Saturday, March 27, 2010

McCreary Road

Billy poured a small shot of bourbon into the bottom of his coffee cup. The cup was a gift from his son, it had a baseball painted on it and WORLD'S GREATEST DAD in big bold letters. He looked through the kitchen window at the scrubby yard outside. It was already raining lightly, rippling across the surface of the kiddie pool out there surrounded by toys. Bicycles and hula-hoops. A disconnected garden hose. He imagined his son in the pool, suspended just under the surface. Eyes closed. Very still. Listening for something. He drank down the whiskey and rinsed out his cup. Enough of that. He filled the cup with yesterday's coffee and turned the radio on.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Zoot Suit

"In the spring of 1943, American servicemen attacked youthful Mexican - and, to a lesser extent, African American - civilians, particularly males wearing the flamboyant 'zoot suit' or 'drape shape.' These outfits consisted of narrow-cuffed pants pleated at the waist, long wide-shouldered jackets, knee-length key chains, and flat-brimmed hats atop pompadour hairdos. They were worn by Mexican youth - commonly referred to as pachucos - as well as by African American and Anglo youngsters, mostly as a show of teenage independence. The first confrontations seemed little more than harmless barroom scuffles, but on 3 June 1943 the encounters erupted into large-scale rioting. The GIs, mostly navy recruits stationed at a Chavez Ravine radar base, were incited by lurid street rumors and baseless press accounts of Mexicans attacking Anglo women. Charging that the Mexicans were avoiding military service, the young sailors hired taxicabs and cruised downtown to punish the 'guilty'. They seized their victims from streetcars, movie theaters, and street corners, beat them, stripped them of their clothes, and left them lying on the ground."

- Leonard and Dale Pitt
Los Angeles A to Z

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Los Banos, 2001

We sat there for a long time but there wasn't much to talk about. The five hours in that Plymouth had pretty much taken it all out of us already. So we sat there at a window booth and listened to the air conditioning hum. Listened to the short order cook splatter eggs all over the grill.

The waitress was tiny, I'd forgotten that. She might have been four foot nine. Her black hair was all piled up high atop her flat Aztec features and she was taking a keen interest in our son. She'd dart back to our table whenever she could, cooing and blinking into his shapeless little face.

"How old?" she asked, and when you told her she didn't believe you.
"It's true," you said.
"But he's so big."

But I was staring out the window at our car. Even from across the lot I could see all of our things piled high in the back seat. Cardboard liquor store boxes overflowing with sweaters and books, pots and pans. Things packed in a hurry. Toys from your brother and my Mom's old TV. We were looking at another seven hours, easy, and I hoped never to see Los Banos again.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Two Hearts

"Clyde had on his right arm the tattoo of a girl and the name 'Grace.' Bonnie had on the inside of her right thigh a tattoo of two hearts joined by an arrow, with 'Bonnie' in one heart and 'Roy' in the other. They kept a white rabbit, and took it with them on their travels. Clyde aslo brought along his saxophone and sheet music. Bonnie read true-romance magazines, painted her toenails pink, and dyed her hair red to match her hats, dresses, and shoes. When Frank Hamer and other Texas and Louisiana lawmen shot them to pieces on a road near Gibsland, Louisiana, Bonnie was wearing two diamond rings, one gold wedding ring, a small wristwatch, a three-acorn brooch, and a chain with a cross around her neck. Congress passed a resolution thanking Frank Hamer for his part in ending Bonnie and Clyde's career. He was also awarded their guns. Collectors offered a lot of money for the guns. Both Bonnie's mother and Clyde's mother wrote indignant letters to Frank Hamer, demanding that he turn over their children's guns to them."

- Ian Frazier
Great Plains

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bloody Bill

"William T. Anderson was a hard man. A handsome twenty-five-year-old, he had grown up tough in Kentucky, Kansas, and Missouri. After his father was killed in the Kansas Territory, he had drifted into simple banditry. Then the Civil War unleashed his full potential. Already an embittered, brooding man, he had filled with bile after one of his sisters died and two others suffered injuries in the Kansas City prison collapse. At [the raid on] Lawrence, he had killed the innocent with a special passion, telling one woman, 'I'm here for revenge and I have got it.' Afterward in Texas, he began his rise to notoriety by breaking away from Quantrill, leading his own column of guerrillas back to Missouri in the spring of 1864. He brought terror to the Unionists in Jackson and Lafayette Counties. As he operated outside of Lexington in July, he sent a letter to the newspapers that exceeded even Fletch Taylor's megalomania. 'I will hunt you down like wolves and murder you,' he warned the loyal citizens. 'You cannot escape.' Small wonder they began to call him 'Bloody Bill.'

On July 11, 1864, he crossed the Missouri River into Carroll County with twenty-one men. Archie Clement is usually thought to have been among them, riding as Anderson's close companion. They immediately killed nine civilians - murdering as many noncombatants in four hours as Taylor's band had in four weeks. Then they scorched their way across Chariton, Randolph, Monroe, Howard, and Boone Counties, killing and robbing with impunity. After gunning down one man in Anderson's hometown, Huntsville, the bushwackers told a sobbing woman, 'We would shoot Jesus Christ or God Almighty if he ran from us.'

At some point during Anderson's parade of terror north of the Missouri River, Jesse and Frank James rode to join him, along with the other Clay County guerrillas who had followed Taylor. Given the massive influx of Union troops into their old killing grounds, they may have linked up with him as early as the third week in July. If so, Jesse would have been back with his friend Archie Clement when the rebels ambushed a patrol near Huntsville, killing two. After the fight, Clement scalped the dead - an act that was fast becoming his trademark. 'You come to hunt bush whackers,' Anderson (or one of his followers) scratched on a piece of paper. 'Now you are skelpt. Clemyent skept you. Wm. Anderson.' Then he pinned the note to one of the bodies, and the guerrillas rode off."

-T.J. Stiles
Jesse James, Last Rebel of the Civil War

Saturday, March 6, 2010

San Antonio

"The street affrays are numerous and characteristic. I have seen for a year or more a San Antonio weekly, and hardly a number fails to have its fight or its murder. More often than otherwise, the parties meet upon the plaza by chance, and each, on catching sight of his enemy, draws a revolver and fires away. As the actors are under more or less excitement, their aim is not apt to be of the most careful and sure; consequently it is, not seldom, the passers-by who suffer. Sometimes it is an young man at a quiet dinner in a restaurant who receives a ball in the head, sometimes an old negro woman returning from market who gets winged. After disposing of all their lead, the parties close to try their steel, but as this species of metallic amusement is less popular, they generally contrive to be separated ('Hold me! Hold me!') by friends before the wounds are mortal. If neither is seriously injured, they are brought to drink together on the following day, and the town waits for the next excitement."

- Frederick Law Olmstead
A Journey Through Texas, 1857

Friday, March 5, 2010

Los Rusos

"Forgive me, I think I’m a little drunk. Let me see your hands..."


"Just let me see them. These are not city hands. Look at this. You don’t get callouses like those beating up students and typing reports. Why aren’t you out in the fields, Comrade Gorbulina? It’s nearly harvest time, isn’t it? Why are you out here in Mexico?"

"You think you’re smart, huh?"

Nikolai shrugged, saying nothing.

"Let me tell you about the harvest. My uncle was the oldest. He got the land, the house. Everything. When the harvest came my father, my brothers, we’d all work the fields along with everybody else. Sleep in the fields like everybody else. When the war came to us I was sixteen years old. My uncle sided with the nationalists, the Germans. He had the land, why wouldn’t he? My father sided with the Bolsheviks, and I sided with my father. They gave one of these. You see?"


"What you do is you take them to their front field, where they’ll be found. You want them to be found. You take them, you kneel them down and you tell them to pray. “Oh Heavenly King”, usually. You know it? O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things. Treasury of blessings and Giver-of-Life: come and abide in us, cleanse us of every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One. Every Ukrainian schoolboy knows it. Anyway, they kneel, they pray, and then you shoot them here, down into the backs of their heads. Sometimes the gun jams, or sometimes you miss. Sometimes you have to shoot them twice. You know, when they brought my uncle in to me he smiled?"

Len Lye, 1933

South Dakota

"I asked Eagan if he would hold my horse, and I dismounted, turned the Indian over on his face, put my left foot on his neck and raised his scalp. I held it up to Eagan saying, 'John, here is the first scalp for M troop.' I secured the rifle, which was a heavy muzzle-loading buffalo gun made at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and of the style issued to the Indians for hunting purposes. I also took a 44-calibre Remington revolver and a sheath knife, but did not bother with trinkets which he had. I believe some of these articles are in my collection at my home at the present time.

"Hanging the scalp at the sabre hook of my waist belt, I started to find our command, and on the way noticed that the skirt of my overcoat was covered with blood. So I threw the scalp away, and upon arriving at camp reported my experience to the company commander, Lieutenant Owen Hale. He asked me what I did with the scalp, and I told him. He smiled and said that I should have kept it, as it was considered an honor on that occasion. I called Lieutenant Hale's attention to the condition of my $14 overcoat, and he asked me how I felt about that time. I told him I felt like the Irishman who belonged to one of the New York regiments in my brigade, known as Meagher's Irish Brigade. The man's brother was killed in front of Petersburg on June 16, 1864, and he felt so bad about it that the next day he got behind a stump and killed 10 Confederates. His captain asked him how he felt about it, and he said that he did not know as it would help poor Tom any, but he felt a little relieved about the heart. That was the way I felt."

- Sgt. John Ryan
"M" Co., 7th Cavalry

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Bobby Sheffield

When the police arrested him they found everything. They found his drugs and his cigarettes, they found his works. They found his chewing gum and his lighter and his loose change. They found his gun where he left it, tucked under his car seat. They laid everything out on the hood of his car and they laughed. Goddamn, they said, we got you. We got you good.

It was broad daylight and he was wasted, he was gone.

The trial took up an afternoon, and Jenny wasn’t in court to see it. His family wasn’t called. He didn’t have a lawyer and he was guilty and the whole thing took a couple of hours. He spent that night in the county lock-up and the next morning they shipped him out of the county lock-up and off to Centinela. He was dope-sick the whole time, shaking and throwing up. It hurt him just to move.

The transport bus was a modified GMC school bus, with plexi-glass safety windows and a cage built right inside, and the prisoners sat there and looked straight ahead, avoiding eye contact and shivering in the heat. He was the only white guy on the bus, except for the driver and the heavy-set guard, and wire mesh separated those two from the prisoners. The guard was gripping a rifle in his two hands, and was joking with the driver about something. Some sports thing from the night before.

The prisoners weren’t too dangerous anyway, not now, inside the cage with their wrists and ankles shacked together like they were. They couldn’t even smoke.