Aug 28, 2008

Here's another bit of news, this from an inbox at the Parallax Corporation.

What I tell you now is true, to the best of my knowledge. Perhaps better to say, this story was told me by someone who is a 'credible source', a family friend, and although I cannot give a name, suffice to say, a business professional. I talked to this person for a long time and asked many questions. What took hours to tell me can be condensed to a few sentences. Make of it what you will....

Toward 6 p.m. on Friday, August 8 — the night John Edwards appeared on ABC News and admitted having repeatedly lied about an extramarital affair with a 42-year old campaign employee named Rielle Hunter — my friend received a call from someone identifying themselves as a detective with the Los Angeles Police Dept. They wanted to know if my friend would be willing to answer a few questions about a client. The client had had some dealings with Ms. Hunter years before.

My friend was just going off to a long anticipated event and asked if the conversation could be put off until Monday, and added that they didn't really know anything.

The detective said it was important to meet and perhaps he could come and chat for a few minutes. My friend agreed and in less than 15 minutes five men arrived at the office door. There were two uniformed policemen and three detectives, who showed identification, although my friend doesn't remember seeing badges. There may have been a badge but memory doesn't serve.

The men asked if my friend would come "downtown", and ever anxious to please, my friend agreed. My friend was lead from their office to the street where there were two black and white patrol cars and a nondescript black car. My friend was driven to downtown Los Angeles, but not to 1 Police Plaza, rather nearby and down into an underground garage that seemed "endless".

Eventually, the car stopped by a glass doorway with a carpet. My friend doesn't remember any signage on the doors. Then to an elevator up several floors to an office / conference room, which was itself surrounded by glass. Some people were visible through the glass, although not many presumably because it was Friday evening. They were not wearing uniforms.

Two men appeared who identified themselves as being with the DNC. At first, my friend thought that might be a government agency: the department of something or other. Then the idea occurred, the Democratic National Convention. "Is it that?" my friend asked. The men shook their heads. "Or the Democratic National Committee." The men nodded. My friend quickly got the idea that the men would not lie but would not volunteer any information.

My friend was asked countless questions, but knowing so little the conversation didn't go anywhere. The same questions were repeated over and over. "How did your client know Ms. Hunter?" "What service was performed?" "How much was paid?" "Was there any other work your client was involved in for Ms. Hunter" "Do you know Ms. Hunter? "Do you know where she is?"

To the last question, my friend shook their head, although my friend did know where Ms. Hunter was and did have a phone number. However, my friend has never spoken to Ms. Hunter and most of their knowledge of the "Edwards' affair" is from the media.

At one point, the questioners said that my friend's phone records showed that there had been many calls to the client around the time the story broke, some weeks earlier... "Phone records?" My friend began to become both afraid and wary. The men also asked if they could have access to my friend's computer.

My friend spent from 6 p.m. on Friday until 5 a.m. the next morning being questioned. And questioning only ended after my friend finally asked, "Do I need a lawyer for this?" One of the men responded, "I don't know. Do you?" "Well," my friend said, "we'll see. Here is my lawyer's name and perhaps he can help straighten all this out." The lawyer's name drew a reaction, "a flinch" as my friend put it, and shortly afterward the interview ended.

My friend was driven back to their office. Whether their computer had been examined during the 11-hour absence isn't clear. My friend's home, which is near their office, was unlocked, although whether locked or not would make little difference in such a cas.

Who were these men supposedly from the DNC? They showed only modest identification. What was the information they were looking for? How were they able to use LAPD officers in their quest? Where was my friend taken? On whose authority were phones tapped?

And so many other questions....

My friend spoke to people who can, with some authority, speculate the answers to such questions. These people speculated that the visitors were either from the RNC or possibly "Clinton operatives" wanting to gather information that might affect the choice of vice president. Or else, a third possibility, a government agency working on some other tact altogether.....

Aug 22, 2008

Six years after having gone to prison, Marjorie Knoeller stood up and was taken off to prison once more, for the same crime. She did not look back. And not out of determination. She wasn't saying,"Look at me, how strong I am." Rather, it was as though to say, "I don't exist. But even if I did, who would be there to receive my look?"

Actually, there was one person who would have received her look, given a gracious smile in return, and shouted out,"It'll be okay, Marjorie. I'll come and see you as soon as I can. It'll be okay." That would be Anna, who arrived in a black dress, at first glance a party-black dress. She had her gray hair just done, had it curly and glamorous, and she wore big dark wraparound glasses, the way movie stars do. She had Henry Miller with her, with his red sweater, walking listlessly and panting, not looking good frankly, head down, dragging his hips. You wondered who was more blind, Anna or her guide. As the dog passed one of the pretties made fun, made little animal noises and scoffed.

And that was that. Marjorie Knoeller, who when she arrived had the expression of a plastic blow-up doll, was lead away like a stray cow to permanent pasture and the victim's partner and sister, and friends and acquaintances, all sighed with relief, and cheered underneath their breath. "Yes," they said and looked across the aisle at the press and other perceived enemies. You'd have thought you were in Argentina with the mothers of "the disappeared."

This colloquium of victims was last seen at the first sentencing hearing in March 2002, but six years later they looked no different. And the mood and look was the same: all in J. Crew and long hair, freshly trimmed, beauties every one, no make-up, no earrings, no body paint. When one looked to the left to see who was on the other side of the courtroom, it was as if they all looked to the left. Militarily, on parade, as one. It's the kind of distingue-beauty and precision you see in a group of anything that's has come of age, that's worked long and hard together to be seen as more than just acceptable. If amazons could be doctors and designers and the celebrated creators of black market derivatives, that's what they were like.

Sharon Smith, the 'lead victim', as someone in the gallery said, did not have her mate with her. For good reason; that would have muddied the moment. Sharon appeared as the aggrieved widow, somberly dressed; in every detail, appropriate and sympathetic. Yet there was something about her demeanor, or the idea of all that had happened, which undermined her dignity. If you knew that she had collected a sizeable settlement from the building where the manslaughter/murder took place. If you knew that she took up with her new partner not long after the death of Diane... If you listened to her speaking to reporters, saying in effect, "No one knows how difficult it has been for ME for the last six years." "Me" was the focus. Nothing about Diane. No abstraction about the crime or the punishment. And no explanation of why it was important to send Marjorie the Hollow back to prison. No cry to deter these kinds of crimes...

No, here the drive seemed for revenge not reform. But why?

Remember, this wasn't a crime-wave crime. Of course, there are many cases in which people don't mind their dogs who then go off and injure or even kill someone, and making owners mindful is a good thing, particularly with the increasing number of 'war dogs'. But those cases are inevitably treated as 'accidents.' Or at worst, manslaughter.

In this case, the jury voted for second degree murder, for the idea that the defendant consciously used their pet like a night club bouncer or a body guard. To intimidate, and in a sense, to project a force that the owners themselves could never possess.

If you have ever seen some of California's other famous victims, you notice the contrast immediately. Think of the great heroes of the victims rights movement in California: Doris Tate, Sharon Sellito, Harriet Solarno, and many others, even Marc Klaas. All lost blood, daughters or brothers, but they turned grief into something else. Now of course you could say, "yes, but isn't there always a desire for the limelight among these crime victims? Isn't that always part of it?"

Perhaps. In my experience, grief sometimes becomes an excuse for men to follow their rage, to indulge an anger long repressed. For women, it may be the opportunity to seize an identity, to have real power.

On the other hand, I think of my stepmother after the murder of her only daughter, and in a way that was even more horrendous than this 'dog mauling.' Knives instead of teeth, for one; a long drawn out kidnapping for another. But my stepmother never did anything in front of cameras, and she's an actress, she could have used the moment for all it was worth. Instead, she hid out. She became invisible. The pain was too great and it never let up. Ever. Still, she has hosted events for victims to raise money to help other victims. For years she went to Doris Tate's, not to hear Doris communicate with spirits from the other side, but to help other victim's live day to day with the unimaginable.

But Sharon Smith's response is different. By some accounts she has worked for the empowerment of people, and for lesbians in particular, and all to the good. But there's been no effort that I know of to work on behalf of victims of dog attacks or to help victims of other crimes. Or to educate citizens about these dangers.... And so you wonder: why is it so important to send Marjorie Knoeller back to prison. This is a woman who belongs in an institution but not in a prison. And she may well serve a sentence, in addition to time already served, which will be longer than for a 'murder of passion'. Or even a convicted drunk driver who gets in a car and runs over someone.

The question deserves some kind of an answer, for her, if not for the rest of us. And so I would suggest that Marjorie symbolizes a more personal kind of villain. Look at Marjorie in this light, in all her banality, in all her ugliness, in all her arrogant ignorance, in the way she not only didn't mind her dogs, but didn't mind life itself; didn't distinguish, perhaps couldn't distinguish, between right and wrong... And in this way does she perhaps appear as the personification of all those people who have said or thought or conveyed the notion — as mother or aunt, neighbor or stranger — "I hate lesbians, I won't tolerate you, I hate what you look like and what you do with each other, and what you stand for, and how act so proud...."

Is Marjorie the whipping post more for what she conveys by her manner than even for her crime?

Meanwhile, Marjorie's husband, the true villain in the case, Robert Noel, didn't appear at the hearing. As always he is never where he is needed. I was told he would not be permitted into the court and was told to stay away. Who knows. In the end, de didn't do anything to help his wife. Not now, not at her trial. Not even when it was clear his sentence was fixed; he never filed an amicus brief; he never said, "I got these dogs. It was my idea from the start. Cornfed was my client. It's all my fault. I knew Marjorie couldn't handle those dogs. We fought about it often. It's my doing. Please don't take out all your wrath on her...."

Or something to that effect. But there was nothing and Sharon never addressed his absence.

As an aside, the court reporter looked exactly like Noel. And for a moment I thought it was a trick or else Noel had smuggled himself in, clubbed the court reporter and taken his place, to have a first-hand view. To suddenly stand up, a last minute Lothario and beg the judge on his wife's behalf. But that was not the case. Anna told me Noel was still out in Fairfield making horse bisquets. He sent some to Anna; Henry took one bite and got badly sick.

Aug 18, 2008

An open letter to El Rushbow at the EIB Institute....

"Mega dittos from the Santa Rosa Mental Health Clinic…. You’re a great America, I’m a great American, we’re all great Americans. We’re so glad when you take it to Obama like you did again today and of course it was difficult to answer that question about what’s wrong with America. We couldn’t answer that either, although partly ‘cause we’re all hopped up on Thorazine. But we’re all great Americans and when you’re making as much as you do, there’s nothing wrong with America. But that’s okay because you’re so much smarter than us. Dittos from Raymond, the head nurse. And if you couldn’t be the head of the Harvard Law Review, you can be on radio and hawk mattresses. BTW, we’d like to get some new pads on our walls. Can you help us? A number 5 mattress would about do it. Thank Jesus, you’re not a black street slouch like that Obama. How could you be? Think of all the charity golf you’ve played. What you’ve done to help people in your life... It boggles the mind. We just think of all the goodness you’ve done. THAT’s why you can’t think of any bad things America has done because you ARE America and we love you down here on the psycho ward. You can call us, we can’t call you…"

Aug 17, 2008

Here's a Michael Phelps story. He won his 8th Gold last night.

Went to that little hip-pocket mall off Sloat Boulevard. Along the trailing edge of the outer Sunset. You might not have noticed it. The retail line is this, "Buster-Big 5 Shacks up with his Radio-Ross and does Arby in her Dress for Less."

Woman coming along in a shawl. Hawaiian face or maybe Inuit. Holding some soup. A lot of clothes, a lot of layers. Not many front teeth still standing. Sun burned from too much moonlight outdoors. But absolutely clear. Not drunk or drugged. She sits down. "You see that dog?" she says. I didn't see it. She points with her shoulder.

"Found another magic coin."

I'm surprised.

"Yea, i'finds magic coins."

What kinda dog?

"Terrier kind. White, curly hair."

How'd do it?

"Birds. They make a nest, and I guess it drops out, and that dog pick's em up. Animals knows these things."


"Bill over in Produce seen it," she looks off, over her soup, across the mall at the Nob in the Hill. "Dog had a whole mouthful of gold coins."

What kind.

"Jesus coins."


"Got a little picture of Jesus."

On a cross?

"Nope, just standing there in heaven."

Wow. She draws me in. You live out in the Sunset, do you?

"Yea but they blew up my car and now the landlady won't let me back."


"Those kids. They put sugar in the tank."

That'll do it. What kinda car?

"'68 VW van. Runs real good, 'till now. But I'll go back to school."


"City College. But they won't let me go back. Mr. Franklin 86'd me."


What a shrug. "I'm a photo journalist.I like architecture and biology."

But not Mr. Franklin.

"I knew too much. I scared him bad."


"I have that effect. See I'm also an expert in submersibles."


"I'm a submersible pilot."

For a long time.

"Ever since I could swim."

You like water.

"Phelps got his 8th last night. You saw that?"


"I taught him those tricks."


"Actually, I taught his coach. His coach and my parents were close and I showed him how you could these things."

You have a part in history.

"I enjoy it in the subermsible, go under and over the water, for long distances at high speed."

Like whales.

"No, not like whales. I go like a coin."

She asked me if I had any coins. I gave a quarter. "See this?" she said. Then she stood up and skipped the coin down the side walk past Radio Shack, a shoe store and Arby's and two or three other places and then a little white dog saw it and ran after it.

Aug 16, 2008

Across from Absinthe, down in Hayes Valley, there's a trendy restaurant with a piano man, a polished bar, a black TV, seabass for $27, and a dozen tables. The woman next to me doesn't like a man playing the piano and a TV playing a football game. A restaurant is either one or the other, she's saying. Not both. I don't reply; frankly, I'd rather watch the game.

This is a birthday party but she doesn't want to talk about that birthday person, she wants to say that "the trouble with people these days is they all want to be 'special' but they don't want to take responsibility for the need of other people to be special." And then she goes on about her kids, how they want to be special. And of course you think, 'but where did they get that from? How could that be unless you didn't give them that long ago? And no doubt you didn't get enough of that yourself along the way, so now you're neurotic, you're absolutely undone by the fear that everyone is special except you.'

I'm listening. Her hair is the length of Marines three months out of basic training. She's a trial attorney, lives in Berkeley, has two sons, the husband, the big house, the extended vacations, and the good works, don't forget that — the runs, the benefits, charity of it all.

As she's talking to me I am imagining that she is a woman who, although married, prefers the less abrasive masculinity of other women. And her in her fantasy she finds a femme, a happy submissive in pants, whom she throws up against the wall and does.

Aug 7, 2008

At Ocean Pizza you can’t hear anything over the hum of the cold drinks refrigerator. You can’t hear anything over the screaming of the couple on reality TV. And just now the owners are having it out; a Greek couple. Something bad has happened and they’re snarling it up. You can’t hear anything. There’s only one customer, an old man sitting under a dirty mural with some tagging somebody tried to wash out. This place is not clean or well lighted. A waiter is sitting at an angle in a booth. If it weren’t for the noise you could hear him sleeping. BTW, the booths appear in good shape. The one new thing in the whole place. Everything else is worn. But the booths look like they’ve been redone. The plastic table tops are red to match, and some weird paisley design like there was just a surgery here and nobody cleaned up the blood yet. “Whatiya want?” the owner’s wife wants to know. The only customer gives an order. It's all he can do to get the words out. Pizza boxes are stacked up against the front window. Oven’s nearly covered over in newspaper clippings from Greek newspapers. There’s a fan set in a panel over the front door. The blades move, but just barely. Like the single screw of a disabled submarine. It’s also cold as hell outside. The waitress/wife is Sandy. Her sister is the psychic next door at Ocean Psychic. All the fortunes are good. “You’re going to get some money… You didn’t know that? It’s coming. I can’t tell you when without doing some more work? Can you come back tomorrow? This is serious. You’re going to receive a lot of money. You’ll never have to work again.” Sandy takes the order and doesn’t say, thank you, and she doesn’t linger. She puts the order down on the counter. “Those people are stupid you got,” she says to her husband in English. It’s a running conversation. It goes on all night. He picks up the order and says something in Greek. “I gotta go,” his wife says in English. “Where you gotta go,” he says in Greek. She tells her husband what to do. There’s only one customer. Wednesday night in August. City College is closed. It’s nearly 9:30. Brett Favre just got traded to the Jets. Man comes outta the kitchen. “No fuckin’ way,” he says. “No fuckin’ way. They’d give him $25 million not to play. Can you imagine? I’d take the $25 million and not play. You got everything, why would you play. You take the $25 million and play with that. Fuckin’ play with yourself and take the $25 million.” All of a sudden it’s time to close. Everybody’s speaking Greek. The last customer is rushed out. He doesn't want to go; he was hoping to stay in place, stay hidden. But they won't let him. You can’t hear anything but the place is definitely closing.

Aug 2, 2008

No popular film better describes America's obsession with fear, despair and veiled hopes then The Dark Knight. That the film is garbled and uneven, often just silly, doesn't dilute the rapture. This beleaguered Batman is, in his muddled way, quintessentially American, from a long legacy of cinematic heros such as old man Hearst in Citizen Kane; the John Wayne character in Red River; Butch Casidy; Cool Hand Luke. Or what about Patton, even Thelma and Louise. All films in which the hero or tandem is not only brash and contra but also reckless, sometimes suicidal.

This summer it's as though we cannot indulge our disillusionment enough. Can't get enough of failed heros barely making it, just as we are barely making it. In the last two months three hits (and the coming James Bond film seems on exactly the same tack) feature deeply disturbed men, which is its own subconscious story, men who are either ridiculously clumsy, drug-ridden or soul-ragged and thoroughly cynical. And for whom taking vengeance is always the temptation...

If Hollywood has a forefinger on society's neck, and you can argue the point many ways, then maybe the studios are getting a pulse here. But how exactly do you read it?

For sure the country has had it with conventional heroes, and now the spin cycle of revere-and-despise runs ever quicker, especially for those people who are supposed to be heroes: the presidential candidates. John McCain has gone from war hero to maverick to a senescent crackpot. Barack Obama, whose chances of becoming president always seem simultaneously locked and unlockable, has gone from underdog to 'the leader for our time' and now back down to, as Sean Hannity puts it — that AM matinee idol for the faint of thought — The Annointed One. Code for 'elitest nigger'. For Panther-X, pinko sympathizer.

Right wing sarcasticas have feasted on the idea that Sen. Obama would suggest Americans pump up their tires and get tuneups to defend against the oil shortage. Forgetting that it will take years to get oil out of American ground, that it will take time just to build the ships needed to drill. Hannity was deeply disturbed at Obama's suggestion and noted that he had never even seen what was under the hood of his Escalade. "Do cars even get tuneups anymore?" he asked.

As an aside Rush Limbaugh was entranced by the story of the Gulf sheik who flew his Lamborghini, the same model as in Batman, to London for an oil change: $10,000 for an oil change. Limbaugh is a big time car aficionado himself, but the reason he loved the story was because it pissed off so many conservationists. "Don't you just love that?" he kept saying.

Reagan conservatives howl when Obama describes McCain's candidacy as cynical, but how else to describe it...

But isn't it interesting how this Batman catches the vibes. Coming from a country that seems plum tuckered out from fear, real and imagined, and just too much reality IV. Now, everything and everyone is under suspicion; no perception or belief is secure. What you thought was true at noon may be the just the opposite by the time you drive home from work. How do you keep your balance in such a situation?

You don't. You assume everything is false, you become lost in the stars, you become paranoid, you become even more cynical than you were, or you pretend to be, all the time hoping that something real will come your way.

Meanwhile, Batman himself seems tired of it all. He's had to do a few flip flops of his own. He's become more and more 'political'. He's also become familiar and so derided. He has few people to back him up. No Robin, no girl friend. He has only his valet and a business colleague, who is up to here with Batman's willingness to suspend constitutional guarantees to get his demon. At the end of The Dark Knight, Batman reminds you of Orestes in Sartre's Les Mouches, forever pursued by flies, a criminal on the run from his incestuous relationship with truth.

The Nolans, the film's directors and writers, have invented a prototype of a new neurotically-efficient hero. It's not enough to have super strength or super intentions, the new hero has to sacrifice himself for the greater good, which is an image we can believe in, even if falsed up, made over; even if the image we believe is nothing behind it.

How cynical is that? Our new hero, to feel genuine, to us as well as to himself, needs to live the appearance of a lie in order to protect an out-of-hope society, so down on itself that it can be trusted only with an appearance. That's cynical. No?

One of the notable scenes in this film is a hospital blowing up, with the joker-terrorist standing in front of the Emergency room sign. The film's one virtue is just this scene and that message: there is no institution that will help you get healthy these days. If you want help, you're going to have to do it yourself, using whatever creativity and instinct you can muster.

Aug 1, 2008

"You could do it," he was saying. This was my friend I sometimes run into at the Polo Fields. Lately, he's been depressed. "You could actually do it," he kept saying. "What?" I asked. Usually, I don't take his depressions seriously but this time clearly something was the matter.

"What is it?"

He stopped to tell me. The dust swirled at our feet in the late afternoon as it does there on the track.

"I read an article the other day that those people who jump off the bridge, and survive obviously, have this moment of terrible regret. They realize the mistake and that moment of anguish is unholy."

I thought of those people dropping out of the World Trade Center, hand in hand.

"And I remember, do you remember this? The story about the orchid grower, the orchid man from South San Francisco, you know, worked in that place that sells orchids. I can't remember the name. And so he went to the bridge with his young daughter, threw her over and jumped after her. Can you imagine that? Can't you imagine the howling of that man. And the mother who jumped and her son who years later jumped. And that whole business about looking at the city instead of the ocean, because how could you face the nothingness of that, how could go through with it without the comfort of a city view. I know all that. I've read all the stories. I get it. And still. I have lately less to go on. You remember that man I told you about?"

I knew right away who he was talking about.

"Just got up early one morning and shot himself, with his wife upstairs and his son, everybody just about to get up, and what about the damage he's caused. If he knew that, he would never have done it. I know all that. I get all that."

"'But still' you're saying."

"'But still,' I'm saying."

"Talk to me," I said.

"I can't. That's the problem. It's no use. I can't."

So we just stood there, for a very long time. Everything going down. As though you were in the trough waiting for the bow to come up and the boat to follow. But it's the moment of not knowing, that horribly beautiful moment of not knowing whether it will come up.