Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Can't we all just get a bong?

In the fortnight that encompasses my oldest friend's death from heroin.....the strangeness continues.

Five days after Peter's wake in Oakland.......he would have been dead anyway.

Peter and his real estate partner turned insurance money from a house burned in the Oakland hills fire into most of a city block down by the wharves...up near Emeryville. Gnarly neighborhood....big fences and locked gates. They developed the perimeter of the block into apartments and condos and the hole in the donut was a communal garden.

Part of their block was the Duck Kee Market.....which old people will remember as the site of the photo shoot for a Creedence Clearwater album in 1969....

The Market is now a condo. $2500 a month, 2k square feet. Communal garden.

Meanwhile....trying to drive there through the 'hood in a bright red Jaguar......watchful guys on every corner, sitting on bicycles with cell phones handy....

The American Dream.....

The wake was nice....everyone cried. Shitty meal in an overpriced steakhouse after. I gave the gorgeous waitress an Uncle Ben.....just because Peter would have. I did not get her phone number....or fuck with her head. Hey, close enough.

Five days later......two thugs broke into Peter's apartment with guns. Looking for....Cash? Drugs? Cell phone records? They zip tied the brother-in-law to the radiator and stripped the place.

If Peter were not already dead....he would have fucked with them, and they would have shot him.

Almost forty years ago, Peter and I got robbed by two thugs at The Colony in New York. Peter fucked with them....and they wanted to shoot him.

The Colony was a famous old restaurant: a Jacque Kennedy/Truman Capote/Salvador Dali kind of place.

Meanwhile, two thugs just walked in off 61st Street one day during our break and robbed us. Pulled a gun and herded us all into the ladies room. The ladies room was a full-on lounge, not just a there was plenty of space.

The thugs put a gun to my head and had me empty the cash register, then cleaned out our wallets at gunpoint. Peter started asking them questions about their gun. Where they got it, where they many feet per second the rounds could do, how much muzzle energy.....and if they shot a guy, how many rounds it took to keep him from taking the gun away from them.

"Wanna find out, muthafucka?"

I took them back to the bar...gave them all the quarters and dimes and a bottle of Crown Royal and got them jingling on their way back down 61st Street.....and away from Peter.

Later that summer we got mugged after a concert in Central Park.....BB King at the Schaefer Summer Music Festival. Just as we left the Park at 61st Street a van full of Puerto Ricans pulled up and emptied out. They surrounded any white people waiting for the light.

"Got any change?"

"Got the time?"

"Gimme your fucking wallet or I will stick you, muthafucka....."

I dodged across Fifth Avenue the second I saw the van pull up. Peter actually turned and walked up to the gang guys, tapped one on the shoulder during the action, and said: "It's one fifteen. I have five ones for a five......" He was instantly surrounded.

Fuck. I dodged back across Fifth against traffic and ran up to the mob to save my buddy.

Who instantly ducked under the gangsters and sprinted across Fifth to safety.....leaving me with the gang guys. I was I only got stabbed a little on the arms.

Later, Peter yelled at me: "Why did you come back? I was timing the light!"

So....which is a better way to the Arms of the Angel......or a couple of quick pops in the head from some angry thugs?

I gotta go with The Angel......Just my opinion.

I left the whole funeral thing and jumped right back into memorializing not just one dead lunatic.....but 5,000 dead military kids.

This extended grappling with the Demon Death is exhausting. I understand why almost no one does it.....Memorial Day is more about sunburn, hotdogs and crappy beer than dead soldiers. I mean, who knows anyone in the Army, anyway....much less a dead guy?

Which is why we insisted on doing it. Get a grip, people. Get a clue. Have your fun, but there is a cost....and mostly the cost is nineteen years old and is from Iowa.

No one can figure out why we do this, really. We are broke hippy liberals....why spend thousands of dollars we don't have and weeks of work we can't afford to memorialize victims of a war we have opposed from the beginning?

Good question. But, during the work of lining up rows and columns of crosses....and seeing name after name after name as the stakes and identity cards transform into people before your is a no brainer.

This year we worked with the military: Army and Marines did most of the serious lifting, organizing and painting. I just wrote checks.

Meanwhile, Sarah the Marine carried twenty stakes every time....down the stairs and across the sand 70 my seven or eight stakes. And she did this for six hours without a break and always with a smile. Anyone who thinks that women can't be in combat needs to meet Sarah. God forbid I ever have to choose a combat team....but if I did, I would pick Sarah.....and she would not be playing right field. of our co-workers was an officer, I think. He was better at the order giving thing than the cross carrying thing. One time when we were at the far end of the field lining things up a reporter came up and started interviewing me.

Blah, blah, blah, why?

"Well, this is not a protest. It is a memorial. Everybody is anti-war....but we are all pro-soldier. This is about the soldiers."

The officer gave me the dead look....and stopped talking to me. This was a young officer....and I have the feeling a new one. I seriously doubt that DJ is pro-war, after taking that RPG in the chest.....and watching all his friends get blown up. A seriously competent and courageous warrior.....but not one who engages in this shit lightly.

Just like with the Abortion Wars. Isn't everybody anti-abortion? I would hope one wants to go through that. It is just that some of us are pro-choice.

My Peace Movement buddies seem to have stopped talking to me since I have adopted my new friends in the military.


I am encouraged that the Obama tide seems to be floating the thoughtful, intelligent crew with actual experience in battle over the chickenhawks of the Bush years.

I have a reading list that would probably bore all of you to tears. Or not. There would be tears....

Here is the opening quote from my latest read:

"America...goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy....She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. Ther frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an Imperial diadem, flashing in false and atrnished lustre the murky radiance of dominon and power.

She might become the Dictatress of the World.....She would no be no longer the ruler of her own spirit."

OK. Who wrote that? Medea Benjamin? Phil Butler?

Nope.....John Quincy Adams. US Secretary of State, and President, and son of a President. 4 July, 1821.

And who quoted Quincy Adams? Medea Benjamin? Ariana Huffington? Rachel Maddow?

Nope....David Kilcullen. Aussie counter-insurgency guy, fellow at the Center for New American Security. One of the main voices reshaping our counter-insurgency, and therefore our entire military stategy for the coming years.

In 2006, in the midst of the Bush insanity.....pounding in the stakes that represented 2,500 dead young Americans seemed hopeless, futile and a sad, sad waste. And a harbinger of worse to come.

Sure enough, in 2009, we had twice as much work......but there was still a feeling that sanity might be returning.....and that finally these lost 5,000 smart, brave, loyal, hardworking souls might finally be getting leadership worthy of their sacrifice.


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