Monthly Archives: September 2014

Obama and the ‘N’ word

I don’t know how we got on this subject on such a pleasant summer evening with the sun going down just over the pier. Photo by Stacey Warde

I don’t know how we got on this subject on such a pleasant summer evening with the sun going down just over the pier. Photo by Stacey Warde

by Dell Franklin

“I hate Obama. I can’t stomach that goddamn nigger as our president.”

These words are jolting, coming beside me as I sit on a stool in a restaurant bar talking to a man around 28, 29, whom I’ve seen grow up in Cayucos, Calif., a little beach town with less than one percent African American. He’s a good kid, a little rough around the edges, used to surf and brawl but got married and buckled down and has a good gig on a construction crew in San Luis Obispo County that is always busy. His reputation now is of a hard worker and family man with a job dog in the back of his pickup, a grown up—at last.

“You don’t mean that,” I say. “And you shouldn’t use the ‘N’ word.”

“I can use it any time I want. I live out in Paso Robles now and they got gangs, and those niggers fuck with my family; I’ll blow the motherfuckers away.”

What’s this got to do with Obama? I ask myself. I don’t know how we got on this subject on such a pleasant summer evening with the sun going down just over the pier and turning cloud cover into brilliant shards of copper/gold and crimson.CITY-LIFE.Obama_portrait_crop

“How many black folks do you know?” I ask him.

“What’s that got to do with it? I know how I feel.”

I thought about telling him how when I was about 8 or 9 and growing up in Compton, Calif., I used the word nigger unwittingly around my mother, and for the first and only time this gentle, educated, highly sensitive woman, described by my dad as a “bleeding-heart Eleanor Roosevelt liberal,” slapped my face so hard my ears rang. She dragged me into the bathroom and began washing my mouth out with soap. She was crying hysterically and then I began crying and when she was finished she sat me down and explained how the word nigger was the ugliest word in the English language, how it was about meanness and cruelty and ignorance and the oppression of a people, and how hearing that word from her son broke her heart and made her feel a pain so awful she could not bear it.

I thought about telling him how as a sophomore at Compton High, a huge school, I made varsity shortstop in baseball and my best friend on the team was a black second-baseman named Loman Young, a junior mature beyond his years and who calmed me down and humbled me when I lost my temper and kicked at things and swore maniacally, and who counseled me when I felt close to cracking up from the pressure of being an ex-major leaguer’s son. He seemed to always put other people’s concerns before his own—rare in a teenager.

I thought about telling how when I was a medic in the Army, I spent a year on the graveyard shift in an emergency room out in the boondocks with Alvin Callock, an 18-year-old from one of the toughest ghettos in the country, Hough, in Cleveland, and who had to join the army at 17 to stay out of jail. In that year, we learned everything about each other, good and bad. During a racial brawl in the Enlisted Man’s Club started by some rednecks, I got caught up in the middle and it was Alvin who stepped into the melee as I was getting pummeled by three men and dragged me down to the dispensary for medical care, grinning the whole time, complimenting me on my boxing skills. Uneducated, raw, he lay on his bunk laughing out loud at Joseph Heller’s humor, mesmerized by his narratives, reading a copy of Catch-22 that I’d given him. Some of our graveyard conversations went on for hours, and from Alvin I learned the street, while from me he learned the discovery of knowledge via literature.

After my discharge, and a few menial jobs, I hitchhiked across country for New Orleans and Mardi Gras in 1969, searching for what I did not know, during a time of great social upheaval and racial tension in the U.S. After spending my last dime, I managed to luck into a gig as storekeeper on the Delta Queen riverboat, last steamship to carry passengers up and down the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. And, besides the captain and his officers, engineers and pilots, I was the only white employee among deckhands, porters, waiters, the entire kitchen crew, bartenders and maids.

I worked immediately under the ship’s chef, a 69-year-old named Henry Joyner, who’d grown up the oldest in a family of eighteen sharecroppers outside Tupelo, Mississippi, and came to Memphis at 29 in his first pair of real shoes, dead broke, facing the Depression. He ended up working two jobs—head chef at the Jewish country club and at the veterans hospital—for forty years and raising eleven kids who eventually became splendid citizens, and moving his entire family to Memphis. During the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., he was one of the powerful figures who took the podium and kept the riots out of Memphis. He was a deeply religious man who had no problem with my being agnostic. His fierce work ethic and disdain for slackers was tempered by a shrewd and easy going sense of humor. He became my instant best friend and mentor and to this day the most extraordinary and beloved person I’ve ever had the privilege to know, a person I hark back to whenever I become disheartened or negative and begin to lose my sense of humor.

Another friend was Mr. Davis, a waiter, an ex-professional baseball player in the Negro Leagues, a renaissance man who could cook, build and repair just about anything, a ladies’ man who moved with an unmatched elegance and fluidity and could carry on a conversation with the aplomb and erudition of a college professor. He was hard on me, always testing me, expecting much. I had to ASK him for advice. He had lived in Paris for years to escape the racism in America and hitchhiked throughout Western Europe in a sport coat and slacks. He made sure to give me an excellent haircut and beard trim and loaned me his shirt, slacks and sport coat before taking me to blues joints and chicken-shacks in Memphis and along the Delta where I became educated in a music I had been previously ignorant of. One of the black maids came along, and when I danced with her, and asked how all these black people dancing around us could be so joyous in the face of such tragic, heartbreaking music, she told me, “Chile, that’s how us black folk forget our sorrow.”

It wasn’t all easy sailing on the Queen. My real trouble was with the porters and deckhands my age, who were bitterly resentful of my presence, and as a carefree white boy who automatically latched onto one of the best gigs aboard ship on a lark and seemed to be “the chef’s pet.”  It was a time of militant black power and combustible anger among young people and the burning down of our black ghettos in nearly every big city in America. Willie Hobdy, the top deckhand, a tireless, nonstop worker, a man around my size and built like a light heavyweight boxer, who wore a stocking cap and scowled continuously, stole blatantly from my pallets of stock on the bow while fellow deckhands looked on and snickered. He made comments demeaning my manhood. He snarled at me, goaded me. Davis told me I’d have to fight him eventually and warned me that Willie would try and get in the first punch, because I, too, was built like a light heavyweight boxer and posed a threat.

Sure enough, while finally having heated words when I confronted him on the bow, he hit me so hard I saw green and yellow flashes, my left eye immediately gushing blood as I retaliated with a right hand that crushed his nose and busted his lip. If the captain hadn’t come along we might have killed each other. Sad and shaken, I retreated to the bar at the King Cotton Hotel on the main drag in Memphis in my work shirt, eye swollen shut and bruised, a violent headache pulsing. A row of post-graduates from down the road at the U of Mississippi in Oxford, whom I’d run into before, lectured me on my stupidity in making friends with and trusting “nigras.” They lectured me very sternly about my “Yankee naivety,” explaining that nigras were an inferior species given to thievery, filthiness, laziness, a total lack of morals, all of whom not only belonged where they’d been for centuries, but that they WANTED it that way, because they had no initiative. While listening to this garbage, it dawned on me very slowly and with a bludgeon that because of my white skin, and only my white skin, I represented to Willie and his fellow deckhands everything they hated in this world.

I left. Back on the Queen, despondent, I ran into Willie, lurking in an alcove along the engine room, sitting alone. He was almost always noisy and with fellow deckhands. His face was pulpy and swollen. He wouldn’t look at me as I halted before him. I asked him if he still wanted to fight. He shook his head and told me, “It’s all outta me.”

“It’s all outta me, too,” I said, though there was nothing in me compared to what was in Willie. I’d merely defended myself against something I was beginning to understand.

I was starving, hadn’t eaten a thing. I had access to the galley through the chef. I asked Willie if he was hungry. He nodded. I invited him to join me in the galley. It was late, and dark, and I turned on the lights and the grill and slapped down two huge filet mignons that were reserved for our 100 percent white wealthy passengers and heated up a pot of black-eyed peas. We still hadn’t talked. Willie sat at the card table where cooks and the chef and our dishwasher and I liked to drink coffee and munch pastries and eat, and I plopped down a pitcher of ice cold milk. We ate silently, ravenously, two brutalized young men, and when we finished Willie said thank you in an almost inaudible voice, and the next day instead of stealing from my pallets he helped me stock, and he became my friend, telling me his life story of growing up in some tiny town on a river a few miles north of Mobile, Alabama, and explained why he never left the ship—all  of his pay ($65 a week) went to his mother and his wife and kid, whom he only saw when the Delta Queen dry-docked in winter and he returned to Alabama for two weeks.

Almost immediately the resentment among my former enemies evaporated. Willie shouted, “The Beard!” as a greeting. Other deckhands referred to me as “Moses,” and “Mistah Sto-keepah.” I became immersed in black culture to such an extent that the chef paused one day and accused me of being black in a former life and coming back the same way only with a white skin. I have never been happier. It was a joy to be among people who’d started life with nothing, or in some cases less than nothing, continued to get the short end of the stick, faced police harassment, served time, missed meals, and never even conceived of achieving dreams (I wanted to be a writer), yet seemed to celebrate what little was left of their lot and complained far less about the state of things than the old men I see  hanging around Cayucos listening to Rush Limbaugh and grousing with perennial scowls about that goddamn black bastard, or the men and women I overhear at the gym who, although far better off financially than they were in 2008, growl about Obama being “that black socialist giving those lazy welfare niggers their precious money.”

I’d like to explain a few things to this lad beside me, who was never, to me, a mean-spirited person, and who seems happy with HIS lot and his young family; I’d like to tell him how ugly it sounds to use the word nigger, and especially in reference to a man in the White House who is not corrupt, not a liar, not a born-rich economic boob or a draft-dodging war-mongering neo-con blowhard, is a good family man who seems to have a little compassion like all liberals for the underclasses. I’d like to ask him to try and step into a black person’s shoes and have to listen to the cruelty and ignorance spewing from his mouth.

Finally I say, “Kid, you expose yourself to be an ugly, mean-spirited person when you talk that way about black folks. You embarrass yourself.”

“I don’t give a shit,” he says. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his mate, Wilbur, a very needy chocolate lab he rescued from the animal shelter. He is the founding publisher of The Rogue Voice and is currently working on a book about his dad, The Ball Player’s Son.

What did you say?

On the way into the grocery store (you know the one
behind the cali fusion temple to tacos), what do I hear?

Didja get some last night, or didja go home ‘n make millions of shower babies?

Inside the store, subject to millions of images of gross ‘n grunty middle-aged paunchy grocery
store manager getting some—compliments of one overactive imagination—
I forget the sour cream.

In the local cafe (you know the one where the first owner went missing ‘n everyone’s got a tale
about what she’s up to now), what did one barista just say to another?

You couldn’t find it because you’re a guy and guys can’t find shit!

Would you like to hear her scowl—sour-faced and venomous—and link gender (any gender) to
lack as you sup your morning brew?

—Amber Hudson Fend



I smash a fingernail, yelping in pain. Curt walks over, asks have I ever done carpentry before, and when I admit I have not he scowls and kicks at some rubble and paces around, muttering aloud.

by Dell Franklin

My woman is losing patience with my boozing and negative attitude after being turned down for job after job, especially since I’ve quit or been canned from my last three. Finally, she suggests I ask my friend, Ethan, an accomplished and fully equipped carpenter, if he can find me a gig pounding nails. Whenever something is amiss in our cottage, she calls on Ethan to fix it before I try—and destroy things.

“You sure about this?” Ethan asks me. “It’s hard work, especially in the beginning. Tough on the old body—like boot camp.”

“I’ve been to boot camp, boy. You haven’t.”

“Dell, this is a different kind of boot camp. You’ll use muscles you never worked before, and you’re almost fifty years old.”

“I’m stronger than you, and I’m not afraid of hard work.”

He flashes a knowing grin. “Oh yes you are, and you know it.”

Within a week he has me hooked up with a man named Curt who needs somebody to help him in the hills around Paso Robles, 25 miles from Cayucos, Calif., where I live a block from the beach. I call Curt and he says we’ll be putting on the finishing touches of a structure and gives me directions. His right-hand man is out with an arthritic elbow from thirty years of pounding nails.

I drive my 1950 Chevy pickup and find the structure on a knoll surrounded by oak-dotted hills. Curt drives a big, dusty pickup stacked in the back with ladders, cabling, power tools, cans of nails, every hand tool imaginable. He explains that the structure is to be a large art studio/rec room for the wife of the owner of the Taco Bell-like mansion atop another knoll a hundred yards up a driveway, where a huge pickup, Mercedes and SUV are parked out front.

Curt sizes me up. “So where’s your tool belt?” he asks.

“I don’t have one.”

“You don’t have one,” he repeats to himself. A lean, weathered man with a brush mustache, huge veins popping from wrists and forearms, he wears a neoprene sleeve around his right elbow, is perhaps 40. I’m 47. “What about tools? Are you equipped?”

“I have no tools at this time,” I confess, feeling sheepish.

He sighs. “Jesus Christ, who recommended you?”

“Ethan Pearson.”

“Okay, follow me.” He leads me to his truck, where he rummages about and tosses me a tool belt. “This was my first tool belt. Don’t lose it. You can return it when you buy your own.”

I wrap on the belt, but it hangs awkwardly to my knees. Curt adjusts it, hands me a hammer, which I shove in the belt. Wearing shorts and a sweatshirt, I shiver in the morning cold, fingers already numb. Curt hands me some long nails, which I stuff in pockets of the belt, and he leads me to the side of the skeletal structure, tells me to pound nails along the side to further strengthen the frame. I bend most of them and have to pull them out. I smash a fingernail, yelping in pain. Curt walks over, asks have I ever done carpentry before, and when I admit I have not he scowls and kicks at some rubble and paces around, muttering aloud.

“Bill Bright told me Ethan was sending me a goddamn carpenter, not a fucking novice. I can’t train you. I got to get this fucker built, so I can move on to my next job. I got mouths to feed. I got two boys eatin’ me outta house and home and a wife wantsa new car….” He comes over and shows me how to hammer correctly. I watch him closely, nervous, wanting to please Curt and keep my $12-an-hour gig. He observes me hammer a few nails, nods, walks off, goes to work. He hammers fluidly, nails in mouth, an effortless human assembly line, like myself tending bar. I go up and down the side frame, lost in a daydreaming zone, pounding nails until Curt returns to check my progress and throws a fit. “You pounded the wrong goddamn side! You didn’t listen to me!”

“I thought….”

“You thought? That’s the problem. Just do as I do, go where I go, don’t fucking THINK!” He glares at me, incredulous, then stares at the ground. He meditates a few seconds, then points to a pile of rubble off to the side and orders me to go over there and find lumber, mostly two-by-fours, and extract nails from them, then pile the wood in a wheelbarrow and move it to where the good lumber is stacked. Can I do that? I nod. He warns me not to walk on any nails, glancing sourly at my sneakers and snorting.

“Why you wearin’ them goddamn things?”

“They’re all I have. I play basketball in ‘em.”

“Basketball,” he grumbles. “I hate basketball. Buncha niggers jumpin’ around. I’m a stock car guy.”

Instead of telling him I hate all auto racing, I walk over and begin rooting around in the pile, painstaking labor. I bruise my knuckles. My hands turn raw and ache. I struggle extracting nails, jerking, rooting, cursing. Soon my knuckles bleed. My lower back pinches from the hammering. All my joints are stiff and arthritic from years of sports. I bungle on. By lunch time I’ve de-nailed every last board and wheel-barreled them to the lumber site.

Curt won’t look at me. “Bring your lunch?”

I shrug, having only a power bar and banana.

“Figures. You got half an hour. Ain’t enough time to go into town. Where’s your water? Gets hot in the afternoon and you need a gallon of water. I don’t want you passing out on me.”

He climbs into his truck and turns away from me, opening a big cooler and turning his radio to country western. I sit in my truck, bone-weary, dehydrated, starved, sore, dazed, resisting a strong urge to punch out Curt and flee. After my meager lunch he has me toting double-door-size slabs of siding to the lumber area. These slabs are a mix of plaster and paper and whatever, and heavy, cumbersome, unwieldy. As I haul them I have to peer down at the rocky, irregular terrain to see where I’m going, so that I am like a blind Tom careening and lurching about with these sidings, falling down several times, scraping and gouging my arms, hands raw and bleeding because I have no gloves. Each trip to the lumber area is a perilous ordeal; Curt, up on a ladder, pounding furiously, peers at me occasionally. My sweatshirt is torn and filthy and my knees skinned.

The owner of the estate pulls up in a gigantic pickup, a broad, bulge-gutted, beef-faced man in boots, western shirt, Stetson. He talks in a jovial, familiar manner to Curt, whose attitude becomes solicitous. A school bus pulls up on the country road below and deposits two young girls who walk toward the mansion toting book packs. They are nattily dressed. A young, pretty mother meets them at the door. Minutes later they all pile into the SUV, clad in white tennis outfits, carrying racket cases. After the owner drives off, a rugged-looking guy in a ball cap drives up in another pickup with WALT’S ROOFING on the door. As he and Walt visit, the roofer, from time to time, glances over at me as I stumble along with the siding as if I am a zoo animal. As I try to reach down and snare the belt, it slips to my knees and I go down, landing on my back, gouging my buttocks on a sharp rock, the siding atop me like a triumphant wrestler. I quickly shed the siding and jump to my feet and adjust the tool belt while the roofer and Curt watch me, shaking their heads as I try to balance the siding. I make it to the pile. The roofer drives off. It takes me most of the afternoon to move all the siding.

“Do you know how to operate power tools?” Curt asks me.

“I’m willing to try.”

“Okay. Tomorrow. You look pretty beat. Let’s call it a day.”

I can hardly move. My lady meets me with a beer and a kiss when I return home, and asks me about my big day, and I tell her I’m learning and she says she’s proud of me. “Look at me,” I say. “I really paid. It was like boot camp.”

Ethan calls to ask how my day went. I tell him okay but for the tool belt and Curt. He says he doesn’t know Curt, got me hired through Bright. I tell him Curt’s an asshole, bossing me around, treating me like a moronic peon, sapping what little confidence I have left. Ethan explains that carpenters are proud of their profession and disdainful of novices, an impatient, intolerant lot. I tell him I’ll endure anything, even Curt, because I’m broke.

I have trouble sleeping at night because my arms and face are on fire. At dawn I pack apples, oranges, bananas, power bars, a gallon of water. Curt is waiting when I pull up, and right off he begins showing me how to cut lumber with a power saw, but the loud, rackety saw terrifies the shit out of me and after he watches me nearly saw off a toe he takes it away from me and hands me a power drill and instructs me to drill holes in the cement floor inside the structure, and I do as best I can, feeling my arms and shoulders vibrate while dust flies in my face. Curt asks do I have goggles and a bandana to cover my mouth as I sneeze and cough. I ignore him and when I’m finished drilling holes he has me assisting him placing windows in frames. This is touchy work and I follow his instructions carefully, begin to feel somewhat worthy and competent as we fit in window after window. Then we climb a second-story scaffolding to fit in more windows. The scaffold is uneasy, tilting this way and that, and at one point Curt has to reach out and grab me to keep my ass from pitching off.

Later he has me downstairs and inside on a ladder, pounding nails. The owner shows up and they talk, glancing at my progress. As I turn my head to observe them, I lose my balance and fall backwards off the ladder onto my tail bone, bruising it, but I spring right up as the two men hurry to my aid, insisting I’ve taken many a fall playing basketball. At lunch, Curt marches silently to his truck while I go to mine. He will not look at me.

After lunch he orders me to the roof to pound more nails. I take the ladder up, climb on. The roof is slick, sheet-like wood, and steeply pitched. The roofer drives up, dropping off tiles similar to those on the hilltop mansion. The two converse while I crawl like a crab up the roof, afraid to look back, afraid to get up on my feet. As a kid, I ran along roofs with abandon, jumped off as if my legs were elastic, but now I am petrified, stuck halfway toward the peak, unable to find anything to hold onto for leverage, wondering how the fuck I have ended up here after all my years of avoiding such situations, already dreading my move DOWN the roof to the ladder.

Then I find myself sliding back. I grapple for anything to dig my nails into, gaining downward momentum as I claw frantically for anything, anything, and then I am grasping madly for the edge of the structure and plunging over the ladder and hurling through space, cushioning myself for the crash as I luckily land sideways, cocking my shoulder, in a scrap heap of dusty boards, wiring, tar paper, etc. I am not hurt! I jump off the heap and hug my limbs while Curt and the roofer dash over, concern and shock written all over their faces.

“You all right?” Curt asks, eyes wide with disbelief.

I dust myself off. My arm is cut and bleeding. “Yeh, yeh, I’m fine. I know how to land. I’m an airborne army veteran.”

Curt rolls his eyes. “Looks to me like you’re scared of heights.”

“I’m not scared of shit. Fuck heights.”

“Okay, calm down. Get back inside and nail some of them beams. The high ones. Be careful on that ladder, ey?”

I’m on the verge of punching out Curt and the smirking roofer, a mustachioed muscle-head with an NRA sticker on his bumper. Instead, I slog back to the structure, tool kit again hanging at my fucking knees, hitching it up, hammer falling out, bending down to snatch and shove it in the belt. I climb the ladder and commence hammering big spike nails. By now I am a decent hammerer. But I begin to feel a gnawing soreness in every crevice of my body, and especially my lower back, wondering how the hell guys like Curt and Ethan survive such strife, deadening the mind, pulverizing the body, killing the spirit, and I have to grudgingly respect a bastard like Curt, though, if he, at this point, so much as looks at me wrong, I will beat him into a bloody pulp and make him beg for his meager life.

Back at the cottage, I sit in the shade on my porch and guzzle a six-pack while Miranda, home from work, dabs at my cuts with cotton and peroxide and icepacks my swollen bruises. Ethan calls around seven with the bad news—I am fired!

“Fuck, E-man, I gave that prick everything I have.”

“I know. But he found somebody else. He says you’re too inexperienced.”

“What else did that lowly sonofabitch say about me?”

“You don’t wanna know.”

“I got a right to know. I wanna hear it.”

A pause. “He said if he gets a new man, an experienced framer, he can finish the job in two weeks. If he goes alone, he can finish in three weeks. If he keeps you, he said he might never finish. He doesn’t wanna be responsible for you maiming or killing yourself.”

“Very fucking funny.”

He’s laughing. I curse him. “Listen,” he says. “I take full responsibility. It wasn’t fair to have you start out with that guy, knowing what a demanding prick he is, and you having no experience. If you want, on my next job, I can take you on and train you. You’ll need tools and a belt.”

“Fuck you. I’m fed up. I’m thoroughly humiliated. This is the third straight job I’ve been fired. I’m bordering on suicide.”

I hang up. Miranda massages my stiff neck. “You tried,” she says soothingly. “I’m proud of you. You didn’t quit.”

I know it’ll take me a week to recuperate from my experience in carpentry. It isn’t boot camp. It’s war. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his mate, Wilbur, a very needy chocolate lab he rescued from the animal shelter. He is the founding publisher of The Rogue Voice and is currently working on a book about his dad, The Ball Player’s Son.


Oscar Higueros Jr., volunteer Cayucos fireman arrested on charges of rape.

Oscar Higueros Jr., volunteer Cayucos fireman arrested on charges of rape.

by Stacey Warde

Yes, let’s talk about Somebody’s Daughter.

Larry Narron’s fictional account of a woman, abused as a child by her father, confronting the ailing, aged man in his later years, could have come right out of a bedroom scene here in Cayucos, as we learned last week when Oscar Higueros, Jr., a volunteer fireman, was arrested for the rape of a 17-year-old girl, and charged with 33 felonies, including forced sodomy and oral copulation, threatening a witness, and possession of cocaine.

A lot has been said about the merits of the case and about Higueros’ character but little about the alleged victim. What people seem to have forgotten is that the victim is somebody’s daughter, not unlike the one in Larry’s story. Little has been said about this child and how we might in the future protect her and other youth in our community from child sexual abuse.

These alleged crimes took place in a home not far from any of us. Why not give some due consideration to the real victim in this case, and to other potential victims who live in our community? Why do we so quickly dismiss the victims in our midst and go to the defense of an accused rapist just because he’s a fireman?

And, why in the digitally social world of data inundation do we resort to flaming, illogic and basic  stupidity when commenting on these events? You would think from many responses defending Higueros in the week since his arrest that he’s the victim. “He’s a fireman. No fireman would put someone at risk like that,” I’ve heard. “We don’t need to know what he did,” I’ve also heard.

“I hate the fact that such personal information can be public knowledge,” wrote one commenter after I’d posted a news item about the case on my Facebook wall.

A lesson in Civics 101 ensued, in which we discussed the importance in a free society of knowing when someone is arrested and what for. Eventually, the commenter removed her comments, but the protest against media hype continues, even as details of the case come mostly from press releases distributed by the district attorney’s office.

I’ve also heard others warn: Don’t point your fingers until you know all the facts. I don’t know all the facts but I do know when to be cautious, when to pay attention, and when to withhold judgment. Also, there’s the implied “don’t judge unless you want the skeletons in your own closet to be exposed.” Well, now, there’s an idea.

Comments on news sites covering the case show even more ignorance, not only of what goes on under our noses, but of the process of jurisprudence and of how we stay informed and safe in a democratic society. Flamers attacked news site KSBY, for example, for “sensationalizing,” when the facts of the case itself, coming to us directly from the district attorney’s office, are sensational enough. It won’t matter what KSBY or any news outlet reports, flamers will still accuse them of doing it only “because they want publicity.”

Some news agencies do that but most reporters I’ve known over the years do it because they want the community to know the truth, even when it’s an unpleasant truth. Is Higueros guilty? Not until a jury decides.

Regarding the alleged victim, I’ve heard: “Well, she’s probably some tart from the Bay Area, who was looking for some thrills and asking for it.”

No, she’s somebody’s daughter. We’re not talking schoolboy prank here. A child was manipulated and violated, according to the DA. Regardless of whether she was an angel, it doesn’t matter. She’s still a child. Yet, there’s more wringing of hands for an alleged rapist, because he’s a “good guy,” or a hard worker, or a volunteer fireman.

So-called “nice” people do bad things, even firemen. And young girls do get into trouble and it’s our job to make sure they don’t; it’s our job to protect them from predators who want to use them for their own profit and pleasure.

The judge set bail at $1 million, then raised it to $1.2 million during Higueros’ arraignment after charges of human trafficking were made against a second perp in the case. That suggests more than a slight moral lapse or minor indiscretion from someone with high marks for serving the community as a paid volunteer fireman.

It’s quite possible, as often happens in these cases, that law enforcement has overzealously trumped up the charges, but I doubt it. It’s the judge’s job to determine the strength and validity of a case, and this judge concurs, at this point, that the accused, Higueros, is a threat to the community. He will likely stay in jail for a very long time, at least until the court sorts out the facts and details of the case to determine his guilt or innocence. Meanwhile, expect to learn more disturbing details about this case in the weeks and months ahead.

This teenage girl, somebody’s daughter, remember, is not unlike the one in Larry’s story, who will similarly grow up one day and be forced to confront the demons of her past. We would do better to imagine how we might help her and prevent another young girl or boy in our community from falling into the clutches of predators than to fret over whether the accused was a good guy or not. §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice.

Somebody’s Daughter

by Larry Narron

I walked down the long empty hall to my father’s room, thinking about the visions I’d had of him the night before, and all the other nights before, a specter haunting my dreams, covered in ashes, gray-eyed and wrinkled, hiccupping soot as he licked his lips and smiled at me, mumbling the unspeakable as he came closer, rising up at the foot of my bed. In the East, they call it the demon sitting on one’s chest. Those of the special talents, when they were close to the periphery of sleep would see them suddenly appearing, a little man made out of shadow, standing there at the foot of the bed, and when they saw him, they were paralyzed with fear. You literally can’t move, like when the mind wakes up far before the body, and the limbs—even the lungs—ignore all the body’s ordinary commands to move. The sense of powerlessness might be compared to drowning, I imagine.

Claire Standing, oil, 84 x 41, by David Settino Scott:

Claire Standing, oil, 84 x 41, by David Settino Scott:

Anyway, I wasn’t paralyzed now. I was walking down the hall to my father’s room, ready to face whatever I found in there.

I knocked on the door and let myself in. My father didn’t hear me approach. He was sitting on the far edge of his bed, facing away from me, watching TV, some History Channel show about flying saucers where they were interviewing pilots who said they’d seen them zipping over Europe during the Second World War—foo fighters, they called them.

The afternoon sunlight was coming in through the window directly behind the TV, the rays making what little white hair my father still had left on his head shimmer like the frail yet brilliant feathers of an ancient bird grown so thin that they had been loosened from the skin. He was like a weathered angel in the light, a shape that seemed to defy his nightly incarnations in my bedroom.

I noticed a little book about the rosary on his bedside pillow. I wondered when he’d decided to convert to Catholicism, or if he just suddenly found little religious trinkets comforting in the confusing, muddled landscape of old age. Maybe, in his mind, he’d always been a Catholic. My father tended to imagine things in order to fill in the gaps in memory that had been appearing with greater frequency and range in the years since he’d been admitted to this place. Oftentimes the made-up things were more real to him than the things that actually happened, the things he couldn’t remember had happened, or the things he refused to remember.

Hello? I said, trying to get my father’s attention. Mr. Wernick?

My father turned and smiled at me.  The pale blue cores of his eyes still shone through the foggy gray layer that had clouded over them both. Nurse Lucy, he said, flicking off the TV with the remote and tossing it onto the bed, we meet again. He stood and walked around the foot of the bed toward me. You look beautiful, my dear, as usual.

My father hugged me and I hugged him back the best I could. I was surprised by the warmth in his hands, his arms, his body, and I could tell that his body was not made out of shadow, but of flesh—a real man with blood in him that was still warm and flowing, wanting to pump to his heart for a little while longer, still. Even so, I didn’t understand how anything warm could be coming from him. The skin on his hands was spotty; it hung loose on his bones. Finally he let go and sat back down on the bed, facing me. I put my purse down on the floor and sat down on the chair across from him, against the wall.

And call me Sal, my father said. You know the drill.

I did know the drill—I’d been visiting him at least twice a month since he’d gotten sick. I looked out the open window behind my father on the far side of the room. Between the transparent white drapes that had been pulled aside, the hills of Fairfield were yellow, turning golden as the sun went down behind them. The green oaks lay scattered from each other in the golden hills. I wondered how anything could grow like that—alone, separated from all the others of its kind.

That’s a very pretty skirt you’re wearing, my father said, pointing and smiling. You look as beautiful as my wife did on her wedding day. Of course, she’s dead now, he added, still smiling.

I’m sorry to hear that, Mr. Wernick.

He shrugged. Oh, that’s all right, he said. It’ll happen to all of us. I came to terms with that a long time ago—I was only seventeen. His smile faded. He folded his hands in his lap and looked down at his fingers for a moment. I couldn’t think of anything to say. But then he looked up.

Well, Nurse, he said, his smile reappearing mysteriously as he sat back down on the bed, you look just lovely, just like some of the girls from the war. There were so many beautiful girls in the war, he said. Have a seat.

Without any warning at all I lifted the hem of my skirt and moved my knee out so he could see the exposed tan flesh of my inner thigh. I pointed to the cigarette burns there, keeping my eyes locked on his.

He looked down at my thigh. There were a lot of beautiful girls in the war, he said again, this time with the remote and detached, ethereal monotone of someone talking in his sleep.

Mr. Wernick, I said, closing my legs and pulling my skirt back down over my knees, do you think we can try it again today? That is, if you’re comfortable?

He looked up suddenly. At that moment he had the appearance of someone trying to come to their senses after being shaken out of a deep sleep. Always comfortable, he said, and lay back down on the bed, closing his eyes. He pushed the rosary book to his side and laced his fingers together over his stomach. He let out a huge sigh. Kind of suits me, if you know what I mean.

Certainly, I said. Try to relax, Mr. Wernick.

He did try, and I proceeded to put him into a deep, deep sleep by reciting the little mantras we’d thought up together. I wasn’t sure if hypnosis would make him remember anything—it hadn’t so far—but I was desperate to keep trying, to do my best to help him recollect the past.  Perhaps it would require more than just showing him cigarette burns.

Once I’d gotten him into the trance I said, Tell me about your daughter. Tell me what you remember about Cynthia.

He shifted on the bed. His eyelids wrinkled and it seemed he really was trying to remember something. I looked at my father and was startled when I saw how old he looked; it seemed to occur to me suddenly and all at once. As he squeezed his already closed eyes even more tightly shut, his eyelids resembled the tightly twisted knots in the middles of ancient trees.

Somebody’s daughter, he said.

I waited. Yes? I said, when he wouldn’t go on.

Silence. Then he said, We’d taken a hill.

I didn’t understand. A hill? I tried to remember anything about a hill.

We’d taken a hill, he said again, and we were in the trees. The village was burning.  McCormick had already torched it, and whole place was on fire. We used to mow them all down, you see, without thinking one bit about it. At first it was just the enemy, of course. But then it wasn’t clear anymore who was the enemy. Nothing made any sense. We were so tired and it wasn’t clear. No sleep, the way you get after killing, what it does to you.

Silence. I waited for him to continue. Finally I had to ask him: What about somebody’s daughter? Whose daughter was she? We seemed to finally be getting to the point and I hoped he would finally face it.

My father sighed, his eyelids twisting up even more in the trance. I was in the trees, he said, walking between the flames. I could hear McCormick and the others calling me. I was still looking for survivors, anyone we could take as prisoners.

He stopped for a little while. I just sat there, looking at him. I didn’t know where he was going with this, but somehow I knew that, whatever he was going to tell me, it wouldn’t be fantasy; it wouldn’t be about the Rosary, our mantras, my assumed identity as Nurse Cindy.

I focused my attention on the pained look on my father’s face and I almost wanted to wake him up. I wanted to distract him from whatever it was he was in the process of trying to remember. I thought he might start crying. And besides, I wanted to bring him back to try getting him to talk about me. But I couldn’t speak, except to urge him to continue telling whatever story this was from the war.

The little girl, he said suddenly, walked right up to me through the burning trees. She was wearing this brown dress with little straps, but the straps had slipped off of her shoulders. The dress was coming off of her, peeling off, you could see quite a bit. The flames were going up on both sides of her, the smoke rising into the sky. I could see the huts of the village burning behind her. It was her village. I looked at the little girl and she looked at me, just standing there with her dress coming off. She had those dark eyes they all have. They just looked right inside me. But they weren’t studying me or anything. I looked back and tried to see inside her. I couldn’t. There were just these dark eyes that wouldn’t let up. He paused, let out a long heavy breath as if he hadn’t realized he’d been holding it in and needed to let it out now. But I remember, he said, thinking it was somebody’s daughter. She had to be, didn’t she? But she was all alone by herself and the village was burning, the heat making the sky quiver the way it does at airports when the planes are getting ready to take off on the runway. The girl…she had to have been only about six or seven. I remember how I raised my pistol and pointed it at her. I don’t know why, but she just stood there and kept looking at me like nothing had happened. She was somebody’s daughter, I kept telling myself. Where were her parents? Were they burning somewhere? Where’s your mommy and daddy? I said. But of course she just kept looking at me; she didn’t understand.  Finally, I lowered my pistol. I thought she might run away then, but she just went on with those eyes of hers. I remember thinking maybe I should take her with me, back to the others. We could find a medic or something. I remember how I thought I could get her out of there—I could save her life, if I really wanted to. But then I thought about how McCormick and the others would think I was crazy, how they’d tell me we couldn’t just take some little girl away with us. And I thought how it didn’t matter anyway, how her parents and whatever brothers and sisters she might have had were already burning. We’d killed everyone. Then, there was an awkward moment, I remember, when I tried hard to say something more. I really wanted so say something.  But I didn’t know what. Then I just turned on my heel and started walking back through the burning trees. I could feel the girl’s black eyes on the back of my head, burrowing, watching me retreat through the black smoke in the trees that started billowing up with the flames, covering everything.

My father stopped talking. He just lay there quietly, almost like he was sleeping. I watched the steady rise and fall of his chest beneath his shirt. Outside, between the window’s white curtains, the sun was going down beyond the hills, their gold flaming out into brilliant reds and oranges.  The gnarled trees darkened.

Nurse Cindy, my father abruptly said. Are you still there? He didn’t open his eyes. But he had asked me this strange question—if I was there. At that moment something strange dawned on me: I realized right then that he wasn’t in a trance at all, that he couldn’t be in a trance and ask me a question like that. He had merely pretended to be hypnotized, perhaps so he could tell me this story he wouldn’t want to express or even acknowledge while he was awake. Had he been faking the trance all these times I’d come to see him? I wasn’t sure. He hadn’t told me anything like this story until now.

I’m right here, Mr. Wernick, I assured him. The sound of my voice seemed to put him at ease.

Both of us were quiet for a long while. It was apparent my father wasn’t going to say anything more.

After a while, I said, When you hear the sound of the door closing, Mr. Wernick, you are going to wake up.

Supine on his bed, my father nodded in his fake hypnotized state. Okay, he said.

You can watch TV, I said, until you get tired. There’s something on about UFOs.  I won’t be here when you wake up.


I picked up my purse from the floor and stood. I was about to head for the door, but something told me I should stay. I just stood there and looked down at my father lying there on his bed, the sunset spilling through the window onto his bed. I thought I should say something, maybe about the burns, but I didn’t know what exactly. Finally I just reached over and picked up the rosary book and flipped through it. I knew it was filled with mantras I’d never want to familiarize myself with; it didn’t offer me the kinds of false memories I needed. I put it in his hands and his fingers closed over it firmly, his eyes still closed, his expression still unchanging. In that moment, he might as well have been lying in a coffin.

I turned and walked out the door, closing it softly behind me. The long white hall outside his room was still empty. I walked down the hall and into the lobby. Nurse Cindy, who’d let me in, whose name I shamelessly assumed during these visits to my father, was gone, but there was a receptionist behind the front desk. I didn’t look at her, didn’t sign out, just walked past her and out the door into the soft evening light. The dark sunlight was shining on the asphalt, making the shadows lengthen as I walked across the parking lot toward my car. A part of me wanted to go back, to ask him once more if he could at least try to remember me, what he did to me. But the truth was…I was scared. I was afraid that, if he did remember, and he said my name, I would look at him and wouldn’t be able to recognize him at all. It wouldn’t be my father there anymore, just someone made out of shadow, someone who could paralyze with a stare.

Having previously supported himself by sorting mail, spinning signs, and washing windows, Larry Narron (after graduation from UC Berkeley), now lives and writes in Portland, Oregon.  He can be reached at: This story originally appeared in Issue 50 of Palomar College’s literary journal, Bravura. It is republished with the author’s permission.