“I’m really beginning to question your devotion to the cause, Billy.”
‘Devotion to the cause,’ I thought. Who the hell do these people think they are. A cause. A movement.
“Jake, I’ve given up my family. I’ve fucked up my entire life. What else do you want from me?”
“You haven’t fucked up your life, Billy, you’ve engrandized your life, you’ve made your life have meaning, a purpose. You’re doing something, you’re a part of something larger than yourself, something historic, and you’re going to leave behind a better country, a better world because of it. And, what’s more, if all this goes according to plan, you won’t be giving up your family.”
“There’s a plan?”
“Sort of.” Great, I thought. I’ve left my wife and home for a sort of a plan to secede from the Union.
“This is insane, Jake,” I said. “I’m burnt out, empty, I’ve been on the run for what two weeks now and I’m feeling naked and lost.”
“Just hang in there.”
“Hang in there?! For how long, for what?”
“We just need you to check out this guy in Phoenix.”
“’We’, who is ‘we’?” I asked. “Where are YOU, what are YOU doing?”
“It wouldn’t be prudent for me to tell you that right now.”
“Right,” I said distracted and disappointed, kicking some trash at my feet and scannning the desolate roadscape.
“I think we’ve got something of a lead on this guy.”
“Why this guy? This seems like a wild goose chase to me.”
“It may be, but we need to check it out. Radio can be, it might be a great vehicle for us, a mouthpiece, a megaphone. We need a way to talk to large numbers of people outside the scope of the mainstream media and for those that aren’t ever going to go online.”
“Hmm, I see,” I thought to myself that this was the first bit of sense I’d heard in a long time. “Alright, what’s the lead?”
“There was a new story published in the LA Times yesterday about a group, well a few people, who tried to find out about this guy. They were obsessed, fixated on what the hell it was all about.”
“Uh huh,” not hard to believe, it was driving me nuts.
“So, one guy found his house, tracked it down somehow through lease documents or something.”
“Why can’t ‘we’ do that,” I said sarcastically.
“We just haven’t ben able to. But the guy that tracked him down might tell you where he lives. He wouldn’t tell the reporter, he said once he found him and talked to him he just wanted to respect his privacy.”
“Doesn’t sound too promising.”
“Just do what you can. His name is Cedric McTeague. That should help, how many ‘Cedric McTeague’s could there be in Phoenix?” It turned out there were two. Go figure.
Jake gave me a new number to call when I’d found something out. This is a good number, a new number, I’ll have it on at all times. Don’t use it until you’ve found the radio guy or you’re ready to give up.”
“OK,” I said, somehow less dispirited than before, but still plagued by the tense anxious feeling I was getting deeper and depper into a mudhole I’d never be able to pull myself out of, not without covering myself in a filthy film I’d never be able to wash off. At least now, though, I had some sense of direction, a mission, something I could actually do.
“Thanks,” I said with no shortage of cynicism in my voice.
“When this is done, we have a safe place for you to go. Just hang in there and do what you can. It’s important, we think this can be very important.”
This was all small consolation, of course. I still was standing in a dirty phone booth in the middle of nowhere, faced with a trip back to Phoenix and a hunt for Cedric McTeague so I could maybe find a guy who played random shit on a radio station that he may or may not allow a pseudo-secessionist movement to use to broadcast its propaganda. Altogether, I wasn’t encouraged by Jake’s ‘safe place’.
(Trip to Grand Canyon, disgust with the hunt, desire to chuck it all and just drive, destination just sort of appeared, moment above the rim, only one way back.)
In the interest of time, I’ll simply say I eventually found our man McTeague after much meandering and bullshit that need not be documented here. Let it be known that one McTeague was far different than the other and I only wish I had known Phoenix better so I might have avoided the neighborhood in which I found our first false (or at least wrong) McTeague.
The second, true McTeague, took some convincing. He didn’t really buy my story that I was another reporter. And, frankly, I respected him all the more for that. In the end, I simply told him the truth. He thought it was such a lark tthat he gave me the address straight away. Well, after a good laugh. Again, I was not encouraged. On the face of it, this was a ridiculous effort, a fool’s errand if there ever was one. But what the hell. I had an address, a car, a map, a wad of cash and a brand new identity. Worst case scenario I hole up in a bar somewhere and drink myself into oblivion until the cops show up.
I wasn’t completely clear what the best case scenario was, but considering the circumstances and the likelihood of the best being an outcome that actually comes out, I wasn’t really fussed about spending a great amount of time in contemplation of said, ie ‘best case scenario.’
The address McTeague gave me was out of town, but not a trailer in the foothills or some aerie resting on a ridge. It was an altogether unassuming home, not quite what you might call a tract home, but not far from it, located in a non-descript neighborhood near a shabby part of town but not in it.
Pulling up in front of and walking across a brown, neglected lawn, I was nearly convinced, I felt almost entirely, I could have been dissuaded from continuing with no more than a word. I cast a glance at a kid on a trike, stepped to the porch, sad ‘what the hell’ under my breath, and rang the bell. After a short wait, a short man in an off-white blazer that might at one point been white, with a banjo slung over his shoulder opened the door.
“Hello,” I said because, honestly, I had no fucking clue what else to do.
“Hello,” he said back. And, for a moment we just stood there looking at each other in the dry heat. “Can I help you?”
“I’m not sure,” I said after another pause. Still baffled by this predicament and not particularly caring about the outcome one way or the other, I just decided to tell him the truth. I got roughly halfway through when he interrupted me to ask, “Is this a bunch of rubbish?”
“No sir,” I said, “as far as I know every word I’ve just told you is entirely true.”
“Well, then, you had better come inside and sit down for a spell.”
I thanked him for his hospitality and took him up on his offer.
“You must need a drink,” he said as we stood in the entryway.
“I wouldn’t say no,” I said.
“Whatever you’ve got would be great.”
He walked into the kitchen and left me in a living room that was wall-papered, covered from floor to ceiling in CD jewel cases. At first look it was a horribly busy pattern, but on close inspection it was a fascinating mix of art and ideas. I got up and walked around the room. It was eclectic as the playlist on 96.5, mozart and Motorhead and Meatloaf and Montavani (?). Not to say it was all arranged in alphabetical order. Nor was it, to any extent that I could determine, arranged according to any other discipline, be it art, genre, color. It was a room of randomness.
“I like your collection,” I told him as he walked in carrying a pair of Pabst Blue Ribbons.
“Yeah,” he said disinterestedly, and then apologized, “Sorry about the PBR, it’s all I’ve got it.”
“It’s all I want,” I told him and he seemed to like that.
“So you were saying something (somethin’? Need to think about dialogue, colloquiliasms, who is this guy? Made money in oil, a backyard well, or he was a wildcatter and then he hit a backyard well, oil followed him. Moved into Houston and started messing around in business. Before he knew it he had a lot of money and was interested in none of it except a silly investment in a radio station in San Antonio. He quickly learned that broadcasting licenses had a great deal of value and spent a few years picking up small stations across the country. He knew he was onto something when big companies, Time Warner, etc…started offering him a lot of money for what he had. He didn’t particularly care. His oil wells kept pumping out money and he didn’t need much. It was when he got sick of driving around listening to crap music that he decided to start what he started on 96.5)
“I moved here after 2001,” he said. “I didn’t like what Texas had become. Houston is easy to leave.”
I nodded. I had no idea what he was talking about. I’d never been to Houston.
“No one knows me here,” he said. “I like that.”
“Yeah, I could see how that has its benefits,” I said tipping the can of beer afterwards as some sort of sign of solidarity. I did have solidarity, though. Again, the truth was uncommonly attractive. It had been soothing, liberating, to be on Las Piedras as an unknown. Granted, we missed all our friends and family, but all things considered day after day free from the social hubbub, the dinners and drinks and gatherings that suck up the time of your life – it wasn’t bad shedding that. I shedded more, too, I shedded a skin and had the chance to start over, to be someone else. Perhaps I took that too far.
He went on to explain how it all happened, how he finally said, “Aw, shucks,” and decided he’d put his entire record collection on a server and just let it play. He said ‘record’ and not CDs, I noted. “It was more fun than sorting through ‘em all the time and y’know what?”
“What,” I said.
“People deserve to hear more Neil Young. They deserve to hear Springsteen and Guthrie and Dylan and good stuff, different stuff, there’s all sorts of stuff people never hear, never know exists.
“Don’t you think people outside of Phoenix need to hear it?” I asked, honestly without design.
“Yeah,” he said, “but I don’t live outside of Phoenix.”
“Don’t you travel?” I asked.
“Not much,” he said. “Besides, what am I going to do, set up radio stations that play what I want wherever I go?”
He was right, it was a stupid question. What I should have been asking was if he thought the people of Phoenix deserved better then why not everyone else? As if he was reading my mind, he said, “What I have been thinking about doing is putting it on the Internet, then anyone in the world could hear it.”
Of course, that darn Internet.
(I need to convince Franklin to broadcast and then move on to Utah. Jake will send me to St. George and I’ll return the car and then walk to a hotel where I will wait. Two days later a couple, very straight-laced will come to my room and take me to their house which is a long way from St. George. After a night spent with them and their kids, a rugged looking guy came in a big Chevy truck and drove me out of town, way out of town, out into the desert and into the canyons. They are Mormons, of course, and the guy has three wives and fifteen kids, some you could tell who was whose, others not so much. Does Billy write part of this there? Lots online OR not online? I will hunker down for awhile. Lots of typing, emails?, the feds, fear of being snooped, a concern, maybe stay offline, way offline for awhile. Writing to blogs or about blogs maybe can wait until Canada. Build a grassroots movement around the Martin case. Then some public speeches? Jake still in the background. Then fear of arrest. Then a trip abroad. Part III? I need to find those notes from APAC trip do the same tour, NO do north Asia, Korea and Japan there is someone else doing SEA and Australasia. There are millions of Americans and millions of immigrants from these countries who are still sympathetic and who are still fresh enough to believe the American rhetoric. The naturalized citizenry has to pass a test to become an American. Natural born citizens have to pass a civics class in high school. The immigrants need to know the Bill of Rights to keep from going back to wherever they wanted to get the heck out of. American kids need to get a C to keep from going to Summer School.
Politicians intro from Sacto. Scoop and Schwarzenegger type figure. Immigrant from somewhere. Mexican or Asian maybe like Locke. PNPC. Stop paying federal taxes. Thoreau. Boston tea party. We won’t pay for nukes we won’t pay for war, stop bombing the west stop dumping waste in the west stop taking our resources and despoiling our land, stop the foreign adventures and let’s get back to being Americans.
Politics and Franklin, get into a MSM debate, his music, his likes and dislikes. How he has made his money, rooted in oil, play off his guilt in that. Oil as a metaphor, no, his success as a metaphor. Oil accidentally made him rich. Idiots in Texas and the middle east suddenly found themselves with large sums of money. The people who originally made the money may have been smart enough to deal with it but the wealth spread to progeny bred a sense of entitlement, people with dubious genes, tons of money no work ethic and a sense of righteousness based on a life free of financial worry combined with a rock solid fundamentalist belief in the correct-ness of their religion. It was a stage set for disaster. Dumb people with power and money who believe god is on their side should not be the ones with their fingers on the triggers.
Franklin can say some of this. His Houston twang, roots and perspective will make it more poignant. He is playing his banjo, a tune of his own composition that steals from Deliverance, whatever song that was, dueling banjos. He calls it Deliberance. He has his music, he wanted no kids or maybe he did, not exactly happy with the state of the world. He never would have passed along his wealth to his kids, though. He was going to give it away. Billy/Jake need to convince him to use it to help fund the movement. He has other stations. He can broadcast speeches, he can use the Internet or have someone associated with Jake use the Internet or send them all to the blogs, have it in a thousand places and it can’t be stopped. Hold forums, debates, open the airwaves to new ideas, a grassroots progressive movement. The movie deliverance is a fixation for him. Water. What was that about, maybe he was in love with a Mexican woman and she was from a spot that had lost its water, lost its livelihood and family members migrated to the US and were doing shit jobs. She gets deported or she can’t be with him, she decides she can’t leave her family and be with him.
Deliverance. The federal government was taking a place and destroying it and telling people it was good for them. Urban cowboys came in and killed a backwards fuck but who was right? The hicks were dumb and violent, but it was their home. Ned Beatty was just a fat soft symbol of a fat soft society that was funding “improvement” that destroyed their way of life.
What is the federal government doing now? Who controls the water? Water is going to be the new oil. Water will cause more wars than anything else combined. Fresh water is disappearing from the planet, from the locations where it is needed most. It is irreversible. Ice melts into salt water, it becomes salt water. If the evaporation is deposited in storms at the coasts rather than as snowpack in the mountains it is only a matter of time before you have serious problems.
“Deliberance is a meditation on this process. A turn from the world we once knew to one dramatically altered by the actions of man.
“Plus, I just love the banjo.”
Prisons. The western leaders will need to recuperate the prisoners, rehabilitate. It’s a shocking expense and a horrible blow to the morality of a society, the morale, the working morality of…this large number of housed humans, heartlessly housed humans. Whatever happened to the greatest good for the greatest number? Whatever happened to common decency. These are money sucks, nothing but great streams of cash that produce nothing but disgruntled citizens on the inside and moreso when they are released and this is the real reason such an archipelago exists, for the false sense of security it creates in the “law-abiding” populace.
This could be a speech given by the black leader wherever I find that character. Maybe the Willie Brown character, SF mayor, the lawyer defending Martin. A part of the California governor’s administration. This isn’t anarchy. It’s an example of shared/made by the west, a better way to run the country, its own country, maybe. The sticky part is the fact that they stop paying federal taxes. There grows two camps, a more violent camp that wants to take the missile silos and the military bases and the non-violent, non-cooperation camp, that simply refuses to fund the US war machine.
The mechanics are problematic. Most companies automatically deduct. How do you stop that? What legal options exist? Are the large corporations tools of the federal gov’t or vice versa?
Western corporations, small businesses can do it, maybe.
“You seem like a nice guy,” he said, “how did you get started in all this crazy talk?”
“I’m not exactly sure,” I said thoughtfully. “I suppose somewhere deep inside me I felt something was terribly wrong, that not only was this land I love headed in the wrong direction, it was coming perilously close to the precipice from which it could not turn, the descent down that slippery slope was picking up speed and while this plan put before me wasn’t the last branch to cling onto, it was certainly going to be the only one I could reach. If I didn’t do something I was merely going to be stuck in the mass of the avalanche, unable to control my destiny, unable to do anything but tumble along helplessly in chaos and darkness.”
“You’re good with the metaphor.”
“Am I? I thought I was laying it on a little too thick. I feel more like I’m rambling, rationalizing, convincing myself what I’ve done is right, and for the right reasons.”
“Well, it’s making sense to me.”
“That’s good, I guess.” We stopped and drank for a moment and then recalling my objective, or the goal I’d been charged with, I started in on an idea which I thought might help sway him. “Americans won’t be led to slaughter,” I started, “they will be smothered and numbed in that wave of snow, the clutter and cold will paralyze them, but like the freezing man, will achieve a state of warmth before they pass. I have felt that tugging at me, the desire to give up. Living is more than eating and drinking and breathing, going to work, coming home, watching treacly crap on TV and listening to the same old songs on the radio. We’re not going to get destroyed in some nuclear holocaust, the world, most likely, won’t burn to toast, we’re going to anesthatize ourselves, and all the while convincing ourselves we’ve reached some pinnacle, that we are at the culmination of history, and all we’re doing in the world, all the adventurism and posturing is justified because we hold a divine right, our path has been preordained and the wars and incursions are mere means to the end we have coming our way. We’re blooming daisies captivated by our own beauty never recognizing we’ve started to rot from the roots.”
“OK, that might have gone a tad too far.”
“The not with a bang but a whimper allusion didn’t do it for you?” I asked.
“No, I liked that. You may have gotten into trouble combining the avalanche and freezing with rotting daisies…really, rotting daisies?”
“A bit too much?”
“A bit,” he said. We sat in silence.
(Maybe a trip down to his studio in the basement. His music is one of the things that keeps him happy. The ability to create to lose oneself in art. But a society that does not reward unique art, un-popular art and instead lets the people “vote” on “talent” to make a star will invariably end up cultivating a culture that appeals to the lowest common denominator. It stifles free expression, or forces it to the periphery, marginalizes it and turns it into the “other” to be scorned or avoided. And that is unnatural, it is the anomolous that drives change (anomoly sp?). Without a medium to deliver the different to the masses, you breed a sub-culture and that contributes to the division you see today. Two Americas. In many ways that is true (or should be true, ahem). But, I’m not sure I believe in your premise that we could separate west from east and be done with it. The division is along class lines, it is the rural versus the urban, it is the educated versus those that shun an intellectual elite, it’s not easily defined by a straight border.
Look at cable TV. Before cable everyone watched the same crap, granted it was mostly garbage, but everyone saw the same garbage, that bred unity, of a sort, everyone over 40 can sing the theme song to the Brady Bunch, for instance. Stupid example maybe, but you get my point. “Uh, maybe…” With the advent of cable there was a division between those who could afford it and those who could not. It costs money, expendable income the poor do not have. The educated already lean, in the majority, more to the avant garde, but the expanding masses are fed a diet of tripe and treacle. Again, this is not dissimilar from the communist party. The official channels show, cops capturing criminals, the ‘normal’ winning prizes on gameshows rewarded for their compliance and displaying for all a gratification to be found in wealth. Money and things, having, defines us, that is what is supposed to make us happy. It’s so pervasive we don’t even question it. It’s not universal socialism, it’s not a belief that all can be equal in a fair and just society, but it does say anyone can achieve wealth, a spin of the wheel can bring things and happiness. And the news, Christ, the news! It’s not ‘news’ at all, rather it is snippets of local happenings irrelevant to the larger story. Global significance is rarely discussed in any serious comprehensive way. The debates on Sunday morning talkshows are all part of the jockeying for power. We play one party off another, but in the end it is they who are playing us. The wealthy and the corporate rulers supply the cash that funds the polling, campaigning and the elections which are a choice between one side of the coin or the other. It’s no choice at all because the motivation to enter the arena for moral reasons for a sense of service has been strangled. They must go begging for cash, they must tailor their messages for the masses, they must cultivate an acceptable image and expose their private lives to the closest scrutiny. Who would subject themselves to that other than the most power-hungry and vainglorious? It’s a recipe for disaster because ultimately we end up with 435 automatons at the top and countless thousands locally who are striving to achieve those top posts, constantly crafting that same image, the aura of leadership, but they are never true leaders. The leaders, the ones with new ideas or a new way of conveying them are drummed out by the relentless drive for cash that only can come from the vested interests who have no interest in changing the existing order. Couple that with media conglomerates who are complicit in the system (look how much they get in advertising money during elections) and it is nearly impossible to effect change.
“Well, that was quite a speech,” I said.
“Yeah, that had been welling up in me for quite some time.”
“So what are you going to do, sit in your cellar and play your music, fiddle while Rome burns.”
“I’m not Nero.”
“No, but then who is?”
“I think we both know.”
“My question still stands.”
“Table that. I’m going to grab two more beers,” he gave me a quick look, a raised eyebrow, a twinkle in the eye.
“No complaints,” I said. I had the distinct feeling that we were now in cahoots, partners in crime, associates.
When he returned he went to the stereo, well, sound system, and fiddled around in boxes for awhile and then spent some time fitting the reel to reel. He got it rolling and then sat back down on the couch he had against the wall (add description of cellar/studio somewhere). “OK, listen to this Billy,” he said and I thought for a moment, I wondered for a moment the way he paused, if he had meant for me to listen to the music or to listen to what he was about to say. I did both. The words spoke to him and spoke for him. It was an old Woody Guthrie song I was not familiar with (not to say I had an encyclopedic knowledge of Woody Guthrie songs (wouldn’t it be funny for Franklin to have an archive of Woody Guthrie’s brother’s recordings, or Arlo, or some other odd unknown collection).
“I’m not going to give you an answer now,” he said. “I’m not even entirely sure there’s been a question. I just want some time to cogitate.”
I didn’t really know what to say. I wasn’t sure if this was a success, if I had accomplished what I had set out to do, if this was what Jake wanted, or what, but, it seemed to me this was a good thing.
“OK,” I said, after a time. And we just sat there drinking our beer and listening to the music.
“Would you mind if I spent the night,” I asked.
“Not at all, please, be my guest.”
The next morning, after bacon and eggs, and warm, if uncertain, goodbyes, I went immediately and found a pay phone to call Jake. Franklin had given me an email address, “Call it paranoia,” he said, but I’d rather not have y’all calling me. Not just yet.”
“I totally understand,” I said, and thought email may not be totally secure, either, but I kept that to myself.
Jake was encouraged by the news, you might even say excited. He told me to drive to Utah, St. George, and check into the Motel 6 off the first exit. (check back for Utah stuff). “And, no more stops at the Grand Canyon or other historic, natural landmarks, just go there, quickly…wait, not too quickly, just drive safe and be careful.” I hadn’t heard Jake so optimistic, almost cheerful.