Category Archives: Crime and Punishment

No News

I won’t get the facts exactly right of course since my memory is shot and I don’t have the energy to "research."

But somewhere or other, a clerk at McDonalds rushes to the aid of customer who is just about to be shot, gets shot himself, in the process and now lies at home with a bullet still in him. He can’t afford to get it out because the company that insured that particular franchise said the clerk’s job description did not include rushing to the aid of customers threatened with a gun. Apparently the clerk should have exercised greater prudence.

In another part of the country, another stupid good Samaritan runs into a street to push two people out of the way of an oncoming vehicle. He saves the people, is himself struck and injured serious. Finally he is ticketed for jay-walking seeing as how, from where he was lying in the street, the ticketing officer concluded he had not crossed at an intersection.

Finally, and most horribly, somewhere in Georgia a man decides to bring his life to an end with the assistance of some others. He can no longer stand the pain of his cancer. The people are gathered and the time is nigh when the man decides to go downstairs to get a picture of his wife to put by his bed for his final moments of life. Downstairs he is arrested by cops who have gotten wind of what is up and have broken into his house. Talk about your basic gut wrenching moment.

I don’t know the point of these stories–which I believe largely true–except I wish I had never heard them and wish I had not broken my vow to never again read or listen to the news.

Hardaway Bone

Among the papers of a former Judge in North Carolina, one David Schenck, was found a document that has come to be called the “Autobiography of Edward Isham,” also known as Hardaway Bone, an alias.  Schenck defended Isham against a charge of murder.  He lost and Isham was hung in 1860 in Greensboro.

Isham was illiterate.  The judge, for whatever reason, however, wrote down Isham’s life story, and the document affords one of the few up close and intimate looks at the life of a unpropertied white person in the deep south before the Civil War.  There seems to be debate about the quality of life—for the unpropertied white person—in the south before the Civil War.  Some claim that most were honest, hard working and god-fearing yoemen. 

Those opposed to slavery tended to characterize the whole of southern society as corrupt and among the lowest of the low were unpropertied southern whites.  Isham’s story might lend support to their thesis.  The autobiography is short.  I read most of it, and it appears that all Isham did for most of his adult life was fight, beat up on people, wrestle, cheat, and lie in wait to kill somebody.  Authorities believe the document is authentic.  I find it difficult to get my imagination around Isham’s way of life.

Here’s a little bit of the document—to give just a taste of the flavor of Isham’s life:

They met at a grocery where we were all drinking. I had two pis­tols and two bowie knives. They fought and I kept the crowd off with my knife. Harmands pistol wouldnt fire and he then drew a bowie knife and cut Reeder very badly. Reeder then broke loose and ran and as he went I fired my pistol at him but missed him. We pur­sued him to the grocery but were shut out. Reeders friends came and we fled. We went out to John Borrows and got money and horses and went down to my old home in Johnston county leaving my wife. From there we went to Napoleon and then to Memphis, there to Paducah, being afraid we would be taken, then to Smithland. Here I fell in with "Jim Ingles" whom I knew in Chattanooga and we gambled together for awhile but lost all our money. I had but a half dollar left, and went to chopping to get some; but meeting a wagoner I went with him to "Nashville."

Apparently all Isham did was get in fights, then run away either from relatives of the person he had beaten up, or whatever law enforcement there was back then, and occasionally he would work.  And then he got hung for murder.  I thought Davy Crockett was a mean idiot, as based on my reading of his “autobiography,” but this guy takes the cake.  Nobody is going to write “The Ballad of Hardaway Bone,” though it has a nice ring to it.

Wait maybe here’s a bit:

 

One cold night down in Georgia state
No one knows the date or place
A woman let out a moan
And gave birth to Hardaway Bone
And he lived a life to tell
Of a short cut straight to hell
He lied and cheated and drank—that was his way
Until they strung him up that day
In Greensboro up in North Carolina State
1860 was the date….

 Well, that’s enough of that.

Under Pain of Perjury

I am paranoid to a fault.  Paranoia has and continues so much to permeate my subjectivity that really I am unable to see it or to see around it sufficient to characterize it.  I can say what it is not.  I don’t believe that aliens control my brain or things come out of the TV tube and infiltrate my brain.  I don’t even believe in conspiracy theories out of principle; conspiracy theories are just ways marchingof protecting one’s self from what I am paranoid about: the general malignance of both the human and the natural universe.

To think that a cabal did this or that malignant thing is to protect one’s self from the awareness that no cabal did it.  Rather if it appears that a cabal did it, one should understand this appearance as suggesting the operation of either social or natural laws that cause certain persons or entities to act so much like synchronized swimmers that they appear a cabal.  Human beings might protect themselves at least partly against these synchronized swimmers by making basic changes to the social structures and the fact that we do not or are incapable of doing so is that malignancy to which I previously referred as the source of my paranoia.

Once for example, I bought a car from my brother.  It was a Volkswagen and he had managed to put a significant dent in three of the four fenders.  We joked about ramming the untouched fender into a tree so that I might have a complete set of dinted fenders.  I paid about 500 dollars for it as I recollect as it had just received a new engine and I was getting my gear together for departure from Casa de Oro.  As I was going into register the car, somebody mentioned that I would have to pay 10% of the purchase amount to register the car.

That comes out to 50 bucks.  I couldn’t believe it and was fucking outraged.  I suppose I had the 50 bucks but I surely couldn’t spare it.  So I got my brother to sign a bill of sale that said I had paid a buck for the car meaning I would have to pay a dime at worst to register the car.  I stood there casually with my fake bill of sale and walked out with my car registered, and this horrible feeling in the back of my head that some people at the statewide level were going to seek me out, take me to trail, and send me to jail to make a point about such casual grifting of the government.  I imagined the trial and my poor brother trapped between having to perjure himself or say, yes, yes, in fact he paid me 500 dollars, the bill of sale was a scam.

 I do not exaggerate when I say this feeling severly trouble me at odd moments out of nowhere.  I was not ready like Raskolnikov to go to the authorities and confess my crime so that I might relieve myself of my guilt.  But I thought about such things.  In this fog, I tried to reason with myself and eventually came to a thought:  Now, why the fuck would they come after me for 50 dollars when it would cost them far more than 50 dollars to come after me.  This supplied me some relief of a rational order though it did not dispell the deeper fear since governments daily do completely irrational things like paying 200 dollars for a hammer or attempting to gain peace by waging all out war.

But to pit the value of my 50 dollars against the value of their efforts was a step in the right direction.  It allowed me to see I was chump change, gum on the bottom of a shoe, shit on the stick and so on.  In short I was worth nothing, a zero in short, invisible and non-existent.  Thus the paranoid seeks to get out of his paranoia by feeling people can see right through him…And thus are very well positioned to gain control over him by whatever manipulative means.

Yes, it’s true.  People are out to get me.

Capital Punishment

electric chair 

Let’s see.  About 45 years ago I was in 9th grade.  We were bussed to a school called Mount Miguel, named after a nearby mountain called Mount Miguel because the high school I later went to had not been built yet.  I have no idea who Miguel was or why they named a mountain after him.  Coming from the south, we didn’t know anything about California’s Spanish heritage.  For a long time we pronounced El Cajon like L Ca-John and La Jolla like La Jolly.

About that time I became upset by the death penalty maybe because of my own murderous inclinations towards my PU’s (or parental units, as my brothers and I call our mother and father).  Also in the news then was this guy Ceryl Chessman; I must have read an article or something about him and how he had “reformed” in prison and written books and things like that.  Of course, I didn’t know if he had reformed or not; he was probably still the creep he had always been.

But that didn’t make any difference.  If the government was supposed to represent the people, then when the government executed somebody it was doing so as my representative, although I couldn’t vote, of course.  And it just didn’t seem right to me that, if the government was my representative, that I should be implicated in the killing of somebody I didn’t know or really didn’t give a shit about. I mean not only was the government doing something I didn’t want it to do in my name, it was doing so in a very impersonal way. 

 I felt that if you were going to go about murdering somebody in that way that they should be allowed the dignity of it being personal.  I figured the governor should come in and shoot the guy.  How could a guy sit at his desk and know that somebody else was killing a guy that he could have saved?  Or maybe they should hold a lottery and some average Joe could be picked to shoot the guy in the head.  Or maybe one of the family members of one of the victims could do the job and afterwards they could jump up and down with joy, or whatever.

I think I started thinking about the impersonal stuff when I saw an episode of  “The Defenders.”  This had E.G. Marshall in it, who is now dead; and the guy who went on to be the father in the Brady Bunch—though I never watched that and may be wrong—who I think is also now dead.  They did an episode on capital punishment and they showed you the whole business right down to the final moment.  I mean the guy being executed did not have a chance at all.  He couldn’t run; he couldn’t fight back; there was not a fucking thing he could do, but sit there while they strapped him down and maybe pee on himself out of fear.  This was a human being and he was as helpless as a fucking dog.

So I got pretty scared because my PU’s really didn’t have positive expectations for me and my brothers.  It seemed to me that mostly they were worried that we would end up in prison or as sexual perverts.  So I guess I was thinking there but for the grace….

Hard to remember even that for a few years there in the 60’s capital punishment was illegal. 

Continue reading Capital Punishment

Perve!

Mr. Smith and his family shared a property line with the Whites; though “share” with its hippy-dippy overtones is probably not the right word.  The two families warred constantly. 

telescopeI don’t know if it had anything to do with the war or not, but I have to mention that Mr. Smith’s house was oddly situated on his lot.  His putative front door pointed directly out onto the White’s property; mere feet separated his front door from their property.  To get to the front door, you had to walk along the side of the front to get to the front door. I never saw anybody use that front door.  People came in from the street; that’s where the driveway was.  It terminated in the back of the house.  So you’d park the car in the drive way and enter through the back door which was the de facto, if not de jure, front door of the house.

But as I said the families warred.  The Whites did not like the animals that Mr. Smith kept out back, and they didn’t like it either that his backward was a mess, with pieces of cars and old tires sticking out of the weeds. They especially did not like the geese.  Mr. Smith’s old dog died and instead of replacing it with another dog, he bought three geese that he had heard made good watch animals.  These suckers were big and if you came onto the driveway they would come at you making violent geese noises and snaking their ugly pea brained heads at you.  One guy drove his car onto the drive way, Mr. Smith said, and before he could do anything the geese had pecked paint right off the car.

 Mr. Smith claimed the Whites threw their garbage onto his property and that their son Richie that everybody beat up except me was using his telescope to look through the windows of his house.  And what do you know but somebody started leaving obscene letters addressed to his daughter under their putative front door.  These pretty graphically described what the author of the letters wanted to do with Mr. Smith’s daughter sexually.

 So Mr. Smith stood watch one night and caught Richie sticking a letter under the door.  He had been apparently using his telescope in inappropriate ways and had over stimulated himself or something.  Richie was under 18 so he didn’t go to jail or anything; instead he had to go to counseling so that he could learn the error of his ways.

Mr. Peace—whose son Richie had stuck in his one testicle with a pencil–worked as a volunteer policeman on the weekend, doing crowd control and stuff like that.  He caught wind of the Richie affair and through police contacts got hold of the actual file on Richie.  He had heard that Richie was applying to a military academy; so he wrote a letter to all of the military academies and attached portions of Richie’s file.  Mr. Peace said he considered it his patriotic duty to make sure perverts like Richie did not serve in our military.

 Richie did not attend any of the military academes; whether Mr. Peace’s letters had anything to do with that nobody will ever know.

Casa De Ora

Our little bit of California was called Casa De Ora. That wasn’t the official postal name but that’s what we called it.  Back in the 20’s they had tried to put a tract out there.  You could still see the layout for streets, and as you drove towards where the tract was supposed to be, on both sides of the roads were brown turd like mounds of plaster of paris with the words Casa De              Ora spelled out on them in gold lettering.  I guess they were supposed to suggest a gateway into Casa De            Ora.

Just beyond the gates, stores had sprung up on both sides of the road.  The stores were set back from the road leaving a dirt area for a person to park his car in front of the store whatever it was: a couple of gas stations, a bar, a drugstore, a barber shop, another bar, an independent market, a car mechanics place, and later on the Hires root beer barrel.  The root beer barrel was made out of metal, shaped like a barrel,  painted to look like a barrel and about ten feet high.  The root beer barrel didn’t last as a root beer barrel for very long.  Next,  it was a chicken barrel, and then a fish and chips barrel, and finally, before it was torn down, it was for a long time a Mexican food barrel.

The houses on our street that headed up the side of the hill had all been independently built.  No tract homes, one looking like the other.  You figured that people who had come out our way to live—and we were the boonies back then—either didn’t have much money or were attempting to escape their past.  In some cases, I think both.  Half of the deep south seemed to have moved out our way, to where they could have a little “elbow room,” that being very important, and a little bit of land on which to recreate the southern lifestyle.

Peope kept big gardens, and sometimes livestock, pigs and an occasional cow.  Chickens too, but they were frowned upon because of the racket.  People stuck up “out buildings,” a tradition in the south. We had outbuildings and also collected cars down back as was also a southern tradition. At one point, we had three cars out back with anis weed growing all around them.

But one day, this man in a uniform came to our door. He said he was from health and sanitation and showed us his papers.  He said we had to get rid of the cars out back.  Something about this guy annoyed me, so I said, “Why.”  Because vermin might be growing there, he said.  Vermin? I said, are you talking about rats.  Because I have never seen a single rat down there.

The guy didn’t look at me but handed a warning citation to the old man. As the guy walked back up towards the road I said as loudly as I could without yelling, “Vermin! I haven’t seen any damn vermin down there!” But the old man and the old lady sort of slunk off; I think they were embarrassed.

I don’t know why I wasn’t.  I thought it was funny, and the guy had pissed me off by using the word vermin when he meant “rats.”  The dark shadow of civilization in the form of bureacratic double speak had just passed over the area. 

Fuckers.

casa de ora 

A Big Yellow Streak

In the fall of 68, while I was trying to go to graduate school, I room with my best friend.  He was from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and like myself a working class kid who was ill-equipped to be a working class kid.  During the course of the quarter, he was drafted and reported.  He got through boot camp ok and was made an MP, though I can think of few people less physically imposing.  He was assigned to guard a missile base, in Arizona, I think.  24 hours on, 24 hours off.  He became “catatonic” and the army let him out with the stipulation that he did not claim medical reparations.

Another friend, also a working class kid and much more suitable to be one, since he worked out regularly and was very strong, decided not to endure the suspense, and joined the Marines voluntarily.  He thought it would be the event of our generation and wished to be present for it.  At that time, to get volunteers, the Marines were lopping six months off the tour either at the end or up front.  My friend chose up front, and during the six months fell in love and had a car accident that screwed up his knee.  The Marines would not take him.

Another friend, the son of a car salesman, became a marijuana salesman and decided when the war came along to go underground.  He stayed with me for a month maybe longer right before I dropped my groceries in the parking lot.  He was jailed once for weed and the FBI came and he said he would report as soon as he got out of jail, but he didn’t.  He was at Woodstock.  And drank very heavily.

Another person, less a friend but respected, decided not to step across the line at the draft board.  Funny to think of being arrested for NOT do something.  He was immediately jailed for not doing something first in a minimum security prison, and after he led a food strike there, a maximum security prison off the coast of Washington State.  He said that later somebody approached him about making a “movie of the week” out of his story.  He was the son of a philosophy professor who had been a CO during WWII.

These people, along with John Wayne and my father, both of whom said cryptically, “a man has got to do what a man has got to do,” constituted my moral compass as I agonized and tried to understand what was wrong with me, why I didn’t so clearly want to do what a man has got to do.  Being tough, sucking it up, following orders was a good deal of what my working class heritage was about.  

And those Southerners seem to go off to war at the drop of a hat. I was not a real man like John Wayne, but instead a coward with a yellow streak a mile wide down my back.  And a coward in two directions, for if I truly objected to the war itself and was not just a coward with a yellow streak a mile wide down my back, I should go to jail like my other friend but I couldn’t do that because the idea of prison scared me pissless, making me a coward with a yellow streak a mile wide down my back.

One might here begin to sense the depths of my inward conflicts although these remarks do not do justice to them.  It would have helped greatly had I been sure in my heart that the war was morally wrong in some absolute sense.  But I just couldn’t reach that conclusion.  Now it’s easy to say, oh yea, Vietnam was morally wrong.  Indeed, it just trips off the tongue. But back then the best I could do was to characterize it as a major “fuck up” and in that way an dimension of life as perpetually “fucked up.”

The End of Reason

lottery

I don’t know if it was Nixon’s idea but, in what might easily have been an extension of his benign neglect philosophy, the first lottery went off on Sept 1, 1969.  The politicians seem to be saying they were going to wash their hands of any attempt to intelligently or thoughtfully administer the draft.  Instead, we will exercise a complete lack of reason and let luck make the decision for us.  The lottery decided I was number 9—a dead certainty to be drafted.

I think I had five physicals.  But I never again had to strip or pee on demand; instead I followed a different colored line that took me to the room where they took excuses.  This was like a different world.  White people every where—hardly any black or brown people—carrying letters of all sorts from doctors, and copies of prescriptions, and x-rays  Proof of any sort of any serious or oddball thing that could get them to let you go.  One friend got out because he had a varicose vein on one testicle.  My brother got braces and flew to a place that he had researched as having a very high reject rate.  He walked in, smiled, they saw the braces and he was free.

I don’t know. Maybe I was just worn down, or had given up, or resigned myself.  I don’t know what, but I had stopped taking the meds, and when they called me up for another physical, I had no excuse in the form of an updated prescription.

Actually, I did have one—an excuse, I mean–but I was afraid to use it.  When I first saw the psychiatrist, I had taken the MMPP, the most sophisticated and accepted instrument for determining extent and type of mental illness.  But I had been reluctant to use the results because they said: A) That I suffered from a massive reading defect, or B) I was malingering or C) I was a danger to myself or others.  The report went on to detail this last finding in three or four single spaced pages.  I figured they would look at the reading defect part, see I had a college degree, conclude I was malingering, and not even read about my homicidal, suicidal, homosexual, apocalyptical tendencies.

But I took it with me because it was all I had.  I also took a good number of the various psychotropics I had on hand.  I was determined that I would not, on the long bus ride up to the LA draft board, feel a fucking thing.  I was pretty loopy by the time I got there, though not so loopy as not to notice they had redone the place, that there were now three shrinks in three offices where there had been just two.  One of them was my bald headed nemesis from previous occasions and another—I could not believe my eyes–was a black man.  A long line wound its way towards those doors—one line for three doors, so you had no idea which shrink you would get.

In one of the bolder moves of my life, I did not go to the end of the line.  But stood in the middle of the room, and when the young man then in the black man’s office starting getting up, I marched right into the office and sat down.  I slid my papers across to him.  .    There I was with my red curly hair rising up like a nimbus around my head, my thick beard over my Adam’s apple, my glasses so dirty my eyes were scarcely visible, and stinking like I had not washed my clothes in a month (which might have been the case).

He asked how I was feeling at the moment. I said, fucking shitty, that I had felt fucking shitty for some time and did not know when I was going to stop feeling fucking shitty.  He read my papers, filled out a form, and handed to me to be taken to a secretary for typing up.  I couldn’t believe it; he had let me off for a whole year.

I would not have to report for a physical again until January of 1972, and I would not have report for that because I would be 26 years old, too old to be drafted. 

Go figure…But fuck it, I was free! In a specific sense.

 

Funk

I went to a doctor to try to figure out what was wrong with me, but she could find no physical cause thorazinefor my inability to sleep, my incessant fatigue, my constant desire to cry, my loss of interest in personal hygiene, the aches and pains in my joints, the electrical sensations that ran over my skin, or my weight loss.  I was down to 135 and could count each rib easily.  So she referred me to a psychiatrist.

Dr. Funk.

He prescribed Thorazine after the first or second visit.  Clearly I had a mood disorder.  I cried the whole first visit just at the idea of seeing a shrink.  He said maybe going into the army would make a man out of me.  The guy irritated me.  He was dressed in a nice little grey charcoal suit.  When he leaned back in his chair, his feet left the floor.  I was turning my life over to a fucking midget.

The next time I let him have it.  And went on and on about how his having become a shrink was clearly related to the fact that he was nearly a midget and he was overcompensating, like Napoleon, who also had been hardly five feet high.  And what the hell was I doing turning my life over to an overcompensating midget who had gone into psychiatry so he could have the legal right to tell others how to live their lives.  I mean how the hell did I know if he knew anything at all or not.  Or was just there to make people as miserable as possible.

I cried through the whole tirade, and when I was done, he asked had I considered institutionalizing myself.  My life, at that moment, teetered in the balance. Had I said yes I could have gone on to be a life time member of an institution; instead, I said no, how the fuck, I said, was I going to pay for that.  My working class background came to my rescue, although I must say I don’t know if I knew they would take you in for observation for nothing.

 But I had the prescription for Thorazine.  I visited the psychiatrist every three months or so for a year or better and I renewed the prescription.  I had a line of Thorazine bottles along the windowsill.  I couldn’t stand the stuff.  It was like an atom bomb in your head.  It blew away everything—anger, fear, grief, joy—and replaced it all with an intense sense of restlessness.  I took it only when I couldn’t fucking stand it any more. Fuck me.

But the next time the draft board called me up, as they would every six months for the next couple of years, I took the prescription with me.  They looked at it and said, “Come back in six months.”  I was an official and publicly certified nutcase.

Venice

It rained and rained in the winter of 69.  Houses slid down hills; hills slid onto freeways.  A record at the time.  My car battery had died some time before, so I decided to walk the four or five blocks to a Safeway.

 black panterVenice, CA, in the winter of 69 was not a pleasant place to walk.  The canals stank.  The place I went to wash my clothes looked like it had been bombed, with huge holes in the wall and armed rent-a-cops protecting the premises.  Elderly Jews lived there and many minorities. As I walked I passed black men standing in vacant lots warming themselves over fires started in 20 gallon drums.  Black Panthers leaned against the walls of establishments.

I waited and waited for a break in the rain to walk back home; when it let up a little I decided to go, but I hadn’t taken a dozen steps when the paper bag with my goods in it ripped open from the wet.  Hot dogs, break, baloney, macaroni and cheese, and a broken bottle pickle relish.  Milk.  I didn’t have the strength to pick it up.  The bottom fell out of my little universe when the bottom fell out of that bag.

I went to a nearby phone.  I dropped a dime, then a quarter, got my mother on the phone and said I thought maybe I was in mental distress and maybe should come home for a bit.  She said yes come along.

Let’s see.  I was 23 by then.  I had received an NDEA Title Four, Defense Act Loan, to attend UCLA as a graduate student in literature.  It was a sweet deal; the first year you got money, and after that you were guaranteed support for the next three years, usually as a Teaching Assistant.  But by then I had stopped going to class because my car battery had died.  I had screwed up the quarter before and done poorly.

I found it hard to concentrate.  They had changed the rules for the draft.  For a while you got out of the draft if you went to grad school, but then they said you could have only one year of grad school and then you were eligible for the draft.  I had my physical and they said I was eligible.  In a matter of weeks my money from the government for that quarter would give out.  And that would pretty much be all she wrote.

I can still see that parking lot in my head.  The pay phone, shopping carts scattered around.  Maybe I had gone unconsciously to the grocery store to get to a phone; I didn’t have one in my place because phones cost money.