0 ACT I: “May you live in interesting times.” -A curse disguised as a proverb 1 WEEK ONE: Here in England, the media is awash with reports on the recent flooding, which has made what was just a gloomy summer a whole lot worse for many thousands of people. Think houses under 3 feet of sewage-infected floodwater. The floods came just as a study revealed the first firm evidence for the hand of global warming in changing rainfall patterns. By definition, no single weather event can be attributed to climate change. But there's widespread agreement that at the mid-latitudes where England sits, it's going to get wetter on average – a warmer world means more evaporation. It's also thought the intensity of storms will increase. -newscientist.com It was a minor enough incident, really. But then again, that‟s what Lina got for having a predilection for younger men. Aaron, at 23 years old and as many years her junior, couldn‟t be anything but boy-toy material. However, it wasn‟t like Lina didn‟t know that. No amount of honey-blond highlights and spin classes on her part could change this simple truth. And who else would put up with her two carpet-pissing Chihuahuas but someone else on her leash? And at this moment, Aaron had had enough. It wasn‟t enough that he had to service this increasingly disgusting older woman, but to suffer the final humiliation of having one of her little pups piss on his I-pod Nano, which he promptly (and intentionally) wiped off with her way-too-young-for-her top lying on the floor…a man‟s gotta have his limits. And to which that bitch had the nerve to scold 2 him, never mind that she‟d been the one to buy the Nano in the first place. ------------------------------------------------------------- Across town, a morning news anchorman was in the beginning stages of an existential dilemma, unable to shoulder the ignorantly blissful cocoon he was engulfed in. Deaths in Iraq? That wasn‟t news, that was same old same old. Lindsay Lohan violating probation plus cocaine? Now, that was some serious morning programming fodder. The increasing gulf between the haves and the have-nots? Why should he care? Steven Jung, six feet tall, a 33 year old product of an American dad and Japanese mother, was a have- a handsome Asian-American on the move up the ladder of success. It made news directors feel good, hiring him and diluting the snow-whiteness of their on-air talent. It was also essential to deflect any racial criticism. Yes sir, he was making the whole minority thing work for him, if not for anyone else. But even though he wasn‟t quite yet at the caring point, he was at the gate of awareness. It wasn‟t a gate he had approached on his own. On the contrary, he‟d done everything in his power to walk blindly past it every time. But things were different now. Steven Jung had a new woman in his life. And this one 3 demanded changes. And isn‟t that what women did? Found a guy they fancied and promptly proceeded to change him? At least much as they could, case in point being Steven‟s recent sale of his oversize Lincoln Navigator (which he did no real navigating in) and acquisition of a Toyota Prius hybrid. ---------------------------------------------------------------- Raw loved the environment. He had to. Being a black man with a name like Raw and with his long dreads, it wasn‟t like corporate America was beating down the doors to get him onboard. He‟d moved out west to Cali to get away from the faded and degraded grayscale of the grime-coated East coast, beat up from centuries of unchecked environmental raping and pillaging. He couldn‟t understand the rampant waste occurring around him. Nothing set him off more than seeing someone go to a fast food restaurant and ordering a 99 cent order of fries and walking out with a container for them, paper bag, napkins and multiple ketchup packets- most of it never getting used before disposal. Then there were people going to grocery stores, walking out with five plastic bags for practically as many items- bags that would take hundreds of years to decompose. Then there was the Starbucks patron with not one, but two paper cups and a corrugated paper sleeve to protect their weak little hands….going to offices that were absurdly so A/C heavy in the 4 summer they would give you a cold, and make you sweat in the winter. He just couldn‟t see how all this could be permitted. There was no way he could participate in all this behavior that would condition most to suffocate on their own debris. He disgustedly looked at a weak resolution approved by the City Board in an article in the paper, one he‟d been fervently following: “The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a plan that asks large grocers to lower the number of the bags used over the next five years with the intention of dramatically reducing the number of plastic grocery bags reaching landfills or littering streets”. Asked? To Raw, the time for asking was over. With the intention? All that did was pave the highways replacing the road to hell. It was obvious. Token gestures as empty as their minimal effect. All this useless, and oh-so-ever unnecessary, waste just had to spell disaster. He had seven simple tenets he followed: 1. Take the stairs whenever possible. 2. Avoid heating and A/C. 99.9% of it‟s unnecessary. 3. Grow or find your own food. 5 4. Travel by bike, skateboard or mass transit. 5. Never drink bottled water. 6. Take care of your teeth. You will need them to tear and chew unprocessed foods. And last, but not least: 7. Take care of your body. Be physically and mentally prepared for the revolution when it comes…and it will. So he was what some might call homeless. But then again, how could Raw be homeless when he considered the whole Earth his home? He was free to, and did, wander wherever the hell he wanted to. On the contrary, he had way more homes than most people on this big blue ball. It‟s just that his weren‟t confined to man-made constraints such as ceilings and walls. Yes, he took care of his health nowadays too. But even that hadn‟t been enough when he first cleaned up his previously hard- partying act. As if sobriety and a good attitude was enough. He‟d thought that though. That is, until… The most soul-crushing moment had to be when he‟d wake up in that good mood. And so he would go out in the world, dizzy with fresh potential. Except nobody would respond to it or care. In other words, they just didn‟t give a fuck. Raw would then 6 swallow that good mood, and it would turn bitter before turning to acid, acid that ate away at him piece by piece until there was nothing left of him. And it was at that moment he opted to opt out of society- the whole nine to five illusion. Fuck that blinding white light and noise. And perhaps the man on the street would look at Raw and think him crazy, but Raw knew otherwise. He would look at them, thinking to himself of these others, “There‟s crazy…and then there‟s professional crazy. Crazy is the homeless man who wets his pants at the bus stop. Professional crazy is the rich man who spends a country into the ground.” Raw was neither of these, stuck ripe and rampant with that lovely lil‟ thing called crazy. It was becoming a time when men could no longer walk around looking like a Gap ad, escape into ESPN, or do drugs for recreation as opposed to sheer escape. No, these self-indulgent and self-destructive impulses were rapidly becoming frivolous relics of the old order. Looking good and feeling good could no longer be bought or sold, exposing the gaping nothing now brought to the fore. --------------------------------------------------------------- 7 Aaron was late. Not late to work or anything pressingly real and urgent like that, but late to the Griddle Café on the corner of Sunset and Fairfax on a Tuesday morning. He was working on a script with an “associate”. This was going to be the vehicle to transport him and his temporary life to somewhere much bigger and permanently grander. This would put him on the map, because once you‟re on the map, people can now find you and things can now happen. Plus, the breakfasts at the Griddle were quite simply the best- whether it was the oversize buckwheat pancakes or the fresh-roasted individual coffee press-urns in front of you at your table. Aaron peered in at the weekday crowd. Were a visitor from out of town to do the same, he or she would promptly assume that nobody under the age of 30 seemed to have a job in this town. “Sorry I‟m late.” Aaron spun around and smiled. It was Jalila, his screenwriting partner, a lithe Persian beauty with startling turquoise eyes, and a tight t-shirt that said “Property of Betty Ford Clinic” creeping up past her midriff, exposing a sapphire piercing in her navel that matched her iridescent eyes. If anything, she‟d be the one selling their script with her exotic allure. Aaron visually took in all that was her, she being that 8 rare specimen that could eradicate any racism from the biggest Middle-East mistrusting, “sand-nigger”-hating, ignorant American via her sheer beauty. Surely any place that produces such pure beauty cannot be all bad. “I already put my name in for a table.” “Awesome. What‟d you do last night?” And one thing Aaron didn‟t, and never would, tell her was not what, but who, he was doing the previous evening. For to tell Jalila would be to let her know his desperately foolish young self had been with an older woman, as if that would somehow rub off and infect Jalila. Most nights he usually managed to get away from his sugar mama, but Monday night was “date night”, cherished by Lina as much as it was dreaded by Aaron. However, this was the night that he really paid his rent at her Beverlywood house. But lately even turning tricks on Santa Monica Boulevard sounded good compared to the old delusional bat. He was beginning to feel like John McCain in a Vietcong prison…trapped in a world he never made. “It‟s Sara‟s thirtieth birthday party on the the thirtieth…going to be at Spaceland” said Jalila. “Who‟s playing?” 9 And it mattered not a whit, actually. The music was secondary, fleeting and prone to fads such as the current psychedelic country scene running rampant in Silverlake, anything to randomly mix and mash up done-to-death genres. However, somebody‟s 30th birthday meant something entirely exciting, an exaggerated ode to youthful hedonism from the party girl to prove her still-existing vitality and all that entailed: drug use, binge drinking and the big payoff- promiscuous sex. Aaron was in. “I forgot their name, but they sound like a cross between Abba and Black Sabbath.” Aaron groaned. That was so retro resurgence 1999 mixed with retro resurgence 2002. Jalila continued, “They sound like both, but not really either one.” “Then how do they…” “I don‟t know. They just sound like what it would be if…” “How‟s the synopsis going?” Aaron cut in. She had exceeded his limited attention span. “If only my mom could hurry up and die”, thought Aaron, “All the rich Jews in this town and I gotta be one of the poor ones.” He knew she 10 was the only thing standing in the way of himself inheriting some serious cash. Lina offered free food and boarding, but at what cost? The way things were going, he‟d have to start his own goddamn Chabad telethon. At least with this one, he‟d know exactly where the money was going and what he‟d use it for. Slums of Beverly Hills, indeed. “And to think…” thought Aaron, “…I have to get a job before she helps me out.” This seemed absurd to this pretty-boy. How could he get a job right now? He was an artist. He needed time to create, and thirty wasn‟t too far off for him. If anything, his free time was at a premium now. In his mind, he was a sculptor- a sculptor of ideas and concepts. He, along with Jalila‟s assistance (and looks), was creating a script that would make him a force to reckon with in this town. They‟d see. He was the visionary and Jalila his fine gal Friday. “Matter of fact, she‟s lucky to be getting half” thought he. Never mind that they both hadn‟t made dime one yet. He knew without dreams this town couldn‟t exist. Dreams were the fuel that drove it. Without dreams, L.A. would run out of fuel, dry up and blow away back into the desert whence it came (and where it would surely return). “Hey, check this out.” 11 Aaron headed over to the sidewalk newspaper machine, where Jalila was studying a front page article. “Wow, looks like they‟re having massive flooding in England.” “Anybody die?” “No…um, it doesn‟t say.” “And that‟s important because…”, said Aaron, looking over at the seating wait line, quickly switching mental gears, “Probably gonna be about another ten minutes, unless those assholes milking their coffee at that booth clear outta here soon.” “So what do you think about that, Aaron?” said Jalila, oblivious to his internal seating monologue. And then he switched back, “Jalila, what good are natural disasters without fatalities? That one supermodel chick who held onto a tree in Thailand while her photographer boyfriend got swept away by the tsunami? See, that there was some Access Hollywood material…I mean, there was even a part two to that story when she ended up going out with that singer dude who wrote that annoying „You‟re Beautiful‟ song”. “James Blunt.” 12 “Yeah, that loser…the one with that…song.” Yes, that song-one which instantly became the anthem of Starbucks background music nationwide. But disasters minus fatalities? That was so boringly real. “Where‟s the conflict in that?” wondered Aaron‟s internal heavy mental gears. --------------------------------------------------------------- She‟d gotten him on the yoga. Bikram- just a fancy name for hot. As the sweat poured out of Steven in the room heated to 105 degrees, he began to achieve a mild state of spiritual clarity. As the class said their final namaste, Steven filed into the small men‟s dressing room of this particular Atwater Village studio. The only thing separating it from the front room where the check-in desk sat (and everybody congregated and crowded) was a thin little curtain. It was almost designed to give a peep show every time a guy parted it to get in or out of the dressing room. Steven noticed there was no shortage of willing males to purposely strip and stand facing that curtain, just waiting for their moment in the exhibitionist limelight…hey ladies, check out my unit! Had Steven been more ruthless (like a certain female co-anchor of his) he could easily “expose” this den of inequity and potential sex criminals on a “Focus on Five” 13 segment. All he‟d have to do was have a little girl stand in front of the curtain, wait for the inevitable to happen when the curtain parted, and voila...instant sex predator! At least that‟s what his unscrupulous coworker would do. And as they all knew at Channel Five, nothing boosted the ratings like sex predators, and when you threw in the pedophile angle…”did you know there were sex criminals in your local yoga studio?”- pure ratings gold! But Steven had bigger concerns. He couldn‟t stop reading lately. There were so many things he‟d been blind to. So much to catch up on, so little time. Why, the Kyoto Treaty he‟d briefly read about off the teleprompter months back was now something he understood. Commondreams.com, KPFK.org, Crooksandliars.com…all those online alternative news sources and blogs he‟d previously been oblivious to before…no longer an unknown entity. For God‟s sakes, there really was an alternative media! And to think, all he had actually relied on before was Associated Press feeds, Katie Couric and CNN for his news before. He‟d been way in the darkest back of the cave for oh-so long, only now making his way toward the light. Kyoto Protocol? It wasn‟t a question if his very own national government had been negligent on that (and many other things), but for how long. 14 “Steven, what‟s with the hair?” Steven looked up from his copy (yet another story about sex offenders in the neighborhood) to address his previously mentioned co-worker and fellow anchor, Maria Contreras-Cohen, her hyphenated surnames doing battle with each other for ethnic dominance. Polished to a high sheen she was: her magnificently colored and coiffed hair with the classy (not cheap and trashy) red highlights framed a flawless complexion (courtesy of the very best a face-peel could offer) atop her bikram-yoga toned body, swanky in the finest Oscar De La Renta could muster. It had always cracked him up to see how she‟d always taken great pains to enunciate the rolling r‟s of her previous, and now middle, surname. She was not as much proud of her heritage as she was, much like Steven, banking on her ethnic status. However, the majority of Los Angeles now being Hispanic, her ethnicity carried more cache than Steven‟s. She was one better than having dual citizenship, she had dual marketability. If things got too rough with her particular network affiliate, she could always bail ship to the Latin market and not even have to leave town. Just get Telemundo on the horn. As far as she was concerned, if anyone had to mind their p‟s and q‟s, it was Steven. 15 Yet, her enunciation quickly dropped once she married a certain Saul Cohen, the fabulously wealthy media magnate whose wealth made her job suddenly seem like a hobby. Ms. C-C had it all now: the mansion in Bel Air, the ever-so-LA mixed marriage smothered in stock, stock, and more stock. The lush hedges in her front yard were beautiful, but they were scraggly tumbleweeds compared to Saul‟s hedge funds. So, as she became Ms. Cohen, Maria made pains to retain her old surname as well, hyphenating it in front of Cohen. Really now…she wasn‟t about to lose her “street cred”. But she had other things to deal with right now, like the co-anchor next to her making her look bad. “Honestly, Steven, get a haircut. Go see Ronald, my guy, this afternoon or something. He‟ll fit you in.” “Oh, I‟m growing it out a bit.” “C‟mon, really now, Steven.” “I am!” “But the newscast…” “What are you saying, Maria? I won‟t be able to report the news just because my hair is longer?” The queen of compromise (but certainly not shy of confrontation either) shot back, “No, you just won‟t be able to 16 report the news anymore. I mean, Steven…tell me one reporter working in a major market, hell, any affiliate- who‟s got long hair.” “Geraldo Rivera.” “Yeah, like circa 1975. Besides, back then he was a field reporter, not an anchor. Probably high as a kite too. That OK with you too?” “Not everybody was, Maria. Did you know he used to be friends with John Lennon?” “Right, Steven. No drug use going on in that friendship, huh? I‟m sure they had all the drug-free fun in the world back in the early „70‟s.” Maria rolled her eyes and shuffled her copy. Where was he going with this sudden appearance shift? Was he high right now? Steven shot back, “And look where Geraldo is now? Fox News!” “And you obviously feel the need to point this out to me.” “C‟mon, you don‟t see the inherent irony and hypocrisy in that?” “He‟s still a reporter, right?” 17 “There‟s something going on, and you don‟t know what it is, do you, Miss Contreras-Cohen?” “Where‟d you get that from? I‟ve heard that somewhere before. You did not just make that up, Steven.” “I know. Bob Dylan said it.” “You‟re right on that one, because he sure as hell can‟t sing. God, I can‟t stand him! That voice!” “Only one of a generation.” “Yeah, your parents‟”. “You just don‟t get it.” Maria smoothed out her De La Renta dress and checked to see if her hair was still perfect. It almost was. Like her carefully-constructed existence, things did not need to be this difficult. Eyes trained on the teleprompter rolling copy, she spoke out of the side of her mouth. She‟d become quite good at that, at least enough to put any of the few working ventriloquists to shame: “Steven, maybe I don‟t, but speaking of “getting it”, you need to get the updated copy and live feed together on that 18 Lindsay Lohan story. We‟re leading off the five o‟clock with that story. Just toss it to Angie. Sixty seconds there and then she‟ll toss back to you. She‟ll be in the mobile unit out in Santa Monica at the scene.” “Scene of what?” “Um, the scene where the lovely Miss Lohan was arrested last night? Try to keep up here, Steven.” “So why do we need Angie there live? We all know what a car and a street look like.” And at this, Maria didn‟t get so much annoyed as nervous, nervous because her whole frame of reference at what was valid was not only being challenged, but threatened. Common sense and logic dictates that true awareness can be a deadly thing in times of none, especially for a local news reporter‟s future. ---------------------------------------------------------------- The thing that pissed people off the most about Raw was that he was so damned self-sufficient. He wasn‟t a beggar, crackhead or wino. People expected, almost wanted, to see their homeless people broke-down and dependent, not healthy and vibrant. Why, this bastard even had good hygiene! 19 And he could do whatever the hell he wanted: bike across the United States, tour with any jam band of his choice, march to Washington with Cindy Sheehan…it was all good in the hood, because his hood could be anywhere. But back to hygiene. Raw knew that was important, because after all- he liked sex. Not many cute females out there were down with getting with a homeless man. No girl, no matter how noble or forgiving, wanted to rummage in rubbish. And with all this talk about people being greener… well, hell- Raw had been green for some time now. It was just that now the world was catching up with him. All of a sudden he was in demand, especially with the ladies. The further the United States government hemmed and hawed in denial over the undeniably shifting climate, the more heroic Raw appeared. It was like being a NYFD firefighter the day after 9/11, every day of the week. “God bless George Bush” thought Raw. Every time he saw a sour-faced wage-slave slogging off to work, choking their way through smog to work more for less than ever, he realized just how fun things would start to get. There was no way things could continue this way. He was a pioneer and he could already sense it. All he had to do was open his eyes and his ears: from NPR to Pacifica radio, from MSNBC and CNN to Democracy Now and Common 20 Dreams…from Obama to Nader, from Chomsky and Zinn to…Marx. Previously without it soon became because of it. 21 WEEK TWO: A monsoon dropped 35 centimetres of rain in one day across many parts of South Asia this month. Germany had its wettest May on record, and April was the driest there in a century. Temperatures reached 45 degrees in Bulgaria last month and 32 degrees in Moscow in late May, shattering long-time records. The year still has almost five months to go, but it has already experienced a range of weather extremes that the UN‟s World Meteorological Organisation says is well outside the historical norm and is a precursor to much greater weather variability as global warming transforms the planet. -The Sydney Morning Herald It was going to be the revolution the film industry needed- a fresh start. The current state of cinema was played out. It was so simple it was genius. And Aaron had thought of it all on his lonesome one lonely afternoon, stuck with Lina‟s Chihuahuas. Their pained little faces, so full of expression, couldn‟t (and wouldn‟t) ever issue anything more than a series of annoying yelps. “Maybe they‟re trying to say something” thought Aaron in his current Vicodin-addled state. “Wonder what they‟re trying to say?” as the harpies on “The View” kvetched about anything the FCC allowed them to on Lina‟s plasma screen TV. And that‟s when brilliance struck from the dumbest of thoughts, the kind of brilliant lightning one must ride, for it will never come again in a lifetime. Aaron thought out loud, “Dogs…dogs.” 22 There it was- the concept, the title, and the title and the cast all in one. It would be a movie for, and about, dogs. The only thing the dogs couldn‟t do was finance it. And sure, dogs couldn‟t exactly go to a movie theater to see it, but their owners could buy and rent it (DVD sales!). Judging from the possessiveness over their pets Aaron had seen from owners, they would. Also, this would cut out the annoying theater distribution crap. Straight to DVD…straight to his pocket…straight to the bank. And it didn‟t have to end just there- the opportunities were limitless, so many genres to tap into: dog comedies, dog dramas, even “dogumentaries”. And sure, there‟d been many movies with, and even starring, dogs. Lassie, Rin-Tin-Tin, Benji, but they were all puppets working for the man. Bitches, if you will. These dogs had always shared the silver screen with at least one human or some annoying human narration. Aaron‟s artistic epiphany would have dogs communicating with each other just as they always have. Sometimes a butt sniff is worth a thousand words. Of course there would be a plot…even if it was dogs, there needed to be the key elements: suspense, action, violence…and yes, even love scenes. All that. 23 Daring to think even bigger, Aaron realized that this revelation could expand even further- cat movies, monkey movies, bird movies…it was limitless. And the best part as there was no dialogue to write…just the look on an animal‟s face- that was enough to melt or stop any human heart. The whole animal kingdom was at Aaron‟s command. He gladly wondered why over one hundred years of cinema could have passed without this almost criminal oversight, myopically confining itself to primarily one species. Aaron also wondered why he had even cut Jalila in on the deal. Fifty percent was quickly seeming way too much for her. He‟d have to change that. Actually, he already had in his mind. He just hadn‟t gotten around to telling her yet. In Los Angeles, people usually find things out, and are not directly told them. It is this avoidance of human discourse which greases the wheels of speculation, rumor and hype- elements basic and essential as carbon in Southern California. Still, she had the willingness and tenacity to turn the lofty to the tangible. That was one thing she had that Aaron didn‟t- a work ethic. “That‟s it!” blurted Jalila. “What‟s it?” 24 “Global warming!” “What about it?” “The plot!” “We don‟t have one yet.” “We do now.” “We do?” “Look, it‟s pretty hard to deny global warming nowadays, right?” “I guess so.” “Don‟t guess. Just listen.” Aaron looked at her. What was this crazy girl getting at? She continued, “Look, us humans are in a deep mess, and we got ourselves into it…and do you think we‟ll get ourselves out of it?” Aaron shrugged, almost chocking on the nonfat Latte outside the Coffee Bean on Santa Monica Boulevard they were sitting in front of. “Uhdunno.” “That‟s right, you might not…but the dogs do.” 25 “The dog doo?” “No! Think bigger than that!” “Bigger than dog shit?” “No! Try to keep up with me here, OK? Dogs are man‟s best friend, right?” “Woman‟s too!” blurted out Aaron, freshly bitter memories of his piss-soaked I-pod floating in his head. “And hasn‟t man…“Right, hasn‟t man…and woman pretty much always treated dogs better than any other animal…even better than humans sometimes?” “Sometimes?” “Alright, then. This is the dogs‟ chance to pay man back. Finally! Man‟s best friend truly steps up to the plate- and not the dinner kind this time- and saves mankind. After all, they‟re loyal.” “Jalila, don‟t bore us. Get to the chorus.” “OK, here it is. The dogs are the ones that save us from global warming. It‟s up to the dog to save man from himself this time around.” “Oh, my God.” 26 “What? You don‟t like it?” “Are you crazy? I love it! But it has to be a female dog that saves us.” “Because?” “Because I‟ve already got the tagline…payback is a bitch!” Jalila lit up like an LAPD cruiser after a drunk driver, “And if we make a sequel…” “What do you mean…if?” “We could call it „The Bitch is Back‟!” And at moments like this, are there any words to express such elation? Except at this moment, Aaron had a conflicting emotion- jealousy that Jalila had come up with the plot and not he, along with the realization that it would be even harder to cut her out of that half-split. Her idea was enough to make him almost feel guilty for beating the shit out of Lina‟s Chihuahuas every time she wasn‟t home (becoming increasingly rare). After all, it wasn‟t like they could speak and rat out who had committed the heinous crime of pissing on his I-pod. Coffee Bean just hadn‟t been the same this morning without it. But then again, soon enough he‟d make enough to never be without an I-pod for the rest of his life. 27 ---------------------------------------------------------------- Speaking of bitches, Steven Jung was higher than one right now. He did that a lot nowadays...get high. It was the only way to cope after, and increasingly before, work. After all, Visine did wonders. It wasn‟t like he had to think at work, or was a real reporter- just nod and say “yeah” when looking at some copy to give the illusion of collaboration and input. In the end, he just read off a teleprompter. He had learned all he needed to know for this job by the time he was in junior high. Anyway, the real news in Steven‟s life wasn‟t anything he read on the air. The real news was what he was discovering on a daily basis- starting to live his life for the first time. He was even going to Burning Man in a couple weeks. Before, the old Steven may have read a thirty second spot on it and judiciously tsk-tsk it, saving his faux-enthusiasm for the times he pretended to muster up some with the dimwitted sports guy when the home team won some game in some sport or another. Nowadays Steven was alive, never more so in his life. And he owed it all to the recent love of his life. He‟d been boiling alive and never known it until his princess had plucked this particular frog out of the pot. She wasn‟t the usual suspect either- some hot blonde that looked good on his arm and was just 28 with him because he was semi-famous. No, this woman of his knew the real Steven more than any lady he‟d ever been out with. She was and wasn‟t his type, all at the same time. She‟d been there the whole time- in front of his face for decades. Yet, there was one slight problem. She was his cousin. All of this went through Steven‟s head as he sped down the windy incline of Coldwater Canyon after spending the night with his cousin/girlfriend at his Sherman Oaks (neither valley nor LA) condo. This caused him to swerve slightly into the lane divider for a brief moment, causing him to snap out of his musings before getting quickly back into his lane. “Not good, Steven” he mumbled to himself. Seeing there was no other traffic around him, he drove on, talking to himself once more, “Oh well, no harm, no foul.” That is, until the moment he heard a loudly clipped electronic yelp, accompanied by the unmistakable visual mélange of red/blue lights working together in concert, albeit one that nobody ever wants to attend. From his years of experience as a field reporter, Steven knew the duration of sirens was an indication of whether it was a firetruck(long), ambulance (medium), or police cruiser (short). He also realized, as he 29 pulled over, that from the sounds of this siren it was too short to be a relatively benign firetruck or ambulance. “Oh shit…” said Steven between his bleached and gritted teeth as he looked in his rearview mirror. Even though Steven had his sack tucked away in the gas tank of his car, he was still worried. His girlfriend- an experienced weed smoker- had told him that was the one area the police almost never checked. She also had one of those ridiculously- easy-to-obtain medical marijuana cards so she personally wasn‟t too concerned about driving with weed- the same card obtained from one of those “medical pot” clinics filling the LA strip- mall landscape like frozen yogurt shops twenty years ago. Hell, they even had a vending machine on La Cienega Boulevard nowadays- albeit one with two armed guards. Steven, however, didn‟t want to do all that because he didn‟t want his name being on record at any of those DEA-traceable and FCC-combustible “mom n‟ pop” dope shops. The officer approached. The first thing Steven noticed was the nametag: LaBeouf. Should there be trouble for him, that‟d be the officer Steven would be suing along with the LAPD…Officer La-beef. And he looked like a la-beef, one that certainly hadn‟t been missing any meals (or drinks) lately. 30 La-beef approached the Prius as Steven lowered his window. “Good morning, Officer.” La-beef had no time for formalities, “License and registration, please”, saying the “please” as if it troubled him to do so. “Officer, can you tell me why you pulled me over?” La-beef groaned inside, “Damn, not another one of those detail freaks.” He hunkered down, “Sir, why do you think I pulled you over?” saying sir in the most de-humanizing tone possible. “I don‟t know, officer. I‟m not very good at guessing games. I wouldn‟t ask you if I knew why....sir.” And the way Steven said “sir” was designed to humiliate back. “Sir, your car was driving erratically.” Touche! The sir fight was on. “My car was driving erratically?” “Sir, you know what I meant.” “Just making sure who or what the problem is...sir.” 31 “Well, you almost…” “Almost what?” And if he hadn‟t decided to before, at that moment La-beef sniffed the air around Steve. “Sir, may I see your eyes?” Steven hedged for a second, thinking to himself, “The one time I don‟t use the goddamn Visine.” He reluctantly lifted his sunglasses. “Why are your eyes so red, sir?” Suddenly the sir‟s dried up in Steven. “I‟m tired.” “Work a lot?” “Don‟t most Americans?” La-beef didn‟t need to hear any liberal whining. All he knew was that he smelled weed, and this driver looked like an easy mark…too straight to know what he was doing while driving high- definitely not used to the drill. “Sir, I need to see your…” 32 And then all of a sudden it hit La-beef, “This is the news guy from channel five!” Thoughts of instant fame swirled into his meaty cerebellum. Celebrity busts were a dime a dozen. Actors and musicians? They were expected to fuck up. But a news anchor? This was a prime catch, but he‟d have to play it by the book to get this weasel. After all, they probably knew at least a little about the law after reading so many stories about it. “Mr. Jung, may I search your vehicle?” “Do you have probable cause…sir?” Here it was- the standoff. “Yes, I do. I smell marijuana.” Momentarily out of huff, all Steven could do now was bluff (and pray). He was in over his head. All he had now was bluster and blind faith. “Sure, officer.” And for the next half hour, La-beef radioed in Steven‟s information and searched the Prius. And then he searched some more. He searched every nook and cranny…except for just like Steven‟s cousin said: the gas tank was left alone. 33 With the smile of someone with a sure-win lawsuit, Steven drove away almost an hour later from the time that La-beef, he with the face red as, drove away. The only problem now was that Steven‟s buzz was totally gone, the drenching of fear wrung out by stress. But…it sure beat the hell out of jail. And he still had his weed. However, once Steven got to the multi-level parking lot of his Culver City upscale apartment complex, his sack of weed was nowhere to be found. He quickly called his cousin to see if she still had it, to which she replied: “Damn, you must be stoned. I saw you tuck it away”, said she to he, cell to cell. “Tucked away where?” “Um, next to where you put gas in the tank.” “Next to?” Suddenly Steven realized, right before she did. “Steven, you mean you…” “Shit!” “You‟re the one experienced at this, not me.” 34 She started laughing- a little at first…but quickly sliding into uncontrollable territory. Steven now had an eighth of an ounce of pot floating in his gas tank. “You better take your car in” said she after the laughter subsided. “I can‟t!” “What do you mean you can‟t?” “People know who I am in this town. I can‟t just go to Jiffy Lube and say, “Excuse me, sir. I have some sticky-icky I need fished outta my gas tank.” “Oh, relax! I have this friend- a totally cool mechanic who‟ll do it with no questions asked. Doesn‟t even have to know whose car it is.” And at that moment, Steven became a little wiser. He‟d bought that car to be green, but weed in the gas tank? That was just a little too much green. Even he had to laugh at that. ---------------------------------------------------------------- Everything Raw that had ever done before which got him into trouble was now giving him credibility. With each connected and 35 socialite groupie he acquired, the more well-known his name became and thus- the fledgling legend arose. He even had this independent film director dude, named Freddy or Teddy or something, said he was interested in “shadowing” Raw for a documentary. After all, who could resist someone bold enough to wear hand-emblazoned T-shirts that told it like it is, like “(non) Troop supporter”, and “Democrat plus Republican equals One Party”(and this was back in 2004!). Now, had someone put that as a bumper sticker on their vehicle, it surely would‟ve gotten trashed, but Raw was a vehicle of his own, highly transportable and mobile, thereby escaping the majority of the obstacles and hurdles most nine-to-fiver‟s face. Raw didn‟t have a job, he simply just survived. And at first it was enough. But soon, as just surviving become an increasingly fulltime job for more and more of the general population, it put Raw ahead of the pack in job experience. He thought locally in an era when all were expected to be diverted globally, while their own community crumbled under their feet. All that money being spent on overseas wars. Really- what could the common man do about it? How could he bring leaders to their knees? Impeachment? Niggah please! They‟d been threatening that all the way into the next presidency and the next… 36 Raw knew war was just a cyclical pattern, popping up every couple decades or so to generate profit for all the profiteers until public favor turned against it- but meanwhile they‟d squeeze out every dollar they could „til it could bleed no more- the public approval polls dipping into the single digits, this being the signal to retreat and loosen the screws for a decade or two. Then sit back and let the public do what they do best- forget history so the cycle could resume once more. Good cop, bad cop- it was the “same old, same old” US foreign diplomacy. Raw didn‟t have time to gunk up his head over some lil‟ ol‟ oil war in the sand. Life was too short. Besides, the whole planet was melting, for God‟s sake. Global warming was where all the action was. War was all about killing people as a solution, whereas global warming was about saving the earth for a solution. By getting behind saving the earth, people would benefit just by default there. Raw now refused to take from Mother Earth, not forgetting to return what he had borrowed, what she graciously gave. That was the fatal flaw of most societies in their relationship with the earth and its resources: just because nothing is asked for in return doesn‟t mean it shouldn‟t be. So many had forgotten what a generous mother Earth could be, given the chance to heal and rejuvenate. 37 Plus, people were just starting to realize (as Bob Dylan had already said more than a few decades back) that if you look to politicians to fix things, you‟re screwed. This effectively left a gaping hole in the “who do we turn to?” department, in that since it had taken people so long to realize who not to turn to, they hadn‟t spent a lot of time looking toward anything else other than politicians, thereby wasting valuable time for real solutions. Simply by living his life as purely as he could, Raw began to get adulation (and ass) approaching rock star status. He realized that people like him exuded hope, merely by offering people a model to follow. Except he had no directions written down, no script or plot to follow. Initially in his life, he‟d been so cozy with being a fuck-up that he gradually turned it into an art form. However, in the long run, it was easier to do things right. He may have been a vagrant, but he was a vain one. Cans in shopping carts? Not for this cat. Those were for bums and housewives- two groups he didn‟t want to belong to. And sure, in his previous life he had been an alcoholic, a druggie with low esteem even. One thing Raw was well-versed in was what he didn‟t want to be. The only problem Raw had nowadays was a creeping sense that he was being watched by others with 38 less than noble intentions. He did not want to be monitored, analyzed, and commoditized. 39 WEEK 3: Any lingering doubts about how ill-prepared we are to face up to the reality of climate change should have been laid to rest this month when two Russian mini-submarines dove two miles under the Arctic ice to plant a Russian flag made of titanium on the seabed. The government of Vladimir V. Putin claims that the seabed under the North Pole, known as the Lomonosov Ridge, is an extension of Russia‟s continental shelf and therefore Russian territory that will be open for oil exploration. -Los Angeles Times Five dollars and ninety-three cents for a gallon of unleaded…Jalila couldn‟t believe her eyes as she pulled up to the Arco minimart/gas-station. She looked across the street at the Chevron station with Beemers, Mercedes and SUV‟s tanking up on gas at least ten cents more a gallon, muttering to herself, “What the goddamn difference?” However, one good thing about her low-paying job was that she got to meet people. Even though it didn‟t pay for shit, being an LA Weekly girl was an adventure she relished. From art gallery receptions to restaurant openings to club showcase gigs…Jalila was never at want for things to do. And she had something to offer- a chance for people to get their narcissistic mugs in a free and visible-to-all publication. Armed with a digital camera and her LA Weekly swag (tins of mints, matchbooks, etc.), the allure of Jalila in her tight LA Weekly tanktop was undeniable. 40 The only problem this girl ever had with men was which ones to pick to go out with. In LA, it‟s very easy for young women not to be very good at that, and Jalila had been no exception. Aaron knew that as well, but Jalila knew as long as she never slept with him the dynamics of their relationship would not erode. She wasn‟t really on any man-missions. She didn‟t need to be. But tonight was a little different. She‟d been talking to the most charming guy, an independent film director. He looked to be about 30-something, one professor-looking motherfucker in his rumpled suit jacket, cropped, thinning hair and wire-rimmed glasses. He hadn‟t even been trying to pick up on her. Their conversation flowed as effortlessly as the cocktails they imbibed over the next two hours (which seemed more like ten minutes). As this was the only place she had to make an LA Weekly girl appearance this eve, she decided to stay around, which led to them going to an after-party he knew about at a loft downtown, which led to going back to his place in Atwater Village where they talked until dawn…and nothing else. Really now, Jalila didn‟t want (or need) to be that kind of girl. She was twenty-seven, sick of messing around with little boys. She was tired of going to some guy‟s apartment and dealing with crazy roommates, or even worse- bringing a guy to her 41 place. And then when things didn‟t work out, he‟d know where she lived. That was one thing she always noticed about Aaron. Although he didn‟t exactly know where she lived, he‟d never offered to meet at his place. “What‟s he hiding?” was always in her thoughts, but she chalked it up to him having a jealous girlfriend. “I bet she‟s really young and insecure” thought Jalila. She and Aaron were both OK with this “don‟t ask, don‟t tell” policy. And it wasn‟t like she‟d slept with him anyway. That would shoot their creative partnership to death. She wondered how he‟d react when she showed up with Freddy (the director‟s name), who was down to go to Spaceland with her the following weekend for her friend Sara‟s birthday bash. He was so engaging that even a picnic date at the morgue would have seemed like a grand time. Plus, Jalila was excited that this band called Egomaniac was playing. She‟d seen their first gig at an art show. It had been everything a cool band should be, the attitude, the sound, the look…oh, yes, some of them had looked very good indeed. “Too bad I‟m bringing a guy” she almost thought for a fleeting second before remembering that 99% of musicians in Los Angeles sleep on 50% of all couches in that same city. ------------------------------------------------------------ 42 “Steven, are you high?” “What?” “You can‟t go on the air without a tie!” “Well, you don‟t.” “That‟s because I‟m a woman!” “So you above anybody should believe in fair and equal treatment then.” “Aye, you‟re such a bendejo.” “Ah, there comes some of that Latina flavor we all thought we‟d lost from Ms. Contreras after she converted to Judaism.” “Where‟d you hear that?” “I‟m a reporter, remember?” “Whatever. Anyway, if Bob gets wind of that…” “Um, Maria- he‟s right behind you.” As Maria wheeled around to see Bob the news director, he put his firm hand, the same one that used to routinely catch twenty yard passes at USC about as many years ago, on Steven‟s shoulder. “Steven…Steven, can we talk?” 43 Maria smugly smiled before smoothing her Nordstrom‟s special dress down, checking her hair in the reflection of the one-way mirrored control booth window facing her from behind the three cameras trained on as many angles at the news desk. Inside that same control room, Bob quickly and quietly shut the heavy padded door behind him and looked straight at Steven. “Jesus, you‟re starting to look like…well, Jesus. You need a haircut, and put a tie on, for fuck‟s sake!” “I‟m tired.” “Look, we‟ll get you that vacation in another month, but work with us. When you‟re away, we need an adequate replacement. We just don‟t have one quite yet.” “I haven‟t had a vacation for almost ten months! Bob, we‟ve got four very capable field reporters- any of which can read a goddamn teleprompter.” “Says you. None of which have experience leading a major- market nightly news show.” “C‟mon. I‟m sure somebody did it somewhere at their college or little affiliate. Same theory. You read the rolling words.” 44 “Damn it, Steven! Why are you doing this to me? I can‟t be responsible for putting somebody on the air just because they did the entertainment segment of the news in Jerkwater…” “And what the hell would be wrong with Jerkwater? When the hell did LA become the center of all that is great and mighty?” It was as if Steven had never interjected as Bob continued his tirade, “…or some public access show called „Newscene‟ out of a community college somewhere. In case you forgot, this is the number two news market in the US.” “Certainly not in truth.” “You want truth? Go work for some independent media blog and make like twenty grand a year. There‟s your truth!” “Gotta start somewhere” thought Steven as he smiled beatifically. “Money…or lack thereof. They‟re always holding that over your head. Once you don‟t care, they have nothing to hold above your head and threaten to drop on it”. He put his hand on Bob‟s shoulder before concluding “So, let me guess…you want me to put on the tie.” Bob mumbled, “Why do I have to tell you this?” “The answer is no. Besides, it doesn‟t really matter.” 45 “Doesn‟t matter? That‟s the way it‟s going to go?” “Where does it say it should, Bob? In some station policy handbook where the phrase „professional demeanor and appearance‟ translates somehow to a mandatory donning of a ritualistic swath of fabric tied around my neck? Will that make me credible? Will people believe me then when they see that? Just so I can be like every corrupt politician that wears one?” Bob had had enough, wondering to himself, “I quit drinking for this?” He looked at Steven like a condemned man who doesn‟t know his appeal‟s been denied yet: “OK, so don‟t. I don‟t care anymore. I tried.” And then Bob turned around from their dark corner to the rest of the personnel in the room, loudly yelling to nobody in particular: “Hear that? I don‟t care! My name is Steven Jung and today‟s top story is „I don‟t care!‟” And with that, Bob stormed back out to the news set. Steven could barely hear him say the words “It was nice knowing you”. And maybe he wouldn‟t have cared had he heard it anyway. All Steven knew was that he desperately needed to spend some 46 serious QT (quality time) with his girl. “After all…” he thought, “…what good is a relationship without some QT?” Society…that precarious perch we can all fall so easily from with nothing but the removal of a tie or the growing of a few extra inches of hair or a few misplaced words. But at this moment Steven wasn‟t afraid to fall, for he was learning to fly on his own. -------------------------------------------------------------- Freddy was well aware he was living in a post “Inconvenient Truth” world. Al Gore had laid out the problem for all to see, anyone with a pulse was at least aware of the problem now. Aside from a few abstract distractions such as buying curly-Q low- wattage bulbs and refusing plastic bags at the Whole Paycheck…er, Whole Foods grocery, there was no new lifestyle template to follow for the non-incense burning, non-yoga taking masses. That‟s where Raw came in. This guy put a face to the template. People could observe how he lived and inspired, and they‟d have a guide to follow. And Freddy knew it was only a matter of time before the Hollywood buzzards would come circling in their killing swirl- smelling a reality show star in the making. But they‟d do him no justice. They‟d edit him into a 47 sensory pastiche of nervous jump-cuts juxtaposed over the music of Linkin Park, or even worse that than that- Evanescence. Sure, they‟d make him look “cool”. But that was the problem. They‟d make him look too cool. And that wasn‟t the plan according to Freddy. The fundamental difference and conflict was that there was more money to be made off following Raw than by following what he extolled. Raw was not supposed to be bigger than the issue. Were that to happen, people would be content to live vicariously through this eco-Jackass‟ highjinks, a lowbrow icon elevated above they who could only look up to him. There would be no way they could compare. So they wouldn‟t even try, subverting their enthusiasm toward him, not extracting it from him. If there‟s one thing the American public excels at, it‟s passiveness (and the hundreds of opportunities that cable and satellite TV provide for that). If anything, Freddy wanted his documentary to be a survival guide, nothing more or less, illuminated by the sheer iconoclastic grace of Raw. The face was to humanize, not deify. Ironically, Raw initially never signed up for any of this new program called his life. On the contrary, he‟d been forced to. He didn‟t want to quit smoking and drinking, he had to. And he wasn‟t necessarily that young to be doing this. Matter of fact, 48 he was forty three years old in a month to be exact. To be over four decades old and doing this, he had to treat his body like a machine. Only an idiot would continue to, say…keep running a car with the same old oil, or intentionally put sugar in a gas tank they knew it would ruin. There was no living green without that machine. Raw also knew that no matter how hard he tried in early- midlife to make amends for his past, he‟d never be able to play catch-up with the existing system to provide the necessary impending peace and solitude he would naturally seek later in a midlife he was entering amidst an increasingly strange new world. If he attempted society‟s game he‟d be forced to live a farce, a bitter dress rehearsal for a failed play, an exponentially unhealthier life consisting of more and more traffic, work, and life-scraping duress. All that to only build up debt that would have to be paid back to those to fund their house, their dream, one that Raw would complicity construct (yet never have for himself). He could vaguely remember a time when there could have been a shift in the paradigm, yet was too young to contribute to. Though, decades later he was living in a bigger time with bigger problems, but a bigger younger generation to fight them. And what did these kids do? Nothing of substance as far as Raw could 49 see. The Black Panthers, the Abbie Hoffmans, the student activists- all as archaic as a Grand Funk Railroad 8-track tape in the modern dark ages. There was no real active resistance to war anymore. If one‟s ass wasn‟t get drafted, there was no candle lit under it. However, global warming was something that affected one and all- fat and tall, big and small. And with this, Raw would think that finally this younger generation primarily raised by single moms whom told them how special they were, would prove their mettle and rally. Otherwise, what use was special except in the crippled and disabled sense? After all, they now had a common cause. And what would they choose to do? Raw sure as shit wasn‟t waiting on their emotionally-immature spoiled asses to find out. So he did something to their nothing. Somebody had to. But he didn‟t realize the less toxic he made his life, the more toxic it would make others look…as well as look for him, which they indeed would. Nobody wants their template of existence to be exposed to the light where all can see there is nothing but foolish inside. Raw wasn‟t young, but compared to his rapidly aging peers living a life upside-down to his right-side-up rejection of existing society, he was a mere relative teenager. As the looks shot his way evolved from disgust to envy, Raw knew he was onto something. 50 WEEK 4: The area of floating ice in the Arctic has shrunk more this summer than in any other summer since satellite tracking began in 1979, and it has reached that record point a month before the annual ice pullback typically peaks, experts said yesterday. -The New York Times Steven sat in his cell, euphoric. He‟d never been in jail before. Sure, he‟d been to some to cover certain stories in the past, but he‟d never been locked up in one. Officer La-beef had certainly tried to change that, but this time it was by Steven‟s hand…he‟d reckoned on, figured on, and even hoped for it. And why indeed was Mr. Jung in jail? It had started off thusly: the demonstration started on a Saturday morning at the Federal Building on Wilshire Boulevard near the UCLA campus. It was the largest antiwar demonstration-meaning it was big, but could have been way bigger. Despite this, passions were inflamed under the strangely humid radiation of the sun. On a day like this, you had to try to not sweat. The LAPD showed up about a half hour after people began to assemble in the premature heat of 9 am. And although this was about the war, to Steven it meant lost resources and money being wasted. He‟d taken a couple days off work, and amazingly Bob had agreed to it with a minimum of fuss. 51 So there he was, his girl at his side, in solidarity with tens of thousands that would be widely (as much as they were intentionally) under-counted by the mass media. And that‟s when he saw the “Channel Five- News That Cares” mobile news van with his station logo on the side and radar dish on top. It pulled up the congested street, more uneasily than he‟d ever seen it traverse. About an hour later Steven found himself being pepper- sprayed, knocked down and dragged off into an honest-to-goodness paddy wagon- actually, more like an armored minivan. Not only that, but his arrest was being covered by his employer as field reporter Angie Meadows gasped as she recognized Steven in the live shot before tossing back to the weekend anchor, about a half-decade Steven‟s junior. Naturally, the easy conclusion would be that Steven be immediately fired, and with that, his career as an anchorman effectively over. But Steven wouldn‟t have any of that. He wanted to test the limits of whatever law still existed. For he had done nothing that a good Samaritan wouldn‟t do. Wasn‟t this his mea culpa for anything he had previously blindly greased the wheels for? Now he was selflessly protesting an illegal war that was bankrupting a country he was a citizen of. Weren‟t they the news team with a heart- the one that cared and all that? Wasn‟t 52 this was what he should be doing: helping people? What made this altruism any different from when he volunteered his time with the other reporters at those fund-raisers for disabled-in-some- way-or-another children? If anything, this was even bigger and better. This cause was helping men and women, boys and girls- adults and children alike. He‟d fight any dismissal with everything he had- just on principal. He certainly wasn‟t alone in his convictions (and glory) that day. If there ever was a pivotal moment that the zeitgeist shifted toward Raw, it was at this protest. A few hundred yards away from Steven, Freddy was in heaven, capturing every moment on every frame of his Sony HD-DV camera. There was no way he could have staged a better scene than this. It was as if Cecil B. DeMille had a development meeting with God, who greenlighted this, complete with thousands of extras at Freddy‟s beck and call. Whereas many protestors were being kowtowed and suppressed with threats of incarceration, Raw was full-throttle, egging the masses on. Who knew Che Guevera had been reincarnated as a black man? 53 “This is what it must have felt like back in Cuba during the Revolution” sensed Freddy, too young and unfortunate enough to have witnessed (and maybe even exploited just a lil‟ bit) that historic moment. -------------------------------------------------------------- Jalila suspected Aaron might act a little weird, but not like this. Sure, she knew he had a crush on her, but that didn‟t prepare her for his transgression at Sara‟s party. He was already drunk by the time she showed up with Freddy. As she and he approached, she extended the olive branch, “Hey guys, this is Freddy.” Aaron sat on a sofa with the party girl herself, Sara- a not-as-much-girl-anymore wearing an ever-so-hip T-shirt with a picture of Linday Lohan above the words “I Love Bush”. She was nowhere near as pretty as Jalila, just downright chunk-a-dunk. Aaron patted the free side of the sofa. “Have a seat, Jalila.” Jalila sat down, sitting next to Aaron, who beamed at Freddy until… “Aaron, can you scoot down so Freddy can have a seat too?” 54 Not even bothering (or having enough courage)to look at Freddy, Aaron replied, “This is a sofa for three.” And it was at this point that Freddy had three options: 1) Kick Aaron‟s ass right then and there. 2) Stick around and meekly accept this humiliation. 3) Ask Jalila to go elsewhere to sit with him. But he also knew: 1) If he kicked Aaron‟s ass (like he really wanted to), Jalila would probably be embarrassed. 2) If he did nothing, he‟d look like a big pussy. 3) If he asked Jalila to move with him and she didn‟t, she was no good for him, no matter how much he liked her. Slightly emboldened, Aaron put his hand on Jalila‟s knee as he looked up at Freddy. “Jalila and I are partners.” “Oh yeah. She told me about that.” “About what?” 55 “Nothing, just that you two were collaborating on a script.” Aaron took his hand off Jalila‟s knee before she could. Freddy continued, “I‟m working on a film myself.” “Really? What kind?” “Documentary.” Aaron snapped his gum, trying to look as nonchalant as possible, “Hmmn, so many of those out since Michael Moore.” He then looked away, waxing philosophical, “Wow, so many, many of them out there.” Then back at Freddy, but not directly in his eyes, “What‟s yours about?” “Well, it has to do with the environment, but through the eyes of…” Aaron lost his cool for a second, “A dog? Not a dog, is it?” Freddy laughed at this, “Afraid not. That‟s a good one…dog?” “Is it about global warming?” 56 “Well, what of any urgency is not somehow tied to that anymore?” By this time Jalila had risen from the sofa, “Let‟s get a drink, Freddy”. This was followed by a downward glare at Aaron, a “we‟ll talk about this later” kind of vibe radiating from her eyes. She spoke once more to Freddy before they trailed off: “C‟mon, we got more important stuff to do.” And by the time Aaron misinterpreted the meaning of that (as in she and Freddy were, and had been, in cahoots together), as opposed to its real meaning (“Anywhere‟s better than here right now”), Jalila and Freddy were at the bar. And about that time, another emotion crept into Aaron‟s head: paranoia, wondering whose creative team she was really on. After all, he thought, “She can‟t like that guy. I‟m way better looking than him. He‟s practically bald!” That gold-digging hussy. He might have to start keeping an eye out on her. ------------------------------------------------------ The bridge had collapsed during rush hour. It could have been much worse, but thankfully two lanes had been shut down. 57 This was the story from Minneapolis that Raw was reading from a free newspaper left by a prior customer. He was cool with the friendly employees there, who had no problem hooking him up with all the free coffee he wanted in exchange for switching out their trashbags and taking their morning trash out back to the dumpsters. All in all, five minutes work on his part and a gratefully-lightened load on theirs. This morning he was there for more than just his morning paper and coffee. This Freddy guy was really starting to eat up his time. And to Raw, time was the most non-renewable resource of life- the basic element of life, so to speak. His mind wandered, “When we are born, we are given a relatively finite amount. What we do with it spans the spectrum from free will to fate. However, with most people not exercising free will, they leave their fates in the hands of others who sure as hell don‟t have their free will in mind.” As this thought concluded, Raw wondered whose interests this particular filmmaker had in mind. However, one thing he was sure about was how fine this girl just walking into the Black Dog Coffeehouse was, with her shimmering black hair, and tawny bronzed limbs extended from a carefully-worn REO Speedwagon 1978 vintage T-shirt straining 58 against her breasts. She swept off her Jackie O oversize sunglasses to reveal stunning azure eyes. In those few seconds he suddenly forgot anything he‟d been reading in his newspaper. But before he could, Freddy waltzed in behind and with her, humming an old Little Feat tune. “Raw! Sorry I‟m late. I was- well, traffic was…” “Let me guess…F-d up?” Freddy had to smile at that. If that didn‟t crystallize what he was trying to convey about Raw‟s rejection of what we so readily accept, what did? “Raw, this is Jalila.” Jalila smiled with a hint of bluster and the submissiveness of her handshake betrayed her professional demeanor, “Pleased to meet you. I‟ve heard so much about you.” “From this guy? Don‟t believe the hype, sister.” She laughed, but it was more of a informal acknowledgement laugh. Raw continued: “And what do you do, Jalila?” “I‟m Freddy‟s assistant.” 59 “I see” he said, thinking to himself, “Assistant- how many times has that word been used to describe relatives and friends on the payroll…or lovers and mistresses?” He looked up at her, “Assistant…got it.” That word. It shouldn‟t have gotten to Jalila, but it did. She also knew the only reason she had this new gig was that Freddy fancied her. The only thing she really knew about making films was the people who made them. And Freddy had pretty much brought to light the futility of her collaborating with Aaron for some nebulous pot of gold at the end of an elusive rainbow. Honestly, a movie with just dogs and no dialogue or narration? The world already had that- it was called animal porn. Seeing that Freddy actually had some credits and experience to his name (and she had checked on IMDB.com) compared to Aaron‟s dreaming and scheming, she decided to cast her lot with him instead. Besides, she still had her LA Weekly gig. If it didn‟t work out with Freddy, it wasn‟t like she wasn‟t already constantly meeting hip movers and shakers all over this crazy metropolis. Then again, she also knew she had to stop flitting about like a moth from flame to flame before she got burned by that flame. 60 But to be mocked by some dreadlocked asshole? Who was this homeless fuck? Back where she was from, someone like that would know their place. She wasn‟t going to put up with too much of his attitude, even if she was working for Freddy. Plus, she knew there was something about this Raw that Freddy was missing, blinded by his fawning adulation, or perhaps his blind ambition. Jalila knew about secrets. And she still had some choices, but one thing she didn‟t have was a clue about was that she was being watched right now across the street by Aaron. ------------------------------------------------------------ It was a bittersweet irony indeed. Maria Contreras-Cohen was leading off the five PM newscast with a story about a man from the “station with a heart” on-air-talent‟s line-up being arrested. What wasn‟t ironic, but rather manipulated, was the spin put on the story. Of course he‟d been there in the capacity of reporter (which was sure news to him) and had been unwillingly swept up with the protestors. After all, could one fault a weather reporter if were swept up by the same high winds he warned us about? Steven Jung may have been arrested with the protestors, but he was certainly not with them. 61 And of course this brand of undercover investigative reporting (certainly undercover to Steven) would explain his recent relatively unkempt appearance. Maria knew if he was going down, he sure as hell wasn‟t taking the station down with him. Besides, she was no slouch in the investigative reporting department. It didn‟t take much to figure out that he was doing a little more than just rooming with his unconventionally attractive cousin who‟d moved out to Cali a few months back. “Yeah, he offered her a place to stay, alright” thought Maria. When this came out (with a little help from Maria), it‟d be the same as when Jerry Lee Lewis was scandalized for marrying his cousin. Some things just hadn‟t changed. And even if Steven‟s cousin wasn‟t under-aged like Jerry Lee‟s, Steven was supposed to be a pillar of the community. With Jerry Lee Lewis, it wasn‟t like anybody ever expected otherwise from a sleazy hillbilly who played “nigger music”. Either way, it simply wasn‟t going to be pretty for Steven. This story was way more urgent to Maria than some same-old story about high gas prices that she had to scan for reading fluency and phrasing. But that‟s what the station paid her for, and 62 that‟s what she always delivered. Yes, it was a crazy world, but she‟d go crazy if she had to stay home all day. Every time Maria reported on these rising prices at the pumps (which tied with sex offenders for most viewer response), it was all she could do to feign disdain. She wasn‟t that worried about it, knowing full well her husband was making mad profit off his copious Exxon shares every time the prices spiked. “Fuck poverty” thought she. She‟d lived in it, even almost getting stuck in it. Thankfully, her teenage abortion had made all the difference in her life path. She couldn‟t even comprehend now what her life would be like now if she had had that baby. Saul had been bugging her lately about having one lately, but she liked her career- perhaps not so much the career itself, but the having of one. That was one thing her hubby couldn‟t take from her. -------------------------------------------------------------- Aaron just about lost it- that is, the Rockstar energy drink he almost knocked over as he lurched forward. There he was. Right in front of Aaron‟s face (who didn‟t even have to go anywhere to find Raw), right there in his living room- albeit on the TV in the living room. 63 In his rush to lean closer to the plasma screen, his foot shifted, the result being a high-pitched cry from one of the napping Chihuahuas seemingly constantly (even intentionally) in the way. Wherever the most-inconvenient and most-used area of traffic, that‟d be where one would find them- whether in front of a door you were trying to open or behind a chair you decided to lean back in. And even though he didn‟t hurt the dog, the yelp was one more of snitching than pain. Mama responded accordingly, as Lina came running out: “Dali! What‟s wrong?” “He‟s fine, Lina. I just…” She scooped up the quivering lil‟ feller, both glaring at Aaron. “Did you hurt Dali?” If there was any dog Aaron hated, it was that one, none more than that one. The worst was when he‟d have to call for Dali outside. All people phonetically heard was his voice pleading for “Daw-lee!” (as in “Hello, Dolly” or “I‟m a fruitcake that has a little girl dog”). No stranger was tuned into Lina‟s predilection for Salvador Dali, but they were to 64 some nancy-boy calling for his little sissy dog. Aaron knew perception was reality here in television town. He made a quick mental note to make Chihuahuas the villains in every dog film he‟d make…especially of the yellow-bellied snitch variety. But at the moment, Lina was incensed, as if Aaron had committed the Holocaust by himself: “Did you?” “Nah, I just moved forward and…” “Well, watch it. These dogs…” Aaron sighed, “I know…they mean a lot to you.” Lina looked as if she were going to cry, “You don‟t realize. They‟re all I have. I mean, if anything ever happened to Dali here or…” Lina froze for a second before a shrill “Where‟s Warhol?” A blood curdling scream of his name followed: “Warhaaawwl!!!!” Aaron was building up some slow-cookin‟ internal pressure, “These fuckin‟ cowardly canines. That‟s how they do. Quick to yelp when they need anything, but not so quick when you need them for something.” 65 Lina instantly lapsed into baby-talk as Picasso scurried up, surely thinking it was mealtime. “Oh baby, Mama was so worried about you.” “Yup, 8:47 AM and she‟s drunk again. Earliest this week. She might be going for a record” thought Aaron. And he was right, for usually she didn‟t augment her morning OJ and coffee with anything until the morning soaps kicked in at ten AM or so. But now that she had the Soapnet network and Tivo, all barriers and restrictions to 24/7 access had been shattered. Lina would scour old “Guiding Light” reruns for an opportunity to see herself in her full 1980‟s glory. “Aaron, honey. I‟m sorry that I over-reacted. Baby, come up to bed with me. I…” Too late. As she turned around to where he was, he was already out the door and on his way to the Federal Building to see if Jalila was there with Raw, and probably Freddy too. He‟d catch her with her pants down, even if it wasn‟t the exact way he‟d hoped to. ---------------------------------------------------------------- “Look, it‟s that motherfucker from channel five!” 66 Steven Jung had been picked out from the crowd…from the crowd in the cell he was currently locked up in with a hodgepodge of protestors, drunks and punks. It wasn‟t that he wasn‟t as slick as someone like Raw at fleeing from the cops, just that he had far less experience- although lately he was catching up pretty damn quick. Already he knew that he was one of the leading stories on the competing stations‟ newscasts. “Look…” it seemed to say, “…don‟t watch their news. They have unstable people working for them.” Steven looked over to see a man brazenly smoking a cigarette next to a “SMOKING FORBIDDEN” sign. He walked over a few steps, asking meekly, “Can I have one of those?” The wiry black man with bloodshot eyes took in a deep, slow drag as he squinted his eyes at Steven before exhaling into his face, croaking out: “You don‟t need one. You don‟t look like a smoker.” “Yeah, but…” “What have you done for me, son? Or anyone like me? I mean, in your life.” 67 And Steven didn‟t really have an answer, for everything he‟d done in his life until recently had been mainly for Steven Jung. Sure, he‟d done the whole “For the Kids” PSA‟s with the rest of the newsteam and even gone to a fundraiser (or ten). But it wasn‟t like he did it without viewing it as an inconvenience that ate up his spare time. It wasn‟t like it was real charity anyway- just boring parties you attended and couldn‟t get too loaded because you were representing the station, as if it owned your soul. Kids were always a safe bet to raise funds for. What kind of heartless bastard would have a problem with that? However, this also meant nobody ever questioned how much of what had been raised went where- none of these messy adult inquiries should intrude upon goodwill and soil its good intentions. “I guess I haven‟t done much” replied Steven to the man in the cell. “So, do you have a cigarette for me or not?” “Damn, at least you honest now. „Cept the answer is still no. See, I could give a fuck if you‟re from the station with a heart, lung or even ballsack because one thing you ain‟t with is some goddamn smokes.” And this was one rare occurrence where Steven couldn‟t use privilege or guilt his way into what he wanted. 68 ------------------------------------------------------- Mesmerized. That‟s what she was. Maria couldn‟t take her eyes off the footage Angie brought in the next day. That black guy with the long hair and tawny limbs extending from his t- shirt with a picture of George Bush above the words “War Pig” was commanding indeed. “Why…” thought Maria, “…the way he addresses the crowd, he could be running a corporation.” She knew power when she saw it- it was just a different brand than she was used to lately. “I haven‟t seen you this interested in B-roll since you wanted to check out that footage of you in that gown you wore last year to the Academy Awards, the one you were worried Rene Zellwegger was wearing too.” Bob the news director smiled as Maria turned toward him, smiling back with, “Bob, you know that „Focus on Five‟ segment, the special report I did a few months back?” “The one on sexual predators?” “Which one? Been so many recently.” 69 “The online ones, I think. I dunno- it kind of all blurs together after awhile.” “Anyway, get me the same crew as that one.” Maria smiled wider, more than she probably had since the Academy Awards, “I have a new focus topic.” And had Maria not been turned away from the monitor at that moment, she would have probably seen the figure of Aaron lurking right behind Raw. ----------------------------------------------------------- Steven glided through the hot summer night air, his Prius aerodynamically humming its eco-friendly vibrations. The strains of “Love Supreme” by John Coltrane wafted from the I-pod connected to his factory-installed car stereo. The old Steven never would have listened to this, especially on his way to Burning Man. The bittersweet irony of finally getting his hard- won time off for some QT with his girl, only to be by himself, was not lost on Steven. At least he was out of jail. Although it had started off thrilling enough, it soon became a real drag. “So much good music to listen to, so little time” thought he, bemoaning the time he‟d wasted listening to completely vapid and totally use dreck such as the Black Eyed Peas and Jack 70 Johnson- unimaginative formulas fed to even more unimaginative consumers. “This is so crazy”, Steven almost sang to himself. He‟d never, ever, gone on a trip by himself, but that was the problem. Everything in his life had been laid out for him. As the great American poet Emerson once laid out, instead of following a path, create a new one for others to follow. Steven was just intrigued by the concept of people co-existing in an idyllic bliss for a whole week, devoid of the constraints of day-to-day urban existence, needing no cash as they bartered and shared communally. The unyielding Black Rock country in the Nevada desert, consisting of volcanic ash flows and an ancient shallow marine floor over an exotic batholithic terrain, was to be respected. Everything needed would be brought there, but more importantly taken away or recycled. “What have they done to our Earth, mother?” sang Jim Morrison as the Doors rotated in after the strains of „Trane ended on Steven‟s I-pod. After decades trapped in a monkey suit, he wanted to be somewhere where he could walk around wearing next to nothing, only able to wonder at that point what it would feel like. And, as he took another toke off his impromptu pipe made from a carved-out apple (great for quick disposal and highly bio-degradable!), he wondered many other things. 71 He wondered why there was a war on drugs, instead of a war with drugs. As he internally reckoned in his stoned discourse, it‟d be kind of hard to do battle once your atmosphere had been bombarded with LSD-laden vapors, with the strains of “Echoes” by Pink Floyd cranking through the baddest and loudest PA system speakers the US military could buy. And using the Flaming Lips as military consultants, the Marines would outfit their first in with the finest of oversize Bunny outfits. Wouldn‟t have to fire a shot. Fuckin‟ enemy would be freaked out of their mind. Steven then began to wonder why the sun-saturated state of Nevada was used primarily for prostitution, gambling and most scandalously of all, government-endorsed nuclear testing. Why all this noise and mess when the largely uninhabitable state could consist of almost exclusively active solar panels that could and would power practically the whole nation, thereby solving the energy crisis with forty nine states still left over? Perhaps what happened in Vegas need not to stay there at all, and instead turn on a whole nation. But he didn‟t wonder why these things weren‟t in the public consciousness- they simply weren‟t part of the plan- the American-brand plan being a solely business one. 72 Lost in his wonderland, Steven didn‟t notice the tiny burning ember of weed caught by the wind from his open sunroof, flying up, up and away from the Prius. 73 WEEK 5: Cynics everywhere were rubbing their hands with glee when Al Gore‟s son was caught speeding at over 100 mph with a cocktail of drugs on board…but by far the biggest response to the story has not been “let‟s get at Al Gore”, but rather “A Prius can go that fast?” -www.hippyshopper.com Freddy was delighted with the latest news from the news. That is to say, he was excited when he got a call from Channel 5, requesting to speak to him about one Mr. Raw. Publicity like this couldn‟t be bought, sold or bottled, and Freddy knew it. The more attention his project received, the better for him. And this afternoon one Ms. Maria Contreras-Cohen wanted to talk to Raw, a deal she knew Freddy was in the position of brokering- or at least her “Focus on Five” segment producer had told her. Yes, this particular segment would put Raw on the map, in millions of Los Angeles homes. And since Maria was getting her way, it‟d put her in his radar. This was also exciting news to Jalila, watching a documentary play out in front of her eyes. This doc was practically guaranteed box office, what with the heady buzz gaining momentum on a daily basis. As for Aaron, she‟d almost told him she was out of his deal, but somehow just hadn‟t had the time lately (as is the malaise with many in la-la land). 74 “Besides…” she thought, “…what‟s the big deal anyway? Not like he‟s going anywhere.” And if he couldn‟t hear her thoughts, Aaron could certainly see her, as he peered inside her bathroom window as she began to slip off her clothes to take a shower before meeting Freddy and Raw at the ol‟ Black Dog. And Aaron could certainly see the unlined smoothness of her firm sienna-hued flesh, the firm back that bent down before she rose to reveal a splendidly nude supple body with firm breasts boasting beautifully erect nipples above a bejeweled navel outlined by the sensuous jut of her well-defined pelvis trailing downward and in to a fluffy mound at the center of two smooth towers of thighs that wouldn‟t give up, unless of course, you were the right man to make them do so and surrender. In Aaron‟s mind, he was the right man and every other man was the wrong one. She‟d definitely been shining him lately, ignoring his calls and making herself scarce. But of course, she‟d been distracted by that charlatan making a boring-ass documentary. The only E that got Aaron off was entertainment, not education. --------------------------------------------------------- Steven was at the head of the welcome table, even though it 75 really wasn‟t a table per se. It was more of a circle, drum circle to be exact. It really hadn‟t taken this renegade anchor long to make friends once word got out who he was. If there was anything the counterculture loved, it was highly visible corporate defectors, especially from the world of weak-kneed journalism. Everyone wanted to be his guide to breaking on through to the other side. Steven lost his mind when she left him. He was definitely ripe for the picking when some old high school friend asked him if he wanted to go to a dive club in the valley. Maybe it was the Rush tribute band, maybe it was the alcohol, maybe it was both. Did it really matter? Steven had to do something to forget her. What was theirs was his and vice versa, even though he was ill-equipped for the triple-digit heat combined with prodigious amounts of mood alterers. GHB, Special K, E…it was all one big alpha-buzz soup. Add to this lava-scorched, almost extraterrestrial lay of the desert plain without “the man” over his shoulder, and Steven was free to let himself go utterly and entirely. That had been something he couldn‟t do before, except something had happened recently. 76 Steven was deep up in the 818…area code for the “valley”, that is. The valley: as rich in white trash, Mexicans and strip malls as it was devoid of all the associated glitz and glamour of Los Angeles. He stepped into the club. Walking in, it was as if he walked into a time machine from 1987…the land that time forgot, everybody frozen in the “metal years”. It was if Kurt Cobain had never been born, one of the very few remaining places on Earth where the singer of Warrant or bass player of Ratt could feel like a hero. He‟d put his heart on the line and had it fed back to him well done- by his own cousin, the very one that had led him on this journey of self. Her name was Aya, she with a swath of blue hair on one side and pink on the other in ponytails above a pierced lip stained by Urban Decay Black Gloss lipstick. She, with the spiraling dragon around her left wrist to show which Chinese New Year this astral Gemini was born in. She was his cousin and psychic liberator. Steven was immediately recognized by the lady at the door; she of the big hair (and even bigger chest). The kind of girl that would fuck a guy who made less than ten dollars an hour, and for many of the musicians whom played here it was ten dollars minus the “an hour” part. So Steven didn‟t really have much competition for the affections of this woman, deep into and 77 already jaded by with her dirty thirties. She was putting out for more than Buttery Nipple shots nowadays. She needed a man who had more to his name than the crumpled up wad of one-dollar bills in the front pockets of his dirty 501‟s the morning after. So when she saw semi-famous Steven, it was clear she‟d found her very own “rock star”. Aya had shown him how to defy convention, and now she was bowing out due to it. It wasn‟t her problem, it was society‟s- and she didn‟t feel like fighting that battle fully yet. Them being cousins and living together had been sensually taboo at first, but with each passing day she stayed at his condo after graduating from Berkeley, it proved too much strain on her burgeoning 23 year old psyche. She hadn‟t planned on getting drunk and hooking up with him after dinner one night, and having the most amazing tantric sex- which she‟d been dying to try again after her yoga instructor lover (two guys before Steven) phase. There‟s always that rocker quadriplegic guy in places like this. Usually the injury is from rocking too hard (“Dude, I fell off that mezzanine at this Slayer show”). Nothing like spending the rest of your life in a wheelchair, a heavy metal baby dependent on others to change their diaper. Naturally this regular was friends with the door-lady. After a few drinks 78 Steven didn‟t think it would be such a bad idea to go out into the parking lot to “party” with these two and his buddies. Originally, the plan had been for Aya to work at a production company where Steven had a friend who got her a job. The plan had been for her to stay in the guest room until she met some people in LA, and could find someone to rent a place with. And she never would have fooled around with him had she known he‟d prove to be such a big spiritual vacuum on her. For Christ‟s (or Muhammad‟s or Buddha‟s) sakes, she was just experimenting. As far as she was concerned, Steven could have just as well been a lesbian. They piled into the crippled man‟s modified-to-drive van. The pipe was pulled out. However, the pungent chemical smell that issued forth once the lil‟ crippled man lit up was enough to let Steven and his friends know…know that the verb “party” was not being used with the direct object of weed, but rather ice. However, the group hug Steven was actively involved in with three young nomads from Santa Fe with a predilection for peyote was more than enough to at least temporarily blast out the resultant angst incurred from Aya. 79 Steven‟s friends bailed out of the van. “Fine”, thought he. He didn‟t care anymore. His lover had just left him, and he was looking to get fucked up. Plus, this door lady was being mighty friendly. Steven always liked them a little on the crazy side anyway. That was his Achilles heel. He wondered why they called it fucked UP when the only place he was going was down. As for little man and big chest, they were stoked to have bragging rights on smoking methamphetamine with an anchorman from the number two market in the United States of America. The glow of the lighter was visible through the tinted windows as his buddies hid behind a car on the side of the street across from the van, wondering where the Steven they knew had gone…deep up in the 818. After downloading, printing and reading the PDF file of the Burning Man Survival Guide, Steven thought he‟d been a good reporter and done his research. But this was no 90 second news package. He was out in the desert with minimal supplies for six days until the wood man went down in flames. Maybe had he known that the first group of people he‟d met and offered his already-thirsty-ass a “life drink” were dosing him with peyote, he would have reconsidered that offer. Being a reporter most of his life, he wasn‟t used to being a participant in the insanity, opting to chronicle and try to rationalize it. 80 Things like what were happening to him no had only appeared to him as written warnings, not felt in every wet pore of his increasingly fuzzy body. If he‟d only known at this moment a warrant for his arrest was being summoned by the LAPD… --------------------------------------------------------------- “Hi, I‟m Angie Meadows coming to you live from Coldwater Canyon, where a wildfire that began tonight is in danger of reaching several homes in this area. Firefighters arrived on the scene approximately forty minutes ago. The cause of this fire is as of yet unknown, but the LA Fire Department suspects arson as the cause of this blaze, which has been also aggravated by the lethal combination of high winds and a record-breaking dry summer. I‟ll have more for you as this story develops.” Maria C-C stared at the screen from her cavernous (to the point of vulgar) living room, mumbling “That‟s Steven‟s neighborhood”. Whereas her previous primary thought may have been empathy, it was now almost relief, “Here‟s your wake-up call, Steven. Maybe now you‟ll see what you have to lose.” 81 She tossed back her Stoli and Diet 7-Up with a Percodan, increasingly dreading another night of dry sex with Saul. At least she‟d be mostly passed out by the time his Viagra- fortified schwanz rammed her panties. Besides, tomorrow she had an interview with that Raw. And maybe, just maybe, Maria Contreras-Cohen was beginning to feel a little wetter than she dare should before going to bed. The next morning, she awoke to find Saul up and about before her, whistling a Neil Diamond ditty, tucking his paunch into a pair of twill pants she‟d bought him at Macy‟s when it had still been a rush to walk in with his platinum card, the sky being the limit. “Did we...” Saul‟s crooked smile was enough to let Maria know that she‟d been violated. Fortunately for her, she‟d been denying him so much lately that it only took him a few strokes before ejaculating, which was probably good on her part. Still, she couldn‟t help wish that he‟d have an affair with somebody and take the heat off her. No problem…she‟d look the other way. Matter of fact, wasn‟t that supposed to be the deal in inherently-loveless unions such as these? 82 “Why‟s he gotta be so goddamn loyal?” was her first morning thought as she wiped the morning crust from her eyes, scowling at the bright room. “Check this out, baby.” Saul picked up the remote control and clicked the cable-box from the last night‟s episode of “Cramer‟s Mad Money” he‟d Tivo‟d to a live shot of good ol‟ Angie, still on the scene of the fire for Channel 5, speaking mid-sentence: “…is what neighbors claim. The woman has been airlifted out after refusing to initially evacuate, instead staying to look for one of her missing dogs. She now has multiple third-degree burns to the face, chest and arms. Doctors say she is in critical condition…” And somewhere a mile or two from the blaze, Dali and Warhol scampered along without a care in the world, happy to be free from the house that caught on fire with the crazy lady who had done the same. “Glad that‟s not near us. They better put that fuckin‟ thing out soon. C‟mon, LAFD, I need to some bang for my tax dollar here” said Saul as he kissed Maria on the top of her head before continuing: 83 “Oh well, we‟ll always have Sun Valley and Manhattan, baby.” ---------------------------------------------------------------- The smoke from the northern sky seemed close enough for Raw to practically touch if he rode his bike up La Brea north instead of the Wilshire west he was headed to meet Freddy and some news lady. To Raw, fire in an urban area was cathartic. “We‟d all do good to just burn everything down and start all over again” thought he. He saw fire as nature‟s reset switch, a way of ethnically cleansing itself. Speaking of intense heat, the offers were now pouring in hot and heavy for him. Raw was even being offered his own reality show, where one season‟s pay would provide him enough capital to never have to worry about money the rest of his life, being that he didn‟t need (or want) much at all anyway. He knew money wasn‟t really the root of all evil, and for most people, not having it was. If people started figuring out how easy it was to get by on next to nothing utilizing his methods (and they would if the show came out), he‟d be out of business, his business being that of the iconoclast messiah. He knew the human race was fucked up. He didn‟t want to necessarily be in the 84 orchestra pit, just do a little conducting. It was time to step up his game. History was calling, and who was he to refuse? Speaking of which, Raw was curious to see if the blaze causing that smoke was on the TV at good ol‟ Black Dog coffee. Had he been there a few minutes earlier, he would have seen an extremely fatigued Angie Meadows report on how investigators now had leads (based on street surveillance cameras) showing who or what may have caused this. And then he would have seen something you don‟t normally see on the news- the sight of Angie accidentally getting tangled up in the camera cables to the mobile van. And then seeing accident turn to tragedy as Angie lost her balance and fell down a semi-scorched ravine. Then there would be a brief on-air scream before the audio cut off as Angie‟s hair-product-laden hair ignited upon contact with the smoking remnants of a tree branch as she tumbled down said ravine. It was really a damn shame, for by this point the fire was being contained for the most part. Yes, Steven‟s apple tokes were the talk of the town these days. Especially in the intensive care unit care unit, where Lina (and what used to be her face)lay. And with no news on her dogs, the will to live was being sucked out of her faster than 85 the cellulite on her thighs during one of her oh-so-many liposuctions. After all, who knew Botox was so flammable, even more than the news-do on Angie‟s head? --------------------------------------------------------------- Jalila was beginning to get perturbed by Freddy, but she couldn‟t complain. It was all her fault, using her feminine wiles to get a job she was basically ill-suited (but definitely well-proportioned) for. She‟d had no formal training, just this bitter joke of a mentorship, always a happy hour away from a potential blowjob. The worst part was she knew it, and hated herself for it. She just wanted to make money and be successful on her own. She wasn‟t ready to gold-dig her way to the top. And even though she was built, she wasn‟t built like that. She saw where the LA whore road led- like that Lana Clarkson, the struggling actress borrowing money from men to make a desperate demo tape, reinventing herself as a “comedienne” before going over to Phil Spector‟s house, the only head being blown that night being hers…clean off. Freddy, on the other hand, was on fire- from the second Jalila picked him up to the second they met Raw at Black Dog. Maria C-C arrived a few minutes later, after the news van 86 circled the block twice until finding suitably close, yet low key enough, parking. Nothing like a news van to bring out the yokels. ---------------------------------------------------------------- The interview with Raw had gone very well for Maria, but that was no surprise to her. For Ms. C-C, the less left to chance the better. And that is why she‟d never had that baby with her gangbang fuck of a boyfriend when she was seventeen and he got her pregnant. And that is why she risked the wrath of her backwards family who would have insisted she keep the baby, which she clandestinely and unceremoniously aborted on the down- low. Growing up in the midst of gang warfare in Logan Heights had only served to clarify and focus her resolve to be not just a journalist, but a news anchor. And she wasn‟t going to go to any old community college either. Hell no, this girl, the youngest of the Contreras clan, was going to Pepperdine and nothing else would do. As a young La-teen-a, she‟d had a glimpse of the lush grounds and seaside bucolic splendor this oasis provided. Why should paradise be denied her? She‟d fallen in love with it the second she‟d seen the pamphlets of it in high school guidance counselor‟s office. 87 And it was in Malibu…Malibu, just the word had a magical ring to it. And when she arrived there on a merit scholarship three years later, it was the paradise she‟d knew it would be. There were no 18th Streeters, no Crips or Bloods, no Mara Salvatrucha. Just white people as far as the eye could see. And here she was in their den of privilege, try as hard as they could to deny her it. As far as she was concerned, any morals or ethics Maria had been taught by her family were from an outdated manual from the old school, one that didn‟t involve much education but a whole hell of a lot of poverty. If there was one phrase Maria hated above all, it was “God will provide”. How many times had she heard that growing up, only to have him not follow through on that hollow hope? As far as she was concerned, the definition of that phrase should have been “shit happens”. Speaking of shit happening, Maria was increasingly deciding shit was not happening with her and Saul anymore. And she wasn‟t about to wait around for God to provide anything- a divorce settlement would handle that just fine, thank you very much. However, blind ambition also has its costs, and one of them is risk. 88 Case in point would be her soon having a cocktail with Raw, who she‟d earlier slipped her card (with a neatly scrawled request to meet her for said drink later in the day). She had new designs lately- ones that weren‟t restricted to her palatial Bel Air estate. After all, Maria was a home-improver, not home- wrecker. A few miles and ethnic regions away, Raw was in Koreatown pondering his current situation. Of course that news lady wanted to nail him. And of course he would nail her. That wasn‟t really the question. The question was why he wanted to. But he knew better than he wanted to. It was nothing more than bragging rights, the opportunity to fuck the media- literally. It was the chance to bang her, having bragging rights in front of any TV showing her, saying “Yeah, I hit that”. It was the chance to show how transparent and easily manipulative these fools were from all sides, especially the back end (once again, literally). However, the lingering doubt ensued- was he any less a fool for sleeping with the enemy? But this was tempered by the knowledge that he was onto bigger and better things. She was just a pleasant rest stop on the road to Utopia. 89 WEEK 6: The climax of the annual Burning Man bacchanalia in a Nevada desert was scheduled for Saturday, when the 40,000-plus attendees were to gather around the 40-foot-high man-statue and watch him burn. Instead, the effigy went up in flames four days prematurely early Tuesday, and a San Francisco resident faces felony arson and destruction-of-property charges in connection with the crime of burning Burning Man too early…"Someone went to a great extent to interfere with everyone else's burn. I think, frankly, an attention whore has made a plea for attention," said a Burning Man volunteer who goes by the name Ranger Sasquatch. "In three days, we will have this rebuilt." -The San Francisco Chronicle “Jalila, please…just one drink.” “I‟d love to, Freddy, but I have a gig.” “With that LA Weekly deal? Aw, you don‟t need that.” Jalila rolled her eyes, exasperated, “Yes, I know you wonder why I do it for next to nothing, and time is money and all that. I get that. I know you think I‟m a magazine bimbo.” Mock-shock hit Freddy‟s face, “Whaaaaat? I just think we need to talk about the interview.” “What‟s to talk about? It went well. The reporter asked a couple questions, and Raw answered them well.” 90 “Well, did you see the way she was practically hitting on him?” “Yeah, and…” “You didn‟t mind?” “It had nothing to do with me.” “Look, Jalila. I‟m just asking you to come in and view this tape we shot…log a couple things before I digitize into the AVID.” “Well, you didn‟t say that before.” “Did I need to?” “Well, I don‟t know. I…” “Oh, my God!” And with that, Freddy slapped the dashboard of his car. “Oh, my God…you really thought I was hitting on you too. That I‟m just trying to get you inside so…” “OK, spare me the details. Let‟s do this.” And with intuitive grim determination, Jalila got out of the car and into Freddy‟s apartment with him. As she brought in the camera and rewound the tape before plugging it into the audio/video inputs of his flat screen monitor, he placed a glass of chilled Pinot Grigiot in front of her. 91 “Relax” said he as he playfully tweaked her shoulders (yet with a hint of lingering) from behind before sitting next to her with his own glass. “Let‟s see what we got”. Jalila scooted the wine aside, “What did I say?” “You didn‟t say you didn‟t want a drink.” Jalila shrugged. That was true, and what was the harm? Actually, she didn‟t really have an LA Weekly engagement, and was Freddy really that bad? Besides, what was her problem anyway? Why couldn‟t she just trust people more, especially herself? She was way too Persian for her own good. And as the footage rolled, they worked together as a team, and they laughed at various bloopers and agreed more than they argued on what worked and what didn‟t. Jalila was beginning to feel like she really had something to offer. And so what was the harm of another glass as they were sailing through this? And of course, you can‟t just not finish it when there‟s only a half bottle left, and who says you can‟t have another bottle after that? And when Freddy put his hand next to hers on the mouse of his Mac as they rendered the footage, she didn‟t move it. And as he put his arm around and behind her, she let him. And as he kissed her she hesitated…for a moment. And then within minutes he had ripped off her shirt, she straddling him on the couch 92 topless, with him gazing at the amber globes of her pert breasts a foot from his face. He pulled her toward him, biting her nipples as he hurriedly pulled his belt off. Not moving fast enough, Jalila took her right hand and tugged his pants down before gliding down his chest with her left. She traced the downward path of his chest with her tongue, stopping momentarily to allow him to pull down her pants as she loudly kicked off her boots. The moonlight shone through the blinds, silhouetting her nude body, glistening with a soft blue light from the sweat of a summer night and full moon. She went down on him, licking his shaft slowly in a swirl just as she felt him ready to come. Before he almost did, Freddy rolled her on her back and put his tongue inside her, driving her crazy from the first second her wet pussy hit his mouth. After a few minutes of this, she could stand no more, pulling him toward and on top of her as he entered her in a split second. It didn‟t take more than a minute for Freddy to no longer be able to hold anything back as he gasped, “I‟m gonna come, I‟m gonna come, I‟m gonna…” As she looked over the couch toward the door she gasped, seeing Aaron with a .45 in his hand, smiling. “Ready to get back to work?” 93 Jalila screamed. It wouldn‟t be her last. ------------------------------------------------------- “People are sheep. They‟ll accept almost anything imposed on them if they‟re told it‟s for their „own good‟- the war on drugs, seatbelt tickets, bars on the windows of their house in a neighborhood they should control. Now they‟re accepting cameras photographing them at street corners and on city blocks. I mean, how much regulating us can we take?” “Wow, good stuff from Raw” sighed Maria as she viewed the playback monitor in the editing room of station 5. “Are you fucking kidding me, Maria?” Bob practically spit into her face. “We show that and we‟re all out of a job.” “I thought the station with a heart also had a soul” was what Maria wanted to say back to Bob. “What, are you love with this guy?” Bob wanted to say, and did. “Shut the hell up, Bob!” “What?” “What do you mean what?” 94 “Well, you‟re acting like you are. Look, it‟s called „Focus on Five‟, not „Fuck us on Five‟, alright?” Maria wasn‟t paying attention anymore. Her eyes were riveted to the visage of Raw on the playback footage. “Maybe she is” thought Bob, this time to himself. ---------------------------------------------------------- Raw had a little less warm and fuzzy recall of his rendezvous with Maria. Sure, they‟d gone to the hotel suite she‟d reserved under a name that didn‟t end in Contreras and/or Cohen. He recalled how they ordered room service as she didn‟t want to be seen anywhere in public with Raw, because after all- as she‟d observed from the fate of one reporterita from Telemundo, who‟d been figuratively caught with her pants down with the mayor of LA, getting suspended from her employer wasn‟t an option for this smarter Latina. He recalled how they looked out from the Westin suite toward the downward incline of all things south of Sunset Boulevard as the sun actually set. And he recalled how she‟d told him about this reporter named Steven she absolutely hated working with. And when she told him why, it told Raw just how shallow she was. Then he recalled how the bottle of champagne 95 hadn‟t even been finished as she bent over to pick up her purse, and he saw the beautiful cleavage of her ass cheeks framing a pink thong under her ever-so-stylish tight black Capri pants. So, against the setting of the sun on Sunset- she ate him Raw (literally), and he did her. Being that she had been up since five in the manana after getting poked by Saul, worked almost a full day and just achieved two back-to-back orgasms with someone other than her husband, Ms. C-C was quite tired indeed. She passed out in Raw‟s arms after ensuring her cell phone alarm was set to go off by seven PM. After all, she wasn‟t about to wreck her home she‟d so carefully priced and pieced together. What Maria didn‟t, and couldn‟t, recall during those brief few hours of slumber was one of Raw‟s acquaintances coming into the room- a member of the Glass Dick Society- a crackhead named Shopping Cart Willy. After all, Raw had invited him over for a photo session. Oh, there were all kinds of photos: one of Willy hitting the pipe next to Maria‟s bare breasts, one of her splayed out once again, crackpipe inches from her hand resting on the ground next to a used condom and empty bottle of Dom Perignon with Willy‟s gnarly big black penis next to her mouth. In other words, things were heating up in more ways than one. Raw wondered about a lot of things except for what would 96 happen to her career and marriage after he flier-ed photocopies of this all over town above the words “And now for tonight‟s news” or perhaps “Channel Five- the station with ass”. That wouldn‟t take a lot of wondering- gasping and shock, perhaps. He had something to work with now. And all Maria knew when she woke up was that he was ever-so-gently holding her in his arms (as well as those photos stored on a digital camera under the bed). Raw realized he‟d accomplished more in a few hours with a couple photos than any protest with thousands of people could do to stir the public up. He even almost felt sorry for Maria- a sister from the poor side of the tracks that had somehow got sucked up by the dark side of capitalism and conformity. Beside, the flashes of light from the digital camera had freaked him out. They were everywhere he went, real or imagined or maybe both. Either he was being followed or surveilled everywhere he went, or he was losing his mind. --------------------------------------------------------------- Burning Man had never seen anything like it. A phalanx of Nevada Sherriff‟s Department squad cars and unmarked FBI vehicles came screaming up to the periphery of the event. Steven Jung didn‟t take long to be located either. He was a highly visible media figure, after all. All the cops had to do was look 97 for a tall, naked Asian man with a day-glow butterfly painted on his torso. And of course it was only inevitable that this same media would adapt the phrase “Burning Man” and begin calling Steven that. Channel 5 may have been the station with the heart, but it was also beginning to acquire quite a major headache. ----------------------------------------------------------- “Can I help you with anything, Miss?” What the hell was his problem? This was like the third time (in about as many minutes) that Jalila had been asked upon setting foot in the Ralph‟s supermarket. Aggressive almost, they were. What that said more than anything was one of the employees had been “cold” to a customer, who complained to the manager, prompting a work meeting where all employees were told by a skittish management to overcompensate, ironically, yet inevitably making customers more uncomfortable than before. Jalila didn‟t really feel like telling the clerk in aisle two, “Um yes, since you‟re the only place open at this hour, and I‟m in a hurry, can you tell me what‟s best for cleaning blood off of hardwood floors?” 98 However, what Jalila really needed was a gun and survival kit. Things were getting strange all over town, not just in her recently and radically altered world. Everyone was a little more grabby and desperate. Too eager to please? It wasn‟t just limited to this store. She knew if a person with a shotgun meets a man with a pound of gold, the man with the shotgun will soon also have a pound of gold. She wasn‟t one for late-night shopping, especially with Freddy right behind her, trying to hold it together best he weakly could. 99 WEEK 7: A Burning Man participant was found dead this morning, hanging from the inside of a two-story high tent, according to Mark Pirtle, special agent in charge for the Bureau of Land Management. The apparent suicide would be the festival's first in its 21 year history, Pirtle said. Pershing County coroners are investigating the scene and preparing to remove the body. Pirtle said the man was hanging for two hours before anyone in the large tent thought to bring him down. "His friends thought he was doing an art piece," Pirtle said. -San Francisco Chronicle Raw had tried to play the game back in the day. He was in love once…mightily. He just knew it in his gut. He just was. You simply either are or aren‟t- no free will involved. Love is a switch that‟s either turned on or off, and you have no say in the matter. Alas, she did not reciprocate. She told him she didn‟t want a relationship- a relationship she started shortly thereafter with another man. She hadn‟t really lied to Raw. She just didn‟t want a relationship with him. He was miscast, all wrong for the part. Raw…maybe it was short for raw nerve. And so he ducked out of the vicious game called love. At this point, that faint hope had been the only thing holding him in. And when he began his new life, he flourished in the role even as his heart had withered. He could never forget how he‟d be wrenched out of his sleep in the middle of the night, the gnawing throb of heartbreak too acute to just reside in his 100 conscious mind- breaking and entering into his subconscious, denying him any real peace of mind. These are things that shake a man‟s soul- when he dares to say, “This one is clearly different from all the rest. I will make myself a better man for this one. I will improve both our lives, for with her there is nothing I can‟t do. If she lets me in, I will build us a new home, a new life- one that will last until the day I die.” But no, t‟was not to be. Even though she looked too much like the exact woman he wanted, but she was just masquerading as such. That was his fate- to have the perfect woman wrapped in a package he‟d never be able to open. He‟d have to watch others celebrate as they got what they asked for, or even worse- others getting what he wanted and not appreciating this woman like only he could and most unhesitatingly would. Even though it did him no good to draw parallels between unrequited love and opening gifts, there was only one option for Raw…flee the battlefield to lick his wounds. After all, one couldn‟t live in the same place where their heart had been pulled out, only to be bitterly reminded each and every day. To have your misery paraded in front of you…what man could take that? Love had done this to him. Those without love are the ones most resentful of those with, subverting and prostituting it at every turn. That‟s how evil love can be. It‟s not planned or 101 constructed. It just is. It‟s stronger than anything man ever built and has the power to truly heal or destroy any of which man has created. Love, that which has been around for the ages will be around long after we are gone, none of us truly worthy of its promise in the end. Yes, unrequited love had most definitely shaped his destiny, especially him flier-ing the town with copy-machined pix of Maria C-C buck-naked, next to Shopping Cart Willy and the two dicks: his and the glass one. This was the kind of woman who ruined love for all men. ----------------------------------------------------------- “Move it. Damn you!” This was shaping up to be the worst day of Maria Contreras‟ life. The MTA bus in front of her wouldn‟t budge, and hadn‟t for what seemed like the last half hour. “Aye, if buses are the answers to our transportation problems, we‟re screwed” she thought. To Maria, buses were mechanized slugs, programmed to block drivers at every turn. They were full of failures and dreams- those making their way juxtaposed with those beat down day by day. 102 But what was really bothering her was that in a moment of emotional weakness, she had failed to observe one basic tenet- when in an illicit affair, always engage in it with one that has more to lose than you. That was her tragedy. She should have known damn well that Raw had nothing to lose. More than anything, she was mad at herself. She‟d let irrational impulses swell up and they‟d sure as hell done that. Had she‟d known they‟d practically drown her…plus, it didn‟t help that this was the unprecedented seventh mid-August day in a row that the West Los Angeles area heat hovered in the triple digits, marinating with the carbon-dioxide laden atmosphere. Finally, the lane to the left of the one she‟d been trapped in opened up as the bus lurched and crawled in the biggest traffic fuck-you ever. Maria thought “Finally!”, gunning her charcoal gray BMW 318i, blasting through the intersection as one of those ubiquitous traffic camera lights flashed. She didn‟t care. “It‟s worth a ticket just to get out of this accursed hotspot before I melt down”, thought this particular C-C rider. Rolling right onto Fountain Avenue (her favorite side- street detour), Maria started to make up an impromptu rhyme: City buses always seem this way- full of dreamers… 103 Wait! Was this coming out of her mouth? Her head? Yes, it was- and it kept on: …full of schemers- Dreams that went away and those that live day to day- Full of those coming up- too young and innocent to be corrupt… On a day that waves of depression should have been washing over her like a tsunami, Maria smiled the biggest smile she‟d ever done in her adult life. And who knows, maybe part of it was that she‟d been serviced very handily recently as well. She couldn‟t stop the thoughts, the flow… Buses always seem to get in the way- of those in hurry for that higher pay- never seem to go much of anywhere- city buses suck, there…I said it and I don‟t care! Maria smiled so wide it had no choice but to erupt into laughter of joy. She‟d thought of something unscripted, improvised and totally impromptu. She hadn‟t really done this much since she was a little girl. And then she remembered how much she did it as a little girl, and wondered the day her music died. Was it when she realized how grim her fate could be, and enter the way-too-serious girl she became? “Damn, I have to write this down before I forget!” 104 Still laughing out loud, she fumbled for a pen in her seat divider compartment. As she did so she didn‟t notice the little dog scurry out from behind a parked car and onto the street in front of her… ------------------------------------------------------ Steven‟s trial was shaping up to be the media event of the decade. After all, how many evening news anchormen turned into felons overnight? And if there was any way that things changed in LA, it was overnight. And although it wasn‟t the same as an overnight success, it was certainly shaping up to be an overnight spectacle. Steven‟s lawyer had posted a fifty thousand dollar bond to get him out on bail, but he couldn‟t retreat to his condo, for this cocoon from the outside world had now turned into a fishbowl for the investigators and gawkers alike. Now that he needed her the most, Aya had taken this opportunity to flee LA, seeing this as an omen of impending doom, and even worse- all around bad vibes. Besides, it wasn‟t as if she hadn‟t pondered the possibility of living on the NYC coast of things before, and what better catalyst than this imbroglio? The only guarantee in this girl‟s life was change, and there was no greater greenlight to proceed than the Steven fiasco. 105 Aya did not want to be known nationally as Burning Man‟s love-cousin (at least if she stuck around in LA). There could be no bigger tragedy for her than to be typecast as such, each future creative endeavor of hers forever shaded and tainted by this ill-advised communion of souls. Meanwhile, Steven had holed himself up at a Comfort Inn in the San Fernando Valley (which was anything but). The dive motel lost its inherent anonymity the second he checked in anyway. And for once the media circus that ensued this time treated him as the captive animal, not the handler. However, what really bothered Steven (what with his heightened consciousness and all) was what would happen if and when he got out of this mess. “Maybe this is happening for a reason” he thought, “Maybe I do need to get locked up for starting that fire”. And perhaps he‟d lived a whole life without having to pay any consequences, only reaping benefits others had put their ass (and life) on the line to provide to him. His father was the one who‟d had to deal with racism in a big way, not Steven, who only gained from its now-denounced legacy. And perhaps the myriad of criminals and victims he‟d interviewed in the past dealt with tragic consequences, but not Steven, his rising star only fueled by them. 106 “Would it really be so bad?” he wondered. His lawyer had already told Steven the worst case scenario would be two years in a minimum-security facility, him probably only serving half of that with good behavior. “But maybe what I need is to be locked up with everybody else” thought Steven. “Why can‟t I be allowed to hurt- to feel what everyone else is feeling?” It came as no surprise when he heard from news director Bob that the station with a heart had to let him go, his personal news overshadowing any other news he could possibly report (short of World War III). Perception trumps information and knowledge every time in American culture. People want to feel good when they‟re told things. With his now-checkered past (and present), Steven was no longer in the “making them feel good” mode anymore. He was way too sketchy nowadays…almost in the ultimate news villain category: sexual predator. Simply put, he‟d become bigger than any news story he could report…er, read. --------------------------------------------------------------- Jalila had no idea Aaron weighed so much, but then again she‟ never had to transport a dead body. Freddy wasn‟t much help either. He‟d actually wanted to call the police like a little 107 bitch…like they would really understand. She could just imagine the phone conversation had she called: “Oh hi…is this the LAPD? Hi, um…we‟ve got a little situation. Yeah, um…let‟s see- OK, I was getting banged by this guy, but then this other guy that…excuse me? Yes, „banged‟, like as in sex. Anyway, I was getting fucked…is that better? This guy was fucking me and this other guy…who wants to too…fuck me, that is- well, he broke in to where I was having sex or getting banged or fucked…whatever- that‟s not really the important part. So, the guy that wants to fuck me shoots at the guy I‟m fucking and misses because he‟s such a little pussy to begin with. So I get up from my banging, I mean fucking, and tussle…is that a good word?...I tussle with this little pussy and grab the gun out of his hands, accidentally shooting him and next thing I know is he‟s dead. Serves him right, right? Right? RIGHT?” And maybe they‟d understand, but most likely they wouldn‟t. And one thing Jalila wasn‟t taking with this situation was chances. She reckoned that if Aaron had been able to sneak over and up on them so effectively, then he‟d done most of their work already. It was a damn sure possibility he hadn‟t let anyone know he was headed over. Nobody had known, nobody had heard the commotion when he got shot, and nobody would see her and Freddy 108 dump his body in the San Gabriel foothills. Jalila would make sure of that. But it was too damn bad that Aaron wasn‟t a little lighter. Otherwise, she wouldn‟t need blubbering Freddy‟s help. She‟d seen some things in her not-so-distant past in and around Iran. What was one more body? Then again, Freddy was infatuated with Jalila, and he certainly wasn‟t going anywhere- especially some damn fool police station that would be sure to treat her Middle Eastern ass with such impartiality. Here at last was something Jalila was better at than Freddy. Under her tutelage, they had disposed handily of the leaden flesh-shell formerly known as Aaron. Minus a few increasingly decreasing objections from Freddy, it hadn‟t taken that much physical effort to tote Aaron‟s stiff deal into the spacious back of Freddy‟s Audi station wagon. What with all his video gear in the back, it was a cinch to situate cases and cables up, over and around Aaron‟s diminishingly visible corpse. But the real reason this scenario was so familiar to Jalila was that she could still remember having to do this with refugee relatives- albeit live ones. Syria, Pakistan…the border didn‟t really matter- only the purpose…and that was saving lives. And wasn‟t that what she was 109 doing not just to herself, but to Freddy as well. A life in jail was no life at all, was it? It would take a lot less to get someone like Aaron killed in her homeland. This was old hat. She‟d spit on his grave, and she was doing everything in her power to make sure she and Freddy would be the only ones to know where it was. --------------------------------------------------------------- Steven was surprised to see a flier of the nude Maria C-C, stapled to the side of a telephone pole outside his room. Innately knowing Los Angeles the way he did, he sensed he had no way in hell of making bigger news than this. No, compared to this his case would be quietly mediated. The media had a much bigger circus on their hands now- one with its own graphic graphics supplied and everything. Maria C-C and her culo were headed for a bigger circus than LA could possibly contain. It would be a long time before any children‟s fund would let the station with a heart anywhere near the kids. Hell, their motto now may as well have been “Sexual Predators Are People Too”. ------------------------------------------------------ “Shit!” 110 Maria cut her wheels sharply to the left, but it was too late. She fish-tailed her car back-end right into a plastic blue recycle trash can. It sailed onto the curb with a mighty smack and crack, the same curb it had obscured from view. And by obscuring the curb, it had also obscured the sight of little Dali running out into the street. Being a house dog and all the survival skills that doesn‟t entail, Dali simply froze for the one or two crucial seconds his life depended on. In a couple more seconds than it took Dali to choose earthly exodus, Maria chose hit n‟ run exodus, hyper- ventilating, crying and muttering “I can‟t, I can‟t…” the whole ten seconds it took her to peel out of that street and onto La Cienega. She had a newscast to get ready for, not realizing sometimes split-second decisions can change a person‟s whole life. This didn‟t need to be one of the stories for her 5 o‟clock. “I can‟t” quickly changed into “I couldn‟t” as she realized there was nothing she could have done to avoid that. “People need to keep an eye on their dogs. This is a fucking city” she thought, even entertaining the notion of doing a “Focus on Five” segment on runaway dogs. “Yes…” she somehow rationalized, “…maybe that will make him feel better about the whole thing up in doggie heaven”. 111 When she got to work, Bob was about to say something to her but she gave him one of those “don‟t even start” looks before huffing off to re-adjust her smudged mascara and check her hair. She was a professional, after all. When the taping began she started off with a toss to perennial field reporter Angie, reporting live on the scene over a freeway chase on the 101, usually a rarity for this congested, pathetic, parking-lot- excuse of what may have resembled a freeway maybe twenty years ago. Usually these kind of escapades occurred on the ancillary dirt-baggish freeway such as the 605 or whatever the one that led to Pomona was. Ever the pro, Maria faced camera two, “Let‟s go now to Angie Meadows, live from the Sky Chopper Five above the 101 freeway near the Barham exit.” She arched her back as the technical director cut from her to Angie. “One thing‟s for sure…” thought Maria, “I sure need a massage”. Angie‟s face appeared in the monitor. “Thank you, Maria. We‟re here above the…oops.” As Maria‟s headset slid down her forehead, she pushed her hand up to right it, accidentally knocking it off her head. One could almost hear her say “hold on a sec” as she bent down to retrieve it, had the helo not hit some sudden turbulence, 112 causing her skinny-mini newsgirl figure to slip out from under her loosened seatbelt and out of the helicopter, the only direction to go being straight down onto the 101 freeway. To the horror of Maria (and of course, the millions of viewers), as Angie‟s body hit an overpass, it shook and shuddered, collapsed under more than just the weight of petite Angie‟s 113 lb. frame. Indeed, the whole freeway began to rock back and forth… Suddenly, Maria‟s problems didn‟t seem so bad. 113 ACT II: “The longer I live, the more I believe that other planets use the earth as a lunatic asylum.” -George Bernard Shaw 114 WEEK ONE: “An earthquake measuring 8.1 magnitude has rocked the Southland…” -Channel 5 Evening News teaser The city was a mess. It had never been hit with an earthquake of this magnitude. Sure, the Northridge rattler of 1994 had been a hint of shapes to come, and the San Fran cracker-smacker from way back in 1989 seemed like something that only happened up north, not down in So Cal, where buildings had been shaken down and people had been thrown down. The LA Fire Department saw no respite from this plethora of fires flaring up quicker than a steroid-fueled rage. As a result of the quake, there were no workable water supplies to douse anything substantial- the pipes to the buildings fissuring and cracking before anything could be put out in these H20 de-veined structures. The National Guard wasted no time at all getting into Los Angeles. This wasn‟t New Orleans after all. There were way too many rich showbiz-type folk to attend to here, although nearby Malibu was pretty much wiped out. Given its sketchy geography, that was no real surprise, and truth be told- no real loss. 115 Honestly speaking, who of any relevance lived out there anymore? The place was nothing more than a gilded refuge for spoiled baby-boomers sporting perma-tans and wardrobe by Botany 500 all the way to the grave, as out of touch with hell-A as they were stuck in their predominantly white world of the 1970‟s So Cal they‟d never stopped living in and out. Yes, this 8.1 on the Richter Scale rocker had shaken and stirred the southland like an igneous martini. The Department of Water and Power, gas company and cable services were all in tatters, giving Los Angeles county a taste of Baghdad, with Mother Earth providing some homegrown 9-11‟esque TLC. To make matters worse, this terra-not-so-firma geological crackup had occurred during Los Angeles‟ worst heatwave ever. Once Mother Earth decided to fight back, she did so with a mighty one-two knockout punch. Sure, she‟d let those miserable humans think they could continue violating her, lulled into the delusion they were the ones in control. Just to shake it up, as it were…however, the retards‟ playtime was over now. Time for a tectonic smackdown on this stage that is all the world. And since all good plays require a third act, this natural disaster was all that was required to tap the over-extended economy past its point of no return and into its death throes. Emergencies call for unplanned funds, and most were making it on 116 what little they could plan on. There was no nothing nowhere for “unplanned for”- which exactly what the non-existent funds were. There were no FEMA funds for the general populace, instead reserved primarily for arming and housing the multitude of uber- militia operating under this long-since corrupt agency‟s auspices. The only Federal bailout happening in LA (at least without the latest in riot gear) was FEMA opting to bail out of assisting in this mess, except to protect what little was left for even fewer. At least the insects, specifically the ants, had the good graces (or at the very least, instinct) to rebuild their immediate surrounding environment when it was ravaged and demolished. And when their dwellings were done dirty by the hand of man, they did not seek immediate revenge. No…theirs is, was, and always will be a patient breed. They know their days to roam this planet unencumbered by this silly species are not far off. They‟ve been on this Earth long before humans were in production, and most certainly will be around long after post- production of our wretched lot. Yes, “fuck a human” may very well be their motto, could their mandibles do more than merely transport crumbs left behind by us (albeit ones twice their body mass). 117 Across the city, looting and pillaging erupted on a grand scale hither to unknown, making the LA riots look like a 4th of July parade. There is looting, and then there‟s looting. Any common street thug can break into a Washington Boulevard liquor store. However, this kind of looting is merely a refracted image of the looting that occurs on a much grander scale, the kind performed on a daily basis by politicians and corporations lining their pockets at the expense of all. With this in mind, the first place the National Guard focused their energies was where the real wealth lay: in the banks and the Beverly Hills and the movie studios and the increasingly key gas stations. They were a bit more nuanced than the insects in that “Fuck a poor human” may very well have been their motto. As for Raw, the current situation was a big field trip for him. Before, Raw‟s world had been crumbling around him, but it was crumbling directly around him. At least this time he had some company. He knew routes in, between and beyond the city that few else did. After all, he‟d been training for this gig almost a decade, prepping for this second American Revolution that was as inevitable as the first. And where was “the power of love”, as one Mr. Huey Lewis (fronting a band of musical warriors simply called “The News”) once coined and sang it back in an era called the 1980‟s? Now, 118 that same power was in shorter supply than a fresh crack pipe in Amy Winehouse‟s flat. More importantly, Los Angeles suddenly had about as much clean water as it did virgins. Those who had relied on others to survive now had only themselves to rely upon, which proved a much weaker option for many. Those with the most knew they stood to lose the most. Soon they‟d be even worse off than relying on others- they would be at the mercy of others. The power of love was now a rarer commodity than common sense. Fatalities from the actual quake had been low, but the violent melee after that more than made up for the initial human toll. People were angry, people were scared, so many now more alone than they‟d ever been- Los Angeles not exactly the model of Mother Earth‟s nourishing tit. With a good earthquake you had it all…fires, flood, famine; the earth was mercilessly bountiful that way. ----------------------------------------------------------- There was one minor silver lining to this cloud descending upon the land of spoiled milk and honey. This natural disaster had taken the heat off Steven Jung. The courts, stretched to their diminished capacity and resources in the midst of this chaos, had no choice but to expedite his trial. This hurried and 119 scurried his legal hurly-burly to a low-key resolution. Being that nobody could substantially verify the source of the blaze as an ash trailing out of his car, Steven was in the clear. The only thing that had really detained him (at least for the 48 hours before he hustled bail) was the fact that his car was videotaped in the approximate vicinity at the approximate time of the origin of the blaze. However, this proved to be of no matter. The prosecutors had next to zero time to build a solid case against Steven, who was quickly exonerated. Surveying the toxic carnival that Los Angeles was fast becoming, Steven knew to quit when he was ahead. All this recent hassle in his life over an apple toke! His drug-if not years, then- months were over. He was done with all that mess. This was his 1980‟s Aerosmith moment; it was sober times for this one. No “Celebrity Rehab” for him- no, no and no. All he needed was his own wits that had gotten him ahead before all this. He knew he‟d need those wits about him now that there were things in this country screaming to be changed. To be sure, the protest had given him a taste of sweetly possible change. Yet, as he looked at the quake-ravaged ruins of LA, he knew even despite this that nothing would change, it would have to be changed. 120 So it was at this moment Steven Jung began a new vocation. He would no longer report the news, he would create the news. But this was something he couldn‟t do himself. And now, at long last and live- here was Steve-o‟s opportunity to really serve society…the chance to be of the same stature of St. Steven, a title already immortalized in song by one Grateful Dead. As for the station with a heart, he‟d last seen some of those newsfolk at the as-perky-as-she- was-doomed Angie‟s funeral, even though he‟d shown up incognito, disguised with a beard and glasses very shortly following his release. “Poor girl was always kinda clumsy” thought Steven sadly. Later that same day from the peak of Runyon Canyon, Steven scanned the burning disarray of Los Angeles that the quake had caused. Suddenly, all the dogs in this trendy park seemed mostly minus their owners, and perhaps a little more hungry and daring than usual. Packs that seemingly originated from nowhere overnight (and perhaps they did) ran wild as they pleased, taking full advantage of these fresh new dog days of human disarray. Amidst this, Steven also knew he wasn‟t going to be able to do anything fresh in his life by his lonesome. -------------------------------------------------------- 121 The divorce was quick and decisive. After all, how many women have pictures of their bare ass plastered all over MTA buses? And how many married women? Or how many married women with husbands that were cool with it? The list of redemption just got shorter and shorter for Maria, what with her culo hanging out and all- at least all over LA, that is. The only thing worse she could have done to worsen this was give an in- bus appearance to show off her wares. She didn‟t get nothing from the divorce, but she also didn‟t get a whole helluva lot- not nearly as much as she would have gotten in a divorce minus this PR disaster. She had a little nest egg, although no home anymore with the news team that cared about everyone but her now. The only place she dared ventured out anymore was the supermarket. Late at night, she would cruise the food aisles for cheesesteaks, chocolates, cholupas…anything to dull the pain. Naturally as it was unnatural, she rapidly added a dozen to twenty pounds, as would anyone on such a carbohydrate suicide mission. With depression as the main course, all the appetizers she was shoving in her mouth didn‟t seem so filling. Maria didn‟t go out these new dark days, so it wasn‟t like she had to worry about what she looked like anymore. As long as she continued being reclusive, she continued being fat. Out of sight, out of 122 mind…all that. Then, one morning she caught sight of her predominantly porky profile in the harsh, cold light of a sober morning. At this moment something snap, crackled and popped...whatever it did, it pushed her over the edge. So she decided to check out, courtesy of a handful of “vikeys” and some Ambien. Somehow, these two negatives multiplied into a positive. With her lack of suicide OJT, she had chanced onto this positive- positively high, that is. Soaring in the somatic stratosphere, she began to thumb through the cable radio channels on her satellite TV in this increasingly addled and paddled state. As so many have found out way before her, music just plain sounds good when you‟re high. Suddenly an old Pretenders song leaped out, grabbed her by the ear (accompanied with a neat little body-rush). I was a good time…. Yeah, I got pretty good at changing tires Upstairs, bro… I shot my mouth off and you showed me What that hole was for… She spent the rest of the day, playing song after song she could download onto her computer, in a state of altered reality, 123 listening and analyzing track by track, creating a new reality. By the end of that day, she collapsed in a state of mental and spiritual exhaustion. The next morning, she awoke-refreshed like never before, drained of dread as she was flush with resolve. Simply deciding in her Maria-like resolve that enough was enough, she began to diet down as quickly as she had ballooned up. She knew all of this would have devastated a lesser woman, but this was Maria C now, with no other C‟s attached. Perhaps she should have paid more attention to the symptoms of her social schizophrenia (like the hyphenated name). And if these symptoms were flaring up again, this time they were offering salvation instead of sorrow. So perhaps the demise of Maria Contreras-Cohen bore the birth of what she had really wanted to be all along as a little girl, back before the world scared her so. She‟d parlay all the kinetic energy she‟d channeled into her news career towards this new venture, albeit one with a lot more guts involved to get to the glory. It was something she‟d held inside. Something she always wanted to be: Yes, she would be a musical performer now. She would be no Beonce or Mariah or Celine clone- hell no! Maria was all about the empowerment. There was too much of it 124 rampant in the wrong male hands. Much as the gays had empowered the word queer and taken it back as their own, and as the blacks had taken back the No-word (albeit minus an er, but plus an ah…), Maria Contreras simply became La Cont. She was the C word with a Latin twist. PJ Harvey, Chrissie Hynde, Karen O, Siouxsie…these were the tough, arty broads La Cont aspired to and admired, but Maria would have never admitted she did. Unlike Maria, you‟d never catch one of these chicks ever doing the news with a straight face. No, these chanteuses knew and had seen way too much, the too much that Maria had tried so hard to shut out, but La Cont would soak like a sponge. She‟d make sure to write all her own material, paving her own way from her glossy head to her luscious lips to her newfound steady stance. She would find her audience, not a pre-tuned-in one. At thirty two years old, Maria had never felt older than before the liberation that came from dissolving her loveless marriage with Saul. Now, her brush with death had kicked the door open to let La Cont in. And she wasn‟t knocking politely. Yes, maybe that fling with Raw had been a blessing. It had given her the wings to fly away. She knew she wouldn‟t have been able to end it with Saul, with her so-called vida before all this. It had to be ended for her. And as far as dealing with Raw 125 was concerned, she bore no rancor. After all, the best revenge would be her new success. WEEK TWO: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has requested more than $2 billion to finance grants to state and local governments for homeland security needs. Some of this money is being used by state and local governments to create networks of surveillance cameras to watch over the public in the streets, shopping centers, at airports and more. - www.epic.org She‟d been too late. It was a damn shame, because Lina had almost tracked Dali down- up to the point where she witnessed his execution at the hands of that awful, evil woman who had run over him. Darted out in the street? Her Dali would never do that! With her house burnt down and her face looking like it spent some time between a George Foreman grill, Lina had nothing to lose. Nowadays she was all alone in the world- her only company being the voice in her head…that of the old character that she used to play on “Days of the Week”, Mary Sue. And right now Mary Sue was telling her to take no prisoners. But what she had taken was the license plate number of that black BMW of death. To think- the despicable murderer of her baby had gotten away with it…or at least so she thought. “Let her think that” 126 smirked Lina (or at least as much as she could with her melted face), for she knew revenge was a dish best served cold. Jalila felt that she and Freddy were a real team now. This was literally a ground floor opportunity, this blessing called the greatest Los Angeles earthquake. That‟s all she had ever really wanted- to be a vital part of a creative team. Jalila looked up from her spot underneath Freddy, who was fucking her squarely under the stars on the roof of their new dwelling on Normandie Avenue at the Langham that had been built in 1928, home to such luminaries and scumfucks as Ronald Reagan (way, way, way before he became an assclown on a national leadership scale). As Freddy shot his load and rolled over, Jalila grabbed a cigarette from the pocket of his shirt lying inches away from his head. “Look.” Freddy pulled his pants back on, propping his torso up to a 45 degree angle. “What?” “The stars.” “Yeah, you can see „em all. The sky sure is light tonight.” 127 Which could have meant many things, but what he probably was referring to was the reflected light from the multitudes of tiny, at least from an apparent magnitude point-of-view, fires dotting the terra (not-so) firma to the direct south. These were where stores were being looted, with the National Guards there. The LAPD was stretched tighter than a Demi Moore nip n‟ tuck. However, as there was not a critical mass of rich white folk to the east it wasn‟t the top priority on the social order scale. When shit fucks up, it tends to fuck up all at once. Suddenly a loud pop diverted their ears away and behind them to the west. Jalila spoke first: “What was that?” “Shit, sounded like a bomb.” “Could have been…” “Well, where‟s it coming from?” Freddy strained his eyes through his glasses. “It‟s coming from where the museum is...LACMA.” Freddy ran his finger down Jalila‟s thigh as she busily pulled on her shirt. “Not now. We‟ve got to go shoot some footage.” 128 “Right this second? What are we going to do about lighting? We have none. It‟ll be high-gain grainy as fuck.” “What? Are you afraid, Freddy?” What if it was a bomb? Jalila had seen way worse than this: “Hey Freddy, remind me to get you some pussy repellent, because I can smell it all over you right now.” Freddy put his fingers to his nose, “Yeah, so can I.” “I‟m not talking about that kind.” “I am.” “Not now. Freddy. We need to capture the truth...what happens when the lights do go out…what really happens.” “The truth? What do you know about the truth? I mean, didn‟t you know that Aaron was going to go off the deep end? Couldn‟t you see that truth? Or at the very least, the warning signs?” Freddy took a cigarette, blowing it upwards into the glowing evening air before continuing, “You know the sad part, Jalila? I think you detect them- the warning signs, that is- and seeing as you did nothing…but then again, maybe that‟s what you like…strife.” 129 “What are you talking about?” “You heard me.” Jalila was about to interject most vociferously, but suddenly shifted into a tartly tight-lipped smile, “Oh Daddy, I like when you talk to me like that.” At which point Freddy didn‟t know what to make of her for the rest of his increasingly dangerous life. He bent down, pulled up her shirt and whimsically kissed her diamond star- studded belly button. “OK, let‟s git!” He shifted his country-western vernacular to an aristocratic upper-crust gear, “Let us go to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Toodle-do, then.” Some enterprising thugs had decided they‟d hit up LACMA, and indeed, just had. Up until yesterday there had been a huge Salvador Dali exhibit, but now the surrealism of what was occurring dwarfed any vision Dali could conjure. All his artwork had already been stolen by the time Freddy and Jalila were anywhere close. 130 And the explosion heard all the way from Freddy‟s rooftop? Well, A loco yokel had a big pipe bomb he wanted to (and did) throw into the La Brea Tar Pits…just to see what would happen. And had the National Guard not been there earlier, they now rapidly arrived- on a state of paranoid high-alert. Yes, they had failed their masters on this one- overlooked some wealth slipping through their Barney Fife-esque bumbling and fumbling hands. And this only meant one thing- these young recruits barely of legal drinking age would be arriving with itchy trigger fingers. The ghosts of Kent State and the 1968 Democratic Convention had been long forgotten by now, their lessons no longer valid in this millennium. In no time the scent of pepper-spray was in the air as the Guard donned gas masks, everyone else choking and sobbing their way through this sudden blitzkrieg busily assaulting their mucous membranes and respiratory system. It was in this noxious environment that Freddy and Jalila rolled up to, halted on Wilshire Boulevard by a Humvee at a check point a few blocks east of the museum. The young reserve officer with a fresh haircut and no chin approached them: “May I see some identification, please?” Freddy paused for a second. 131 “Anything wrong, sir?” Which was a stupid question, because at this point, what wasn‟t wrong? Jalila pinched Freddy on his thigh, muttering “Just give it to him!” She knew Freddy was still a live nerve about the whole Aaron affair, much as she knew that was so not on the guard‟s list. Freddy fumbled through the pockets of his cargo pants. “My wallet…I can‟t find my…” As the officer placed his right on the pistol strapped to his hip, Jalila smiled and pulled out her ID, leaning and breathing low toward this ugly weekend warrior of an officer. “Here‟s my ID, sir. This knucklehead must have left his next to my bed.” She giggled and ruffled Freddy‟s remaining hair, the hair that nowadays was quickly turning gray. The officer, not really used to this real-life drill, looked around nervously. “Uh, I don‟t think that I can…” Jalila slid her index finger up the creased uniform of the officer. She got even closer, cooing into his ear: “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” 132 Suddenly another loud explosion cracked the early evening night air on its ass, making a deafening boom and knocking the officer into Jalila‟s chest. “Excuse me, m‟aam.” “Mmmm, that felt good.” “Sorry to bother you two. We have to go…” He let out a loud whistle and he and his troops bolted toward the museum, their checkpoint having been no deterrent at all for that one. Who needed foreign terrorists when LA had so many hometown ones awakening to the lush tapestry of fresh opportunity now afforded them? From across the street behind what used to be a gas station (until the blast had now turned it into an inferno), Steven beamed. Why not? He‟d had his first experience with what could be marketed by Fisher Price to budding terrorists as “My First Bomb”. Even though unintentional, that Coldwater Canyon fire had awoken something in him. Sure, it was a bad thing. Sure, he didn‟t try to do it. But it sure as hell made people get up and notice, springing them into action (at least some kind of) as a direct result. Politics and news reached people‟s ears all the time, yet rarely changed their minds. However, whenever a bomb 133 reached near anybody, they moved their asses…and quickly! It was now clear how to really get people‟s attention- all that remained was to figure out how they would react. However, one thing he hadn‟t figured on was that he‟d already gotten a couple of people‟s attention already… 134 WEEK THREE: Freeganism is a total boycott of an economic system where the profit motive has eclipsed ethical considerations and where massively complex systems of productions ensure that all the products we buy will have detrimental impacts most of which we may never even consider. Thus, instead of avoiding the purchase of products from one bad company only to support another, we avoid buying anything to the greatest degree we are able. -www.freegan.info Little known fact: Raw had been a teacher once. An elementary school teacher. He started doing it after he lost his enthusiasm for corporate America, or rather it had failed to muster any for him. It had done everything in its power over him to ensure he‟d most definitely not be on that fast track to success, all the while making sure he slaved long hours, greasing the track with his blood and sweat for someone else who was already wealthier and whiter. So he switched careers mid-adulthood. At least teaching was color-blind and he‟d work less hours, or so he rationalized. There was no shortage of jobs doing this in the inner-city: in South Central, Inglewood, Watts…nothing but opportunities galore due to a lack of male role models. They didn‟t even have to be saints, just present. So Raw entered this untainted arena with the zeal of a missionary. 135 He‟d show up first thing in the morning, ensuring the children received their state-subsidized breakfast. After all, he knew it was a damn positivity they weren‟t getting one at home. Raw‟s name back then was Ronald Dawson, back in the days ruled by President Reagan, the biggest asshole to ever hold that same first name. Although the non A-hole Ronald had no children or wife, he was expected to not only be teacher but parent to these lost children he now taught. He knew they needed-nay, craved- structure. However, every time he tried to discipline a child it would end up with a mad mother at a conference. He still remembered his last parent conference. She was a huge woman, fed by a steady diet of junk food and ignorance. It started off something like this: “Good morning, Ms. Gordon.” And they would usually never acknowledge him, instead barging in like they were in a line at Hometown Buffet: “I don‟t why the hell you got me coming all the way up here for some bullshit. My son ain‟t no little bitch and…” “Ms. Gordon, your son is nine and, um…rather large for his age. He assaulted a smaller…much smaller classmate on the playground. This is a serious matter.” 136 “That ain‟t what he told me. He said that Dante been messin‟ with him.” “Well then, that‟s why I called you in here, because as I can assure you, that is not the case. In fact the case is 180 degrees from that.” “Don‟t get all fancy teacher terms with me. You telling me my baby‟s a liar?” “Um, more like a bully.” “What you talkin‟ „bout? He just tryin‟ to be a man, makin‟ his way.” “Making his way to juvenile hall if he doesn‟t stop acting this way.” “Oh, so now you sayin‟ I don‟t know how to raise my own damn children!” At which point Ronnie D would throw up his hands and give up. If the good Lord hadn‟t destroyed his mind by this point, he sure as hell knew how to torture it. By now Ronnie decided to hop on the fuck-it express. It just wasn‟t worth it to raise a fuss with Big Mama. And to her credit, at least this mother showed up. Most didn‟t even bother. And the fathers? They were more extinct than an original member of the Temptations, nothing 137 but a drunk whisper in the night air- which is how many of these students were conceived anyway. Abortion was about as much of an option as turning down a federal assistance check. Time after time, the explicit message drilled into these kids‟ heads was “don‟t even try”. The months and years passed. And Ronnie got older, but not so much wiser. Ronnie was getting tired. He knew the more years he had on the planet, the less options he had. So why fuck with the wrong ones anymore? However, he still had one thing offering him hope. He‟d started working at a new school- a school where he met a new substitute teacher, 26 years old to his then 34. Her name was Jessica Herrera. She was Mexican and he loved that- he was so over American women too old to act (even though they almost always did) like spoiled little girls. She was gangly, with curly auburn hair that threatened to explode out of its hair-tie at any moment. Her eyes danced like a non- Fleetwood Mac tango in the night. She wore braces, perhaps a bit too old to wear them. No matter- it just made her seem adorable and sexy at the same time, her mouth a tantalizing gift to be soon unwrapped. And who would be the lucky one to open it? But this one was different. He could tell already. She told him she was a dancer- certainly not that kind, but the artistic kind! She was taking classes in special education to get her 138 credential. It seemed to him from the second he said “hello” to her she was on him like Spanish on rice (no pun intended). They were inseparable for the remaining week at work whenever they had a spare moment, be it lunch break or sitting and joking their little private jokes softly through a boring staff meeting. And what did Ronald care? Let the others stare and gossip, those haters! He was for once enraptured with somebody, their ever-closer body language obvious to every co-worker as much as Ronald and Jessica were oblivious to their noticing. And as they did so, she would tell him how she had moved to the United States from Mexico when she was sixteen. This spunky senorita had pulled herself up by her huraches and gone to UCLA (to his lesser Cal State Northridge). It seemed so natural, so inevitable- getting her phone number was a foregone conclusion. When they talked on the phone, they joked about how he was her PBF (phone boyfriend), and as far as he knew- he was that, with much more to come. However, there was one slight problem, she told him. She had a boyfriend. He was an older man with more money. He was also her dentist in Tijuana where she had her braces put on, except she did not love him. This she told Ronald, and he believed her. In his mind, she was indeed the goods because she was being straight with him. After all, when 139 two people click, it‟s not always guaranteed to happen at the most opportune or optimum time. She was cute. She was honest. Yes, she would be his girlfriend, and they would begin a new life together. He was so dead wrong. They went out on a date, one where he bought her dinner and acted the gentleman- only one margarita, one light beer and two glasses of Merlot over a five hour span, with no cigarettes whatsoever. At the end of the evening he went to kiss her goodnight, but even though she didn‟t turn away, she didn‟t reciprocate. Sensing his need for clarification, she told him she needed to break up with her self-labeled “sugar daddy” first. Even though Ronald didn‟t see it that way, she explained to him that she had to be fair to both him and the ex. Surely he could understand that. After that night, she never called him back or showed up to his school. He was as confused as confused could be. Hadn‟t he been compelling enough to sway her over? She had rendered him delusional, convinced it was otherwise. He had lain himself bare, exposed…and she‟d trampled all over his naked soul. He‟d now been internationally jilted, his illusory hope of finding a 140 foreign alternative to the American bitch dashed on the rocks. Dark depression washed over him. But Ronald had something about him that was as indefinable as it was strong. He wouldn‟t let that drown him- he wasn‟t down quite yet. Despite this, he showed up to work- a bitter man with his head down, plowing toward a brighter future. Surely there had to be light at the end of the tunnel. And then one day very shortly thereafter a kid threw a book at him. It hit him in the back, a sucker punch to the kidney. It hurt, but Ronald knew it probably didn‟t leave a bruise. And so he sent the offender out, and as he did so a corpulent assistant principal showed up, asking him if he would like the kid to return to class. Still smarting, Ronald addressed her curtly with a short “No!” The next day he was being sent home for the day for insubordination. Being that he was a newer teacher there and still on probation, his future at the school was now hanging in the air. A bad recommendation would certainly haunt him wherever else he‟d go. A few years and many dollars training for this job were now sinking back into the tunnel further away from the light. 141 So he descended into the darkness, specifically the darkness of the HMS Bounty (an old man‟s bar if there ever was one)on Wilshire Boulevard across the street where the Los Angeles Unified School District couldn‟t keep its ignorant hands from tearing down the historic Ambassador Hotel. Yes, the same hotel where hope had died over four decades ago when Bobby Kennedy had been gunned down by a lone Syrian in the hotel kitchen on his way to change the country. Then again, of course this festering wound had to be torn down. America didn‟t like to be reminded of her failures. But Raw was no Bobby Kennedy…at least yet. As with most increasing evenings of his, he sat on his stool at the Bounty, drinking his drink and not really paying any mind to either the Dodgers game stats from the TV mounted on the wall or the oppressively, omnipresent Sinatra playing on the juxebox. Everything furnishing this musty watering hole was all as ancient as the clientele in this dive that may have very well been magnificent back in the days when it actually was the hotel bar it was built to be. He didn‟t want to talk to anybody, but that didn‟t mean there wasn‟t someone who would talk to him regardless of whether he was willing to listen or not. Sure enough, a grizzled older 142 black man in a flannel shirt with a pack of Winstons in the front pocket sat down next to Ronald. “Nice day for a drink, eh?” As if. Any day looked like a nice day for a drink for this man, beaten up by that bitch called life. Non-deterred, the man continued: “So what‟d you do?” “Um, teach. Well, maybe not for long.” “Teacher? How about that? I used to work at a school.” “Really?” “Yup.” The man pointed in an eastern direction, “Central Juvenile Hall…heard of it?” “I think so.” “Well, if you ever been there, you ain‟t forgettin‟ it anytime soon, brother. It‟s the oldest, the coldest- the one where the real problem kids is sent. Know what I‟m sayin‟?” Ronald nodded his head, more out of respect for his elders than anything. 143 “Anyways, Central ain‟t no lightweight camp, pussy-ass „alternative-ed‟ or drug treatment center. It‟s the real deal, yo. I mean, when a kid be really fuckin‟ up in L.A., they send his ass to Central…the mothership, ya feel me?” Ronald didn‟t feel like feeling anybody right then, but he shook his head once more, greenlighting the rest of this stranger‟s conversation: “If you a masochist, go teach there. Better yet, teach a „special day class‟. Remember how you used to treat substitute teachers as kids back in the day?” With not even a wait for a headshake this time, he resumed, “Yeah, this shit is one step away from getting paid to be punched in the face. And if you stick around long enough, you probably gonna get that too.” “No, I taught elementary school.” “What happened?” The man looked at Raw a bit suspiciously, “Ain‟t no funny stuff occurred?” “No, no…nothing like that.” “Well, see here- I wasn‟t a teacher. I was a probation officer for LA County. Seen all kinds of shit up in there, trust me. Even as we be runnin‟ out of oil, rain forests and just 144 plain ol‟ good jobs, ain‟t never gonna be no shortage of fuckups to lock up. Know what I‟m sayin‟?” And this time Ronald nodded because he knew exactly what he was saying. And that afternoon, Ronald learned many more things about today‟s youth from this man. Among them… 1. When you‟re selling meth, make sure you put the baggies up in your gums when the po-po come knockin‟. 2. You can make a pipe out of an ordinary ballpoint pen, some tape and a penny. 3. Books are for tagging, not reading. 4. Walkie talkies are as only good for saving your teacher ass as the responsiveness of the probation staff. 5. What good are video cameras in the classroom for protection if somebody tilts it at the ceiling or covers it? “That‟s where the road‟s headed? Why even knock myself out?” thought Ronald. After that day, Ronnie said his sayanoras to that ol‟ status quo. Now, he didn‟t get fired or quit. He simply didn‟t appear at work anymore from that moment on or respond to any communication from them. Maybe they fired him first, maybe 145 they didn‟t- he really didn‟t give a tossing fuck what they did anymore anyways. He‟d cut off his landline phone service, finally left alone by all- at least until he was evicted. And this time his back had no wall left to be pushed against. He was all on his own. So shortly (and naturally) after that and fueled by yet another endless eve at the HMS Bounty, Ronald got extremely drunk, crashing his car one balmy late fall eve. He was lucky as there were no police present, quickly leaving it where it lay- the old “duck n‟ run”. The next morning he called the police, reporting it stolen. Even though it was on a side street, he was never contacted back by the police about it. He should have known they‟d leave him alone if it was a situation where he was asking them to help him. And when he got his gas turned off, his water and power and then finally got that eviction, Ronnie went to that by-now- stripped-out cocoon of a car, habituating and hibernating in it. He knew that he could have died then and there and it wouldn‟t have mattered to anybody else, which was exactly why it did matter so much to him. So one day not too far from when he began staying in this shell of a vehicle, Ronald ripped off his dirty clothes with the exception of a pair of shorts and sensible running shoes, until the chrysalis that was Raw emerged. 146 He walked away from that and into the city. And he began to run. And when he got to the city he found the first available shopping cart and began scouring the alleys and dumpsters of Los Angeles for cans and bottles. By the end of that first day, the misfit formerly known as Ronald had made enough on recycle station deposits that he began a short residency. It was in a nearby fuck-motel on South Normandie Avenue called- ironically enough- The Snooty Fox. Fast forward a few weeks of this and he was now also able to afford a reliable mountain bike. Sure, he could have stolen one and saved some money, but Raw didn‟t want to be looking over his shoulder anymore this time. If he was to write a new code for his life, he would not be felled by the ones that opposed it. As he became a freegan and ate from those same dumpsters, food was never a problem. Langer‟s Deli or the supermarkets were always throwing something out. Gradually his hair grew out, and as he ate better and rode his bike everywhere his body filled out, revived from the eradication of everyday society‟s toxicity. Soon he was able to afford a downtown loft space in the middle of skid row. As soon as he moved in he let the maximum of 147 sunlight in through the windows to grow his own vegetables and fruits, mainly eliminating his reliance on the dumpsters. Soon, he was growing them on the roof. One evening around that time he saw “Inconvenient Truth”, immediately sensing this was something substantiating what he‟d been doing. Another evening shortly thereafter, fueled with enthusiasm from that movie, he attended a monthly “green soiree” at the Culver Hotel. He should have saved his energy. It was just another extension of young corporate America. Mainly, the affluent and connected- those not really interested in anything green anybody without money had to say. The whole “green” thing for them was nothing more the cargo to their ongoing money train. Raw just didn‟t fit in with the green-talkers not doing a lot of walking. “Just as well” thought he, sensing perhaps he was onto something that most weren‟t. No movement could or ever would start with their pampered asses. They wouldn‟t know how to live off the land even if it bit them on their little trust-fund asses. But now…this recent quake, which had shaken their job security, was like a job promotion for Raw. No, Raw would form his own “Earth Army”. And then the earthquake hit. Most adults were unprepared, it was the children who suffered the most. The generation that spawned them was now exposed as the safety and security frauds they were- all their adult lip service about responsibility 148 nothing but a sour throwaway from yesterday. Now their children, hungry and thirsty, were angry…on a much larger scale than anyone had ever anticipated. Whereas Ronald had suspected this, Raw knew this implicitly. However, this time he would be able to show them a better way, unencumbered by those who so transparently and obviously never knew about their own children and students. Ronald never would have been able to do this, but Raw sure as hell could (and would). 149 WEEK FOUR: A spate of coyote attacks in the fast-growing suburbs east of Los Angeles have left parents on edge and puzzled wildlife officials. State Department of Fish and Game spokesman Steve Martarano says the animals appear to be losing their fear of humans, and are behaving more aggressively. Coyotes normally avoid contact with humans and hunt rabbits and rodents. But scientists say some that live near suburban developments are becoming bolder, raiding garbage or even attacking pets and humans. -AP Los Angeles After the tumultuous last couple days, the city was trying to dust its knees off and regain its balance. Yet it was a shaky equilibrium. What this natural disaster had done more than anything was hasten the decline of Los Angeles into a third- world city, the gulf between wealth and poverty ever more apparent, the few employing private services and increasingly larger numbers of security to ward off the disenfranchised many. There was fear now inside the gated walls. They weren‟t safe anymore and they were just now beginning to realize it. Whereas lately the sole nocturnal predator had been the increasingly bolder coyotes, human lurkers were beginning to give them a run for their money. Just as what had been happening in many a South American country, the wealthy and powerful here were beginning to disappear from their Calabasas or Westwood homes, the next day being offered up for ransom on the evening 150 news. Nobody was more aware of this than a nervous Saul Cohen, who now chose to hire his own private armed security from the burgeoning industry that people like he had spawned. The only problem was that they got to Saul before he got around to hiring real protection- Blackwater professional-killer like. Within hours his pasty face was plastered within the chyron window to the left of every news anchor in town (that is, except for Channel 5‟s) reporting on the abduction of the ex- husband of disgraced anchorwoman Ms. Contreras- (ex)Cohen. It was almost as if she was responsible, but the real culprit was simply the wholly holy American pursuit of Benjamin Franklin, or at least his image on all those C notes hopefully headed some happy kidnapper‟s way. Being Saul was an important and financially influential member of the community (with the emphasis leaning more toward financially influential), a reward was issued along with a bounty for the capture of the kidnappers, a growing cancer that needed to be excised and demised. Saul‟s safe return was only part of this parcel. Freddy, feeling confident in his newfound mercenary skills, decided this was the gig for him. Hell, he already knew who did it. He‟d overheard some MS 13 vatos in his hood, speaking in hushed Hispanic tones at the Carl Jr‟s on Wilshire and Normandie. 151 Little did they know that Freddy was bilingual (one positive of growing up in LA) and picking up on what they were saying, or at least who they were saying it about- the husband of that heina from Channel 5. Being a good documentarian, Freddy just happened to have his Sanyo “talk stick” microchip audio recorder in his pocket. He clicked it on, and listened to it at home. That was all he needed to decipher and who and where they were from. He made a few calls after that, and bingo! All he had to do was set up a trap- one disguised as a meeting. It would be easy enough to take out a couple MS 13 punks in over their head- anything more complicated than spray- painting the side of a strip mall Laundromat and they were lost. They knew as much about a rich Jew as they did the English language. If anything, the art of kidnapping required a strong command of communication. However, sometimes a cut-off ear is worth a thousand words, but that was so J. Paul Getty 1970‟s. Hands and feet- bigger appendages were where it was at these days…at least for these El Salvadorans. Toes and fingers? That shit was a dime a dozen! Cutting off a big ol‟ right foot? Now, that meant business. Nothing said “let‟s talk…now!” like a gray, rotting left foot sent Fed Ex Overnight. So when a not-so-big but pretty ol‟ foot arrived at Channel 7 (Channel 5‟s nemesis!), all it took was some match-up to a DNA 152 sample from one of Saul‟s crusty boxers in the laundry hamper of the ex Contreras-Cohen casa. The Los Angeles Police didn‟t need any more impetus (or excuse) than that to come crashing down on the Mara Salvatrucha like the Gestapo. What better excuse to try out all those nifty robotic innovations in riot gear? Business was booming for them as of late- although nowhere near the pace of the Blackhawks and other indie security firms. Private security was where the real cash was because anything private was no longer anywhere near as secure as it had been just a few years back. And with the way the state of California had evolved into a police state, it was high time for a new and improved LAPD riot-force coming-out party…like a quincenera, except the piñatas this time were anyone protesting. Or maybe it was like a bar mitzvah, one where you lose everything- starting with your front teeth. But what a fun time it was for misanthropes to try out new toys on their fellow human! Why, you could turn everybody into “Tommies” nowadays: deaf, dumb and blind. It being high time for the fascist dum-dum boys, MS 13 was getting squashed like a mosquito that had been buzzing around the ear of the city for way too long. It was time to get swatted. Nothing cleaned up the gangs like fascism. Like the Nazis in pre-WWII Germany, the LAPD had become too big for competing thugs to exist. 153 So, on paper everything looked good- good and ready- for Freddy to step in and send a couple of these punks back across the border, except in a cardboard box in the back of a La Migra van. Their final journey would lead them back to their native El Salvador, but probably not…just too many miles and at least as much trouble over those miles. Unfortunately for Freddy (and even more for Saul), the staged meeting with Saul‟s captors didn‟t go so well. When they saw him, and recognized him as the weirdo white guy that was always around the neighborhood, they figured he was an undercover cop. After all, why would a white older-ish dude like him hang around the dirty underbelly of K-town? He wasn‟t especially odd-looking or anything, he just looked odd being there. Freddy entered the agreed-upon destination, right behind a liquor store on Hoover Avenue. Being new at this sort of thing, one thing Freddy hadn‟t realized was how mistrusting these gangbangers were of white guys, especially with the heightened and agitated sensitivity compounded by the whiter and wealthier guy they‟d kidnapped. Both parties were obviously in over their heads, and Freddy‟s overestimation of his Spanish skills did him no favors. The conversation went something like this (in Spanish): 154 FREDDY What‟s up? Looks like you have something I want and I have something you need so bad. GANGBANGER 1 That‟s right…I guess. GANGBANGER 2 Doesn‟t he have something we want and we have what he needs? GANGBANGER 1 Shut the fuck up, esse! FREDDY So where is what I want…more than anything? GANGBANGER 1 What does he want more than anything? GANGBANGER 2 Dang, this fools sounds straight-up gay. GANGBANGER 1 I don‟t know…hey, he looks like that fool down the block. GANGBANGER 2 With that hot chick? GANGBANGER 1 Maybe that‟s why we ain‟t jacked him yet. At which point both of them looked at each other, wondering the same thing at the same time: “What the hell is he doing here?” 155 Fearing a setup that only the white boy could give them, they both drew their burners. However, Freddy was a bit of a hot shot by this point, drawing quickly (to their surprise/demise): “Here ya go, ya gang-tagging fucks! Here‟s for all the ugly tagging you‟ve done to my neighborhood with your bald, tatted, Pro-Club XXL wearing ugly asses!” In the name of poetic justice, he liberally sprayed the both of them with bullets as if it so much paint in a can. However, what he hadn‟t counted on and expect to hear was a loud, painful groan from the car behind the freshly-deceased MS- 13er‟s. Before he could muster a “Goddamn it!” he saw the agonized face of a bound, gagged and one-footed Saul Cohen in the bloody backseat of the car. He ran over to Saul, pulling the gag off his mouth, only to hear his last words: “You dumb son of a …” And that was the end of Saul the mattress magnate, with no apparent heir. But then again, this was Freddy‟s first time at this mercenary thing. Firsts of anything, whether it be the first time you have sex, your band‟s first gig, your first wedding…they usually tended toward disaster. Freddy knew how to kill alright, just not that accurately. He was like a young man at the bar for the first time on his 21st birthday. He knew he 156 would fuck somebody- just not sure exactly who. He wouldn‟t die trying- that would be for the others while he was- trying, that is. He even envied the MS 13‟ers he took out- at least all the fun they‟d had gangbanging while he‟d grown up white and oh-so- isolated from that street party. The customers at the Border‟s coffee nook had enough. Here they were trying to enjoy a cup of coffee and perhaps a croissant or muffin on a beautiful morning, the first one with a repaired post-quake electrical power grid. All they wanted was a return to normalcy, domestic bliss and all that- however delusional. Everyone looked over to the crazy lady with a melted face, screaming at one and all (from outside the front window): “Warhol!” Sooner or later they would haul away. They always did. Despite this (or maybe even because of this), Steven liked to go to this Border‟s nowadays. He‟d sip coffee, listen to Josh Grobin and John Legend (people who won Grammies but nobody seemed to ever listen to except in public forced-listening situations like this). All that acid-rock trip-hop music he‟d been dabbling with scared him now. Much like the sell-out baby- boomers, he reached back to something safer and blander. He 157 would sit and read for hours. He‟d cleaned up his act- drug- free, wearing Abercrombie Finch as if they were going out of business tomorrow (and indeed would). It was if a new job, fresh haircut and hot bowl of soup could fix everything. Once in awhile he‟d get recognized, but the reading glasses and Gap baseball cap pretty much made it a guessing game as to his identity. He was just another UMA (upwardly mobile Asian) to the casual observer, enjoying a little archetypal relaxation via studious pursuits. However, if the observer peered closer, they‟d realize this was no grad student studying chemistry, geology or physics. They‟d put together the pieces, just as Steven was quietly putting together the necessary know-how to expand his acumen of how to build a better bomb. After all, if all those sexual predators he‟d previously exposed looked like what they actually were to all around them, they‟d be out of business. When it came to deviancy, anonymity was the name of the game. And that‟s when he ran into something he wasn‟t looking for at all…or rather someone. He‟d sit in the circle of faux-leather chairs next to the Seattle‟s Best Coffee bar manned by chatty teenage baristas, oblivious to anyone or anything over the age of twenty-five. 158 She was a slender, mulatto woman, her hair pomaded and pulled back. Not much in the chest department, but two sizzling slices of thigh. She wore a slinky flower-print dress, the slight tattering and odd light stain a hint that all was not well in bookstore-lady town. Steven didn‟t really think much of it the first couple of times he saw her there, just another local that liked to read…read Harper‟s Bazaar, Vogue, and Glamour magazines- all those monthly glossy promises of a better female existence. Upon closer inspection, he began to notice the various bags on the floor to her side- things that weren‟t full of recently- shopped goods. Steven peeked over quickly, confirming everything in one glance. It was her clothes. She was in the bookstore reading these idyllic tomes of better times right next to her traveling wardrobe. If that didn‟t scream out homeless, what did? Yet, there she‟d be…almost every day Steven was. Usually she‟d be in that dress, but always she would be reading those glamour mags. “Shouldn‟t she be reading the „help wanted‟ ads in the paper?” thought Steven. She had to be delusional, and she had to be crazy. If anybody loved a good story, it was definitely Steven. He‟d look at her with her faraway look that looked beyond the mere magazine, but rather into the fantasy 159 world of escape it seemed to provide for her. She looked as if she was dreaming of a day when she‟d leave this all behind and join Donatelle, Diane von, Elton and all the rest of that stratified gentry. Finally, Steven couldn‟t take the suspense any longer. He had to know more about her. He was sitting in that faux-leather oversize reading chair next to her, a small knee-high reading stand the only barrier between them. “Excuse me, miss.” No response. She dreamily gazed downward at the Cosmo mag in her lap, a blushing bride photo staring at her as if to say, “Your day‟s coming soon too, honey”. “Excuse me, miss. Do you mind?” She looked up slowly as if it took her a little while longer to engage from daydreaming to reality. “Do you mind if I slide a couple of these magazines on this stand over so I can put my coffee on here?” She smiled, “Of course.” “Thank you. Oh, by the way- the name‟s Steven.” “Clarissa”. 160 --------------------------------------------- Across town, the station with a heart was barely maintaining a pulse. Since the rapid exodus of Steven and Maria, ratings were at an all time low. Apparently viewers were loyal to those talking heads who read the news despite their- and indeed, almost expected- faults. Surprisingly, all this hub-bub made Steven and Maria appear more human, and Channel Five appear as the mean station without a heart (that had thrown them both out in the extreme coldness that can only be Los Angeles). Even their dim-witted sports guy knew the viewers had no problem dumping a station that traded off its key players. Plus, with her ex being abducted and all that, now it appeared as if karma had gotten to her….karma- now there was a word that reporters stayed away from like kryptonite. Maybe Maria was involved, maybe she wasn‟t. But one thing she was now was controversial, and that could only mean one thing- ratings, that of which the station with a heart was becoming increasingly devoid of. Bob would let her know he‟d take her back, but only of course after the public had righteously dragged this soiled heina down a notch. “It‟s OK to be a slut- just don‟t be a slut that fools us, or we‟ll bring you down the first chance we get” 161 thought Bob. However, he couldn‟t do this by his lonesome, and he‟d been hearing murmurings of her whereabouts lately. “Damn it, if only I could assign Maria to find herself, she would have been found by now”, thought Bob as he took a hit off the stout bottle of Crown Royal he was desperately needing nowadays. Facing extinction of his own job, news director Bob knew he‟d have to take it upon himself to get at least one of those troublesome anchors back. As far as he was concerned, even though Maria‟s career had been trashed beyond repair, he reckoned she would probably do anything to get it back. Since she was divorced and all nowadays, he thought he‟d see how much fun he could have with that. She‟d seemed frigid as all get out, but boy, had he ever been wrong about that! Then again, he reckoned that would make it all the more rewarding once he‟d have her suck her way back to what he‟d let her believe was her redemption. The tables had turned quite nicely for Mr. Bob. All he had to do was catch La Cont at one of her not-so- underground gigs, at least for an old-school newsman such as himself. Hell, he‟d even interviewed Pat Benatar in the day. ------------------------------------------- 162 And although all was not quiet on the western front, a shift in the paradigm was occurring. True, the earthquake had brought the city to its knees- knocking out crucial utilities and giving the people a taste of the third world (coming soon to your neighborhood!). For the first time in a long time, cell phones were rendered mute. People waiting in public lines were now actually forced to interact with others- the option of a technological disconnect no longer available. Suddenly folks had to be more resourceful with what they had. On the upside, this brought people closer together as they had to rely on each other now. Things that weren‟t previously possible now had no choice but to be. Those in the barrios, hoods and ghettos fared far better, having had no choice but to stick together. That Raw sure had been on to something, becoming evermore the prophet with each passing day. And that was a huge problem. This would never do with those who‟d built their fortune off the broken backs of others. This wasn‟t the world they had conquered. And for them to conquer, division and alienation of people was as essential as mindless entertainment and the credit enslavement necessary to fuel it. There was change in the air, and battle lines were being drawn. Opinions turned into polarizing ideologies that demanded to be 163 lived or died by. Strange days were melting into tough times. Even the firemen were refusing to put out fires at highly combustible vacation homes and cabins. Why risk life and limb to save the negligently unattended playhouse of some rich fuck? The increasingly dry forage and brush of Southern California was surely and rapidly fueling the devouring of man-made intrusions, setting the stage for some non-urban renewal- Mother Earth style. In the city, people were being evicted from their apartments by building owners who couldn‟t even find replacements to move in. Some just gave up and stopped evicting on the hopes that the current wage-slave economy would resume so they could continue preying upon the poor once more. Soon many of these owners would have no choice but to let the banks reclaim these buildings, banks that had no idea what to do with this stagnant and decaying collateral. In no time at all after, these same banks would become just as endangered. Soon enough the tenants would do some seizing of the property on their own, opting to squat. Sometimes you just gotta pay the rent with a nine-millimeter. It was only inevitable that with the police and fire department being taxed to its limit from all this, the National 164 Guard had to step in. This being a highly influential American city, once they did, they never left. Los Angeles was now as militarily occupied as Baghdad once had been (until the funds for that fiasco dried up). All it had really taken for martial law to be imposed was one little San Andreas shake n‟ bake. This was the environment Raw was quickly gaining influence in, he who could show so many with so little. The bigger his influence, the more of a threat he posed to the rapidly eroding power structure. The whole world was watching Los Angeles- especially the state politicians, scared this anarchic epidemic would quickly ooze beyond the boundaries of LA. They also knew that with individuals like Raw, this was extremely possible. Afraid of seeing their days numbered, they mulled an edict to stop this “fanatic”. He was out of control, way beyond politically correct MTV-friendly. He was a dangerous man nowadays. If all there was left to use against him anymore was lethal measures, then so be it. However, Raw was certainly no naïf either. It wasn‟t like there was a shortage of armament and ordnance in Los Angeles- or recruits to man then either. And so it was that Raw‟s legions began, and it was a young army, to be sure. For Freddy and Jalila, all this was quickly becoming more than a documentary- it was becoming a documentation- a digital 165 video journal of history. There was too much going on to focus on one angle for one film. Although this threw Freddy for a loop with his pre-conceived notions and methodology, Jalila was liberated. She couldn‟t help but feel that somehow she was coming full circle to the origin of her roots. She felt valuable…she felt nobility in her struggle. This displaced Persian beauty would have been a princess or even a queen in another era- and here it was, a brand-new era popping up right in front of her, one ripe with potential. And the best part of all was that it would be captured on camera. Really, what they were witnessing was the shuffling of the deck of the existing social order. Things were getting pretty decadent, perhaps the closest parallel being post-WWI depressed Berlin, the electrons of change practically crackling in the air, threatening to discharge at any given moment- just storing enough current to zap one and all. Those who had the money to go out anymore didn‟t do it that blatantly and ostentatiously anymore. Nobody wanted to be a mark, a target of the oppressed, seemingly laughing at the downtrodden, consumed in their own selfish pleasures. A gaudy and hedonistic club on, say, Sunset Boulevard near La Cienega was an open invitation to be heckled, or even ransacked and robbed. There were also many hungry packs of wild dogs out on 166 the streets nowadays, too hungry to beg anymore for scraps. And when the freaks came out at night- like the crazy lady with the melted face screaming for her dog, well- Federico Felini himself (with set design by Salvador Dali) couldn‟t have done it any better. 167 WEEK 5: What if we had a weapon that could control, subdue and or disperse crowds without causing death or permanent harm? Well, according to David Martin and 60 Minutes, the Pentagon would be wary about using it in a combat arena like Iraq in favor of traditional (and lethal) methods. But we have such a weapon, one that the Pentagon has no problem demonstrating its use on groups like peace protesters. -www.crooksandliars.com Sex. Cont was into it now. Big time. It was like a long-since tripped dusty circuit breaker had finally popped back on- one previously blocking the sensual circuit. The circuit was no longer wide open, much like her legs now were. La Cont couldn‟t stop fucking. She was insatiable nowadays. She would copulate her way into the pearly necklaces of Heaven. Sex offered her escape and release. Her whole world had collapsed around her, and orgasms offered solace…a brief shining moment when it seemed it all went away, her soul transported by the glow of a post- coital communion with a fellow human. In her new identity as an underground chanteuse she had an ample supply of amorous admirers. She could keep herself in lovemaking for a very long 168 time to come. To this chick, the ideal way to leave this planet would be getting fucked to death. Maria C-C had been furious, betrayed by Raw with that photo that killed her career and marriage with one digital snap. However, with the passage of time and the blossoming of a new career, La Cont was seeing this differently nowadays. Maria had always been told that sex between unmarried people was wrong, and she‟d bought into that aspect of her upbringing at the same time she rejected most else. And where had it gotten her but a loveless marriage? Why, she asked herself? What about sex had she been- not only scared of, but- terrified about? After all, she hadn‟t been molested or anything scandalous like that. She‟d known for a while that she‟d made quite a mistake by marrying Saul, but it was all for the greater good. Maria didn‟t exactly know it was because she was scared to death of poverty, but La Cont did. In a career mainly based on her looks, once her body and face started going south, so would that career. It wasn‟t if, but when it would all end. Maria had wanted a safety blanket, attempting to buy ward off the pain by shopping and pretending her concern for Saul‟s welfare (and her own by default) was something more than just that. She knew it wouldn‟t 169 have been a pretty end for her had she stayed on the old path. She would have burst wide open one day and exploded, being Latina with all too much fire within already. A typical day for La Cont nowadays would be something like this: She‟d wake up in her apartment she‟d paid for with what she‟d wrangled out of the divorce proceedings and walk down to the sidewalk where she‟d go to a local café. She would enjoy a leisurely latte and cigarette, trading spirited banter back and forth with the younger waiter she wouldn‟t mind enjoying as well. To her, this is what Paris must have felt like in the 1930‟s. Change was definitely in the air. Anything was possible now. Then, depending on her mood, she‟d either take that waiter upstairs and fuck his brains out, or she‟d sashay over the bridge to Atwater Village where her band was waiting for her in their rehearsal studio. She‟d fucked almost half of them, but did that mean she was a slut or just liberated? “Did people remember Patti Smith for her sexual appetite or careers?” thought Maria. “Slut is so yesterday…so 2008”. This Cont just liked to make love and music these days. And what was wrong with that? Nobody was getting hurt, on the contrary- they 170 were getting pleasure. Lord knew that was sorely needed nowadays. -------------------------------------------------------------- Raw knew full well Los Angelenos would run out of civilization way before resources, and way before any other country did. He knew Americans just don‟t know how to behave and they‟re impatient; a lethal combo of anarchy waiting for its boiling point. Raw‟s evolution was veering from the way of the revolutionary to the paramilitary. With this came increased involvement with Freddy and Jalila. After all, if this was history in the making, it sure as hell required documentation. In essence, Freddy and Jalila, who had done such a fine job on documenting him previously on their own accord and initiative, now served as a ministry of information (unlike the rapidly dissolving corporate ministry of infotainment), one on the benevolent tip: a benign Herman Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl. Raw began to amass artillery because it was a means to an end, certainly not the end and be all of where he was heading. Without armament and people trained to use it, he may as well have been swimming in shark-infested waters with a bloody steak in his trunks. It was kill or be killed and Raw had an 171 obligation to protect those who chose to be in this growing tribe. Most of them weren‟t even old enough to vote (as if that mattered anymore). In the final analysis, it really came down to Raw dealing with and taking care of other people‟s children…cleaning up the mess they had illegitimately made and abandoned. And then again, it is always amazing how everyone worries about what they threw away after someone else picks it out and finds some value in it. Raw wasn‟t so much a fan of theft, but the way he looked at it, if all those with nothing stole one thing every day from those with everything, it was only logical that the scales would soon be balanced. Plus, he was fast becoming an admirer of this anonymous bloke going „round town blowing up gas stations and such. Bloody brilliant, that one! And even though he wasn‟t British, Raw was world-wise enough to know that he needed to get this cat onboard Team Raw. It didn‟t matter what his motives or background was, just that he had the damn cojones to pull it off, and hadn‟t been caught. Yes, Raw was a big fan of his work. He was also pretty sure it was an inside job by someone who didn‟t fit the “enemy of the state” profile- someone who was too sharp to get hit by the red laser beam as he stole the crown jewels right from under the kingdom. Being that he was extremely busy nowadays, what with 172 establishing an underground resistance militia and all, Raw sent out a small unit to locate this individual- two people he knew would run across this bad-ass bomber sooner than later. Plus, they‟d be equipped to provide tangible video documentation. ------------------------------------------------------- And speaking of gas stations, at least the intact ones… long and longer- that‟s what the lines at the gas stations had become. A gallon of gas in the single dollar digits was just as much a fossil as the hydrocarbon it used to be enough to pay for. Eventually the prices escalated to a tipping point, prompting an inverse decline in consumption…the majority of consumers priced out of the shrinking market. This is in turn, begat a rise in gas station hold-ups, lucrative enough for the time and planning involved. Inevitably, it became the united standard to mount surveillance cameras at every station. As the criminals became savvy to this and made knocking out these cameras number one on their priority list, armed security guards augmented the unprotected hardware. And somehow and so far, the station saboteur had eluded all these cameras. Elsewhere in the city of angels, there began a marked increase in assaults on valets and parking attendants, desperate 173 men robbing the vehicles, not for the vehicles themselves, but the precious fuel housed in their tanks. All it had taken for people to snap was a doubling of the price of a gallon of gas. Once gas hit five dollars a gallon in „09, the shit hit the fan. After all, if people could predict when they‟d snap, they‟d try to avoid being in that situation until they had no choice but to. Raw was loving every minute of it, witnessing the So Cal economy being brought to its knees. Finally the playing field was being leveled. He knew that‟s what needed to happen, and it sure wasn‟t going to be pretty. Let them fight in Africa over water all they wanted- America was still warming up on their appetizer of dwindling petro. Water was just waiting in the wings to be the main course. And soon enough the water woes began. The past winter had passed with no rain at all. It was as if a whole season without any real precipitation could happen anytime (and for some time) because that‟s now the way an angry Mother Nature felt. All she really had to do was not rain for just a few short seasons, and that‟d be all it would take to dehydrate those human bastards off this part of the globe before she re-hydrated again on her own sweet time. 174 After all, she could wait it out much longer than the puny homosapiens. Accordingly, the water rationing began. Once this suddenly precious resource began being meted out with special consideration to those financially better off, so began the battle for Los Angeles, fragmented by social barriers and tribal mentality. --------------------------------------- She was the voice- not so much for its vocal quality, but its message, especially the evolution that had occurred to make it even possible to begin with. A growing iconic figure already, La Cont was the embodiment of the new community culture rejecting the old alienated one. Once Maria had made the leap to being a Cont, it was not as absurd as it seemed on the surface. She‟d always thought deeper than that, just perhaps aligned morally a bit different in the past. She‟d been a success in where she‟d gotten, but deep down she knew she‟d compromised herself to the extremely rigid media corporate powers that be. She had gotten where she‟d gotten by a synthesis of the good graces of civil legislation mixed in with sexual energy. Up until recently, many in power either wanted to patronize or fuck her, forgetting who she really was to begin with. It just so happened that it was easier for an assertive Latina woman at the 175 turn of the last millennium to be a mainstream media TV reporter than an artist with a message. The Federal Communications Commission didn‟t appreciate minority women at odds with their values. Eccentric and ethnic divas like Diamanda Galas made nothing, whereas the mainstream J-Lo‟s and Shakira‟s of the world shimmied their culos all the way to the banco. Maria had played the game hard, though. She knew what was needed on her end: longer work-hours, a tighter body, extra enthusiasm and maximum beauty (ie. diet, manicures, coloring and all things laser removal). As far as she was concerned, any means necessary to put her ahead of all those heinas in the pack. And yet, when she got to where she was heading, she hit the Anglo ceiling- unable to compete with the national players: the Courics‟, the Walters‟, the Sawyers‟. They didn‟t really want this cholla in their living room. They already had an Oprah. That was enough off-white for their delicate palette. Hell, they even had to cast off a Connie Chung here or there to make room for the big O. For Maria, there was no model of new Mercedes or latest Oscar de la Renta good enough to right this fundamental imbalance of the social scale. But she held it in all the while, looking to sources such as Saul to augment and somehow fill this existential angst. 176 But increasingly Maria began to wonder why she had to play by those rules anymore? They weren‟t made for her to truly succeed in the first place. Regardless, they were quickly deteriorating on their own without her involvement. Her time had truly been biding itself, unable to reveal itself under a previous set of societal constraints. She just didn‟t see it until it had finally come. And if there was one thing La Cont liked, it was coming. What the old Maria had been was starving- creatively, emotionally…or at least that‟s what any garden-variety psychiatrist would‟ve diagnosed and over-medicated. The old Maria didn‟t need any damn shrink, and had done just fine with the self-medicating part on her own, thank you very much. And the more love La Cont received from her rapidly expanding (mainly teenage Hispanic goth) audience called “emo- grants”, the less she needed sex. Had they not come rushing up the ruptured border from Tijuana to escape musical lifestyle persecution after the quake, she might have never found her true voice. The dark chrysalis of promiscuity had never really had a chance to shed in her younger years, but right before it did she attacked it with the same fervor of her professional ambition. It was just something she had to taste, touch and feel before her limited time was up on this big blue ball. 177 -------------------------------------------------- Raw‟s team had found what he‟d sent them out for. They‟d already had it for weeks. It was right there on HD/DV tape. Yup, the Sony handheld held more than hands, including all the details of the recent LACMA cracking and jacking. Perla and Freddy were simply too aware of documentarians to let a loud blast slide. What else made for such great audio? Perhaps there was video from its origin that was even grander of a spectacle. Indeed, they rushed over to capture the aftermath of the fresh blast. Most of the roads surrounding the periphery of the blast were bare, perhaps due to being cordoned off further down south by the National Guard. Nobody wanted to drive into that mess, and risk getting detained for God knows how long in God knows where. Except…except for a lone Prius quickly and quietly skulking away down one of the side road alleys. This, which was captured inadvertently (and maybe even perhaps fatefully) by Freddy and Perla on the ol‟ Sony. And of course with the wonders of Final Cut Pro, „twas nothing to zoom in on the Pruis‟ back license plate with a digital simulation of the same resolution it appeared when it was too small to make out. However, enough digits were visible to sort out the rest. For from there, it was 178 only a matter of typing the model of the car along with those digits into one of those creepy TMZ-esque websites; the kind of websites that locate the most personal info on anyone your heart desires. Usually didn‟t take more than forty bucks, either. And sure, Steven had been nervous when Freddy and Perla approached him about all this. But once he realized that Raw was interested in his talents, he knew he had his patron of the fine art of deconstruction. With his corporate media background, Steven was an invaluable asset as an ex-insider. Plus, he was one hell of an eco-terrorist. Stuff blew up real good when he was around. Being second in command of this burgeoning formidable paramilitary power, he was now far more powerful in the not-so-underground- anymore than Maria was(or so he reckoned). Truth be told, he was her biggest supporter nowadays. He was in more than a little awe of her strength under adversity. Any chick who has her pussy plastered over every MTA bus in LA, one who emerges phoenix-like …she had mad love from Burning Man. They had something in common, after all. They‟d both risen from the ashes- perhaps he a bit more literally. What Steven Jung liked blowing up more than anything was strip malls. Why, they weren‟t even worth the private security 179 necessary to protect them! It was usually small business owners in need of a wake-up call anyway. There sure as hell wasn‟t enough of a municipal police force left to worry about that anyway. Things like security and protection had gotten really private really quickly as of late with all the state budget cuts and resources being drained to pay for the earthquake damage. There was no money to be made in protecting a crumbling state, only the factions and divisions within. The black-market economy was butting heads with the Blackwaters. So it was no surprise when Steven Jung moved up the ranks quickly to become the main lieutenant to Raw (who had already used Maria in an entirely different way). However, what both Maria and Raw (and even Steven) had in common, which served as a basis of solidarity, was their awareness, mainly, the awareness of one glaring oversight by all politicians- none of them spoke to the younger generation. Sure, they had kind of semi-grabbed their attention in a Barack Obama kind of way, but hadn‟t overwhelmingly gotten close to them in, say, the same way the Disney Channel (or even a Channel 5 perenially-featured sexual predator) had. The children, more aware than these pig-headed politicians could ever grasp, continually witnessed the charlatans and marauders continually and clumsily fumble the ball. They knew there was no way it was 180 ever going to be passed their way, unless it was wrenched out of the politicians‟ incompetent hands. Raw had been the one to feed and clothe many of them while everyone else turned their back on these lost youth…a lethal mistake never learned time and time again. History has shown that most revolutions are fought and won by the young ones. Forget that and you can forget living too much longer. 181 WEEK 6: “The success of this strike is a significant achievement not only for ourselves but the entire creative community, now and in the future” - President of the Writers Guild of America "You are their bitches. They outslugged you, outthought you, outmaneuvered you; and in the end you ripped off your pants, painted yer asses blue, and said yes sir, may I have another." - Writer Harlan Ellison (on that same strike) “Jalila, why‟d you do that?” “Freddy, it was us or him.” Freddy looked at the dying private security guard in front of him. “I mean, why‟d you kill him, girl?” “I didn‟t kill him…” Jalila took another shot at the guard, this time into his temple. “There, now I have. Definitely dead now, this one. See? He‟s not gurgling blood anymore. It‟s gurgling out of him.” 182 Jalila stuffed the pistol back into her Prada handbag. “You know he was going to, Freddy.” “Going to what?” “Kill us, ding-dong! What do you think? This whole fuckin‟ city‟s falling to pieces around us, and you think he just wanted to detain us for city police who aren‟t showing up to back him up? Or at least for a long-ass time.” “Well, we weren‟t threatening him.” “Freddy, we were trespassing. Didn‟t you see that?” She pointed toward a sign that said “Trespassers will be shot on sight.” “See, that means he has license to kill us.” “But why would he?” “Why wouldn‟t he? I mean, we killed him!” “Guess we‟ll never know why he would now.” “Guess? You need to figure it out now, Freddy. This is war! What do you think? That you need to have an entire country go up against another one with different uniforms so you can tell them apart like football teams? Is your world that black and white?” 183 “No, but…” “You don‟t think a war within your own country is possible? Shit, it already happened once, remember? Or don‟t they study your own country‟s civil war in schools anymore?” “Well, that was the north states versus the southern states. Entirely different situation.” “You‟re right. It was. And so is this, so get used to it. I am. Where I‟m from, we get that shit all the time- Muslims versus Christians, Sunnis versus Shiites…” “That‟s more of an Iraq deal there.” Jalila laughed, “And you actually thought when you elected a democrat that he was going to end that war.” She spit into a bush if to clear her disgust and make way for laughter, chuckling before, “Fuckin‟ Americans…then you get all surprised when after a few centuries of oppressing almost everybody who‟s not white, the inevitable happens.” “Guess you‟re right.” “No, you just need to be more aware. And B-T-W, that guard was getting ready to shoot us both.” 184 Suddenly Freddy lurched forward, grabbing the pistol out of Jalila‟s bag. “Hey, that‟s an expens…” He leveled it toward her, pulling back the trigger. “Freddy, no! I‟m sorry about what I said about Americans!” Too late. He pulled the trigger and shot off three shots in rapid succession. A light scream and the body hit the ground, dead as can be. “Now look who needs to be aware” said Freddy with a smile, looking at the newly deceased security guard on the ground behind Jalila, a drawn pistol in his quickly stiffening hand. She wheeled around, a look of shock on her face (more at herself for leaving herself open like that), which turned into a grin. “Oh daddy, I like you like that- all sexy like a gunslinging cowboy. That shit turns me on. Freddy, you don‟t even know.” “Well, I‟d like to find out.” “I‟m takin‟ you out tonight, daddy. But first…” 185 With a sweep of her hand she took the pistol out of Freddy‟s hand and shot out the video camera in the guard shack, pulling him toward it with her other hand. “I want you to take me…now! C‟mon, it ain‟t like anybody‟s watching.” And where before they would have hightailed it out of there pronto, this time served to get them in. Welcome to the new Wilshire Federal Building. Shut down due to budget cuts. Re- opened due to impending revolution. Who needed Abby Hoffman or Che Guevera when you had a cowboy and a queen? ----------------------------------------------------- Cont had the dream band, she really did. Nels Cline from Wilco on guitar with one of the guys from Guided by Voices on Bass, Petra Hayden (the sober version) on backing vocals, along with Beck‟s drummer…the indie elite. None of that classic rock Camp Freddy glam-white trash here. Then there were the constant celebs and musicians dropping by and in, just for a chance to be part of something vital for a change. However creative her own thoughts, Jalila knew she could never compare to Cont. She loved everything about her music. She knew this was the soundtrack needed for the footage she and 186 Freddy had amassed miles of. It was time to show him what she‟d been gushing about. So she used those production and PR skills she‟d accumulated along the way to now and set up a gig at their place. So on one night, under the stars on the roof of the Langham where she‟d set this rooftop gig up, she showed her partner and lover what this Cont and her music was all about. Maria tore into it the first song, words, or at least combinations that had never come out before, never more perfect for the times: Elated and jaded, humbled and hated Torn and scorned, fried to magnified Always quick with the big cry Little lies, why don‟t you die? The President of the USA has just taken Another holiday And he‟s got a new address that sure to impress Humbled and hated, but never hit-paraded Get a grip of the common view At least with those who thought they knew…. 187 Everybody couldn‟t help but be enraptured. The stars were twinkling, the drinks were flowing, the band was following their leader‟s every nuance- it was one of those nights Madison Avenue wished they could, but never would be able to, bottle and sell. That Cont had the voice of having been there and getting here, here being tonight- this space in time that was never going to happen again. La Cont was on an exponential roll, propelled by her own musical positive feedback loop: Give me all your quick goodbyes The dumb machine gives you all good highs And the queen of Sheba‟s in the shopping mall Buying big, buying low, but did you know? The stuff I can‟t believe all includes The fake boobs and the TV news The nasty attitudes, but oh- the young dudes And who‟s the quickest girl to cry? Before he leaves and says goodbye? And shorn newborn give the sign 188 To all of those who got stuck in line By the way, by the by, by the way, by the by…bye, bye- oh no… This was her Beatles at the Cavern Club moment- definitely onto something moving forward exponentially, with anything after this falling into the “I saw her back when she was just…” days. Jalila had always been an admirer of artistic beauty- and it was by default that most of it was female. Now, for her to act on this impulse was another thing. It took a little more than aesthetics to push her off the cliff of straightness and fall for someone her own sex. It took something that didn‟t try to just seduce her body, but her mind. Maria not only had that, but her physical attributes sealed the deal by creating no further barrier to Jalila‟s decreasing resistance than what one classic rock band from the distant past referred to as “Can‟t fight this feeling”. Resistance was now diminishing at a rate exceeding her suppression of desire. This wasn‟t just some ever-so-hip Hollywood lesbian Lindsay Lohan trip. Throw a billionaire dick in their face and they‟re off to the races, flipping quicker than a flapjack at a Rotary Club fundraiser. No, this was the desire to mingle amongst the DNA of another, and sometimes sex was the only route to get to this 189 state of spiritual symbiosis- albeit one that came in a born in East LA Hispanic female wrapper. In the laws of attraction, Jalila was used to getting what she wanted. This here was a challenge. She knew La Cont had many lovers. All she had to do was blur the line to get on the list. With all this love in the room, nobody really noticed the quiet woman in the back with a scarf wrapped around her face. ----------------------------------------------------- Raw was actually the antithesis of militant. By amassing a stockpile of arms, his goal was to get as many guns as possible. It was only logical to conclude that the more he stockpiled, the less everyone else had. It wasn‟t that he was so much into using them as he was into others not using them. There were other ways to fight the powers that be, increasingly rabid in their desperation. Better it be a united effort. He was more of a caretaker than anything, really. Sensing the tables had turned, and that people were no longer scared of them, the corporate government responded in kind. Martial law began to be imposed on a grand scale. Those flashing lights at intersections which had merely been automated cameras were now augmented by stationary robotic machine guns, courtesy of corporate sub-contractor Samsung, makers of audio, 190 video and now, death components. Indeed, this was no science fiction, as a cursory glance on that arbiter of online info, Wikipedia.com revealed: In 2006, Samsung Techwire, a subsidiary of Samsung Group, announced a $200,000, all weather, 5.56 mm robotic machine gun to guard the Korean DMZ. It is capable of tracking multiple moving targets using IR and visible light cameras, and is under the control of a human operator. The Intelligent Surveillance and Guard Robot can "identify and shoot a target automatically from over two miles away." The robot, which was developed by a South Korean university, uses "twin optical and infrared sensors to identify targets from 2.5 miles in daylight and around half that distance at night." However, the salad days of unchecked industrial military spending were now being threatened. Most people were not only unable, but more importantly- unwilling, to pay taxes anymore. Tax evaders were now seen as heroes and financial pioneers. And what that meant to Raw and his main lieutenant Steven was employing increasingly creative ways to take out these robotic little death-machines. Steven knew these robots were only good to their masters as long as their data was fed to those who monitored and actuated 191 them, far from harm‟s distance. Cut that off and they had nothing. And for Steven, it didn‟t take but a bucket of Sears house paint to disable the sensor eye of these robots. The death merchants‟ R & D department hadn‟t counted on such resistance yet from the “sheeple”. Once the powers to be struggling to remain there caught on, it wouldn‟t take much to make a few minor accommodations to fire these death-babies in a 360 degree direction once their sensors were tampered with or incapacitated. Touché. The militant forces soon caught on to this and countered by blowing these robots up from a distance to themselves, even as the robots became increasingly clandestine. These bastards were now being forced underground, and who knew this retreat of the surveillance state underground would be catalyzed by a can of Sherwin Williams flat white #3? And so the increasingly privatized army countered back with their Humvee-mounted rayguns, which of course was nothing but a big microwave intended to cook protestors and dissenters from the inside out manufactured by the good folks at Raytheon. Or in the words of Wikipedia.com oncemore: The Active Denial System (ADS) is a non-lethal, directed- energy weapon developed by the U.S. military. It is a strong 192 millimeter-wave transmitter used for crowd control (the "goodbye effect"). Informally, the weapon is also called the pain ray. And all it had really taken for the opposition to retaliate was a basic understanding of the properties of wave reflection and refraction. Mirrors and tinfoil gave new meaning to the phrase “back atcha!” It was a land grab, really. There was a whole new real estate boom occurring, as in the boom of artillery and explosives on real estates. With the weakened will of the dissolving federal government, the state government finally had more of the dominion they‟d always wanted. What it also meant was no federal funding. Since the hierarchy and structure at the state level was already in place, it was now solely up to it to generate its own assets. And that would come primarily from where it always had- the taxes of the working poor in the land of milk and humvees. But nowadays, instead of burning draft cards, people were burning their driver‟s licenses and state ID cards, already scoring a minor victory. So much for the national ID cards. As for the state of California, at the moment it was really more concerned with protecting its own assets. The Huntingtons, Chandlers and Hahns were not going to give up without a fight. 193 For so many of the unemployed looking for any means necessary to feed their families, becoming a security guard became a desired job. Allegiance to one side or the other, no longer a casual option, was now a life and death decision. Sure and soon enough, division and strife broke out between counties and municipalities. Upstate, Owens Valley had decided they‟d had enough of supplying dirty ol‟ L.A. with their own water runoff from the Sierra Nevada. Aside from the proliferation and sprawl of gangs into their previously peaceful territory, what had Los Angeles ever done for them? It was purely reactionary…the current state of things from the previously current state of things. People had digressed from living off credit to not being able to get any more credit to pay off the previous. The cycle had come full to its inevitable conclusion- they were now debt slaves. If the state couldn‟t control them, the corporations finally owned them- the final profit margin. Perhaps Shakespeare hadn‟t been kidding about that pound of flesh shit after all…the new merchants of Venice (CA this time), as it were. Backs up against the wall in terminal debt with no apparent escape route, the animal in people came to the fore. It was if a crack dealer had gotten them all high for free for years, 194 suddenly deciding to cut all off and call in all debts. And should you refuse to pay, there was now the state militia to assume the role of bill collector. Raw knew this better than anybody, fueling his rhetoric with it- utilizing the ready and multiple hordes of terminally unemployed TV and film writers. The writers‟ strike, ended in “mutual mediation”, had proved to be a farce, and disintegrated again. The writers now were slaves, essentially disposable in this new era of thoughtless, therefore mainly scriptless, new formula. Employing their services in exchange for food and shelter, Raw had speeches assembled by them. One morning he addressed his young charges this morning in front of the old toy factory amidst the warehouses of the downtown Arts District: “What happens to criminals when you threaten their livelihood? Well, our „leaders‟ are finding out, aren‟t they? This here anarchy‟s beginning to disrupt their social order, and it‟s making them nervous, y‟all…real nervous. Usually they‟ve had a way to deal with it. Nuclear bombs have always been great for that, most excellent for keeping you, i.e. the masses, muted and on-task, the task being whatever the whims of these self- appointed masters may be. So wake the fuck up on this, brothers 195 and sisters! Corporations run things, not countries. If anything, the only thing unified with all countries is incompetent government. In an industrialized society, corporations run things.” Nobody knew that better than the particularly shell-shocked and primarily homeless Iraq War vets whose ears Raw was bending. Sure, they‟d come for the free food and hordes of young attractive tail running around, but they‟d stayed for the message attached. “War ain‟t nothing but corporate welfare!” shouted one particularly grizzled and faded vet with one good eye, one disabled arm and two semi-automatics. Raw smiled, and continued: “Makes sense, doesn‟t it? Now, if nuclear bombs are going to destroy everything, why would companies use them? Well, that‟s exactly why the fuck they haven‟t. They don‟t want to destroy their product, their plant…their own resources! It‟s that fuckin‟ simple. I mean, of course we had to test a few back in World War II on the Japanese, of course- but they weren‟t white, so it didn‟t count, right?” 196 The mainly emo-grant crowd‟s reaction was more rabid than a Smiths reunion concert, Raw pausing for dramatic effect before resuming: “It always surprises the shit out of me how many of you don‟t get this. If they give up, they have nothing- nothing over us. And they will never do that. If it comes down to us or them, well…as a brilliant English man once said, “here come the warm jets”. And the reason those motherfuckers are warm is because they tote those nuclear bombs, the same ones they- they being the corporations- held over us before when they had something to lose. And now that they don‟t…well, just put it this way- McDonald‟s scares me a hell of a lot more than Al-Quaida.” Recently, living quarters were beginning to get cramped for Raw and his growing army, but that was alright. Then again, maybe Los Angeles was getting too small for them. ---------------------------------------------------- Sure, the writers had their strike back in 2007 or so, thinking they‟d claimed victory, but it soon proved a hollow one indeed. They‟d been thrown a couple peanuts for increasing online content by an industry that knew it was exclusively headed that way. Perhaps these writers even knew that, but a few months of no income was all it had taken to scare them, getting 197 farther and farther from making those mortgage payments as they became closer and closer to living on the streets. The production executives had millions of dollars on their side- they could wait this out, always could and always would. They knew that going in, but played along to make the writers feel they had at least the illusion of some power. Indeed, these power brokers placed more economic security in the hands of their slave-labor Mexican maids and gardeners. Now, there was something they could not live without! Yes, the tide of popular culture was certainly changing. Whereas “Cops” had been a perennial staple of syndication, the zeitgeist had shifted 180 degrees to a show called “Criminals”, from the point-of-view of law-breakers as they hunted down those persistent lawmakers. Since they were criminals, they weren‟t looking to arrest cops, just injure and kill them. Then there was “Tweakers” a reality show hosted out of some dude‟s garage, one that put the talk in talk show. This dude and his buddies huddled over the open hood of a car, transfixed by disassembling the engine block just so they could re-assemble it for next week‟s episode. In other words, all previous conventions of society were being, much like that car engine, being torn down. The only one 198 building anything up again was the tweakers, and that was only because they were high. You almost had to be nowadays. It was too unreal otherwise (or maybe it was too real). However, one thing‟s to be said when the constraints of society fall by the wayside: deviant creativity flourishes, unconstrained by what we used to call morality. This was putting Jalila in the most creative space she‟d ever been. Ever been to an Aztec-themed restaurant where they perform a ritualistic sacrifice in front of you before your meal? One complete with the still-pulsing heart of the pollo you‟re about to enjoy being held up by the hand in homage to the god of the sun by a waiter dressed as a holy priest? Nothing like it! Or how about the Altamont dinner theater, where you get to watch the waiters dressed as Hell‟s Angels beat the shit out of anybody sitting too close to the stage where a Rolling Stone cover band circa 1969 plays away? Yes, without pesky moral restraints, creativity and commerce can conjoin. Drive-by‟s were now no longer confined to just automobiles and streets. They could now happen on speedboats in Emerald Lake, or perhaps between truckers in the Grapevine pass to LA County. No rules anymore that way. Everybody was crossing borders these days, whether geographical or ethical. 199 There was even a beer commercial out there in pitch-perfect tune with the times. It started off with a camera panning across an urban, as most of them were increasingly becoming, battlefield. Yup, one never sees a good rural battlefield nowadays. This battlefield is one strewn with casualties with slow, mournful music- a funeral dirge vibe if you will. Suddenly we hear the unmistakable “fffffzzzzz” of a beer can opening and someone from offscreen yells “Par-tay time!” before a smarmy announcer intones, “After a hard day on the killin‟ field, it‟s time for a coldie, brah!”, as the strains of “The Boys Are Back in Town” overpowers and kicks the ass of the dirge, and revelry occurs with the surviving soldiers tossing a football around and drinking it up in good ol‟ U.S.A. fashion. In the final analysis, it was the gardeners and maids more than their gringo masters who were much better equipped to deal with a huge depression, being quite accustomed to a lowered standard of living, always looking in from the outside. Now that it was striking scores of white folks, it was officially a depression. And depressed they certainly were, denial of their dire straits no longer an option- forced to cooperate with each other as opposed to isolate from each other. Clearly, they weren‟t used to this shit. 200 Yes, this is where the hood-rats had the mall-rats beat. They knew to watch each other‟s back, not stab it. Some of these previously materially endowed soon switched their shopping habits- from finding $500 jeans that fit their ass to pawnshop guns that fit their mouth. And Raw? He just thought the shit was funny. Fuck their spoiled, weak asses? What had they ever done for him? “Look at all the people!” Freddy scanned the perimeter of Griffith Park from his vantage point with Jalila on this particularly clear day. One could actually see downtown from the observatory- and downtown Santa Monica at that. Freddy looked through his lens again, focusing on a man walking down the street. “Freddy, put that down!” Freddy set down the assault rifle with the 100x scope he‟d been sighting his quarry with seconds prior. “Damn, Freddy. You spend more time with that rifle than your camera nowadays.” “Well, you know what they say…” 201 “I know…you‟d rather be caught with a gun than without one.” “Damn straight.” “Don‟t you think you might have a slight problem?” “What do you mean, Jalila?” “What do you mean, what do I mean? I‟m talking about the killing.” “All in self-defense.” “Four times in the last two weeks?” “Hey, we live in interesting times.” “I don‟t know. I think you like shooting people more than shooting video anymore. I mean, self defense is hot, murder is not.” “Give that one to your gal pal. It‟d make a great song lyric.” “Maria and I are just good friends. What are you- jealous now? Anyway, quit trying to change the subject.” 202 “Look, Jalila. Raw needs men that can fight…soldiers. I‟ve spent my whole life being a made pussy, and I‟m so over it.” “Oh, I see. Now you‟re Mr. Big Man with a gun.” Jalila shifted her right breast in her sports bra. Damn, it was getting hot and it was only 10 am. She didn‟t have the necessary humor to entertain Freddy‟s inadequacies. “Oh look at me! Mr. Big Gun Dick! Look out, my gun dick is bigger than yours!” “I already told you! I was defending myself.” “And you don‟t think you might have killed at least one extra person you didn‟t need to?” “Who‟s checking?” “You should be! Just because you can doesn‟t mean you should.” “Look who‟s talking now.” “Exactly. Look who is. I know death as well as you, but you seem hell-bent on passing me up.” “Well, I have- haven‟t I?” 203 Jalila adjusted her other breast, “See what I fucking mean?” Freddy was beginning to turn her off big time. And this wasn‟t even the reason, really. And it wasn‟t so much that he was turning her off, but just that he wasn‟t turning her on. That was OK, because somebody else was. --------------------------------------------------------- “WWCD…what would Che do?” This weighed heavily in Raw‟s mind as he biked to his new downtown HQ from a supply run. Starting a revolution was not as spontaneous as it seemed- especially nowadays. What with their Homeland Security databases, satellites and GPS systems…hell, the bad guys had all the cards these days. How safe was his new location- this once-a-toy-factory? It wasn‟t like you could romantically sit around the fire with your bayonet and bottle of Uzo like Che and the boys in a secluded jungle anymore. And where would three decades or so of television detectives have been without abandoned warehouses where adversaries met at some clandestine downtown location? It was almost like their close cousin, the waterfront docks. 204 And then there was Lieutenant Steven‟s annoying new girlfriend. Oh, he thought he was so cutting-edge going out with a homeless woman! And here was this crazy bitch riding shotgun on missions with him 24/7 nowadays, she- the Yoko Ono of eco- terrorism, the epitome of a revolutionary coattail rider. Raw knew sooner than later she would compromise Steven‟s future missions. Something had to be done. Eeeeeeeeeep! Raw jerked around from his bike. The car behind him honked again as Raw noticed the red light which had been green probably at least half as long as his last thought. Driving in this dirty city was becoming an increasingly dangerous affair, what with all the unrepaired damage from the quake and roving gas bandits. He quickly accelerated, pumping the pedals with maximum effort. As he crossed the intersection, the mounted camera on the traffic light pole flashed. Raw knew he would never get used to this sensory-jarring ever, but this time it was followed by a barrage of gunfire from a gun mounted within the camera box. It was also trained on Raw, who took a quick right to a side street, narrowly escaping what could have been the end of his life. It indeed was for the Guatemalan family of four in the 205 barely legal Dodge minivan behind him, but Raw did not have time for hero duty when his own ass was on the line. As he frantically pedaled for his life, he heard the amplified wail of the firetruck sirens, Doppler-effecting their way towards the scene, their direction of travel towards him audibly betrayed by their increasing pitch. After all, Raw wasn‟t so sure if these firetrucks would be so friendly to him. Who knew what was mounted on those things nowadays? He didn‟t have to wonder too long, for within seconds a dozen or so Iraq vets on mountain bikes poured out of a side alley to his left, providing armed cover for their new commander. Raw saluted them briefly before he coughed out loud, raising the bandana around his neck to cover his nose and mouth. For a town with such dramatically reduced industry (especially as of late), it was sure getting harder to breathe in. Raw thought, “Shit, pretty soon I‟ll be like one of those Koreatown Asians wearing those strap-on air-filter facemasks.” Immediately sensing this trap was meant for him, thereby ending all future daytime outdoor activities. After all, it‟d be harder to find a black man in the dark. 206 And had he known a little something more about science, he‟d realize this was due to an increasing level of methane creeping into the atmosphere. --------------------------------------------------------------- TMZ…those vultures didn‟t want to have anything to do with her. She wasn‟t a creature of the corporate media. The hordes of roaming and foaming paparazzi on the street had become more ruthless and feral; most of them orphan children armed with digital cameras and the energy to do whatever it took to get their photographic prey. Stalking celebrities was now done with a primal and predatory urgency. But this LA Cont…she was of no use to them. Her art served to raise awareness, not divert it. Times were becoming such that the world she inhabited rubbed shoulders with Raw more often than not, and they would either have to make peace or be forever divided. Obviously, it was up to Raw to extend the olive branch. The only justification of his past action was that Maria served as a totemic sacrifice- a blow against the infotainment empire. And whereas the paps had no use for her, Raw indeed had use for the paps. Why not? They had the perfect skill set he was looking for: tireless and persistent tenacity toward the fine art of stalking. All he would have to do was redirect them toward 207 different prey. Now was not the time for a black man to seek a leadership position using the “proper channels”. Sure, one had tried before- even thought he had a shot at the brass ring, getting only the brass monkeyfuck instead. Yes, once this man was forced to talk racism, he made the mistake of addressing the American public as mature adults. 208 WEEK 7: Carrying a gun, shooting with a gun, dirty animal Carrying a gun, carrying a gun, watch your face, carrying a gun Carrying a gun, carrying a gun The animal dies, with fear in his eyes, with a gun Don't touch him, don't touch him Stay away from him, he's got a gun -Lou Reed Girlfriend had hit the jackpot. And she wasn‟t letting go. Steven was torn- relationship or career? Yes, the karmic tables were turning. It was now he being the one tired of being with someone probably not good for him, which he was unfortunately good at. Yes, he excelled in unhealthy unions with the opposite sex. Clarissa‟s altered paradigm of stability had deemed him the catch of her life, and she was holding on for dear life. At first Steven thought he could change her. Surely she‟d understand the significance and pressing urgency of what he was doing nowadays. But, no…all Clarissa had seen was his star power. She‟d seen it until it blinded her. Imagine…her with a handsome anchorman! She was his queen, and he her king- all the world their future Camelot. It was all she could do to pick out 209 the many fashions and accessories she‟d need in her soon-to-be fabulous life. Matter of fact, she‟d taken to secretly cutting out pictures of models wearing all that would be hers from the glossy glamour mags she pored over at the Border‟s. It was really only a matter of time before a half-alert (but mostly bored) barista noticed her clipping away at magazines she had plucked from the rack downstairs, ready for some conflict to break up the day. “Excuse me, ma‟am.” This chestnut-haired and kohl-eyed girl in the Borders apron knew that calling a woman losing her youth by this moniker ripped open her coquettish façade. There was nothing like this antiquated colloquialism to make a woman feel bland and old in one goofy wavering syllable. Yes, there would be no bullshit “Miss” addressed to her older ass from this younger and cuter adversary- an insult in itself. Add ma‟am to the mix and you‟ve doubled up on this certain flavor of fuck you. Clarissa didn‟t respond the first time (after all, that wasn‟t directed towards her). Despite this, the barista repeated herself, but this time with more volume and even more determination. 210 “Ma‟am, you‟re either going to have to pay for these magazines, or…” Clarissa exploded, “Or what? You going to call the police?” The barista rolled her kohl eyes in disgust as if to say “you didn‟t get that?” “Um…yea-uh.” “Are you serious?” By this time people in the store were being sucked out of what they‟d been reading and into what they were hearing, their hungry eyes tuned into this new spectacle. “Look, I‟m going to have to ask you to please tone it down…ma‟am!” “Why? So I can go to jail nicely? So you can humiliate me in front of all these…” No need. Clarissa looked over the girl‟ head, realizing she‟d done just fine for herself in that regard. She had the rapt attention of the whole 2nd floor of the Border‟s now. It was if Damien Rice and David Gray were doing an in-store appearance...together. That kind of attention. 211 “How much? How much do you want? You know…what you don‟t think I have- money!” spat out Clarissa. “I don‟t know. How many magazines did you destroy, ma‟am?” “I‟m not a ma‟am!” “Whatever.” This was too much for Clarissa, who whipped out her cell phone- a pink Razor. “We‟ll see who‟s the ma‟am here, missy. I‟m calling my boyfriend. He‟s famous and has money and is handsome. And you‟re not!” “Handsome?” The barista almost betrayed herself a chuckle. “You know what I mean! I‟m getting his credit card info right now!” And at that point the young girl didn‟t care anymore. She may have well as been the cover girl for “Don‟t Give a Fuck” magazine at that point. Nowadays, her bosses told her to never question the payment sources that ran through, just accept them. If that was the customer being a crook to someone else, what did 212 it have to do with their corporation? In an age where the musicians from the 70‟s weren‟t that far from their own, all that was solid was turning to air. There was a recession going on, after all. And so Clarissa was banned from Border‟s. Out of shame she did not tell Steven, and now she spent her days dreaming at the library down the street, dismantling their mags for her “wish book”. It was only a short matter of time before she was noticed by an angry librarian. She had security escort Clarissa out, later letting the city of Los Angeles know that this one was not responsible enough for one of their library cards for the rest of her life. It didn‟t matter anymore anyway because Clarissa now had a crystal-clear picture of all the things she‟d soon have, tucked away in the mail-order catalog of her cranium. So now Clarissa would go to Starbucks and get her Vente Mocha with the shot of caramel that she liked so much that she almost tipped the barista, but declined to do so, knowing the tips would be seized by the shift supervisor anyway. Even Clarissa wasn‟t that crazy. Sitting in her tiny and uncomfortable chair (designed that way to move coffee-swilling asses in and out), she noticed a lady sitting next to her. She 213 was about 40 or so, confidently poised and well-dressed as she scanned the screen of the Mac Powerbook in her lap. Clarissa noticed there were many women like this- wearing fabulous clothes with great hair and nothing to do but sit in Starbucks all day and not have to work or worry about bills before going back to their fabulous homes and their fabulous lives, just waiting for them. She was more than a little jealous already. As Clarissa peeked at the monitor of Ms. Powerbook, she noticed the lady was reading an article on TMZ.com (where glamorously idle women such as her obtained most of their news). Right there on the screen was a sidebar ad for Channel Five- the station with a heart, but really just struggling to keep a heartbeat. “My fiancé‟s the anchorman for that station…” Clarissa beamed, and as if it needed to be said, “…Steven.” The woman shifted away from Clarissa at the same time her eyes shifted directly on her. “Steven Jung? The nightly guy at Live on Five?” Clarissa beamed even more, nodding her head as the lady took in all that was Clarissa, who, despite some new clothes (courtesy of live-in lover Steven), was mostly wearing insanity. 214 “Is that so?” the lady muttered, hoping these words would conclude this crazy-lady confrontation. “Can I show you something?” said Clarissa as the lady sighed silently, knowing her reply had only prodded and fueled her to proceed: “Want to see what I‟m wearing to the Emmies?” Clarissa pulled out a folded up page of a magazine from her dirty backpack next to her caramel coffee and half-eaten lowfat cranberry frosted square. She unfolded the page to reveal a grease-stained picture of a model walking down a runway in a Versace gown. “My man‟s getting one this year. I mean, how can he not? He‟s the best reporter in all of Los Angeles. And it‟s a number two market, you know.” And at this point the woman opted not to tell her that last she‟d heard and seen, “Burning Man” hadn‟t been part of the Channel 5 news-team for at least six months (or however long ago that big scandal was). She looked at her fancy watch suddenly. “Wow, look at that. It‟s almost 11. I have a hair appointment. Gotta run.” 215 Why agitate things with reality, especially with someone who wasn‟t operating within it? But Clarissa was already elsewhere- back to day-dreaming her ballroom gown dreams. Speaking of which, there was simply no better show for her than “Dancing with the Stars”. It had it all: the glitz, the glamour, the stars, the dancing…everything a delusional dreamer like Clarissa desired. No further (or initial) thought was necessary. However, she had bigger fish to fry. When she discovered Steven no longer worked at Channel Five (for real), it was like the oxygen had been yanked out of her atmosphere. She didn‟t like her new man‟s ways as of late- way too clandestine for her enquiring National Enquirer mind. Sure, they‟d had talks about it, usually something like: “Steven…don‟t you miss…” “Hon, I don‟t need to talk about it.” “But don‟t you miss it?” “I‟m doing something much more important now.” “But Steven, what‟s the use of doing anything important if nobody sees you do it on TV?” And had Steven not let his moralistic hubris get in the way, he‟d know she was dead-on in her crude assessment. 216 Reporting on one grand celebrity bust- say, Miley Cyrus in a coke-fueled ménage a trois- would register far more in the public consciousness than some starving African babies who were always doing that anyways. Where was the news in that? Clarissa wasn‟t about to lose her ticket to the big-time and see her Vogue dreams dissipate in the stratosphere. Hell no, this girl was more than ready for her day in the sun. No, this current state of affairs simply would not do. Even if Clarissa had to march down to the station herself, she‟d get her man back on the air. Whatever needed to be done. In that sense she was very much like Malcolm X: by whatever means necessary. ---------------------------------------------------------- Jalila had been the one to contact Maria initially, telling her she was so sorry to hear what Raw had done to her, how he‟d done her so very dirty. And she‟d told her that if anything needed to be done about that, she was in a position to make something happen. But even as she had her eye on Maria, something told Jalila that someone else did as well. Call it intuition, call it ESP, call it paranoia even, but Jalila just called it like she saw it. Yes, it- whatever it or what or who was. It needed to be brought to the light, for now it was lurking in the darkness of 217 the back corners, exuding an imminent pall. Jalila knew what needed to be done, she just wasn‟t sure how yet. Freddy had trained her well, and by this point this Persian was up to snuff on a handheld DV, able to hold her own against the most aggressive of those TMZ weasels. And it wasn‟t as if she had been idle with it either. While Freddy had been spending most of his time “protecting” himself in “self- defense”, Jalila had been chronicling Maria‟s mercurial rise in the underground in all its high-definition glory. So on this particularly record-setting hot August night (107 degrees in mid-city!), Jalila sat in the Langham apartment she shared with increasingly-absent Freddy, poring over performance footage that she‟d taken of Maria on more than one(or five or ten) occasions. Meanwhile Freddy was busy helping others. He was doing people a favor, really. Anybody driving a maroon PT Cruiser and listening to Dave Matthews -or heaven forbid, Good Charlotte- couldn‟t possibly be really happy; they couldn‟t honestly have anything to live for. That‟s where Freddy would come in. He‟d trail them for awhile, without being seen of course. Not a big deal. He was used to that. He wasn‟t like those mostly over- sugared under-age paparazzi flies, buzzing annoyingly all over 218 their prey. No, he was a documentarian- king of the video credibility hill, and no stranger to the fine art of stealth. It was also very ironic fun to stalk those TMZ creeps and “shoot” them. Show „em how it‟s really done- for good, their gutted morality scraped from the human landscape. Yes indeed- he‟d follow the unhappy ones to their dens of discontent, and do them a favor; blow whatever brains they had left out. Besides, it made for great practice. He was already better than almost all the Iraq vets working for Raw, but most of their nervous system was shot from the post-traumatic stress, effectively ruining any concentrated precision. “If only Jalila understood me a little more” he thought as he whistled “Steady As She Goes”, concentrating hard not to waver his scope currently sighted on an obviously unhappy guy driving a Hyundai Excel and listening to Jack Johnson. Between those two factors, there was no way that man could possibly be at peace with himself. Speaking of sight, Freddy also had his eyes on bigger and better things, like bombing. That‟s where all the action seemed to be. “Why should that Steven have all the fun?” he thought. It was almost a curse to be known as the documentary guy. If you were good at one thing you weren‟t seen as anything else. He 219 didn‟t want to be a victim of the ages-old malady in this town: being typecast. But there was work to be done for now. Freddy had to show those pesky bicyclists- teach „em a lesson. He was sick of the way they always slowed one down in traffic. It was downright dangerous. Why, somebody could get hurt! And Freddy was determined to show them how and how much. He knew once he hit his first bike, it wouldn‟t be him doing the hurting. ------------------------------------- “We increase daily, they decrease daily. We prosper, they are humbled. We flourish, they are drying up……sounds good, doesn‟t it?” said Raw to his assembled troops. “Now, where do you think I got that from?” No response as Raw scoured the young, dirty faces in the alley he was addressing them from. “The Cure?” meekly said one in the crowd. “Depeche Mode?” inquired another. Raw shook his dreads, and spoke up again, this time louder, “Wrong, wrong and wronger. Alright, I‟ll tell you…it‟s from ancient Rome, but I took the liberty of slightly altering it. The original quote goes „they increase daily, we decrease 220 daily-they prosper, we are humbled-they flourish, we are drying up.‟ Now, which one would you rather be?” “The first one!” a young boy shouted out. “Yes, put that on the cover of No Shit magazine. I don‟t think anybody here would disagree with you on that one, son.” Raw looked out at the throngs of unkempt orphans, “And how are we going to get there?” “Take it!” said the kid again. Raw faux-strained his ears before replying, “Take it? Isn‟t that we‟ve been doing all along…taking it?” “Take it from them!” one of the vets shouted out. Nobody had been fucked harder by the United States than these guys, especially by one particular uppity ex Naval officer who had the nerve to try to be their commander-in-chief after stripping most of their benefits away. “Alright. That‟s what I‟m talking about. Ladies and gents, have you ever heard the term „fake it until you make it‟?” 221 A few nods, and a grumble here or there before Raw proceeded, “You see, we‟ve been faking long enough. Now is the time to make it.” “Make it happen, you mean!” shot back one of the kids. “There you go, thinking on your own. Good, very good. Now, would that be possible if you were busy doing what they‟d actually like you to be doing?” “What‟s that?” “You don‟t know, junior?” Silence. “I‟m talking about banging and slanging. The powers that be, but won‟t be for long if we have something to do about it… well, they couldn‟t be more thrilled about you kids shooting each other…and yourself, up. Shit, son- you guys make their job easy. You practically do it for them yourself. You do the dividing so they can do all the conquering. You do shooting yourself in the foot one better-the face, chest…all that. We have a civil war going on already amongst ourselves. The blacks versus the Mexicans. The Blacks versus other blacks and Mexicans against other Mexicans. What kind of shit is that? How‟s a revolution get started like that?” 222 Raw narrowed his gaze at the crowd, “Now, we gonna be fake or is it time to get real?” He knew two things needed to happen for anything to change, continuing: “But you guys didn‟t start this problem. Two things you don‟t talk about in American society: religion and politics. And that has proved our downfall. Historically, those have been the dual primary methods of controlling and suppressing the populace. Keeping them in the dark, as it were…and they‟ve been doing a bang-up job.” But isn‟t it the job of this humble teacher to enlighten? Therefore, for us to evolve as an enlightened species, these two issues- religion and politics- must be held up to the light and not only examined, but analyzed and scrutinized. Now, that is the essence of educational reform. Start mixing these things up in what we‟re learning. You just might get some different results instead of the same old, same old. Freedom of choice…shit! They give us a narrow range of topics we can discuss to make us think we have a choice. You can talk about that all you want, anywhere in every which way, but don‟t talk about this!” 223 He‟d had them at “no shit”. And Raw wasn‟t just whistling in the dark, for dark days had indeed descended from the anus of the underworld. Even previously mundane events such as yard sales were getting heated, perhaps because there were so many of them in close proximity, generating friction against each other. The sellers would beg like a homeless man bestowed with a bunch of stuff he can no longer store. Perhaps they, like him, were finding themselves shut out of a neighborhood- the no kids on the block, as it were. It didn‟t take that much, really…the start of the great racial divide. To anybody driving by on the 101 southbound freeway around 7:30 on a busy Wednesday morning, they‟d see two people pulled over on the shoulder. Look just a second longer and they‟d distinguish one car exponentially nicer than the piece of shit behind it. A further glance would connect a well- dressed blonde lady as the driver of the nice car- a black Mercedes S class convertible- and a middle-aged Mexican man as the driver of the second vehicle- a battered Nissan pickup. The further curious would notice an argument brewing, with the lady as the obvious aggressor and recipient of the minor back-bumper damage. And although the man‟s truck‟s front 224 end was way more damaged, it was apparent by his timid manner that he was most likely at fault, and perhaps uninsured. Being an attractive blond lady, this brought out the good Samaritan in another white and red-blooded male motorist. As soon as he pulled over, he began to assume the role of knight protecting a damsel in distress, joining in on the aggression toward the other driver. What he didn‟t know was that this driver, meek as he was, was being followed by his brother and two nephews in another truck not far behind. Being that these two nephews were straight up Boyle Heights gangbangers, they wasted no time pulling over and ganging up on the lone white boy, who clearly had not counted on this surprise public ass-beating. This, in turn, caused a work-truck full of other white males to pull over, get out and beat on the new aggressors, further flip-flopping things. However, by this time, one of the Boyle Heights boys had made a quick cell-phone call to his nearby homies already on their way to join in on the freeway fun. It was now lit- the spark that set Los Angeles racially ablaze amidst all the already-existing natural damage. It had been building for a long time by now anyway, like a forest fire repressed by developers for years, the fuel only 225 becoming dryer and more combustible each passing season that the fire remained unquenched. And finally, the Mexicans had the population numbers on their side now to do some real damage. Basically, it was on, and even Beverly Hills was no longer safe. ACT III: 226 “There will come a time when the world will be filled with one science, one truth, one industry, one brotherhood, one friendship with nature…this is my belief.” -Dimitry Mendeleyev WEEK 1: “Children can‟t be our future because by the time the future arrives, they won‟t be children anymore.” 227 -George Carlin Maybe there was hope after all. People had the power to change things. Yes, things could happen. Anything was possible with sweet determination. Too bad Momma Natural didn‟t quite agree. It would have been bad enough if it had been one twister, but not the multiple tornadoes that hit LA: multiple, unprecedented, dirty gray twisters. Suddenly, that which did not exist, did- and so that which was prepared for most was not. Los Angeles was one big bent-over virgin ass waiting to be violated for the first time. Not being a basement-heavy city, most people found nowhere to submerge themselves. Aside from the obvious casualties, the tornadoes reaped a far bigger toll: a shift of the psyche. After fire and earthquakes, the tornadoes had sealed the deal. LA had now seen it from all sides: Earth, wind and fire. The sky above was no safer than the earth below. Refuge was as sparse as peace of mind. And this was crucial because with no sense of security, there was no sense of anything solid to hold or hang onto. The stoicism thinly capping America‟s panic hadn‟t been scratched off, much as it was violently torn off. 228 Society requires an anchor to hold it down, but now the water was too deep for any anchor to latch onto anything. Nowadays, getting shot in the face was as easy as ordering a pizza had been in the oh-so-taken-for-granted increasingly dimmer recent past. LA had never seen twisters before, except those on multiplex screens from bad disaster movies. It was like God had taken a blender and made himself an LA smoothie. The city was tattered, battered and scattered beyond all repair. Indeed, if there was ever a town that didn‟t mix its ingredients well, it was Los Angeles. Anyone doubting that should try to switch a rich Jewish family in Beverly Hills with an immigrant one in Boyle Heights. No difference, my ass…as they say. Further east, the casualty reports from the Palm Springs area kept pouring in. It had simply become too hot and the recent earthquake had done much to break down the fragile infrastructure keeping things unnaturally cooled down. The grays were dropping like flies and the gays were running away. Add some seriously destructive sandstorms, and it was way too much for even them to clean up. Palm Desert was becoming a desert again, this time minus the palm. The stench of death rapidly filled the air, before it dried up and blew away quick as it came. When the world around you begins to smell like a big warm man with underarm odor, you know the end is near. 229 And then, as quickly as the sandstorms started, they stopped. However, as quickly as they stopped, a flood of biblical proportions barged in, pretty much sealing the deal…the finishing after the sanding as it were. It soaked and immersed everything and everyone in sandy mud before drying up and baking it all in a big sediment cookie, the dead senior citizens‟ bones being the chips in it. Palm Springs- RIP 2012. It‟d seen its day. It hadn‟t really been meant to last anyway, but Mother Earth never bothered to inform its inhabitants when their lease expired before delivering the final blow. And why should she, after all? It wasn‟t like the human species had done her any favors by raping and polluting her like a drunken, pillaging Mongol for the last century. Pragmatically speaking, some people were better off dead in this new old world- reduced to the bacterial breakdown of their elemental composition, back to the carbon and nitrogen which had previously composed them. Indeed, the sum of their parts was worth more than the whole. It was now these fossils‟ turn to be fuel. Sure, dinosaurs had had their day in the sun, but nowadays there were a lot more humans than there ever were of them to inevitably snatch the fossil crown away from their extinct breed. ------------------------------------------------------- 230 Jalila was on the hunt. She was not about to sit by and be passive, knowing full well that La Cont was in jeopardy. The performance footage had shown her all she‟d needed to know. LA Cont had a dangerous stalker- one that needed to be stopped. Jalila knew she‟d never be able to look at herself in the mirror with the knowledge of lying idle while someone she deeply cared for was being stalked like an animal. “Hunt or be hunted” thought Jalila as she posted fliers for Maria‟s next gig- this one in the Arts District of downtown Los Angeles. She knew her prey would be there- anxious for a chance to snuff Ms. Contreras. “You are going down” muttered Jalila as she headed into the Groundworks Coffeehouse on Traction Avenue, a flower of a café amidst the dirty and sun-drenched industrial rubble of nearby Skid Row. She couldn‟t help but notice a crazy-looking lady in a flower-print dress staring blankly into a laptop utilizing the free wi-fi that this urban oasis provided. “What is this? Crazy bitch week?” wondered Jalila, while at that table, Clarissa marveled at the preponderance of recent celebrity deaths. A lot of them were suffering major depression, having lost most of their audience as nobody had time to do much of anything more than just get by. Scandals and bad behavior 231 simply didn‟t get them noticed anymore, but death bought them a ticket to immortality. That is, unless they were of the unworthy status…something of the caliber of a sitcom star. Nobody was holding their breath for the demise of Jim Belushi or Charlie Sheen. No, you had to be someone special nowadays to die and get noticed. “Steven‟s special” thought Clarissa. “Not only that…” And her mind wandered as she thought of what a huge insurance policy he probably had- what with him being a huge celebrity and all. Maybe she couldn‟t jump-start his career, but she could sure get him some much needed exposure in the public eye. And maybe, just maybe- get herself a little sumpin‟ sumpin‟. If she had to do a little sinning to get him elevated to sainthood, so be it. ----------------------------------------------------------- Business as usual for Steven. Another assignment from Raw. This one was a big one- taking out the CNN (AKA Caucasian News Network) building on Sunset and Cahuenga. Time for some serious MSM (mainstream media) takeout. Five years ago he would have felt guilty about the collateral damage it would have caused to nearby Amoeba Records, but that place had been out of 232 business for a few years already. The only things people used CD‟s for anymore was makeshift mirrors and shanks in the pen. This time Steven had company, except he didn‟t know it. However, Freddy sure did. After all, when you want to master a skill, you must learn by observing one. Freddy had shadowed him all the way over here. Yes, Steven had quite a rep in the underground nowadays. However, he was a humble sort of fellow. Pragmatic, too…as far as he was concerned, it hadn‟t taken much more than a little online research to learn how to build bombs. Hell, you could get anything online: cookie recipes, prostitutes, lawn furniture, overseas brides…wasn‟t technology wonderful? So Steven merely applied himself. And it was the perfect job. Beautiful, really. The destruction of the CNN Building was beyond simply destroyed. It was totaled. It simply refused to exist anymore. A wonder of technology in its own right brought to its knees by another wonder of technology. But was there anything that new about destruction? WEEK 2: Nightclubbing we're nightclubbing We're walking through town 233 Nightclubbing we're nightclubbing We walk like a ghost -Iggy Pop “Hi, I‟m calling about your ad.” “The private security one?” “Is there another one?” “Well, uh- yeah, but…what exactly can I do for you?” “Um, I guess you could say I need to be secure about something…and yes, private is good.” “Then let‟s be.” “What?” “Private.” “OK, but look. I need to find out if I can get someone ki-“ “Hey…private! Can we arrange a meeting at, say- where the Starbucks used to be at the Sherman Oaks Galleria?” “That‟s not very private, is it?” “It is now. It went belly-up about six months back, along with the economy. You from these parts?” 234 Yes, I just haven‟t been frequenting the Galleria anymore. They‟re very rude there, you know. Especially at that Starbucks.” “It‟s not there anymore.” “So why are we meeting there?” “Well, that‟s why.” “But what if…?” “If? You mean as in…if I asked that, if I asked her out… if I had that, if I was this or that…if only I could understand that…if only I could play guitar like Eddie Van Halen or football like Jerry Rice or make pornos like Jenna Jameson. It‟s the biggest word in the English language…if. There aren‟t a lot of ifs, ands, or buts in this. In this transaction, no matter the weather...we stick together. Comprende?” It was all he could do to refrain from finishing that sentence with a “dumbass” (followed by an exclamation point). “Oh well, you see- I‟ve been going to another place nowadays. It‟s downtown. I mean, it‟s nice, but the music isn‟t as good. I mean, you never hear them play any Coldplay. It‟s all just a bunch of punk rock, especially by that awful lady that used to be a reporter.” 235 “Cont?” “Yeah, that nasty bitch.” “What‟s it called?” “Groundworks. They‟re a chain. Not as big as Starbucks, though.” “Fine, just meet me there if you like instead- say, four PM this afternoon? That work for you?” “Uh, sure. But what about being private? Seems very important to you.” “Look, I‟m a pro. Trust me on this. It‟ll be just fine.” “But how about the other place? Wasn‟t that your idea?” “Trust me. We‟ll be just fine.” And had Clarissa a lick of sense, she would‟ve known never to trust anybody who, not asks but, tells you to trust them. “Sure.” Freddy clicked his cell phone off, muttering to himself as he shook his head in disbelief: “Where‟s this chick from, Mars?” 236 Still, money was money. As we all knew then and now, money talks and bullshit walks. Being that most transactions in this new old age were of the black market variety, shadiness was part of the deal in Freddy‟s burgeoning mercenary business. However, this was not to say that this lady didn‟t sound like she was out to lunch like a motherfucker. She may have had a full six pack, but she sure as hell was missing the plastic thingee holding it together. --------------------------------------------------- It hadn‟t taken much detective work on Jalila‟s part to figure out who‟d been following Maria. And she‟d fallen onto it by accident, although there are no real accidents in the final analysis. She‟d seen the fliers posted all over town: HAS ANYBODY SEEN MY BABY? MISSING MY OWN LITTLE BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA 237 HIS NAME IS WARHOL (YES, LIKE ANDY!) PLEASE CALL 323-868-DAYS REWARD OFFERED! She‟d found the dog, or at least one that looked like it. Jalila called the number and the crazy lady went on and on and on about how this evil reporter lady had killed her other dog. After watching all that footage of Maria‟s stalker, Jalila realized this was the stalker, and there was her motive. Of course, it was one of those Hollywood ditzes who cared more for the animal race than the human one (what with our messy human emotions and uncomfortable intellect). Problem solved on Jalila‟s end. This lunatic need not pay her dime one as Jalila would be the one handling any payback. And all it took for Jalila to track her down was to follow her back home after she saw her in the crowd of Maria‟s last performance. Except there really was no home to speak of. Yup, ol‟ Lina had pretty much lost everything in the recent great stock market crash around the same time she lost her home in the great LA fire. The only things labeled great anymore were disasters, whether they were man-made or natural. What Lina claimed for her dwellings nowadays was an abandoned facility right up her alley, located on a scrabble- scratch stretch of downtown Olympic Boulevard, an area that 238 seemed so desperately ripe for reinvention and resurgence even as close as a few years back before the downtown renaissance became a bitter joke. She didn‟t have any people to share her place with, yet she was not hurting for companionship, for this was no ordinary facility. It was what used to be, and indeed (under Lina‟s tutelage) still was, an animal shelter. Even living amidst skid row, she never suffered any shortage of food. Looking the way she did nowadays with her battered and tattered look, it wasn‟t anything for her to blend in with the locals unnoticed. Although that would have bothered her in her ever-so-bright, shiny and non-scarred past, it worked to her advantage when she went out on nocturnal excursions, armed with an old ex-husband‟s nine iron. After all, it was time for some serious night-clubbing. She would slink into the shadows of the night, slipping into darkness (her new old friend). She would then find some unsuspecting vagrant passed out or asleep (which was pretty much the same for most of them). Even with her bony 49 year-old female limbs, it didn‟t take too much. Yes indeed, these fellows were way worse off than her, and would soon be worse off than anyone that still had a pulse. In the immortal words of the Thing from the Fantastic Four, it was “clobbering time”. As her nine-iron smashed their noggins like an egg, they never knew what hit them. 239 The only hard part for this ex-actress was getting her prey‟s recently-deceased-asses into the red plastic Target shopping cart she brought with. There were more than enough grimy blankets and greasy sleeping bags to cover the dirty, dead mess she‟d toss into the cart. She‟d actually gotten quite buff doing this…sure beat all those aerobics (low impact!) classes from the pre-Pilates era she‟d ruled and roamed amongst. Besides, what with all the smoked rock and missed meals these guys had (or didn‟t), these lil‟ bum fellers usually didn‟t weigh more than a buck fifty or so anyway. But more importantly, Lina‟s hunds and katzen were becoming increasingly used to, and even fond of, this new puppy and kitty chow Mama brought home most nights. Still, even 101 Dalmations couldn‟t take the place of her one remaining pet. If it was the last thing Lina would do, she‟d find her little Warhol. They‟d been through so much together, from the day she‟d laid out a few G‟s for him at the Brentwood pet store to the decline of her career… “The 1980‟s- now there was a decade”, reminisced Lina. “Everything was so big, so shiny…so new”. Her eyes welled up with nostalgia, “It was a goddamn golden age!” 240 Recalling her daytime drama glory years in front of a cast of the dozen or so strays in her abandoned shelter, Lina played out scenes of “Days of the Week” from her glorious past. She‟d dress up some of the animals in costumes she would craft, acting out scenes from old episodes of the show. And maybe sometimes Fluffy would end up playing the doctor having to break the news her lover had a terminal disease, or occasionally Snowflake would have to play the elusive other woman. The great thing about delusion is that it is very flexible in its parameters of what works. The last real role Lina had been offered was for an old lady…sort of. She recalled that meeting, the one with her agent and the hipster writer who wore his overpriced reading glasses like a badge of honor. The glory years of the 80‟s were almost a decade behind her when this over-caffeinated shill had pitched this “comeback” to her. “Lina, I think this is gonna do for your career what „Pulp Fiction‟ did for Travolta.” “I didn‟t like that movie. It was too weird.” “Yes, but you don‟t see him hurting for work anymore, do ya?” 241 “Well, now that he‟s doing decent studio films instead of that god-awful independent movie crap we‟re all supposed to looooove so much. Well, I don‟t! What was wrong with those movies he did in the 1980‟s? Those baby ones? Or how about that one where he was a personal trainer?” “Perfect?” “Yum…he sure was.” The hipster writer/creator smiled at her agent, who just shrugged. The irony was too great. Of course she had to be detached from his sly sensibilities of the zeitgeist pulse for this to work. These here were the same elements that made such things all the rage in this fin de siècle: Elvis‟ ‟68 comeback special (albeit a few decades post airing), the hipster‟s chic/nerdy, previously BC (birth control) glasses (but now screamed “Hey, I‟m smart AND hip!), dry martinis suddenly being ordered by the boatload in clubs all over LA…all that. Over a decade had passed since her heyday, and her post-modern ironic hipness factor was only second to a Flock of Seagulls reunion. Inversely, her career had cooled off so much that she was so cold she was hot again. The writer narrowed his fashionably bespectacled gaze at her, continuing: “Anyways, are you ready for this?” 242 Lina sighed. Who was this Hollywood baby trying to impress? Even taking an infomercial gig would have been better than this meeting. Undeterred, he spilled it out: “OK, first of all, we want you as the lead.” OK. He had her attention now. “The show is gonna be called G-GILF.” Lina almost g-gulped at this. “Gah-gilf?” “That‟s right.” “What the hell is a gah-gilf?” “Well, we can‟t say it on the air.” “Why not?” “OK, hold on to your leg warmers here. It stands for “Great Grandma I‟d Like to Fffff…you know.” “No, I don‟t. Sorry. I don‟t listen to the Beastie Boys and watch Quentin Tarantano films.” “Tarantino.” “You say Tarantino, I say Tarantano…whatever.” Lina‟s agent cut in, “Fuck, Lina. It means Great Grandmother I‟d like to fuck.” 243 “Are you out of your mind?” Was she hearing this right? Were they asking for her to play a great grandmother? Mr. Hipster cut in: “Look, it‟s going to be four generations of females- the adorable little three year old girl, her teenage dropout mom…” “But that means she had her when she was in like, high school.” Her agent and Hipness beamed back at her, “Yep. And then there‟s her mom, who‟s in her early 30‟s…” “The grandma” cut in Lina‟s agent. “Thanks, I got that…” shot back Lina, “…so you want me to play…” “Wait, I‟m not finished yet!” cut in the boy wonder. “It‟s called G-GILF, not GILF. Then there‟s her mom…the great grandmother, who‟s in her late 40‟s.” “But I‟m only 39!” said Lina, who actually was two years older than that. “Lina, the great…the G-GILF- she‟s going to be the hottest one of them all. That‟s the beauty of it. We‟ll make the rest of them frumpier and dumpier, trust me!” 244 “But you want me to play older?” “All the easier to make you the hottest one. I mean, do you think Estelle Getty on the „Golden Girls‟ is really that old?” “Tom, I don‟t know how old she‟s supposed to be. All I know is that she‟s old! And old is the last thing I need right now for my career. Isn‟t the whole point of reviving it to show that I‟m not? I mean, maybe older- but not OLD.” “Just think about it, sweetie. Men all over America will be fantasizing about schtupping a great-grandmother for the first time in history!” shot back her agent. “TV history in the making!” “That‟s disgusting!” Lina lowered her Carrera shades back down off her honey-blond highlights, “And to think you were going to offer me another shot at daytime!” “You mean soap operas? Those things are dead as dirt. It‟s 1997, for God‟s sakes!” shot back the hipster. “This is a gamble, sure. But it could get you noticed.” “Big time” said her agent, not so much convinced as he was tired and desperate for it work. “Let‟s face it…daytime dramas are for housewives and fags, and we‟re losing that to 245 that damn Oprah Winfrey. And it doesn‟t look like she‟s going anywhere soon.” “Except on a diet” the writer chimed in with a friendly wink. Lina‟s agent cut in, “Look, Lina. Open your mouth. I have something you need to take in. It‟s like this- at this stage of your career…” And he was dead-on, for at this point in television history, the timing was just not in her corner. She was still a few years shy of Lifetime and Hallmark Channel movies (soon to be a refuge for all TV actors on the wane) and comeback reality shows. The agent continued: “…you can‟t not take risks. Straight up, you don‟t really have a lot of…what‟s the word…um, options. It‟s either this or an infomercial for Ginsu knives or a „where are they now?‟ appearance on “Hard Copy”. “Oh, I like that Bill O‟Reilly guy on that show. He‟s cute.” “Lina, listen to me! I‟m not playing around, god damnit! Where are they now? Shit, you know where you‟ll be if you‟re not careful? A one-bedroom in Koreatown!” 246 “I‟m out of here!” screamed Lina as she tore out of there, straight to the Beverly Center for some the instant panacea only a shopping fix could provide. Nobody deserved to hear such terrible things told to them like this. “Damn, if only I knew that „G-GILF‟ would be so huge” sighed Lina as she cut up some bum-chunks for her increasingly feral brood of pooches. Maybe I can‟t go back in time and fix that, but…” Lina turned to the entertainment section of the LA Weekly, finding what she was looking for, bitterly smiling: “Payback‟s a bitch...you Cont!” WEEK 3: “The future is ended by a long sleep.” 247 -Morrissey “I don‟t do ride-alongs. I work alone.” She nodded, “We don‟t need a car for this, silly. I live with him.” “I didn‟t mean a drive-by!” Clarissa looked around the coffeehouse suspiciously, “Shh…this is secret, remember? Mr. …” “Mister What-am-I-doing here?” was what Freddy really wanted to say at this point as Clarissa continued: “Well, maybe this‟ll clear things up a bit”. She slid an issue of US Magazine she‟d been reading across the table under Freddy‟s nose. “So what? Amy Winehouse OD‟s again? That‟s not even news anymore. If she didn‟t, now that would be news.” “Not that, Mr. X. By the way, that‟s what I‟m going to call you.” Freddy shrugged. Fine with him. The less she knew about him, the better. But she wasn‟t done yet: “Now, open up the magazine.” 248 Freddy brought his face up to a more horizontal gaze as Clarissa whispered, “Page forty-four.” He nimbly thumbed his way to page 44, where an envelope was tucked away. Clarissa tapped his arm, “Open it”. Freddy opened the envelope, finding a check inside for the agreed-upon amount of five thousand dollars, except it was from the checking account of Steven Jung. He cleared his throat: “Um, Ms. Clarissa. This isn‟t going to work. I need a cashier‟s check.” “Oh, don‟t worry. You can cash it alright.” “That‟s not what I meant.” “Trust me. I know how to sign his signature like nobody‟s business. Where do you think I got this dress…these shoes? Plus, I‟m giving you the whole amount up front!” “Yeah, from his bank account and made out to…” It was at this moment he truly realized the magnitude of her delusion. He looked on the „PAY TO‟ line and in her handwriting (or at least a close forging of Steven‟s) was simply written: Mr. X. 249 ------------------------------------- She was one tired Cont. She‟d been working on new material with her band all day. “Aye, I should have never worked with that idiot from the Foo Fighters” she muttered to herself. No wonder he‟d been kicked out of the band back in the 1990‟s. That‟d be the last time she‟d pick a guitar player based on his resume. Besides, he was shit in the sack. She walked into her kitchen to retrieve her weed from the Nutella jar she stored it in for her post-practice ritual of listening to playbacks of the day‟s rehearsal. Instantly, something didn‟t feel right to her. Being tired, her senses were somewhat dulled, but basically she didn‟t give a fuck about anything after her artistically frustrating day. She grabbed the weed and her pipe, walking back to her living room, where she slapped on a burned CD of the day‟s sonic tribulations. The nervous rhythms spilled out, and she listened with the ear of a classical conductor. The plodding bass counterpart came in with the staccato drums as Maria took a hit of the dum- dum stick, closing her eyes and exhaling. She took a quick follow-up hit before getting up to spin and dance to this mess, humming and scatting as she searched for the right combination 250 of melody and words. Suddenly a loud buzzing crash kicked in as Maria opened her eyes. “There goes that shitty guitar player, fucking it up again!” As she twirled around she saw a manic Lina with a nine- iron smash her stereo, suddenly realizing at least this wasn‟t the guitarist‟s fault. -------------------------------------------------- Jalila was leaving him. He could feel it. After all, it was why they were sitting stool-to-stool in the faux-glamour of the dimly lit bar near Freddy‟s apartment, the one where Jalila no longer spent any time at. Right now he was willing to do things he normally wouldn‟t do just to get a chance at reclaiming once again what Mr. Lewis (Huey, not Jerry) had called “the power of love”. Nothing makes a man want a woman more than her leaving him against his will. Obviously, what he‟d been doing hadn‟t been working out too well. And if it took taking shots of Jose Cuervo down at the R-Bar on 8th Street in K- town, then so be it. The jukebox was bumping some latter-era Clash, specifically “Clampdown”, an apt metaphor for these ever 251 repressive times if there ever was one. Being they both had a mutual appreciation of the Clash, this was as close to playing “our song” it was going to get for Freddy‟s fractured relationship. As the truth serum of the Agave-soaked worm began to set in, Freddy bent towards Jalila‟s beauty that couldn‟t be dimmed even by the ridiculously low light level of this joint- the silhouette of a Byzantine Goddess. “I‟m torn.” “You mean ripped?” “No, definitely torn.” “Like „between two lovers- feeling like a fool‟?” “No, don‟t you wish, though.” Freddy huffed internally. Who did this chick think she was? Sophia Loren? Bridget Bardot? Debby Boone? “Ya wanna hear what I have to say, Jalila?” Oops. There went his eager-to-please ass-kissin‟ veneer of prior civility, peeling off from the suppressed hostility, courtesy of that evil little man, Jose Cuervo. “You guys want another one?” 252 Freddy looked up at the beaming 22-year-old struggling actress bartendress suddenly in front of them. It was funny how diligent she was in her service when he brought Jalila along. “Dos mas…Patron this time.” She gave him a “someone‟s getting lucky tonight” wink and turned around, necessitating the need for Freddy to shout out “Make it Patron!” as if she had suddenly sprinted a football field away from earshot. He turned back to Jalila. Now he needed to make quick nice. “I really value your opinion, Jalila. I‟m torn about what to do.” Jalila placed both her hands on his left hand anchored on the bar. “What‟s wrong, Freddy?” “Nothing, just somebody made me an offer is all.” Jalila took one hand away. “Still messing with all that, I see.” Without really realizing he was, Freddy began to instinctively retreat his hand from under hers toward the refuge of himself: 253 “I‟m sorry. You‟re right. I don‟t want to bother you with…” Jalila tugged his hand back with hers, slapping and trapping it with her other hand. “Cut the bullshit, Freddy. Just tell me.” She took her trapping hand away from his, placing it under his jawline and gently swiveling his face (and accompanying gaze) toward her suddenly empathetic emerald eyes. “Please, Freddy. I‟ll listen. I promise.” “OK, I…” Freddy stopped talking as the bartendress quickly deposited the shots of Patron in front of them, giving Freddy a “looks like somebody is gonna need to get a room” look before wandering toward the bar, pretending she had suddenly become interested in yet another armed private security firm commercial deluging the TV airwaves on the establishment‟s plasma widescreen. Freddy continued, “Jalila, I was offered five grand to take somebody out.” “On a date?” “Kinda…I guess you could say that. Their last one.” 254 “Ohhhhh. I see. No offense, but…so? I mean, I thought that‟s what you do nowadays. I mean, Freddy the bounty hunter, soldier of fortune…gun for hire, stone-cold killer- all that.” “How did you know?” “Oh, puh-leeze! Do you think I‟m stupid and dumb? I saw where that road was leading with you. Isn‟t that what you wanted? Isn‟t that your whole deal nowadays?” Freddy wasn‟t sure if this was irony or congrats on reaching a personal goal, but with the Patron quickly warming his innards and clouding his mind: “Except it‟s someone I know. And you do too.” He had her attention now. “Who…who, Freddy?” “Wait, I can‟t.” “Freddy, c‟mon now. It‟s me, Jalila. Your…” She quickly caught herself. His girl she was no longer. “OK, but…” Freddy paused, almost smiling, thinking semi- quickly to himself, “Maybe I can hold this off a little bit…get what I want too.” Yes, maybe that bartendress was right. 255 ---------------------------------------------------------- Raw couldn‟t go anywhere nowadays. His notoriety had forced his life to new levels of cloister-itis. Aside from being personally armed with a Tech 9, he was firmly ensconced by his own secret service detail of armed teenagers, many of them former emo-grants, emboldened and endorsed by a sense of renewed purpose with the opportunity to retaliate against their prior fascist oppressors. Fortified with the strains of Morrissey and the Cure pulsing through them and the winds of change blowing in their dark bangs, they were finally vindicated. They were beginning to feeling the freedom that only participation in power can bring. Even though his downtown warehouse confines were spacious and the willing availability of supple supplicants at an all time high, Raw felt trapped. “Shit, I feel like Tony Montana minus the cocaine” he remarked, looking over at the 18 year old goddess of a Korean girl curled up with him in an old school butterfly chair. She laughed at this, vaguely aware that he was referencing a Latin gangster from some old movie, this- the cinematic national anthem for thugs nationwide. “What good is all this if we have to live underground?” 256 “This place has a basement?” “Metaphor.” The puzzled look on her face was enough to inform him she was even more vague on what a metaphor was, just as one of his Iraq vets burst into the area. “Sir, time for target practice.” Raw snapped out of his idyll with the K-town bettie on his side, grateful for a detour from his current diversion. He had a purpose…at least for now. “Right. Got it all set up?” “Yes, sir. Freddy‟s actually using it right now. Wants to make a bet with you, he says.” “What? That he can outshoot me?” Raw laughed, “I don‟t give a fuck. Those white-boys are so damn competitive!” Then with a healthy level of paranoia, he thought “He‟s spending more time shooting guns than footage. What‟s up with that?” The vet nodded as Raw followed him into the huge area that used to be a loading dock. The irony of housing and training his child-army in a former toy factory didn‟t escape Raw. Projected onto a huge back wall was footage of the US 257 Senate deliberating like they always did, assembled in Congress as Freddy shot away at this padded projection wall to his heart‟s content before turning to Raw with a grin: “I‟m getting pretty good at this.” “Well, yeah…they‟re all sitting ducks.” “I agree. Let‟s notch this up a bit.” Freddy held up a remote in his hand and clicked it. The footage suddenly sped up and various Senators rose and sat in rapid progression. “Now we‟re cookin‟ with gas!” yelled Freddie as he peeled off a round, hitting one of the senators as the footage froze upon impact, triggered by a sensor behind the screen whenever any human image was hit. Raw looked at Freddie with a smirk, “Shit, guess he didn‟t have a lot to…” Before he could react, Freddie responded with another shot, this time nailing a corrupt New Mexico Senator in the side of his balding, tanned old head. “I got your red state! Yee-haw!” Raw picked up his assault rifle and fired a few, quickly nailing another senator before yelling to Freddie, “He‟s from Ohio! Swing states are worth more points!” 258 “Oh yeah, how „bout this?” Freddy fired again, “Say hello to my little law!” And damned if he didn‟t nail a senator from New York, upping the ante for Raw. This fun and games proceeded for about another half hour or so before the digital projectionist congratulated them both on a great exchange of lethal volleys. But… WEEK 4: “Let‟s hear it for Americans everywhere…we‟re fucking doomed!” -Chrissie Hynde She started singing that old song from her favorite era, when Steve Perry of Journey had been so oh-so-hot with his perfectly feathered hair, snug jeans, hightop sneakers and tiger-stripe tanktop. To Lina, that was how a rock star should 259 look! And Lina didn‟t know back then (until a few years later) that he hadn‟t even hit his stride with that excellent solo album, showing that he‟d been the one in the band with all the talent, making her wish her name had been “Sherry” (just like the song). And even though that wasn‟t her name, another one of Lina‟s wishes was coming true. Yes, she had her now- this Mexican gal was at her mercy. She continued singing softly… “Who‟s crying now…” Maria Contreras was not fully conscious, but what she most certainly was was kidnapped. Initially assaulted, then abducted and now currently and most definitely kidnapped. As quick as they were scattered, the last few moments of her prior consciousness flashed back to her- the nine-iron cracking the back of her head. She felt the headache swelling behind her eyes, threatening them practically out of their sockets. Speaking of her head, the back of it was against a pole, one the rest of her body was tightly tied to. As her eyes‟ consciousness caught up to her ears, Maria looked around to see there was a 5‟x 5‟ or so caged enclosure surrounding her on all sides: north, east, south, and west. And of course, there was that same crazy lady who had quickly whisked her off from her 260 very own previously secure apartment to this dank space. There was nothing cozy about abduction. And she wasn‟t alone. By her side, a dozen or so dogs were yapping loudly. Lina addressed them with an evil coo in her voice: “Dah-lings, have you met Ms. Contreras?” A hoarse croak of protest crackled from Maria‟s mouth as her throat raced to catch up with her eyes and ears, not really believing what they were hearing and seeing. Lina flipped a rancid piece of carnita over the fenced enclosure, prompting a chorus of hungry barks. She then picked up the smallest (yet most frantically loud) of the bunch, an angrily shaking Chihuahua. “Does this look like a dangerous dog to you?” Lina shook her head as the little dog rabidly pursued its blind aggression. “Normally, he‟s not. But you see, little Nagel…named after my most favorite artist from my favorite era of art…he, he hasn‟t eaten in about…oh, two or three days. And now he sees that piece of meat at your feet. Sure, it‟s putrid and all that, but you know what? My little pookie here doesn‟t much care at this point. He‟d do anything to get at it.” 261 Lina put her head down next to the violently shaking mangy mutt, flaying spittle from its dirty little chompers. “What‟s that, honey? What did you say?” She put her head back up, never losing her malevolent eye-lock on Maria as her fire-scarred face grew a spiteful smile. “Lil‟ Nagel says he‟s starving.” She suddenly laughed to nobody in particular. “Get it? he‟s my little starving artist. Isn‟t that just the most? And he says he‟s so hungry he‟ll eat almost anything. Let‟s find out what the definition of „anything‟ is, shall we?” She set the dog down on Maria‟s side of the makeshift wire fence that it was too short to jump over on its own. It instantly gobbled the piece of rotten meat in no time as soon as Lina released him. “Was that good, Nagel? Is baby still hungry?” The dog warily scurried toward Maria, who despite struggling as much as she could, only emboldened the Chihuahua to get ever closer to her increasingly-obviously-bound feet, making a few passes of nipping and retreating. 262 “Ooh, I think he is” said Lina as Maria looked down, painfully aware she wasn‟t wearing shoes anymore, right before the tiny yet vicious canine made another pass, leaving a stinging sensation, the red scratch on her toe quickly filling in with blood. The other dogs went crazy, straining against the fence they began to sense they were stronger than. Lina laughed, picking up and tossing in the dirtiest and meanest poodle Maria had ever seen. Its bitterly famished, little self wasted no time in making a beeline for Maria, lunging at her calf with its bared fangs. CRAAACK!!!! The immediate sharp pop that can only be a gunshot pierced the air, with all eyes (human as well as canine) reflexively turning toward the source. “Some things you can‟t just replace- like a Warhol!” yelled out a grinning Jalila, pistol in one hand and a shaking little Chihuahua cradled against her breast with the other. “Baby! You‟re alive!” screamed Lina as Jalila put the glock to the dog‟s head. “Sure about that?” Jalila cocked the glock and fired it…into the air. 263 “Unless…” She smiled at Lina, nodding toward Maria. “Wanna trade?” By this point the dogs had all panicked from the gunshots, running toward the back of the building and away from the man-made (or female-made in this case) violent sound. “No! Boys…boys! No!” Lina ran after the dogs, suddenly seeing the slight crack of the open back door she‟d neglected to check, frantically trying to get there before her brood. She barely made it, but as she did she tripped and smashed her face on the edge of it, drawing blood. Even in her decreasingly conscious state she could feel Nagel and the dirty little blood-hungry poodle rapidly ripping apart the (partially plastic) flesh covering her right cheekbone. Within seconds the larger hounds were tearing at her limbs. They weren‟t as hungry as the starved poodle and Chihuahua, but these were Hollywood dogs, after all. Who were they to pass up a free meal? No knowing the next time they‟d get one. As Jalila quickly unbound Maria, it was violently apparent that Lina was quickly becoming a human gift-bag to these hungry hounds. While dog was man‟s best friend, starving dog was certainly no friend of cruelly deranged Lina. She had lived by the dog, and was now dying by the dog. 264 ------------------------------------------------ Clarissa awoke with a start. Perhaps it was the flash of light from outside, or the sound of the door previously separating it being kicked open by the armed security troops. The one apparently in charge rushed up to her, his assault rifle approximately a yard from where she lay in the bed Steven and she shared. “Where is he? What have you done with him?” In this moment, her Camelot came crashing down around her. That mercenary she‟d hired had turned on her! Say goodbye to the unlimited credit at the Beverly Center, the idle brunches at all those cute cafes dotting La Brea Avenue… “We have a warrant for the arrest of Steven Jung!” What? Was she hearing them right? Clarissa blinked, checking to see if this was all a dream. Sure, they wanted her- but in a different way than she had thought only seconds before. They not only wanted her, but they needed her. Her mind began to spin a little dance: “This is gonna be huge…probably, no- for sure gonna be in all the papers. It‟ll be a big deal. Why, I‟ll practically become a…” 265 She beamed inside and out, mouthing the word, “…celebrity” before looking up at her baffled antagonists: “Let‟s go down to the station, fellas. It‟s on Sunset, right? What…what are you looking at? Let‟s go. We got work to do!” Fuck Norma Desmond. This girl was the one who was definitely ready for her close-up. Where was TMZ when you needed them? ---------------------------------------------------------- Where Steven was was where Freddy was. Fred had found him, to warn him of what would happen to him should a certain femme fatale have her way. There was no way he was going to let Clarissa‟s version of the story get to Steven before him. Steven would never know how his life was one bogus check away from being terminated by Freddy, who had tracked Steven down to the Channel Five studio off Fairfax Boulevard. Steven wasn‟t so much anti-Station Five as he was anti-media nowadays. It was almost a hobby- some people fly model airplanes and some people blow up news stations and media outlets. From their prior experience with clueless mainstream media, eluding security on the lot for these two had been as easy as the chords to a Green Day song. And now, near the back entrance of the studio, Freddy saw 266 Steven, wearing what looked like a bulletproof vest…he had to get to him. “There he is!” shouted a young voice. Before Freddy had time to react, a shot rang out. Freddy slumped to the ground instantly, a pool of dark blood wetting the back of his Urban Outfitter jacket. By this time, security guards poured in like a swarm of overfed hornets. But it didn‟t matter. Within the next minute or so, as the song went- Freddy would dead. He would die never realizing that Raw‟s troops had received slightly outdated intelligence on his cancelled murderous (for profit) intent with Steven. Now it was his turn to be cancelled. Steven, blissfully unaware of all this hulubaloo, switched gears in a split-second to adrenalized panic. Why were his own troops firing on him? There could only be one reason. The underground which he had been so eager to embrace was betraying him, serving him penance for past sins in the mainstream media. By this point, the staff and crew in the news studio were aware of the commotion. Inside the master control booth, news director Bob was in the midst of conducting the nightly “Live at Five” news. At the sudden sight of his ex on- air talent running into the studio with a bomb strapped to his chest, he began to mutter: 267 “Oh my… Steven jumped in front of the middle two-shot camera (after all, he was a pro). “You want ratings! Rate this!” As soon as Steven blurted this out, he bypassed the timer connected to a switch strapped to his vest chest, hitting it as millions of viewers witnessed the live shot of a lifetime (or more appropriately the end of one). As the evening anchor in the studio blew up mid-sentence, the last beat of the station with a heart belonged to Steven‟s mangled body, blown to pieces amidst the rubble. If only he‟d known what had really betrayed him most of all was his misguided quest for true love. In the final analysis, isn‟t that what we all live (and die) for? EPILOGUE: Yes, Raw had been tipped off about Freddy, and of course he had dispatched his legions to avert disaster. But now, it was all too late…way too late. Not only were some of his best and brightest gone, but instant heat upon him and his remaining resources and personnel necessitated an immediate change of his base of operations. It was time to leave Los Angeles. And he would have to leave today. 268 And so he quickly had his dreads shorn, adopted a different wardrobe and assumed a new identity, one replete with fake ID he had lying in wait for just such an occasion as today. As he left town in a car that had been arranged for him, he passed through Wilshire Boulevard one last time, the same one he‟d biked down years upon years. Slumped down in the back seat, he noticed the backsides of two stunning women walking hand in hand on the sidewalk to his left, their lustrous black hair swaying in the early evening air. “Damn shame…two beautiful Asian women like that…”. He sighed to himself, “Oh well, guess that‟s Koreatown for ya.” Raw knew somehow he‟d be back. The battle for Los Angeles was far from over. But as his car drove off, there was something he didn‟t know. Amidst the omnipresent construction rubble of the torn down Ambassador Hotel across the street, a flower bloomed between the cracks of a gang-tagged concrete wall…a beautifully alien intrusion at peace with its scarred surroundings. Within seconds, a shivering little Chihuahua sniffed before it lifted its tiny leg to mark its territory. One of the women shouted at the little dog. 269 “Warhol!” “Aye, that fucking dog!” La Cont muttered as she looked over at Jalila. And if one looked hard enough, they could almost swear that the little dog laughed: at them, at all the other humans in this city, at us all. And after all, why not?