Jul 25, 2008

What would you call it? An unease, a nameless worry. Even as Sen. Obama wraps up his trip, which would appear to be a great success — he showed he could play the role of statesman and in some way it seemed he already had the job... Still, the speech in Berlin seemed a little off to my ear. He made solid points, he added all the proper retorts to his critics, he made sure to balance criticism of America with his love for America, and he was almost back to his old glory toward the end in describing the challenge of working together toward a shared destiny. But the speech was no reprise of John F. Kennedy's speech. It did not match his Philadelphia race speech. It seemed flat, overly edited. Perhaps, this is because we've heard this message so many times before. But no, there was something else. A tightness. The fear of being ahead not behind. And then add the latest reports of how his press spokespeople have begun to alienate the press. If the choice for a press spokesperson is between acting as a bridge to the press or as a maxie prison guard, his corps has picked the latter. And that always backfires.

It's that football metaphor: how your home team, forever the underdog, is suddenly in the super bowl, and they're ahead by say 3 points, which is about what it is. But the second half has just started and you have the sense they've lost something, they're not making the plays, they're thinking more about what's at stake than how to play the game, how "to do all the things that got you here."

Jul 15, 2008

At the Moffet courts, he is the court pro, as it were. There is no official pro. The people who come there every day, the old guard, these old Chinese men and Cullen, who cut and dink and play every point as though it's their last, they don't like him because he seems haughty, because he can humiliate you and after he hits a winner he claps for himself.

He was awaiting a student and motioned to me to come on the court. He is slender, Vietnamese, in his 50s, perhaps. I couldn't say. He wore a white baseball cap and old-fashioned white tennis trousers.

He moves very well back and forth along the baseline and hits the way players did in the 1950s, the likes of Tony Trabert and Pancho Conzales and Hoad and Rosewall. He's from that time. He comes from the old Vietnam I expect. I'll bet you he grew up on a large plantation. He hits a backhand with one arm, not two. He drops the head of his racquet on his forehand but without much topspin. The comes low and hard. You have to be on your back foot to get a good return.

He works the angles as you would expect but never comes to the net. Whenever he hits a shot he grunts and many times yells out, "yea." And so whether you are rallying with him or playing against him every shot feels like a put away. When he hits a winner, he claps for himself, his hand against the strings. We rallied for a few minutes and then he said, in a high voice, nearly a scream, "You want to play." It was not as a question.

We began.

Jul 13, 2008

The other day I got a note from K, the ex-wife of a serial killer named D. He's been on death row at San Q for more than 20 years. I wrote about D years ago, trying to raise questions about his case.

K writes me from time to time and just the other day, with no seque, to say that she was "fascinated by the Jesse Jackson kerfuffle": "His comment, as far as I'm concerned, was bright green envy showing itself."

K got her divorce from D in the mid 90s. They were married on death row and divorced after nearly 10 years? Or maybe it was less. In any case, a marriage of convenience for both. The advantage to the wife, as that old prison adage goes, 'you always know where your husband is at night.' For him, she became his 'gopher' and go-to girl. She believed he was innocent and so justified the bargain.

I had also gotten involved with D's case in the belief that he might be innocent. Guilty of many crimes but not murdering 6 young prostitutes in the spring of 1980. I have told you this story. The trial was a sham. The defense attorney was too drunk to make the case. The jury convicted a man who seemed to be exactly what the prosecution claimed. But was he?

Was he the killer or the woman he lived with occasionally, Carol — a slovenly wreck of a woman, a nurse by day, a devilina by night — who had done the murders with her other acquaintance, Jack. In court, Carol was cast as a defenseless widow from the San Fernando Valley, in the clutches of a panting satyr — which was true about D. In fact, she was defenseless and in a separate trial after D's was convicted in the murder of Jack whom she shot, stabbed and decapitated. She admitted that and also admitted being in a car with D when he killed one of his victims. One of D's crimes involved a girl who had also been decapitated but no one did a forensic analysis to see if the two decapitations had anything in common. And then there was a bloody scalp in Jack's van... Who did that belong to? In the end, were the real killers, Jack and Carol, or D and Carol.

I interviewed Carol twice. She was down east of Los Angeles, in a correctional facility for women. She has since died by the way. Of diabetes. And general collapse. Her spirit is pressed against the bottom of a slag heap in some uninhabitable industrial area in New Jersey.

She and I spent two long sessions together. Alone, in a room. The second time we were abandoned by prison staff who went home at 5 on the nose, forgetting that Carol and I were in a small room off a far hallway in the administration building. This second time I wanted to get the goods on her once and for all, and it came down to whether she would confess that she had been in the car Doug claimed they were in, or the one she had claimed. The difference was vital. Even if she said she couldn't remember or changed her story; that would be enough to encourage efforts for a new trial, which was never had.

And at one point she did seem to admit that the murder had occurred, if I remember correctly and I may not, in the Buick not in the compact. Her story had always involved the compact, and her story was that D was in the driver's seat with a prostitute giving him a blow job and took the gun from Carol who was sitting in the back seat. I always thought the idea that any man, much less D, would shoot a woman with his penis in her mouth, was madness. Especially, D who was a satyr and a coward. He worshipped sexual pleasure, loved prostitutes and was insatiable but not kinky to that point.

His story was that he was in the backseat getting a blow job, a birthday present from Carol, that much was kinky, and that Carol suddenly pulled out a gun and shot the girl. The body was never found. But Carol remembered the whole incident very well, and after seeming to cry for a moment about the murder, suddenly began laughing and purring about what "beautiful tits" the victim had.

There was no darker persona than Carol's and to be around her was to infect yourself with her broken personalities.

Nevertheless, in the end, I got Carol's very damaging story on tape. Carol sat there, trying to seduce me, promising me still more information, careening along with one lens fallen out of her glasses, and so the one eye was magnified, the other with no lens, tiny, a slit. The owl and rat, I always thought.

I got back that night and K insisted I give her the tape with this very damaging story. Later, that night she went to listen to it in her car stereo. Then left the tape in the player which was stolen before the next morning. The loss of that tape was a disaster, and all these years later, although I have all the rest of the interview, I can't remember the details of Carol's admission. I remember that she slipped up and that what she said was very damaging, but that's all.

For her part, K no longer cares about whether D is innocent or not. She last saw him in 1996 and that was enough.

Jul 10, 2008

As a close black friend said, and she was in no mood, "has it occurred to anyone that the reason Jesse Jackson might have said any of this was because he was exactly the kind of person Barack Obama was referring to in these sermons? Exactly the kind! Endlessly cheated on his wife, had a child out of wedlock with his aid — and then gave her $40,000 in cash out of rainbow coalition funds — and has generally been as irresponsible as a man can be. What is there to figure out?"

Jul 8, 2008

Another husband has been reported "unavailable". There's been a whole slew lately. Gone limp, eyes lost that oval look of anticipation, lips reduced to solid yellow lines. Apparently, he has been this way for the last ten years, which came as a surprise to me. I thought his warranty was still good. Who better lived the illusion of the endless bon vivant, drinking, carousing, from one end of the earth to the other. He's a travel writer by profession, now abandoned in the Sierra of his mind. He has arguments: a series of operations; various organs are on the fritz. Run down to his bed, left to listen to traffic and the gardener doing what was always his job. Left to hate himself for being infirm, for being what he always was.

So naturally his wife is disconsolate, with no illusion home. The last lovemaking is not still to come, which whether good or bad, would be memorable for that alone. Any promise has hope in it. But now the last time was so long ago she cannot remember any details, nor does she want to remember. And so what to do?

She has her devices, as she refers to them, and those have provided the jittery part of what she requires but nothing for the slower sensation of skin itself. Lately, she goes for long walks in the park, to keep her enviable shape and to seek refuge in routine. She begins and ends at the rose garden, where she re-examines all the varities, notes the irony of 'Love's Promise' and marvels at how all the roses resemble vaginas within vaginas. And always, like a dope addict, she inhales the scent of 'Marmelaide skies'. On the way out she pauses before the statue of Thomas Masyrk, her one link to an emmigrant past. She is always put off by his look. The bronze and shadow, with hair flat against the head, as though Thomas just got out of the shower. He looks like a 12-year-old boy just getting out of the shower, she thinks. And he looks somber, like her husband actually. He does not look like all the knowledge he discovered provided much hope. He looks like he could say something cruel as easily as something wise.

Her friends have suggested she take a lover. But who? There is the hunky handyman, but married. There is the waiter, around the corner on Lyon Street, but what if he's gay? A woman friend, who's had a lot of experience with this, suggests a certain website where it's easy to find friendly black men. She can tell you 'til the cows come home about black men, how only they know how to touch, how to move, how to prolong. This afficionado is single herself, just now bemoaning the marriage of her ex to a younger, and much worse — an exceptionally wealthy woman.

If this is the era when women are supposed to take over the world, I haven't seen it. Where's the gaiety, when's the party?

For this woman I'm talking about the idea of taking on a black lover is too intense. She doesn't have the cultural stamina for that. And of course what she really needs is someone to just hold her. For a month straight and then maybe some sex, well definitely some sex then. And from there she wants more than a casual affair. She wants to fall in love, to be a Lina and 'swept away in the blue sea of August.'

There was another similar story I heard the other day. From a much older woman. Fifteen years ago her husband ran off with another woman, a showgirl, a skier, a tennis player, who made it clear, there were no strings attached. Oh boy, he liked it that way, and so he never married her. But now he's 90 and the showgirl skier is in her fifties and she also wants another run down the mountain. Not to mention a little heritage fund, a little money for the help please, for the service of it all. I'm getting this, you understand, from the scorned. She describes how at parties, because she had children and they had children and so there are endless events, and when the other woman arrives filled with bangles and smiles, the old and older wife cannot bear the sight. But she wants me to know the secret glee she feels when she catches the trophy wife in a private moment, eyes falling on her trophy and thinking of how heavy it is.

Jul 5, 2008

We reached Nevada City in the late afternoon, and after tea in her garden, with a dozen koi in a pond, we went to the fairgrounds to see the fireworks. M wanted to show us where she'd sung in the local singing group the night before. The place was covered in bodies on blankets, everyone counting down the light. There were booths full of frosties and fries, a woman giving free hugs, an Elvis impersonator and kids darting every which way like ideas in an ill mind. People wore half clothes; they had thick calves and they were uniformly fat. A jabba-the-hut-of-a-man sat in his wheel chair, surly looking, with oxygen streaming into one nostril. We watched the Elvis become Roy Orbison but the songs were too slow, not 45 but 78. This is the country and slow is in, slow is good. Slow is what you need. We sat down on some bleachers and fell back on the empty row behind, M's 85-year-old head on my arm. Wow, we all said. Whoa! Look at that. Just before the show started a DJ with long scraggly white hair and a military cap put on God Save America and God Bless America and The Stars and Stripes Forever. A boy sped by on roller shoes. Girls tried to get each other to dance. There was some line dancing and then a pretty woman did the macarama all by herself, looking neither happy or sad or confident or embarrassed. M kept saying, wasn't this the way it was always supposed to be. Didn't we feel America's heart beating. I said, of course, but I didn't feel that at all. People looked half happy, just a little bewildered. How could it be otherwise with all the Yukons and F150s in the parking lot and local gas near $5. But then out of it all stepped a six-year-old girl, Marilyn Monroe when she was still Norma Jeane Mortenson, a rabbit out of a hat, so blonde, so wistful, dancing around with her American flag on a stick, and in the strobe light, a lithe creature of beauty and talent and possibility. A ghost. And then the fireworks, right over head, red glare and all, until finally an orgy of sound and color, what women are supposed to see when they climax, a truly magnificent expression of bombs bursting. And suddenly it all ended; the bodies drew up their blankets and disappeared.