Not all of us fear it.
By L.A. Lewis
The Hurricane Victims Wading
While this storm from Earth's warming grew faster
The poor were left to disaster
No aid floods but force
Saying "donate" of course
Of looting Bush is the master
By J.J. Keane
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