Monthly Archives: December 2014

Getting a living and throwing stones over a wall

CULTURE.THROWING STONES IILet us consider the way in which we spend our lives

by Stacey Warde

If getting a living, said Henry David Thoreau, makes you miserable, that’s not living.

Yet, some 160 years after Thoreau’s essay, “Life without principle,” Americans suffer more than ever from “not living,” despite the promise of American dreams about prosperity, getting ahead and building a life of one’s own.

We live in a culture obsessed with work, industry and busyness, making money and getting rich, hurling contempt at idlers and slackers, those who wish to spend their lives, as Thoreau might have, passing their days in the woods, gazing into the depths of a pond, reflecting on the passage of time and eternity, marking the change of seasons, writing poetry, actually living.

Thoreau says there’s more to life than working our fingers to the bone, breaking our backs, and spending our short lives by the sweat of our brows merely to earn a buck. Yet, almost everyone I know does just that, working, working, working, as if that’s all there is to life, as if that’s all that matters in a world that does just fine without our frantic labors for money.

He opens his argument by suggesting that we “consider the way in which we spend our lives.” Will we lower ourselves by seeking merely to get a living, or to go deeper into our being by devoting ourselves to “certain labors which yield more real profit, though but little money”?

He then launches into a lament: The United States is little more than an infinite bustle of business, with no rest in sight, and it is “nothing but work, work, work.”

“I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself, than this incessant business,” he adds.

Little has changed since Thoreau’s time when states kept slaves, justified in the name of commerce and industry.

In fact, it could be argued that, while not slaves, millions of Americans suffer from a different kind of servitude, and are worse off today than when Thoreau lobbied for a life whose value is measured by depth and character rather than by the machinations and manipulations of getting rich. Opportunities for workers have decreased, and workers themselves devalued and used as tools and pawns.

Labor, the nitty gritty workforce, has never been held in high esteem in the U.S., with the exception perhaps when working men and women organized and fought for their share of the commonwealth. Slavery takes many forms and the U.S. has mastered the art of it, where men and women are esteemed less for their humanity and more for their worth as slaves in the marketplace.

We still see it in the form of lower wages, reduced benefits, enormous wealth inequalities, lack of opportunities and work that is little more than throwing stones over a wall.

“Most men would feel insulted if it were proposed to them in throwing stones over a wall and then in throwing them back, merely that they might earn their wages,” Thoreau wrote. “But many are no more worthily employed now.”

Isn’t that still the truth for millions of Americans today? Perhaps even more so as jobs that once provided a decent living continue to vanish and more laborers find themselves working not just one job, but often two or three jobs, and still they are unable to make ends meet.

Wealth inequality will only make things worse, fostering more of the wage slave economy emerging in the U.S. today.

Little in our culture promotes the value of activities that don’t make us rich or financially independent. We don’t get paid to dawdle, meditate, ride a bicycle, take a walk through the woods, pass an entire day at the edge of a pond, bake a pie, or write poetry, for example, but these at least make life rich in a way that money can’t.

If I show an interest in writing poetry while neglecting an opportunity to earn a few bucks digging trenches, Thoreau offers, I will be considered an idler, a no-good lazy bum, which is something my dad used to say about those who seemed to be doing nothing constructive with their time, such as getting ahead, making money—the end-all and be-all of enterprise in the U.S., where utility and industry reign supreme over all other endeavors.

A person’s value is measured only in what he might earn for his labors, or more importantly what he might earn for those who employ him for his services. But if that is all, he is diminished, less than a man and merely a tool for those who stand most to gain from his efforts.

“If the laborer gets no more than the wages which his employer pays him, he is cheated, he cheats himself,” said Thoreau, who argues that the true idler is the one who merely earns money.

“The aim of the laborer,” Thoreau opined, “should be, not to get his living, to get ‘a good job,’ but to perform well a certain work; and, even in a pecuniary sense, it would be economy for a town to pay its laborers so well that they would not feel that they were working for low ends, as for a livelihood merely, but for scientific, or even moral ends. Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it.”

Always, whether we like it or not, as Thoreau suggests, there remains the question of gains obtained beyond the pecuniary. What do we get for our labors beyond the security of a paycheck? Increased purchasing power? A home, or a place to call our own? Two weeks paid vacation? A defense against poverty? What life beyond the money we take home? And if our paychecks offer no security at all, what then?

And, living in the U.S., how can one “spend” a life without money?

My parents taught me that if you worked hard, made the right choices and did as you were told, you could earn a good living, and not only that, but create a lifestyle that suits you, makes you feel as if you’ve done something worthwhile with your life. Thoreau called it, “getting a living,” whereby through “honest, manly toil,” which makes our “bread taste sweet and keeps society sweet,” we perform “the needful but irksome drudgery” of our labors.

Thoreau didn’t begrudge work but kept it in the perspective of what in life was most important to him, to live well and to live independently, with a higher purpose than merely getting a paycheck.

If you worked honestly, gave your best effort, and stayed out of trouble, you’d get ahead in life, my parents would say, and maybe own your own home one day, keep a few toys in the driveway or garage, build a pool in the backyard, and there’d be money in the bank, as if these were the only measure of doing well and living well.

Mostly, that’s true, I guess, when opportunities and options for choosing well are available, but I’ve done all those things and I’m earning less, not more, than the previous generation that believed in getting ahead, even for blue collar workers who, for a time, could count on building something to call their own, and actually got, a living.

These days the prospects for getting a living, for better and more engaging employment, don’t look promising. The American economy isn’t anything close to what it was when I was growing up. The industries that helped build a thriving middle class—aerospace, steel and autos, for example—have all but disappeared. In their place, we’ve created service jobs in big box retail outlets, fast food chains and tourism that pay half to a third of what my parents earned during their productive years.

There’s less focus on getting ahead and more on simply getting by. It’s hard to give ourselves over to the nurture of our hearts and minds, as Thoreau would have advised, when our time is taken up with mere survival.

And now, I’ve reached the age of early retirement, the period of life when Americans allow themselves the rare luxury of “idle” amusements such as traveling across country, going fishing and cobbling together a few hobbies to stay active and interested. But for many, like myself, that option sank into the abyss of greed where, to increase their profits and pad their accounts with more luxuries, the captains of industry shipped American jobs overseas, reducing opportunities for the millions of hardworking Americans who made this country what it is.

Instead, aging boomers like myself face the very real prospect of working until the day we die, earning a pittance for our labors, valued only as a means, much the way slaves were, for the wealthy to increase their obscene wealth, with little or nothing left over to show for our efforts but poverty and oppression.

Back in the day, if you didn’t like what you were doing, you’d just go get another job, find something more suitable to your skillset and experience.

That possibility seems to have vanished. There are no jobs, none with the security and perks of my parents’ generation. Today we work two or three jobs, go to night school to improve ourselves, and…for what? Less and less of the pie that gets swallowed up by the filthy rich, who have put little of what they earn back into the system, hoarding their wealth and mocking or blaming the poor for being lazy and unproductive.

Life for millions of Americans is less an adventure in gains and opportunity and more like indentured servitude, laboring incessantly, never having quite enough, unable to relax and celebrate life and doing what they do “for love of it,” as Thoreau suggested.

The physical exhaustion that accompanies constant labor without reward or respite would be enough to trouble anyone’s mind but tack on the mental and emotional frustration of lack, of working so hard for so little, and you have a recipe for personal and social breakdown and disaster, collapse, total dismay, discouragement, a disheartening sense of failure and doom, and perhaps, eventually, revolt.

Early on, I developed the notion, like Thoreau, that there’s more to life than being a wage slave, that there’s a place for poetry and philosophy, which may not feed the body but more importantly give sustenance to one’s deeper passions, to that thing called “soul.”

It’s much easier to navigate this American life when there are options; without these options, life becomes a prison, where at a minimum, I suppose, we might more passionately consider the ways in which we spend our lives. §

Stacey Warde works as a farmhand and is publisher of The Rogue


Images by Stacey Warde

‘I want to be out front in informing you, you have absolutely nothing to offer me in any way—not as good company, not as a future companion, and least of all as somebody I’d fuck.’


by Dell Franklin

1967 September

The sexual revolution was going full bore in America, free love rampaging everywhere as pipsqueaks with pipe-stem arms and droopy mustaches stuck their wieners in pretty suburban girls with hair under their arms. I couldn’t get laid and my only comfort was that my roomie, Marshak, a best friend since high school who was going for his master’s in microbiology at Long Beach State after a three-year Army hitch in Patton’s old outfit in Germany, couldn’t either. I, too, had completed my three-year Army hitch and worked for my dad in Compton, driving my ’54 Chevy wagon to that hellhole five mornings a week, stocking, waiting on trade, writing orders, making deliveries. We lived upstairs in a shabby two-storey apartment complex on the corner of Magnolia and Pacific Coast Highway, our window facing the highway and a no-frills wooden shack of a beer bar directly below called The Hull—an establishment of rarified debauchery.

Marshak, a Polack from Pittsburg, felt we wouldn’t get laid until we partook in LSD or weed sharing, both of which we were against, being rare liberals from day one who despised hippies and their movement as protesting dilettantes certain to someday drive luxury cars and live behind the same white picket fences their parents built as they reveled in the luxurious trappings of the American Dream they now scorned.

Marshack and I were both robust ex-athletes with good bodies and couldn’t be considered ugly, though we were starting to wonder, and planned a strategy of both of us hitting on one or two women with the possibility one of us would prove so loathsome and odious the other seemed acceptable and even palatable enough to secure a sincere phone number or a date and possibly get laid on the spot. But the fact was, as a team, we fed off each other’s negativity and ineptitude and so depressed or angered the wenches that they fled like a plague and left us stewing in the Hull, where the primarily older, scabrous clientele consisted of women who told the old fogies they were nothing but worthless drunken child two-timing wastrels and motherfuckers, while the fogies called these harridans whores, bitches, ball-busting witches and worthless cocksuckers.

It went back and forth, Marshak and I discussing Hemingway and Steinbeck and Kerouac or the LA Rams when we weren’t nodding to this crowd, the lot of whom envied our bachelorhood and counseled us on the treachery of womankind, as if we needed it. At this time I was stripped of all romantic inclinations and cared only in getting laid. I’d been out of the Army since February of ’67 and was still on a drought and fighting the urge to head south to Mexico for a hooker, a bottomlessly dismal proposition. A typical weekend evening involved either Marshak or me strolling around at two in the morning, one of us up and waiting with beer in hand, relieved he was not alone in another humiliating rejection.

“Where’d you go?”

“Down on Ocean? You?”

“Hit some clubs and bars clear over in Lakewood. I’m ranging farther and farther. I was thinking of Newport Beach. The O.C. has some prime stuff.”

“Yeh, but yah risk a drunk driving if you stray that far.”

“Well, there’s no use dealing with ‘em if you’re not loaded.”


There came a point, around Christmas, when I felt the desperate loneliness of a neglected woman of less than mediocre appearance might take mercy on me, but my downfall began with a gal around 35 in a club with a band and a female singer belting out a jazzy score. Marshak watched me approach her as she sat alone at a table a few rows down. I was just drunk enough to be brave and perhaps entertaining. I hovered over her, a lanky woman with short hair and sharp features that were not quite offensive. She peered up at me, her fingers around a martini glass. She wore baggy slacks and a sleeveless sweater and large dangling earrings.

“Can I buy you a drink?” I ventured.

“I’m fine.”

“Can I sit down?”

She appraised me up and down in my too machine dried chinos, ancient polo shirt and Army low-quarters. I suppose I needed a haircut. She sighed. “All right.” She wasn’t exactly excited as she lit up a menthol cigarette. I sat down.

“So…I’m Dell.”

She shook my clammy hand like a man. “I’m Florence.”

“I have an aunt named Florence. We call her Fluddy.”

“Oh how nice.” She seemed to smirk.

“Her kids are my cousins, perfect little gentlemen going into dad’s business, married, hatching beasties.”

“And you don’t approve?”

I shrugged as the cocktail waitress took my order—VO rocks—and hers—a martini—and said, “I’m on a different path.”

“And what path is that?”

I told her of my plan to thumb around the country and work at odd jobs after an Army hitch, told her I wanted to ‘walk around the world eating an orange.’ When she asked me what I did, I told her, and asked her what she did, and she told me she was an executive secretary. I asked her what the difference was between a regular secretary and an executive secretary and she leered at me like a lizard and said, “I’m in charge of everybody and everything.”

Somehow, when the drinks came and I paid, I told her of my desire to write. She wanted to know if I’d been in Vietnam. When I told her no, she said, “You’re trying SO hard to be interesting, so you can impress me, so you can get in my pants. You want to be different, but you’re trying too hard on that front, too. I want to be out front in informing you, you have absolutely nothing to offer me in any way—not as good company, not as a future companion, and least of all as somebody I’d fuck. You are so wrapped up in your pathetic little ego, and you’re really not going to be any good for any woman until you come to terms with that. So please go away, little boy, and thank you for the drink.”

I felt like belting her, but that was not in my arsenal. I was too shattered and stricken to rejoinder and skulked back to sit beside Marshak, who seemed to be gloating.

“How’d it go, lover-boy?”

“That rotten hard-hearted bitch stripped me bare, Marshak. She went for my balls.”

“Looks like she got ‘em.”


We decided to stay out of what were considered “pick-up mills” and “hot clubs” and frequent a slew of low-life dives around the corner on notorious Anaheim Street, the armpit of Long Beach. We trekked over there together, so as not to get pummeled by territorial bar thugs; and in hope of scrounging up shop-worn women so sleazy and neglected and blindly alcoholic they might fuck one of us while in the throes of a blackout stage.

We tried talking to these women. Marshak even lit their cigarettes with his Zippo. But they were attached to and preferred their middle-aged counter-parts, who, in tandem with the termagents, tongue-lashed us with bitter scorn, accused us of being nothings and lower than the lowest form of life, and threatened us while teetering in place. We gave up after a month of hitting at least 15 bars—and scaring up nary a nibble.

On Christmas Eve we struck out in the friendliest lounge in Lakewood, garnering only free drinks from an older couple who felt sorry for us. On New Year’s Eve it was worse, and as we drunkenly weaved along PCH toward the Hull around midnight, a svelte Japanese lady in a skin-tight dress and a buxom blond grabbed us and pulled us into a hot sweaty well-lit room of about fifty people listening to and hooting and wailing as a big blond German man around 40 ranted and raved on a stage. The throng immediately embraced us as potential converts, as it took us only a matter of seconds to realize he was a Jehovah’s Witness and these women took one peep at us and felt we needed Jesus more than we needed a piece of ass, and that the best way to get us to buy into Jesus was luring us in with the promise of a piece of ass.

They soon abandoned us and as we started to leave, the big German turned on us, called us “fish-eyed sinners and weaklings who would never find happiness OR a woman until we found Jesus!” The fucker was huge and turned red-faced and came unglued as he continued to berate us, waving his arms, nearly coming off the stage, and we scurried a few blocks to the Hull, where we found solace in our beers and the company of fellow losers who understood our abysmal plight and were happy to have us among them.


One Friday night I came home at 2 and Marshak was not there. I cracked open a beer and waited, and waited. Goddamn, the motherfucker finally got laid and one-upped me, the prick! I went to bed feeling I was the last man in America to get laid. How much more of this could I take? In the morning, as I nursed my coffee and the LA Times, Marshak shambled in. He tried not to gloat, but he was pretty smug.

“Well…?” I said anxiously as he took his sweet time getting coffee and lighting up a non-filtered Pall Mall.

“I was sitting in that moldy diner, down the highway, near Norm’s, around two thirty, just eating a damn donut, and this black hooker is at the other end, in a booth, staring at me. She’s fine. I watched her walk in, and she had an ass to die for, and pretty, but hard. She kept staring at me, and she smiled. Well, I didn’t have any money, so I just sat there, and she comes over, stands there, and she says, ‘White boy, you look like the loneliest, horniest honky motherfucker in America.’ Well, I told her I was. She said she’d fuck my brains out, all night, for twenty bucks. I told her I only had five, which was the truth. And she said, okay, you can pay me later, and she said she was sick of doing Johns and wanted to have a really great fuck with a guy who needed it and didn’t seem like a degenerate criminal or pervert. She said she looked at me and knew I was educated and intelligent and civilized. And she took me to her room, and it was a pretty nice room down the road, and man, she fucked me all goddamn night! She was clean and beautiful and the best fuck I’ve ever had. She sucked my dick and I ate her pussy and got off four times! Can you believe it? An angel of mercy. I’m changed, man, re-charged. As of this minute, I’m a new man!”

CULTURE.GETTING LAID IINow I HAD to get laid! That night I ranged far and wide, driving my croaking old wagon, sizing up bars, going in, sizing up the wenches, knowing immediately there was no chance, especially in busy bars in a trendy area—Belmont Shores—where the hippies mingled with the affluent. I knew now the odds of any of these places serving up a woman for me were about one percent. I finally ended up in a shabby bowling alley in Torrance. It had a small bar with a crowd similar to the Hull’s. A woman who was frowzy, around 45, with headband, and coal-black hair and a pocked complexion, was excoriating a white dude with a bulbous red nose. She could chew ass. She seemed as embattled and sad and bitter as any human I’d come in contact with yet. She finally drove off the red nose and I plunked down beside her. She reeked of alcohol. She sneered at me.

“Yah hate us Navahos, don’tcha, white trash loser, huh?”

“No,” I quickly said, and lit her cigarette with a bar match. “One of my best friends in the Army was an Indian named Dan Big Horse.”

“Big Horse, huh? He a Navaho?”

“Nah, he was Osage, from Oklahoma. We went on leave to Amsterdam together.” I didn’t tell her Big Horse, a dear friend, wanted to fight me or anybody after three beers, and was the toughest, most skilled fighter I’d ever known.

“Fuck Amsterdam!” the woman sneered.

I bought her a beer; we clinked bottles. She gazed at me, unfocused. “You wanna fuck me?” she said.

I nodded. “Yes I do.”

“Then let’s go, Mister Big Horse. We’ll see how big you are.”

She had a room in the seediest motel along PCH. We stripped. She had a decent body, except for her alcohol bloated stomach. She lay on her back and allowed me to paw and grovel. She began to thrash a bit as I rooted upon her, just drunk enough to not blow my wad too quickly, a preparation I always implemented when I went to hookers in the Army, so I’d last longer, always pissing them off and keeping them from making more money on other GIs. She began to berate me as she thrashed, calling me a stupid fucking asshole Osage piece of shit, urging me to finish, yelling at me to finish, but I kept right on ramming and pumping for all my life, until she literally bucked three times, scratched my back, screamed, and passed out.

I shot my stuff into a snoring mass of flesh, tried to get up and go to the shower, but passed out and woke up around dawn to the sounds of the lady puking in the john. With a head swollen like a melon dropped from a roof, I dressed; my body and clothes steeped in her sweat, booze and cheap perfume, and drove home in my heap. I was reading the Sunday paper and drinking coffee when Marshak, smudged with sleep, entered the kitchenette.

“Well…?” he said, sitting down, lighting up, pouring coffee.

“I got laid, Marshak.”

“How was it?”


“Who was she?”

“Navaho woman—former tribal beauty queen, an angel of mercy.”

“Where’d you meet her?”

“A bowling alley in Torrance.”

“A bowling alley? Jesus Christ, what a desperate bastard.”

It was nearing April. I decided to leave my stop-gap job with dad and get the hell out of this miserable existence and spread my wings and head north, to Lake Tahoe, and secure a job in a casino behind the bar, where I’d have the inside track in picking up beautiful cocktail waitresses and female employees, whom I’d heard were the cream of the crop. §

Dell Franklin is the founding publisher of The Rogue Voice and writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where getting laid happens almost every day.





Embrace the shining sea

CITY LIFE.COPS.SMILEY FACEEditor’s Note: In the wake of several instances of police brutality and the militarization of law enforcement in the U.S., as reported in the news recently, we decided to revisit Steven Bird’s essay about brutality of a similar sort here on the Central Coast, this from our own Morro Bay Police Department. Abusive police actions are not just a big city problem. This essay originally appeared in the July, 2008, print edition of The Rogue Voice.

By Steven Bird

You can’t see the open ocean from inside the harbor behind the windblown peninsula of sand dunes. You don’t see it until you’re already making way into the humping turbulence of the bar at the harbor entrance — between the rock jetties — and there it is, the shining sea spread like eternity opened to receive you. You head her into the swell both hands tight on the tiller surrendering your connections to dense land, afloat, at the mercy of the sparkling vicious loving void, indefinite rhythms, foam, angles of sun…yet all seems secretly well. And perhaps this is how we are received in death. Or maybe, the way we enter into living. Ah well. There it is.

The boat rocks gently, tied against the north T-pier.

Take care of the boat and the boat’ll take care of you. Been fishing hard all week and, well, stink accumulates — soon as I’m done cleaning the boat and squaring the gear away for the next go-round I’m out of here. 8:30 already. Hate to say it but my ass is dragging. Would’ve been done an hour ago except for the four Fish and Game cops waiting over at the receiver dock when I unloaded my fish. They’re checking every day lately. More of them than there are fishermen, really. You barely have time to fish you’re so busy being boarded and checked out — Coast Guard, Fish and Game, Homeland Defense, MPA cops…as if commercial fishing, regardless how innocuous the method, is somehow a nefarious activity…and these guys aren’t your old-fashion, pipe-smoking, friendly ranger game wardens in green Smokey Bear suits. Nossir. They’re the new breed: slit-lipped, stone-faced, black and blue S.W.A.T. uniforms, pants tucked into their boots, guns that look like Uzzis, radios, belts, bulletproof vests…all business. Held me up for an hour while they checked the fish, the boat, my paperwork…just like they did yesterday, and the day before that. Oh, I know their names; they know mine, they’ve talked to me a hundred times but always act like they never saw me before, demanding to see the same paperwork…I guess it’s a way to create jobs. But it smells like warfare. I don’t know who’s really behind it, or what it’s for, but it feels like I’m going down, no question.

‘My pickup truck is well used and unavoidably rusty, the bed filled with fishing junk, and I know this makes me a target for the cops who profile scruffy characters driving older vehicles.’

A chill breeze courses from the northwest; flags on the moored boats snap in full salute.

The Harbor Folly cruises by, a fake riverboat, artificial stem wheel churning the oily bay. Tourists sipping wine on the top deck, realizing that this is no tropical cruise, pull sweaters over their Hawaiian shirts. I bet they wish they’d worn long pants. (Utopian Cali is a land of denial and delusions. Weather Denial is a tradition. And a favorite delusion is that coastal California has a climate similar to Hawaii.) The usual crowd strolls the pier and embarcadero, mostly apple-shaped women from Fresno and Bakersfield, laconic husbands in tow. A local mermaid wiggles through the pokey couples, a different species, almost. Just folks enjoying themselves ordered and behaved.

You don’t see people raising hell in this town. People come here to fuck in the motels and dawdle through the bayside shops—you know, the usual beach town tourist stuff. It’s 8:45 p.m., I’m just about finished with the boat.

A patrol car slides down the embarcadero. Up on the pier a fat kid sporting a black T-shirt advertising MEGADEATH throws French fries into an agitated mob of seagulls. Another squad car slips by the kite shop at the entrance to the pier.

Nine o’clock straight up, and the cops are getting busy…looks like the town’s entire fleet of patrol cars swarming the waterfront street, cruising like bat rays, chrome flashing shifting shapes. I wonder what’s going down.

The atmosphere distorts the light coming into the world—the dying red sun flattens against the seaward dunes beyond the harbor. Gulls call from a purple sky, lift on the hysterical breeze, heads tilting, alert for scraps.

I have to drive through the dragnet to get home. Though legally operative, my pickup truck is well used and unavoidably rusty, the bed filled with fishing junk, and I know this makes me a target for the cops who profile scruffy characters driving older vehicles. I’m extra cautious, don’t want to give them the slightest excuse—I pull up to the one stop sign I have to get through on my way out of the kill zone, and stop, while signaling a left turn.

A patrol car pulls up to the stop facing me. Another unit pulls up behind me.

The farthest thing from my mind is the idea of running the stop sign. Only a moron would run the stop with the cops right there watching. I know that there is a three-second interval that one must be stopped for. I give it a five-count just to be sure. Light a smoke—and okay, here we go—put the rig in gear and proceed through, around the corner and up the hill leading away from the bay—

God I am hungry

The unit facing me at the stop lights up and comes after me. The cruiser behind me lights up too, swerves by in full-tilt pursuit of somebody else while I pull over to the curb.

The searchlight trained on the rear window lights up the cab bright as an operating room. I roll the window down….

‘The cop rips at me like a jackal trying to extract a turtle from its shell.’

“Good evening sir, see your license and registration please.”

Young guy, shaved head, seems friendly, “perky” you might say—he leans in close, sniffing while I hand him my license and insurance proof. “Sir have you had anything to drink tonight?”

“I don’t drink. Just got off my boat from fishing—and, ah, by the way, uh, what’d you stop me for?”

He stiffens, “Sir you ran that stop back there.” He pins me with his eyes making sure I’m on the hook, turns and marches back to his car with my papers to check for warrants. While he’s back there he writes me a ticket for running the stop—

He hands it too me, wants me to sign it—“Waitaminit! You and I both know I didn’t run that stop sign…I know you’re fishing for drunks and need an excuse to make the stop, I’m cool with that…you can see I haven’t been drinking…so why do you have to write me a bogus ticket, anyway?”

He counters, presents an inarguable logic—“I stopped a guy going 100 miles an hour last night. How would you like it if I hadn’t got him off the road…?”

I can’t stop myself—“What has that got to do with our situation? And you lying?” I hear myself saying, trying to remain pragmatic, and believing I will prevail because Truth is on my side.

“You don’t like the police…do you? I think you have a problem with the police,” he tells me. His hand in the window frame squeezing the top of my door is tight and wary and ready to spring.

“No,” I say, “I don’t have a problem with the police. But I do have a problem with you abusing your function as a civil servant.

One hand clenches, unclenches, close to his gun.

I’ve heard stories recently about a cop in town who entertains a fondness for squirting his mace can in folk’s faces at the slightest perceived provocation…. In addition to hungry, dirty, tired, on another level I’m feeling profiled, disenfranchised, disappointed, disrespected, desperate, mad and about to go off like a fuck you machine gun and martyr myself for the cause.

My family, my friends, they probably wouldn’t want me to martyr myself…their mournful angelic faces attend me.

But the inertia of events is too compelling, too intriguing, too exhilarating, I have broken free of my mooring—“This is bullshit.” And I can’t stop the emphasis—“Fuck you. I’m not signin’ this.”

“ALLRIGHT SIR GET OUT OF THE VEHICLE!” He yells at me taking a step back releasing the safety snap on his holster.

“I don’t think so,” I say, holding the ticket book out the window, blithely opening my fingers—it hits the pavement with a sad rustling sound. I don’t know what I plan to do now….

He charges the door—it’s locked, but the window’s rolled down—he can’t get the door open so he reaches through the window, grabs me and he’s trying to rip me out of the truck through the window—I resist, struggle, kick the ashtray out of the dashboard—he’s got his arm around my throat trying to pull my head and shoulders through, bending me while twisting my head, he’s trying to break my neck—I’m holding on to the door frame—he frees one hand to pull something from a holder on his service belt—

At pointblank range a cool mist wets my face, eyes, mouth, soothing, like rain, or a gentle friend applying a healing unguent—something explodes—an agonizing red curtain falls—a molten death mask clings to my face—my face is burning—the cop rips at me like a jackal trying to extract a turtle from its shell—the nice hooded sweatshirt Ariel gave me for Christmas catches on something, tears open—the ridges along my spine saw against the window frame on the ride through—I hook my knees over the door—he jerks harder—I straighten my legs, come loose right when he jerks—he loses his balance, stumbles backwards and we go down on the pavement together. We lay in odd juxtaposition. I’m blind. He’s got me in a choke hold. His heart’s pounding against my back. H’e’s afraid. Relax…he’s tensing…here comes the flip…the pavement…. He is wheezing with fear—his knee grinding into the center of my back—furious fingers dig the back of my headhe’s forcing my face into the asphalt…merciless gravel teeth of blacktop…. The pavement under my face tastes warm, wet, salty.

Lights. Peripheral RED WHITE BLUE flashes, doors opening, metal jangling, radios, shouts, shoes scraping—sounds like two units…must be four cops…here they come…the boots—my buddy already has my top half covered, they work on what’s exposed—feet, legs, knees, thighs, lower ribs, they keep kicking me in the kidneys—there is a curious rhythm to the kicking, the guys are in sync—one cop chanting….

ASSHOLE ASSHOLE ASSHOLE…A couple of the other cops take up the chant, they’ve got the rhythm going—kicking and chanting—and it’s going down. The kicks produce a numbness, I feel the weight of the boots’ impacts but not the pain, and 0 that there would be pain to shield me from this sickness of heart, this raging and howling desolation of spirit more terrifying than pain—I pray—I pray…0 God…help me…help me make it through the kicking…if l can just make it through the kicking…if I can just make it through…0 God where is the thundering iron shield of your love…?

The cop on my back yells “GIVE ME YOUR ARM!” He’s got a hold of it, I don’t feel myself resisting, but that is not enough, he wants me to give it to him while he is in the process of trying to twist it off—a flurry of kicks comes hard and fast—the rhythm again….

They bend my arms to an impossible angle and put the cuffs on. Now the cop sitting on me starts yelling, “GET UP! SIR?…GET UP! SIR?…YOU GONNA GET UP MOTHERFUCKER…?” But he’s sitting on me. I can’t respond. His body turns to stone…he throws an astounding punch to the side of my head—I can’t protect my ear from the blow—the watery burst inside my head heralds a vision of verdant fields of changing shapes…like flowers within flowers, within flowers…there is a faint buzz…a bee…a bee coming to pollinate the flowers…the volume increases to a despairing roar setting the synaptic flowers atremble in the forlorn gardens.

I regain consciousness down at county. I’m alive. Somebody is trying to take my thumb print, but I can’t make my body work to do what the moving mouth is requesting. Moving Mouth punches me in the face—the cops pile on me—must be three or four cops—they’re hitting each other in the frenzy to get me—the souls have vacated their flesh—their eyes glisten, fierce, delighted—0 sorrow of their eyes—couple of detectives come running from their desks—savage smiles—they get their licks in—shirts and ties mixed with the uniforms—they break something—I hear laughter—something inside of me is broken—I don’t feel it like regular pain.

They throw me in a small concrete holding cell.

I lay on the rigid floor in the void gray cell. A subtle vibration resonates through the concrete. Machinery throbs somewhere. The walls and ceiling are the color of fog. The floor is the same gun barrel blue as the sea after a storm. I like the cool floor, let it receive my watery cheek. My swollen eyes shed a continuous flow of tears from the mace. I sight down the silver rivulet beginning to form a lonely stream flowing away from my face seeking a path of least resistance, this way, that way, as nuances of concrete surface dictate, until the tear stream becomes lost in the shining expanse. There are no walls, no edges, only clean distance. Light comes from all angles. The surface shimmers, turned to water. Ocean of serenity, joyous sun, I commit myself to you. I embrace the shining sea surrendering. I head my boat into the wind and swell. §

Steven Bird writes from his home in Morro Bay where he can avoid the clutches of rogue cops.