Memories of Youth’s Idyll, Part II

(Second in a series begun here)

Who were my allies in this insurgency?
There is a type of humor; bland, base, darkly vulgar, which is common among white males of the criminal subculture. These are people who are often referred to as white trash. They usually have done some time in prison; their time outside of an institution is often more reprieve than release, and their return is, usually, inevitable. There comes with it an accent and inflection that transcend region. Incorporating black slang and rhythm unselfconsciously, filtered through ineradicable residue of deep seated lumpen-proletariat origins, it is the sound of the penitentiary. This posture is completed by a certain look, as unmistakable and inimitable as the foul effects of poor hygiene and diet which mark someone long homeless. This look is where we get the phrase slack-jawed from, and the phrase is remarkably apt. Someone somewhere must have a theory explaining the tendency of the lower jaw to hang slack from the face of the pathologically delinquent.
The attitude these traits garnish is one of unfocused defiance. This defiance is not political though it resists the rule of law. It is an unconscious recognition of one’s lack of morality, one’s base nature, one’s narcissism. It mocks conventional morality. It is the socialization that takes place outside of the mainstream, in the wretched outback of poverty and ignorance, akin to that of the geographically remote such as hillbillies, though it flourishes in our midst.
There is another, closely related type of humor: mirthless, taunting, disturbingly deprecatory of everything, which is common to the vato, the Chicano gang banger. It is less humor than a brutality of manners, seeking to strangle any and all that is remotely foreign to the narrow conceptions of the barrio. This is the humor of the cholo, and it is little more than a gob of spit in the face of the culture and manners of the gavacho, or Caucasian.
Strangely, you would find these types, the white trash and the vato, mingling with one another on the streets of my old neighborhood, striking up alliances and even friendships as they found common criminal cause. It wasn’t uncommon to find a disheveled white punk with “White Power” tattoos partnered up with a Mexican gang banger in chinos and plain white undershirt. What they had in common was a more or less complete lack of amenability to society. Learning was not only undervalued; it was discouraged and denigrated as, depending on one’s particular point of view, selling out or as effete. Physical bravery and audacity were valued above all else with the approving label, crazy, as in, “you don’t want to mess with him, he’s crazy.” The cholos would claim their superiority in their graffitti taunts with the ubiquitous term mas loco; as in lil’ Boxer, Varrio Neighborhood, 13, mas loco. (The lil’ abbreviation meant little and was normally given to a junior gang member who took up a name already claimed by a veterano, or simply to a very young or small member. There was a time when I was, jokingly, called lil’ Dennis because of my small stature, and before that lil’ Groucho because of an entirely unfair comparison to Groucho Marx that was the result of my getting an unfashionably short haircut one summer.)
Most of us who would drift into this subculture would eventually find our way out. Some, however, were destined to die in it, and usually at a very young age. These were marked early on, and it was plainly evident that they weren’t going to settle down to a quiet life. They would end up incarcerated or dead by violence or drug addiction well before middle age calmed them.

I had a friend growing up who was as decent and honorable as anyone I knew up to that point in my life. He and his father were movie buffs of a sort. It seemed every weekend they went to see something (this was long before the VCR). His old man was a legendary crank; big, gruff, and scary. There were stories, unverified but believable: once when the mother of one of his kid’s friends made a pretext of coming to the door to borrow a cup of sugar (this sort of thing was still possible in those days) in hopes of striking up a conversation he wordlessly shut the door in her face; he had once fired off a high powered handgun at some cats that were digging around in his garbage, cutting one in half. His love of film was incongruous in light of this image. Every Monday at school I would listen with keen interest and envy as my friend would describe that weekend’s film. Fatherless myself, it never occurred to me to envy the relationship he had with his father, but now I realize it was a remarkable bond, one that most of us didn’t have with our parents.
There were three sons in the family, my friend being the youngest. I would say they were as different as night and day but I need a third pole. They were night, day, and twilight. There was a classic middle son who was cowardly and thoroughly unprincipled. He was a would-be con man, always running some kind of second rate scam, and an inveterate thief. As a juvenile delinquent I would spend time hanging around with him later. I suspect he is dead now, as his need to involve himself in every manner of criminal activity combined with a complete lack of physical bravery and toughness did not bode well. There was always an air of the amateur about him. He was aspiring to things he had no business with, but it was obvious that a normal life involving work and family would never be possible for him. It was a depressing inevitability that I recognize now in retrospect. The oldest son I didn’t know well. He was in jail more often than not. The offenses were serious, armed robbery and the like. He was thoroughly criminal. He had survived a stabbing that should have killed him, and lifting his shirt could show you a collection of train track scars that proved it. It happened in a bar fight and apparently his attacker did not so much stab as slash him, deeply. He had been hastily stitched back together and the welt like, cross hatched scars had a Frankenstein look to them. His older sister, unintelligent and prone to superstition, conjectured that he had been spared because he was to father a child somewhere down the line who would one day achieve something great. Hilariously, there was no question that there was no direct benefit to humanity in his survival. The last time I saw him he was headed back to prison on a parole violation. Its okay, he said, he would be rejoining his friends. It is his image I opened this post with.

The youngest and the oldest brother were as different as night and day, and the middle brother was somewhere in the nether region in between, idolizing the oldest and sadly lacking the character of the youngest. Knowing them is one of the reasons I would eventually fall on the nature side of the nature/nurture debate, in spite of a lifetime of being taught the opposite. It remains for me, like so many other experiences in my life, irrefutable evidence, a rude real life rejoinder for the misty sentiment of the blank slate thesis.

Love your children, support them, make them feel worthy and you have done well. But know that nature’s torments aren’t limited to disaster and disease. Sometimes the vileness she hurls at us comes in the form of a helpless infant. Sometimes that precious child is a foul bud which reveals itself gradually, in stages. The human penchant for cruelty doesn’t find a neat, flat level as water in a vessel but pools up in the various recesses of our complex and uneven human nature, sometimes finding a deep pocket in the heart of a deviant.

Part III


The strange cause celebre that is the Stanley “Tookie” Williams clemency push is a redemption fable missing one major element of the familiar form: repentance. If you’ve read anything about the celebrity death row inmate you know he’s never admitted to the crimes for which he was convicted. While lawyers working on his behalf have attempted to raise doubts about evidence and the competence of the investigation, his appeals have yielded nothing more than a recommendation of mercy from the 9th District Court. Still, if one allows that he could be innocent, and stranger things have been true, Williams persists in deferring responsibility for his ambitious and lethal life of crime and his role in creating one of the most violent street gangs in American history (which continues to maim and kill at an energetic pace) to Racist White America.
I was surprised to learn that Williams is only 51 years old. I would have thought he came of age in the Jim Crow south to hear all the talk of how a smart and ambitious African American of his generation had no recourse other than a life of crime. Jamie Foxx has said that if Tookie had been white and born in Connecticut, he would be a CEO. Foxx would appear to be as confused as his slightly cockeyed visage suggests. It is lost on most of these celebrities who see in Tookie the chance to engage in their own Leonard Bernstein cocktail party moment that if Tookie were white and soundly convicted of these heinous crimes they would have never learned his name, children’s books or no.

I’m not for the death penalty, though I must confess I don’t feel a lot of passion about this issue—and I should, for obvious reasons. I don’t find myself raising my voice when I talk about it. Its finality is a problem. People have been wrongly convicted in the past, so it seems that someone has been or will be wrongly executed. I have a hard time with that. I also think it’s in society’s best interests to value mercy. The sorry saga of the Williams campaign makes it hard to hold fast to these convictions; I daresay it undermines the case against capital punishment.

Williams’ supposed slate of good deeds is only recognized in light of the extreme and far reaching effects of his ambitions in organizing a legendary criminal gang. That it just so happens to be the Crips, arguably the most well known and lauded street gang of all time, embellishes his story in the minds of the celebrities and others who view him with an embarrassingly childlike awe. By now you’ve seen the two more heavily circulated photos of Williams, one apparently from the cover of his book showing him stripped to the waist and flexing body-builder style (Williams is said to weigh about three hundred pounds and has a body-builder’s physique), and another of him in a similar stance, wearing prison issues and bearing a massive afro, the very image of a hardcore gangsta. These are pinups for the adoring.
While Tookie’s famous gang protocol and his children’s books are lauded as, it would seem, Herculean efforts to save the nation’s youth from gang culture (150,000 lives saved and counting, according to the “Tookie Fact Sheet” linked above, based on “emails and letters”) what actually evokes all this adoration is his impressive physical stature and the same brutality (inferred by the thinly veiled bragadoccio of his oft told history) that makes Tookie’s ilk so dangerous, necessitating their removal from society.

You see, there isn’t one of us who, at one time or another, hasn’t wanted just once to be Tookie. Tookie wants to be Tookie. Tookie has cultivated his image as the hulking brute more than anything else, and had he never been caught and convicted of his crimes he would no doubt have gone on being Tookie for as long as he could have pulled it off before death or incarceration put a merciful end to his tear. Physical prowess and emotional detachment combine to make a powerful intoxicant, in the bearer and in the beholder. Just witness the continuing fascination with all things gangster, from The Sopranos to Fifty Cent.

Just beneath the thin veneer of our socialization, deep in the base of our brains, on the wrong side of the tracks from our still developing prefrontal cortexes in the amygdala where our fear resides, we not only reflexively defer to physical superiority; we revere it.
Brute force and the audacity to use it are, deep down, considered values unto themselves, even if we don’t like to admit it. So when the celebrants make the pilgrimage to the shrine of Tookie it is hardly a handful of children’s books or some ridiculous contractual form legitimizing street gangs that brings them there.
They are there to pay homage to the undeniable value of brute force.

Memories of Youth’s Idyll

A typically interesting post on Steve Sailer’s blog about, among other things, the criminality emanating from Compton, California as a highly marketed product taking the form of rap, movies, and television, has brought to mind my own halcyon days of youth growing up in nearby Norwalk.

Norwalk is a working class suburb in southeast L.A. County. Its demography when I was coming of age there in the late seventies and early eighties was nearly equal white and Hispanic. There were three major Chicano (Mexican-American) gangs operating there, mostly disdaining combat with civilian forces outside of the gang culture and in those days not yet heavily armed. It almost seems quaint now, their hand to hand combat usually involving nothing more than a knife or any handy heavy object; gallant even when compared with the drive-by shooting of today and its ignoble, exceedingly cruel and wreckless nature. The veteranos of the old days may have been no better than the psychopaths who lead the gangs today, but the times would reign them in somewhat, doing battle as they did before lax mores would create the feral state of some of today’s vatos locos.

My neighborhood just off of Imperial Highway (a major thoroughfare running some thirty miles or so from Yorba Linda east of L.A. through our city and then the tougher quarters of Compton and Watts right into LAX) looked rougher than it was. Later when I was a serviceman stationed in Camp Pendleton, about midway between L.A. and San Diego, I would delight in showing friends the old neighborhood anytime our travels took us that way; it so resembled the image of a rough L.A. ‘hood. It was sadly important to me as a young man to craft some sort of dramatic back story for myself, always a little embarrassed of how truly boring my short life’s history was.

What made my neighborhood</ look such a mess was its cleft by the stalled construction of the 105 freeway, running from just beyond our back fence all the way to the airport ten or fifteen miles away. A swath of real estate cleared for road construction took out four streets abreast just the other side of our little backyard’s brick wall. My earliest childhood memories are of this neighborhood slowly being drained of its inhabitants, selling their homes to the state and moving away. The houses weren’t demolished; rather they were cut from their foundation’s and carted away in the furtive early morning hours. Sometimes we would stay up late to watch. Few things are as disorienting as the sight of a home, the very symbol of stability, mounted on a trailer and hauled away. My faint, earliest memories are of a complete community of small, well tended homes lining cul-de-sacs of about a dozen homes a piece; by the time I left home years later the scar running through the center of our area would be complete, but construction on the freeway would still have not begun.

We called the vast open area of vacant lots dotted with the occasional abandoned house the “wastelands.” Some owners would resist selling to the end, the last of them existing exposed in the middle of the cleared land, lonely frontier outposts of a settlement in retreat.

Our next door neighbors joined a petition campaign seeking to halt the freeway’s construction, strangely undertaken midway through the leveling of our neighborhood, citing quality of life concerns. The Watts riots were a fresh memory, and while they didn’t say so the talk was that they were concerned about black migration. They would succeed in holding up the freeway’s construction for years, while the dismantling of the neighborhood continued; managing to destroy the quality of life they sought to protect by ensuring that the denuded landscape would dominate our home for over a decade–a period which would in fact encompass my entire recollected youth (those neighbors would scurry back to Oklahoma midway through the carnage).

The wastelands provided the ultimate environment for a youth of drug use and truancy. We laid claim to certain abandoned houses as meeting places, mounting an underground resistance against the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and their ever present helicopter. The helicopter was viewed as some kind of alien spaceship, with all manner of observatory capability. Its infrared capabilities were the stuff of legend. It would come buzzing in, a sinister, giant mechanical insect, with its spotlight sweeping the ground below as it homed in on us, and we would scatter like the mute rabble fleeing the army of gorillas in Planet of the Apes.

For the most part we were harmless. We just wanted to get high, and in the period of my adolescence there were a variety of means available for this. This was before crack; in fact I would escape to the military as the technique of free basing cocaine, which would presage the crack epidemic of the eighties, was becoming widespread. P.C.P. in the form of Angel Dust would be the first hard drug wave to encroach on our lives, and I found myself smack in the middle of it. I’m still not sure what P.C.P. is made of; elephant tranquilizer it is said, and somehow this didn’t dissuade us from trying it, nor did it discourage some adults from involving us in its packaging and sale. Angel Dust was P.C.P. soaked mint leaf powder, for smoking. It gave off powerful fumes, vaguely reminiscent of a a fuel, or formaldehyde. One night we would break up a pound of it, down into the gram units that retailed for ten dollars apiece, at a friend’s kitchen table, the fumes getting us all high. The next day the owner would find his parrot, kept in a cage nearby, laying dead in its cage.

It was also available in liquid form. For a price you could dip a cigarette in a vial of it. For some reason an upscale brand of cigarette, Sherman’s, were the preferred type, when soaked they were called “sherm sticks.” If you preferred menthol Kools, you might have a “super kool.”

It tended to give one a feeling of euphoria and ease strangely coupled with a sense of invincibility that could sometimes go terribly wrong, leading to bizarre psychotic episodes. A rash of police shootings would accompany the Angel Dust epidemic; “dusters” would try to take on anybody who came close, including armed policemen, often showing a desire to strip naked and attempt physically impossible (and pointless) feats. One acquaintance of ours would try to climb a telephone pole before the police managed to corral him. No doubt the cops took some liberties with the phenomenon, for a time it seemed to happen weekly; one defense argument offered up in the Rodney King beating case was that the police thought he was a duster, and his behavior was certainly consistent with one. My experiences of the time now give me a skepticism toward the oft leveled charges of institutional police brutality as well as an appreciation of the sometimes untenable situations we place cops in on a daily basis. When I was young, however, they were the enemy.

Part II

Untethered, First Quarter Results

For the fiscal quarter ending 30 Nov. 05

In this report, “Untethered”, “Company”, “Dennis Dale”, and “Dennis” refer to the weblog Untethered and its sole owner and proprietor Dennis Dale. Owing to the psychological reorganization completed on 31 August 2005, the two are to be considered a single entity, unless specificity is required in describing the physical person of Dennis Dale or the unique status of the weblog itself as an internet entity, in which case such specificity will be noted. This report contains forward looking information regarding our operations and future goals. Actual results may differ from expected results for a variety of reasons including the factors discussed in the various psychological assessments, court ordered and otherwise, to be listed and included with the final and official form of this document.


The weblog, Untethered, having been established on 31 Aug. 05 states as its institutional goals “the furtherance of the egotistical gratification and general promotion of its owner and sole proprietor, Dennis Dale, through widespread promulgation of his ideas, opinions and satirical ramblings regarding the issues of the day, leading to complete and total world domination or some semblance thereof.”
Untethered operates out of the greater Seattle, Washington area from a location which remains undisclosed due to security and privacy concerns and a desire to avoid legal action stemming from activities taken up before Untethered’s inception and completely disavowed by Untethered and its management.

Management’s Discussion and Analysis

Untethered’s egocentric goals are presented in United States Standard Self Esteem Points (USSSEP) in accordance with generally accepted blogger accounting principles (BAP).
Results are for the three months ended 30 November 2005.

Results of Operations

Forecasts for the quarter ending 30 Nov. 2005 were not met. These include, but may not be limited to:

1. Idea promulgation. Forecasts of 31 Aug. predicting significant progress toward world domination have so far proved unrealistic. Reasons for this include the insufficient ideational development, faulty manufacture of ideas, ineffective marketing of ideas, and limited success in promotional activities seeking brand recognition, discussed below.

Focus group testing has determined that ideational development was too narrowly focused in the political and satirical markets. Competing firms have demonstrated a significant advantage over Dennis in these markets, most likely owing to superior expertise in these areas.

Difficulties in manufacturing were largely the result of faulty quality control, specifically in the formation of coherent sentences, paragraphs, and overall post composition. Grammatical expertise is still lacking, resulting in inconsistent quality regarding capitalization, punctuation, and an ongoing shortage of style. Quality Control continues to address these problems, making significant progress in most areas. An overabundance of semi-colons continues to present a challenge. This work will be out-sourced in the future.

Marketing research continues to indicate declining opportunities for the cynical, semi-coherent, loosely structured product design of the past quarter and has proposed significant product redesigns to address these issues. Massive losses in the newly formed Satire Division continue to present the greatest threat to future profitability. Feasibility studies are under way to determine the best course of action regarding this division; options being discussed range from its possible absorption by the Snark and Snide Commentary Division to the possible sale of the division, whole or in part. Potential buyers have not yet been identified.

2. Egotistical gratification. Forecasts predicting the complete vanquishing of Dennis’ foes for the attentions of specifically targeted area women went unmet. Dennis suffered a major loss when attempts to merge with the most desirable of these firms, Rachel Tiegarten, collapsed due to the merger of said firm with rival entity Joe Burdon. A second merger vigorously pursued with the firm of Lisa Davis was derailed when the aforementioned firm announced a new policy of mergers and acquisitions limited to like-kind companies, commonly known as “lesbianism.” Dennis remains committed to seeking out new merger opportunities and has identified several promising targets among firms which are somewhat older and viewed as less desirable by potential rivals.