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from Catching On - Earl LeClaire

"Golden," the whiskey-crazed palm reader tells me when I cross her palm with a sawbuck. "You're golden."

    She's Ab-So-Lutely Right:
    I Have Gold In My Teeth,
    Gold In My Ear,
    And Gold Around My Glance.

So how did I end up so many years out, an aging lion wandering without purpose across the pampas; a straw, balding-maned, tin-mouthed daddy: waist gone, wrists gone, teeth in dire need of repair, balls sagging, no real job, and Jude, my, looking to be ex, wife's disclaimer whacking my ears like C50's? How did I come to be so crazy and so uncompassably lost in the Great American Economic Wilderness? For truth, I didn't even have to try. I woke up one morning and - Voilla! There it was, instant Rags: with a car so damn old you can't tell if it's a Buick or a Delta 88, low-pay Sausalito and Black Point Boatyard, when-I-can-get-it, work crap stuck to my shoes, hummin' the flat-broke blues while waiting for payday's Eagle to dump in my empty pocket so I can pay the landlord, pay the lights, pay for a phone that never rings, pay for groceries , gasoline and, if we're lucky, medical insurance, which if we're really lucky we won't have to use. To pay, pay and to keep on paying for the privilege of living in America and all the while paying for America's privileged; and even though they don't see it that way, as the voice of the Owl at Bohemian Grove, Walter Cronkite, says, "Thass' the way it is."

"WHANEEETTTAAAHHH!!! WHANEEETTTAAAHHH!!!" I bellow as I drive by the Juanita Juanita Burritto Shoppe. "Mi vida loca!"

Juanita: A Northern California Legend.

I remember when she posed for photos with a bus load of Bonsai businessmen outside her Sausalito bar. The men took turns having their little heads squeezed between Juanita's melon-sized jugs. And now, sitting on important mahogany desks across the breadth of Japan, are framed, 8X10 glossies of each and everyone of those Nipponese gadflies squash-faced and bug-eyed beneath Juanita's booming smile.

But, enough of, "life's just a holiday on Memory Lane." Today I'm feeling low-down and cock-a-hoop all at the same time. In spite of my predicament. In spite of all this freedom. In spite of the Prozac, the Zoloft. Manic depressive, Jude says. Since she's right about most things, she's probably right about that, too. And about what an asshole I am. When I received payment for the AP photos of the earthquake, I spent every nickel in two days: on necessities like new lenses, filters, film for Polaroid transfers, two boxes of Marshall Oils, sneakers for the boy (Air Jordans), a dandy vegetable juicer for the house (something we've always wanted), an enormous tab at Mustard's and drugs. Well -only a small portion on drugs. I'm not into amphetamines, ecstasy (the drug, that is.), I'm not into sillycibin, downers or pot, a.k.a. weed, grass, proud mary, maryjane, reefer. But Verapamil keeps me ticking. As does a bottle or two a day of decent scotch, Glenfiddidch or Glenleviet. Okay, okay, so I lied. A bottle a year. And you're right, it's better than decent scotch, it's great scotch. But after all is said and done, I am an American and I damn well deserve it! In her zeal to point out what a shit I can be, Jude forgot to mention Mustard's. Right. Forgot that didn't you, Ju, Ju, Jude, Jude, Judy, Judy? Who helped devour the Santa Rosa Plum soup, grilled oysters with cilantro pesto, quail buried in polenta - Bergamo style, cedar-planked salmon with passion fruit ponzu, mesclun salad with roast walnut and red raspberry vinaigrette, two pounds of terrimisso and three bottles of an '89 Heintz Bella Oaks? Ha! Ha!

    I Hook A Left Onto Petaluma Ave.
    Take A Right.
    Cross The Creek.
    De Bump!!!

Sonoma. Plastic Wonder in every pocket. A wine cellar in every hillside. Face-lifted blue hairs and pensioned perukes, at Albertson's and Sonoma Market. Wealthy street-people, pushing shopping carts, filling them with bottles and cans of better than cheap jug wines, whiskies, Watney's and wodka. Strolling the aisles looking for bargains so they can spend and spend to feel better about themselves and America as they do their patriotic duty to boost the GNP.



The Better Than Me & Thou Hoity Toities' will tell you, in breathy fervor of course, that the word, Sonoma, is Amerindian for "Valley of the Moon." That's simply more of that spurious, Jack-London-Lived-Here Crap. If Ol' drink um under the table Jocko were here today they'd avoid him like the bad credit he had.

    Another Long, Deep Sigh.

SONOMA really means, BIG NOSE. It was the name of an Indian Chief who was overwhelmed by Father Juniper Serra and his Pizzaro descended henchmen, fur crazed Ruskies and progress as white supremacist Europeans perceived it.


It's eleven in the morning. I don't have to meet with Waco-Dave Peterson until one. So I drive downtown looking for The Riel'. Creature of habit, he'll be hanging onto the handle end of a leash as he's being dragged down the street by Yellow Monster Dog or he'll be sitting on the curb in front of that Great California Keno Pallor and Eatery, 7-11, sipping Schnapps out of a paper bag waiting for the numbers to come up, or he'll be enjoying a cold one with The Head at Square One, bullshitting daydreams about mortaring the town from the puma-colored hills above it. I vote for Square One.

    I Park The Beast.
    Hitch Up My Jeans.
    Check T-shirt For Slobber.
    Go In.
    There He Is.
    Last Stool.
    Away From The Television.
    Away From The Maddening Crowd Of Three.
    Rielly M. O'Rielly.

He's got a face like a ferret and the humor of Oscar Lavant. "I got thrown out of a mental hospital for depressing the other patients." Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Though not certified nuts like Lavant, at the core of it, O'Rielly's crazy-the way all people of vision are crazy. They are misunderstood.

    He Sees Me.
    Maybe Today's My Lucky Day.
    Maybe A Guerdon Is Forth Coming.

"Rags! Baby!"


"Has my lawyer talked to your lawyer about that new shopping center?"

In unison, the crowd casts a glance. It recognizes bullshit when it hears it. Turns away. Funkin'. O'Rielly laughs.

"Si'down. Take a load off. Wanna?"


"Well, today's your lucky day, pal." He drawls that `pal' with a Federal Hill, "Sometimes A Neighborhood Becomes A Legend, " Rhode Island accent . It comes out of the mouth fast, a hard wind from the belly. Words run together like verbal ticker tape with a hint of Swamp Yankee, a splash of Boston-Irish Brogue and healthy portions of Providence I-Tie and Fall River 'Geese What Don't Fly'. I'm from Rhode Island, too. I understand.

"Brad," he calls to the barman. "Double 'Fititch and ice."

One guerdon forth coming.

"Get an advance on Jackie The Detective?"

O'Rielly's a writer. It's his curse. Could Michaelangelo not have been a Sculptor? Mozart not a Musician? O'Rielly writes.

"Shit,Ican'tevengetanyone to'read itlet alone buyit" he says. "Wen'aoff-trackyestahdee. Mycahwasbein'smahgged. Soget this." (And so it goes).

"Ready?" he says." I get there for the second race and play the double. Now I haven't played a double since the year of the shoe. But it comes in. Pays forty-four, sixty. I have it ten times. So now I have some real money. I bet the trifecta in the fourth. The two horse. The seven. The five. It pays one thousand, eight dollars."

Here he adds emphasis.

"That's one thouuuuusand and eight gieders. For once I quit while I'm ahead. Paid the taxes and got out of there like I had hol' of Yellow Monster. I'm not going to tell you how much I had on it. However, I paid the rent, bought another copy of Editor's Choice II. (used the contributor's copies for toilet paper), slipped the kids a C note each, paid the phone, the lights and the wah-tah. Christ, didja evah think we'd have t' pay for wah-tah? I paid the dentist (the sadistic , little prick), put away five hundred for the track this afternoon and I still have enough left over to take Loretta to The Depot for our a belated anniversary dinner."

He pronounces it, "dinahh."

He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a fold of bills.

"I've been saving this for you."

I shake my head.

"Thanks Riel'. But..."

"Take it."

He sees my dilemma.

"It's only a couple hundred. How much did you blow on us all at Mustards?"

I shake my head.

"Okay. Take it and give me a print of that Fourth of July piece. The one with the Continental Flag and uniform."

"I sold a couple of those prints for thirty bucks. Unframed."

"Then give me the print for thirty and a frame for a hundred and seventy.."

He pushes the money towards me.

I look at him. Look at the money. Look away. Look Back. He's earnest. I put the green stuff in my pocket. A done deal.

"Speaking of ahead," I say. "Izzie aroun'?"

"Went as muscle for a sharecropper up in Humbolt. Left last night." "Well, shit. I wanted to tell him that someone was asking about him over in Petaluma. Couple nights ago."

"Idea who?"

"No. Marty told me. Said he was in Dumphie's. Out of the blue some guy started pressing him about Luigi. Looked Italian."

"Maybe he's a paisan'."

"How'd he know Marty knew Lou?"

"If he knows Marty he'd know Lou. Besides, Marty probably had a heat on and didn't get it straight."

"Yeah, probably."

"Still thinking about leaving?"

"We talk about it. Taking Boy-Howdy and trying Amsterdam or London."

"London. Oofffhhh. I tol' you I spent a winter there after Vietnam? Cold and wet. Like living on iced gin and cocaine. Near liked to have killed me. Came down with a case of rising damp of the mind."

"It's away from America," I tell him.

Bitter, Now.
Bitter, Again.

If you don't have the bucks in America you're undeserving, stupid or both. No thought given to intelligence, choices made or just plain, old fashioned goddamn bad luck. It's that old European and East Indian class/cast shit upgraded to include the nouveaux world order riche. Am I right, or what? No one says, "Hey, he doesn't have money but he's a swell guy." Rather it's: "No Money? Then he must after mine!" Money: the main character in a B movie with a cast of millions. Enough of it and you can do all the rest. You don't have to worry about the gut wrenching shit that goes with being poor like when the car breaks down and there are no resources. No geitters for the asking from dear mom and good old pop, or grandmamma. No credit cards. No nothing. Not even hope. With money there's no facing the, "How can you be hungry when I've just eaten?" attitude. No worry that the rent's two months behind, the kids need clothes, shoes and lunch; and the mailbox is filled with misspelled dunning letters from lice ridden lawyers and forty-eight hour notices from the power, telephone and water companies. (Did you really ever think we'd have to pay for water?) With the moola, there's no sweat when you're out of film, or paint, or canvas, or time on a press. And let's face it, Artless America's in love with the fucking donut: all fluff, white sugar and not an ounce of nutrition. The money's been taken over by a gang of Piss On Everything That's Not Mine Punks in Three Piece Suits: the Bechtels, the Jackson Stevens, the Duponts, the Bill Gates. and Adrianna Huffingtons; the George Bush and Saddam Hussain Bullies right on through to the Chiclet smiling, lying through their teeth, Clintons. Man-babies and Barbie dolls with million dollar bankrolls and only a nickel's worth of humanity. A world populated by rightious, all-knowing God-Thugs who'll cut your balls off if your theology's not right. And to make it all worse, the god-awful bottom of the barrel's crammed full of rotten fruit: Little Nazis and Gunslinging Gangbangers, Moronic Twentieth Century Billy The Kids, Wannabewannabe's, Video Killers and Masaganist Wifebeating Cowards. And all, from sun to cellar, rapacious dinosaurs with big appetites and pea-sized brains.

"You aren't considering The Head's deal?"

"Yeah. And it's scaring me that I'm even giving it a thought when I can't face the possibility of jail time."

"Well, don't do it."

"Living without the green is getting pretty grim, too."

"Yeah. But I tell ya, Sal, the Head's plan is a one way ticket."

Brad the Bartender places the scotch before me. Gives a surfer's wave. Goes back down the bar.

    Glen Fitich sears the roof of my mouth.
    I savor it's flavor.
    The wonderful smokiness of it.
    I resist the impulse to swallow.
    Run it around my mouth one more time.
    It's confession and communion all rolled into one.
    I cup the glass in my hand like a small bird.
    Bring it to my lips.
    Let lose a sigh.
    Fifth of the day.