Friday, December 31, 2004

Letter from a friend

I just got a letter from a friend, Alisa Tang. She is a reporter in Thailand. She used to live in the STL.

This whole thing has been unreal. I have been watching the news over and over. I tape the national news at 5:30 and then the News Hour and watch it when I get home. It has struck me again now that it has taken a more personal form. It doesn't seem right that I can live my life unaffected and in a way I don't feel anything. But it isn't that simple. I think that is why I read and watch so much about it. I feel it a lot more. And now that I am reading this letter it is cutting into me.

Here is her letter:
phuket, thailand
31 december 2004

my dearest family and friends,

i write you all in this brief down time while working in the south of thailand. let me start by saying i'm doing fine, and my friends and family are all safe and well. i apologize in advance for this long email, but many of you have wondered where/how i am. also, please save this to read after your festivities if you don't want to spoil your mood _ in which case i wish you a happy new year now.

on sunday, the day of the tsunami, i started work from home at 9 a.m., reporting on the quake an hour after my friend messaged me to let me know she had to evacuate her shaking apartment building in bangkok. i turned on the radio to listened for reports of quake deaths and that's when i heard about the water in the south. i packed my bags and went to the office, worked for a few more hours, then came south that evening.

i've seen hundreds upon hundreds of dead bodies _ in bikinis and swimsuits, naked, on the beach, under rubble. the stench of death is overwhelming at the hardest hit resorts and at temples where corpses are being kept, and my clothes reek at the end of the day.

each day, i begin work as early as 5 am, and continue until midnight many nights, another night until 2 am. i file stories all day and night by phone and computer (you can search my name, alisa tang, on often, i answer questions from editors in new york and other colleagues on the hour as i try to sleep. monday night i slept up on a mountain next to a police box, the only place with electricity on a strip of road that was once a row of resorts and shops, but now just a ghost town, no electricity, that smells like death.

i've heard incredible tales of survival from a colorado man who had to punch his way through the roof as the floor of his flooding bungalow rose beneath him and as his wife was blown out of the back of the bungalow with the cement wall as it exploded out under the pressure of the water; they both survived. i met one 7-year-old superboy, a Swede named Kalle, who survived though his parents and family disappeared. he told his guardian, whom i interviewed, "i was under the water, but i could breathe. i closed my eyes and went with the water, and when the water went down, i opened my eyes and was in another city."

since only a few days after the 2004 kicked off, i worked endless hours through violence in the south and bird flu, and the tsunami in the end. i have learned so much, especially here in phuket and phang nga, with all my veteran colleagues _ print, photos and television _ who have seen and done practically everything and are true professionals.

thankfully, i had breaks in between the endless hours of work in istanbul, alaska, london and the beaches and national parks of thailand. i could do with a bit more time off though. i had planned to go to singapore to visit my friend, gen, on jan. 1, but i've postponed that. i also would like to go to burma, angkor wat, japan and elsewhere.

i expect to stay in phuket and the south for several more days. i'm staying in a decent hotel, and i could be in worse places _ at least the disaster hit a resort area, renowned for its sea and sand.

i miss all of you, my dear friends, so much, and if it weren't for the fast life i lead, i fear i might spend my days crying with heartache for all of you.

i have lived through five lifetimes this year, i have seen and done so much. i've had a very challenging 2004.

for 2005, i wish you happiness in your bellies, peace in your hearts and a little kickin' dance in your souls.

love and kisses,
fireworks and all,


Saturday, December 25, 2004

Art Relieves (Social Constipation)

All sorts of sign controversy today.

I ran around with an old chum Eleni Pelican on Wednesday. She is an old friend from way back. I went to her Prom, jeez, something about twelve years ago. She was in town from DC visiting her fam. I took her to go see the old Pelican sign that used to be on the building at Shenandoah and Grand and had since been taken down and stored over at the Lemp. Her family is originally from the neighborhood and they used to run a seafood restaurant called the Pelican at the corner which had the beautiful neon sign with a Pelican animal and the words spelled out. It went from the top of the door all the way to the second floor roof. It was beautiful indeed.

We couldn't find anywhere at the Lemp Brewery. Too bad. I wonder where it is now. So then we rolled up Lemp and I pointed out the Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center at Utah. These arts centers are some of my favorite neighborhood resources. Often neighborhoods look down on them for it attracts a lot of young kids. Too bad for the kids are the lifeblood. Or as George, the Lebanese produce guy at Soulard says when he cuts me a deal on produce for the gym, "I love kids. They are my future customers!"

I have always admired the repainted brick sign on the side of the building. It was an old soda pop ad that had faded. Mark Sarich, the owner of the Arts Center had repainted part of the sign with the soda bottle, but he changed the tagline to "Art: Relieves Social Constipation" I always found this a stitch and would grin every time I rounded the corner. A pleasant and clever expression mixing the old with the new and humor.

But it had changed. Apparently the words "Social Constipation" had been painted over. I remember a few years ago I had complimented him personally on such a great expressive sign he had on his building. Mark is a funny guy. The center hosts bands on a occasion. Small art shows. Literary readings. Speakers. Whatever. Mark is in tight with a lot of elements in the neighborhood. We talked about his ties to the neighborhood and the alderman. Apparently the Alderman did not approve of his sign. He told Mark "How am I supposed to explain to my child about constipation." I always found this funny. When I noticed the sign, I snapped a pic with my phone and told my friend Eleni the story. She told me that she was unable to grow up without her parents talking about constipation. Now that is really funny.

I certainly hope Mark was not coerced to change his sign. That would be some serious crap. What sort of city has this become? I will need to contact him to find out what happened.

Ho Ho Birfday invite

I am going to have my birthday all chill at a nice little joint called La Bohemme over on Macklind and Holly Hills on Tuesday. I figure I will get there at about 7:30 and either drink enough liquor to render me paralyzed or drink enough espresso to give me a heart attack. Either way should be fun and I will be getting the highest quality drinks and the fat Bosnian beats from Nermin. They call it the holiday season for a reason. I am still trying to get over that I missed the Chuck Norman Christmas Party.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Mammary Culture Shock

I am sitting here at Hartford Coffee banging away at the machine in the comforts of a coffee house. And right in front of me is a woman breastfeeding. I am so tempted to revert to my 13 year old self and snap a picture with my phone and giggle and make borderline inappropriate comments. I still just may. I feel so tribal. I guess that is the new trend now anyway, urban tribes. That would make me a war chief. I need to start uniting all the villages and then form the new nation's army to invade Chicago. The city of broad shoulders has been getting soft will all those Trixies in Lincoln Park. Then again, I am sitting at the Hartford Coffee in booshie Tower Grove South. I don't really need to invade Chicago. How about I storm the streets of Town and Country? Hmmm. Too easy. Wait a second, there is a woman still breastfeeding right in front of me. Hee hee. Now I must do my monkey dance and pray to the gods of the Tower Grove for snow in time for the winter feast day. Oooga oooga.

Monday, December 20, 2004

RIP Chuck Norman

Crap!! I missed the Chuck Norman Christmas Party. Chuck passed away this past year. I guess in his passing they didn't advertise his Christmas party on every spare bus stop, billboard and taxi in town. I was checking to see on the WGNU website if it was earlier today, and I missed it for it was at the Science Center Exploradome. It was the greatest over at the Regal Riverfront with the Sweet and Sassy dancers, Barbizon Models, the Dancin' Dads and the creepy displays of patriotism. I am glad I paid my respects to the old man the past few years and went up to him in his wheelchair. I will dig up some old photos and post them up.

RIP Chuck Norman.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Panda AC Chess Team

Here is a pic of the chess class at the Panda AC. The kids love it. Dave Cantrell, Pete Neukirch, Marc Moore and Pete Sabochy are coaching the chess team.

Something new

I had a meeting the other day with Jason Hutto, Jason Triefenbach and his fiance. We were over at the Jade room. After the meeting the Jasons were lamenting the tiredness of the different hangout bars on the southside. Now I have been to just a ton of different taverns, saloons, lounges and bars all across the town. You can get a real flavor of the neighborhood if you hit the local watering hole. The personality of an area, of people really comes across. It often can transcend time which is really interesting. Often there are people in a bar that can be stuck in time. Sometimes for the better and interesting, and sometimes for the worse and dull, but it is still real.

We discussed the many different places around town. These guys have been to a lot of the out of the way places on the southside. I suggested that we go north. Very few young white southsiders ever go north of Delmar, much less to a bar on the north side. They all seemed a bit uneasy, but very intrigued. Triefenbach thought that we might appear to be slumming. That is a funny thing to come out of Triefenbach's mouth if you have ever met him. I told Jason not to worry about it. I know what he speaks, but people are going to think something and there is nothing you can do about it, and then you give it clout by not going. And that is just dumb.

The barrier is only as real as you let it to be. It essentially doesn't matter unless you let it. We all know that barrier is a load of shit, so I do not let it bother me none. I just don't have time for it.

So we jumped in the Merc, popped in some Nugent and headed north. I let the crew smoke in my car, something that I rarely allow. But I had three smokers, and about six ashtrays in the car. I kind of felt I really needed to let the car be fully used for its purposes. Now my car has a faint odor of ash. I don't think I will let them do that again.

We first stopped at the Cloverleaf. It is up at Taylor at Lewis Place. It is an old bar, really old. The bar was recently sold from Ethel who was in the original family that opened up the place. The bar is in the shape of half a clover leaf and was owned by the family since about 1949, about the same year the Shelley vs. Kraemer case went to the Supreme Court knocking out the restrictive covenants based on race. The case just happened on Lewis Place, the street the Clover Leaf is on. I could go on about the place, but we went and it was closed. So we headed up Taylor to MLK and went over to J's Hideout over near Pendleton. JD is the owner of the place and I go in about every few months. J has a tight relationship with his customers and neighborhood. JD is kind of the connected guy around town. He is a commander for one of the suburban munis just on the other side of the city border. It is a comfy little joint that feels more like a living room than a bar. J sits at the end of the bar in a suit with a short jet black afro, perhaps a wig but I am not saying it is. He is very friendly, always shaking hands in a cool reserved way. He speaks softly but with certainty and respect. I remember when I took the Metropolis Walk there. JD stood at the door, shaking everyone's hand as they entered. He put up a banner welcoming the crew. He had some free food. He had a DJ. That was just way too cool. It went very very well.

We all went in that night and were welcomed, of course. It was a nice quiet comfortable drink. It was exactly what we were looking for. The picture is of Hutto sipping on a Strohs. There was a little action, for there was an accident outside and one of the patrons had their new Cady Deville hit. I almost parked in that space. Youch. JD kept his cool, of course. We talked about the new gym down the street, for the Panda is just at the end of Cass which branches off of MLK. JD told me one of the Sansones comes into his place during the holidays and he was going to mention it to him.

The crew enjoyed themselves and plans on going back. They keep thanking me each time they see me. It really isn't that big of a deal. Hopefully it won't continue to be. It is just fun.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Positive Effects, Respect and Storming City Hall

People do read this with a positive response. I looked back and the piece I wrote on the passing of Junie caught the eye of some of his family. They wrote more than a few responses to the piece I wrote.

I went back to the SBAC to the Myrl Taylor Reunion Rumble. Myrl passed away last August. I bought two tables for the coaches and associates to pay my respect to all of it. It is a big deal dinner fundraiser for the SBAC. Joe Buck spoke and did a great job. A couple of the members had rushed me a few days earlier on how much they wanted me and the crew to participate in the SBAC. I am the youngest member by far. It has become a retirement home/bar. Most of the guys I had encouraged to join wound up quitting. Young good people who are involved. Most of them think I have been wasting my time to continue being a member. I had gotten a lot of heat being a member over essentially nothing. Not paying enough respect. Fear of taking thunder away from the established members. Sponsoring the first minority member in the club's 105 year history. Bringing in young people they didn't know who were not on the "inside" or related. And getting an earful all the time from these old guys. Sometimes positive, but often very harshly negative. I sold out their first boxing show in decades. My sister got married there. My good friends have gotten married there. I have donated time, money and more. Oh well. It was guys like Junie that kept me going in, but alas I have had to pretty much cut off my ties. I got my own gym now. I have a youth program that we are really able to take hold and is effective. The coaches have far more freedom. We don't have to fear of being cold cocked by drunken made members who you can't touch. We run our own Athletic Club. It is probably far more like the SBAC when it formed. We are directly working with the kids. We are in the community trying to make it work better for everyone. We have chess classes twice a week. We are starting up tutoring next semester. We are going to start up a baseball team in the summer. We may start up a basketball team too. That is a real Saint Louis Athletic Club. Not this SBAC or MAC crap.

We got the tables and showed our respect and represented at the Rumble at the SBAC. AC's are essentially gangs, not unlike a lot of organizations. The MAC, fraternities, high schoolers and such all about getting respect. None of the members came over to our tables to show us any respect. I went around to all the other tables, said hello and such. I have been doing it for years and years and was hoping it might start to pay off. Nope. Eh, no need to worry about them. We will show them when we just continue doing what we are doing. We are going to field the first full youth team on Jan 7, as long as some of these kids keep working hard.

I went to the SBAC meeting last Friday for the elections. I missed the election itself. I ran for the committee last year, lost after some controversy over stupid things. Didn't matter really. I paid more respect around, but this time it was much harder. I paid definite respect to the guys who have consistently supported us. Wimpy is one guy in general. I wish I could get him to join the Panda AC. He told me how he was my sponsor. I had two guys sponsor me. Wimpy and Junie. Wimpy was proud to have sponsored me. Wimpy is a cool fella. He lives down off Broadway. He grew up in the neighborhood. He is a huge fight fan. He stays current more than anyone else I know. He bets on the ponies. He is a short fella with a white flat top. Friendly guy. Wimpy also pointed out to me the day I came in and he sponsored me. The same way Junie did. I told him about the fights I have coming up on Feb 4 at the Soulard Market Gymnasium. He looked at me with a smile. He looked proud. He told me he used to sleep there. His mother wouldn't get home form work until close to midnight. He would play ping pong all day and skip school. And he would wait for his mother to get home at night. It reminded me a lot of some of the kids we got at the Panda. I have to kick them out sometimes. Not because they are unruly, but I have to leave and they don't want to leave. But we always treat them well. We had a party for them the other night. We showed fight videos, grilled chicken, had popcorn and peanuts. They loved it. They kept us here about two hours after we planned on leaving. We wound up driving them home too.

Wimpy asked me all about my fights and wanted to know where I have been. I told him about the gym and I could tell a certain amount of disappointment. What could I do? I told Wimp that he would sit ringside at my next fights with his crew. They deserve that respect.

Earlier this evening I took two of the kids, Bruce and Derron down to City Hall for the Xmas party. Derron is the Captain of the boxing team. Coach Doveed went down too. I wanted to make sure eveyone knew of the AC. These are two of the better behaved and disciplined kids. I had them follow me around and I introduced them to a lot of people. We met with Chris, a boxer who is a City Marshall, Pam Ross, Brandyn Jones, DJ Wilson, Jim Shrewsbury, Dorothy Kirner, April Ford Griffin. Bruce, the younger of the two, went to go visit Santa. I found this a bit odd for I thought he might be a bit old for this. Doveed encouraged it. Bruce got some candy, which I figured he was aiming for. But then he told me he asked Santa for some boxing shoes. All the kids want shoes. Now I can't afford to get these kids shoes. The club is already bleeding me dry as it is. But I really want to get some of the better boxers some shoes. At least club shoes we can swap out with the kids as they compete. So Bruce is now convinced that he is going to get shoes, but he wants me to tell Santa he wears size four and a half. Great. I am not sure Bruce will be ready to box for the card on Jan 7, but he might be for he has been coming in extra and been working harder. Now he is under the impression someone owes him shoes. Okay, now how is the Santa that was sitting on the President's chair in the Aldermanic chambers supposed to deliver Bruce Johnson's size 4 1/2 boxing shoes. I talked to Doveed and I guess we will figure something out. If I didn't buy those tickets to the Rumble I could have bought the entire team a pair of boxing shoes. Respect. What a load. If anyone has kid's boxing shoes, send them my way please!

We continued over to the Mayor's office party. All of City Hall is quite beautiful. The chamber's feel so right, and then the Mayor's office is perfect. Just enough outdated feel to the furniture crossed the beautiful interior design. I saw Richard Callow outside the Mayor's office. I introduced the kids to him. Richard has his hand in just about everything in town. He pays attention, close attention to what is going on. He is a controversial guy and just about everyone has disagreed with him at one point or another, but he is always moving and supports others that do the same and I give him propers for that. I had Derron give Richard a flyer. He smiled and loved it. We chatted up the gym. We talked about a range of things. Fun. He then asked if we wanted to see the Mayor. I found this funny, for he doesn't work for City Hall or anything, but I guess he was arranging for people to visit with the Don Slay during the Christmas Party. Sure enough we were all allowed in to visit the man and Jeff Rainford. I know Jeff Rainford, Slay's top guy. The Mayor told us Cory Spinks had just left. He showed the kids some signed gloves and posters from Cory. They were really impressed. Francis told us that Cory is likely going to fight at the Keil(okay he said Saavis, but until they cut me in on the check I am honoring a dead mayor). I had heard rumors that Cory may be fighting on Feb 5, the night after my fights at the Keil. Apparently they are very close to closing the deal. That is huge. Francis said he would be fighting "Jab Zudah". I did correct him with "Zab Judah" and saying that would be a very hot fight. We spoke about several different things we were up to at the AC and a few other items unrelated to that. Francis pulled out a few pens to give to the boys, and us too. Nice gesture. The kids were a bit shy, but very respectful. I was very proud of them. We all shook hands properly and left. I think the kids enjoyed it. I know they were bummed they missed Cory Spinks. That is what they talked about most. Actually Coach Doveed kept talking about that. Funny.

I think things are going well. I just hope I can keep this thing going without being bled dry. It should start supporting itself soon. I got other projects I need to push.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

RIP La Bohemme

This is a travesty. Not like the real travesties in life, such as death, destruction and injustice, but still it is disappointing. My favorite cafe is closing.

La Bohemme down on Macklind at Holly Hills is closing at the end of the month. This is a very cool Bosnian cafe. It is much more Euro trash Italian than Bosnian. It has fantastic food, much more Italian with paninis, salads, espresso, liqueurs and the best atmosphere in town. The place brings a hip modern European cafe to the sleepy neighborhood of Holly Hills. Wrong neighborhood ahead of it's time.

Nermin owns the cafe. I started going in shortly after they opened about a year and a half ago. Nermin reminds me of a veteran club kid with a Bosnian accent. Hipster sneakers, fancy name brand jeans, a convertible Saab, vintage Mercedes and gelled hair. The restaurant had a futuristic look from 1974 crossed with American and European flair. There were nice wooden tables, beautiful space age bar stools, chrome sugar containers that looked like the lunar space landing craft, high end glassware, a raised set back row of booths, a dj set up, bottles of soda and euro drinks, excellent coffees and espressos with high end set up cups, a beautiful pressed tin ceiling, cloth napkins, beautiful presentation and just great original food. The food was very very different than every other Bosnian joint in town. Most Bosnian joints have an emphasis on meat and meat and bread and meat. But this was a multi layered European menu. Fresh mozzarella, basil, fresh made Caesar dressing, olive spread, proscuitto, and more. Oh, woe is me. Simple, clean. This place would have hit on all eight cylinders, or I guess I should say, all four Mercedes diesel cylinders, if it were located in the West Endy Trendy or Downtown Wash Ave scene or even the new West End aka South Grand.

I stopped in there to eat and an espresso. I was usually the only one there. Nermin and I would chat a bit. I advised him on his liquor license. Another friend Steve helped him put flyers together. He never was able to get a license that would allow him to serve after 10 which kind of defeats the purpose of having a license.

I would call my peeps and tell them to go. No luck. Too far south. Too busy. Too anything. The place was dynamite, but it didn't matter. Too far out of the way. Too cool. Too good.

The place is open till the end of the month. He usually opens at 5pm Mon-Sat so if you get a chance to go, go!!

Cuban Contraband

I keep eating these coffee beans to keep myself going. I have never really drank coffee, even when I sold coffee at Soulard a few years ago. I started drinking espresso about a year ago when I would stop in at a place called La Bohemme. But since they stopped serving lunch this fall I switched to eating the bean. Now I eat about six to ten beans a day. I started about four or so months ago. Sometimes I drink coffee, but usually I just eat beans. What a bad habit. Unfortunately I haven't been eating fair trade coffee beans like the ones I sold back at the market, but they are the ones I have gotten my hands on.

Eating all these coffee beans reminded me of a story. A couple years back I crashed City Hall to meet up with some peeps that work there. Just prior to going I stopped at the old Chocolate Bar. I noticed that they had many types of chocolate there. They had fair trade, organic and, yes, Cuban. Cuban chocolate. I don't know how they got it, but they were selling it. They said there was some sort of loophole that you can import small amounts of Cuban goods, but I am nearly certain that is false. But then again, that "Cuban" chocolate could really be coming from Ghana where they are likely using slave labor to harvest the beans.

So I bought a bag of this Cuban chocolate took to City Hall. At each office I would greet the secretary and tell them who I was there to meet. I then offered them some chocolate. I then gave Mayoral Aides, Alderman and assistants this chocolate. I offered it to them all the same sincere way. Their eyes would light up when they saw the fancy bag with this delicious dark chocolate. I told them it was "handmade chocolate from the new Chocolate Bar." Their eyes lit up even more. Then I looked to the left and to the right, and said with a somewhat hushed tone "They told me this is Cuban. I think that is illegal." Every single one would smile and take a few pieces of chocolate. "It is our secret." And we would laugh. Every time. That day I made lawbreakers out of City Hall.

Hey, Cuban chocolate is far more in the spirit of fair trade than most of the African chocolate. Funny how our foreign policy works. Castro is a jerk for jailing 75 people last year for political grounds. But 10,000 people are dying every month in genocide in Darfur and we only warn Sudan that we might impose oil sanctions. God bless the USA.

I think I will eat the Cuban chocolate. Castro is still a jerk though. It is time for him to go, but let us get to first things first.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Oh the deflated holiday season

Oh how I love to cruise the streets of Saint Louis. Everyone wants to show their sheer joy of the holidays by putting their best face out on their front lawn. And in the cold snap, the face gets all deflated. People are going out and buying these large blow up devices representing the various forms of Saint Nick purchased from the big boxes. Earlier in the week, all the lawns looked like cartoons. Today, all deflated. Beautiful. Ho ho ho!

Monday, December 13, 2004

Peace brother

Here is a press release and photo from some of the more meddlesome troublemakers in town. I have no idea who would deface such high art.

Public Art Spells a Message of Peace

St. Louis, Missouri - December 9, 2004

In a spontaneous outpouring of goodwill, a message of "Peace" was spelled out with magnetic ribbons on Richard Serra's steel "Twain" sculpture at 10th and Market in downtown St. Louis. Magnetic American flags also adorned the steel panels. Anonymous artists left the following printed statement at the site: "A message of PEACE for the holidays dedicated to U.S. soldiers overseas and peace-loving people everywhere."

The letters of the "Peace" message were created out of dozens of yellow, camouflage, and star-spangled magnetic ribbons which usually appear on the back of automobiles in support of U.S. troops. The artists' statement acknowledged the contributions of many persons in the guerilla art display: "A warm thank you to all the patrons whose anonymous ribbon contributions supplied us with materials for our public art display. We invite others to add their own ribbons to to enlarge the message of Peace."

The unknown artists also expressed their gratitude to Serra:"A special thanks to Richard Serra whose magnificent public art provided a venue for ours."

Monday, December 06, 2004

My big screen debut

My peep Sue Zielstra produced and shot this great lil' film in which I will make my human debut. My cars have been in a few films, now I am actually in a film.

Here is the press release. It is going to be on Thursday night the 16th. I think it will be a bit self indulgent, but it is hard to complain! It should be fun.
What do radio personality Sherri Danger, tattoo artist Heather O'Shaughnessy & Hoosierweight boxing promoter Steven Fitzpatrick Smith have in common? No, this isn't one of those a priest, a rabbi & a boxing promoter jokes, they're all featured in the new documentary "STRETCH: The St. Louis Arts & Entertainment Underground" along with singer/songwriter Mark Marshens Stephens, painter Wayne St. Wayne famous for his giant mural at Mangia Italiano, and many other local scenesters.

Thrill as boxers duke it out for the Hoosierweight title, laugh as Freddy Friction tells us the meaning of life, and cry when it's over, this is a film you shouldn't miss, either at the Premiere, or catch it on "Liquid Light" on HEC TV. Generously funded by a grant from the University City Committee for Access and Local Origination
Programming (CALOP) from a fund established by Charter Communications Inc., this program will PREMIERE Thursday December 16th at 10PM at Mad Art Gallery in Soulard after the Cine 16 Series showing of the "The Red Balloon".

Sunday, December 05, 2004


I had one of my more surreal experiences last night.

I hoofed it over to the Famous Bar to meet up with Chad Garrison. It was a good bracing walk, and I took the shortcut through the pedestrian walk between Macklind and Brannon, my favorite neighborhood pathway. Chad really wanted to go to La Onda. And I certainly had no objections, for they have the most delicious tacos out front and Chad said he was paying. Of course Chad didn't know that it cost 15 bucks for fellas to get in. So we bellied up to get some of the El Torito tacos. I ordered one steak and he ordered to el pastors, for he is allergic to beef. There is a list of about ten different meats available.

I asked the guy in the trailer what kind of meat Cesos was and he pointed to front of his head, with a bit of a chuckle.

"Brain?" I said as I pointed toward my temple.

"Si, cesos."

Uh. I looked back at the line of fellas eating tacos and pointed to my head and they smiled and laughed.

"Is good. Is good. Si."

"Um, okay."

I then asked about the next kind of meat. He then pointed to the back of his head, with another laugh. Another type of brain. I went down the list and had him point on his body what part of the animal it was. I knew what lengua was and I pointed to my tongue and everyone laughed. I asked to see the cesos and they served me up one. I just wanted to look at it, but they put a taco together. I wasn't hungry, nor was I hungry for cow brains. However, it was rude for me to hold it and not eat it. Now I don't want to get more disgusting and descriptive than I already have, but it looked like a fatty meat. The guys smiled as I looked at it quizzically. They motioned for me to eat it. I took a bite. It wasn't bad. Not at all. I wasn't hungry so I didn't finish it. Better than lengua and certainly better than raccoon. But not as good as the steak.

Chad had better bad Spanish than myself, so we started to chat up the fellas. We made fast friends, too fast of friends with this one fella, Rodrigo. Rodrigo wanted to buy our way in. I found this more than a bit suspicious, but we went along with it. The fella was drunk. I surveyed the situation. I knew the guy, sorta, at the taco stand. I buy groceries at his store El Torito. I asked him if the guy was okay. He nodded an affirmed yes. Granted the communication was a bit of a barrier. There were a lot of people going in and out of the club, and I saw two STL police at the door and many goonish American born bouncers. That didn't put me more at ease, but I at least knew that I could communicate with someone in the place.

The guy was friendly. Very machismo and talking a lot in Spanish. I figure at best he was just being a friendly drunk guy making friends in this new country, at worst trying to rush me and at weirdest trying to pick me up. Any of these scenarios I would certainly be able to handle just fine, besides, Chad was running with me and we could play off each other to get out of a jam or awkward situation.

And the situation took the direction of weird awkward. Hey, weird is interesting. I noticed the clampdown security at the door with the goons sweeping in and out of the crowd. The crowd itself was very country. They were dancing, not really salsa, but more country dancing. They would stand a bit apart, almost square dancing. The men all wore big cowboy hats, jeans, nice button down shirts and big belt buckles. It was very quaint. There was a lot of strutting around. There were Mexican women dressed nicely, but there were a crew of, to be candid, rough looking large hooched out southside born and bred hoosier chics. They looked like out of work hookers. They were having fun and were generally harmless, but were obnoxious. Really obnoxious. The men seemed to find these women amusing, but didn't really pay that much attention to them. These women were doing everything they could to get attention. Then they started to mouth off at us, sort of befriending us but trying to mack on us. We sort of ignored them, and I noticed a lot of the guys were kind of laughing at them.

The bar was littered with spent limes and spilt beer. We bought the guy Rodrigo and his friends some beers. Now his buddies were pretty much cool, and we spoke in broken English and Spanish trying to talk. One of the fellas was from Honduras. We spoke a bit for his English was a bit better.

Now it was getting a bit weird for the drunk Rodrigo kept putting his arms around us, especially me. Now this was sort of a camaraderie situation, but it was going toward kind of a queer sort of direction. I shook hands with his friends and he put his arms around everyone's shoulders, but it kept slipping down towards my waist. I kept walking around to try to politely get away from him. It would work. For a while. I really just wanted to check out the scene, but now I was obligated to talk to him and his buds. It never got really really weird, but enough to make it uncomfortable for sure.

But this is when it went another direction. One of the towering American goons grabbed some little guy and was booting him out of the place. No big deal, but enough of a scuffle to cause a look. Funny, for I had a conversation earlier in the evening with Sandy over at Sandrina's about how to kick someone out. Lets say this was not the best method. Then they started kicking out another guy. It reminded me of a few different places methods. Pop's. Brooklyn east side clubs. The old Galaxy crew of goons. B&D. Mississippi Nights back in the day. Not good. We used to use a method of throwing out people at the Side Door which would lead to a minimum disturbance and risk of injury. It was nearly always verbal, sometimes it would be physical, but always with a strategy. Quick, quiet, out and done. And we would get the same crowds that would go to the other joints. We established the order.

This second guy who was being tossed out, got literally tossed against the wall. He wasn't obviously resisting, but he got bounced off the wall. It was hard to tell from my angle, but I believe he got kicked. More than once.

This was my cue that it was time to plan an exit strategy. I could care less about this weird Mexican guy hitting on me at this point. I had maybe two or three drinks the whole night, so I was sober. Chad gave me a look of concern. I told him to wait before we rush out. I wanted to make sure the exit would be clean. Then I noticed one of the door guys had his shirt above his face. At first I thought he was being funny, but then I caught a whiff. Someone sprayed pepper spray. Probably the bouncer. They use this as a technique to take down someone unruly. The only thing is that this is dangerous when you are in a populated enclosed area. And this was one of those situations. The club was packed. I started to think of what happened in Chicago. At this point Chad told me he wanted to go. I wanted to leave too, but I told him to sit tight and to wait for a good moment and not to rush. The pepper spray was affecting most of the front part of the club near the entrance. The entrance was a narrow hallway, which made it more difficult. I knew if we played it cool we would be safer, besides I wanted to see what else would unfold inside. I scanned the place for the other exits, for if it got ugly I needed a backup plan. People were relatively calm, which was good. We were lucky. But there was a rush to the door. I nodded to Chad and we made a calm line to the door and exited. No goodbyes, just a departure.

We were outside and in the clear. Around us were people gasping for fresh air. People were vomiting. Throwing water in their face. This was ugly.

This is where we have problems which we can address, but will likely do it in the wrong way. We need a club like La Onda. In fact we need more of them. We have a lot of Mexicans in this city and we should have plenty of social outlets for the diversity of people in our city.

But bars really can't be owned by Mexicans- non US citizens- by law. If a place has a liquor license, they need to have a citizen on the board of officers. This means US citizens get payoffs to sign off and be on the board. Often they do nothing for a payoff. Sometimes it works out okay. But sometimes it does not. This brings in people who really just want to make money. They are not working there for fun and to make money. They are there to make money only. They have less concern for the patrons. There is not as much of a connection between the employees and the customers. There is not as much of a concern for their welfare. These problems are universal, but they are particularly acute in too many of these types of situations where immigrants are restricted from true ownership and management.

I still will go back to La Onda. I didn't mind the weird, funny, awkward but I didn't dig the dangerous. I am more likely to stick to the steak tacos and I will probably not let anyone buy my way in. I might go in again, but if I do go I am going to try to go early. I am also going to try to talk to the door and management. I want to figure out what is going on.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Getting my fix in the alley

What a progressive city we live in. I went out to the alley to get my wi-fi fix.

This will bring in all those much desired tekkies from all over the world. We are just at the beginning of the wave. There will be a sucking sound in Silicon Valley, Austin and New York. I can see it now, dot comers crouched over by the dumpster tapping away at their laptops surfing the net, exchanging important information and bringing the salvation to our streets with the mere presence of such welcome interlopers. The fix is as easy as hitting the street.

I discovered the ease of my wi-fi fix on the street from my man Andy. He hits the streets all the time and needs it for his work. He was telling me of all the places in town where I can get the hookup. Then I got my own machine a while back so I could get the fix. I first got it down in public on Cherokee at my favorite taqueria, El Bronco. I did not even have to leave my favorite eatery for my fix. Easy easy easy.

So I switched my DSL and phone over to the Panda to save money. I have not exactly been raking in the cash, so I really have to watch the expenses. Dollar thirty tacos, resoled shoes, second hand clothes, old cheap cars are all thrifty and now somehow cool. I certainly do not mind this brand of economy lifestyle. My DSL was hooked on for a month after my phone was turned off. I was hoping it was going to be one of those services they forget to switch off. But alas it was not. But I had weak signals hitting my house from the neighborhood. Friends like me, keep unsecured networks as a gracious service offered to the neighborhood. Kind of like when Ralph told me I could borrow his lawn mower. So I kept getting an intermittent signal in the house so I have been walking around in the fresh air to get a better signal. Sure enough out by the garage I can get the signal enough to download my email. For free. What a great city we live in.

More to come on relatives with ankle bracelets, the much interested produce haters, new car fun and more.