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Better Than Starbucks! We Are Live!

we are live oct 2017October 2017 Vol. II No. X Not your ordinary poetry magazine!

General Poetry with Suzanne Robinson
​Rebecca Villineau, Zion Lights, Jill Sharon Kimmelman​, Rob Spina, Ken Hay, Jon Nakapalau

Haiku with Kevin McLaughlin
​John Blofeld, Vera Ignatowitsch, Joseph Davidson, Angie Davidson, Oliver Plunkett, Jennifer Smith, Honorah Murphy, Mary K. Gowdy, Richard Mortenson, Hideki Bankei

Formal & Rhyming Poetry with Vera Ignatowitsch
​​Michael R. Burch, DE Navarro, John Beaton, Anna M. Evans, Chris O’Carroll, Jared Carter, Robin Helweg-Larsen, Rita Dubman

Translations with S. Ye Laird
International Poetry with Rameeza Nasim, and Tendai Rinos Mwanaka
Constance van Niekerk, Beula Kapp, Rashmi Kulal, YESHWANT. S Veerangana, Hira Naz, Monicah Nairesiae Masikonte, Mikateko E. Mbambo

Sentimental Poetry with Anthony Watkins
​Jan Oscar Hansen, Jonel Abellanosa

ModPo & Experimental Poetry with Anthony Watkins

Ken Grace

Featured Poem Richard Atwood

Better than Starbucks, The Interview Anna M. Evans (with Vera Ignatowitsch)

Fiction by Jonathan Ferrini

Better than Fiction by Alan Balter

From the Mad Mind of Anthony Watkins

 

This is the first issue where Vera Ignatowitsch has taken over as Managing Editor, and I have to say, it is my favorite issue, so far!

Congrats to Vera Ignatowitsch, and our entire team!

The team consists of Vera Ignatowitsch, Kevin McLaughlin, S Ye Laird, Suzanne Watkins,
TauRian Meeza, Tendai Rinos Mwanaka, as well as whatever I contribute (mostly typos and small embarrassments, I’m sure)

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My Team, Whose Team, What Team?

When I was growing up in Alabama in the late 1960s, there were three things in my life that rivaled my love for my family, God, Richard Nixon and Auburn Football. I eventually realized Nixon was a crook, that God was a fairytale, but I still cling to Auburn football, not as vigorously as the preteen version of me did.

Somewhere, and I am not sure but what it might have been Billy and Blaze, Black Beauty or maybe even Dick Francis novels, but I fell in love with the Kentucky Derby. Oddly, I do not really care for jocks, too many of them are jerks. The same goes double for thoroughbred horse people. And though I have fantasized about drink mint julips and hanging out with the ladies in big hats in the grandstands, I don’t I would really enjoy myself at Churchill Downs.

I know I can barely watch an Auburn game on TV, and the few games I attended they always lost, so I wont go anymore, plus, I have come to be as fond of my fellow Auburn fans as I am of the superrich ranks of horse people. Not all Auburn fans, but too much of Auburn is a super white culture that creeps me out, even as we have a line of great African American football players.

Even if there weren’t these deep class and cultural issues that divide me from much of these two groups/events (the Derby and Auburn football), the bigger issue is, why do I care what a handful of very small people who make their living riding big, dumb, but beautiful, fast animals, the owners and trainers of the same beasts, or what a bunch of 18-23 year-olds do on a lined field on a Saturday afternoon? These are not my people, what happens to them, good or bad, has NO impact on my life!

Yet the fact remains, I will yell at a coach and cheer for a great play and be nearly sick if Bama beats “us.” I still get goose bumps when they play My Old Kentucky Home, while I try not to think about whether the lyrics are problematic or not.

Why is this?

Saved by Lil’ Ray’s

In 1976, I began to drive a truck for my father’s greenhouses, we delivered low cost hanging baskets to Kmart, WalMart, and TG&Y stores, and a few other places all over AL, GA and MS, and the panhandle of Florida. In 1978, I started driving a truck load of plants to the TG&Y garden centers along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I discovered that I could buy fresh shrimp out of the belly of the shrimp boats docked along the cost for very low cost, and they tasted amazing, as they were fresh caught. The first couple of times I came home about 1 am and boiled up a batch of shrimp, my mother said she could not wake up to breakfast in a house that smelled like boiled shrimp (I was 19 and living at home, still), so she and dad agreed to pay for my seafood meals every time I went to the coast. I liked this arrangement, but I am nothing if not tight with a dollar. The next time I went on my 24-hour Thursday run (yes, I know 24 hours is crazy, but I was 19), I asked at the TG&Y in Waveland, MS where I might find a really good shrimp po boy. They pointed me to a nearby place called Lil’ Ray’s. it looked like a 1950’s Gulf diner, and I guess that is what it was. I sat at the bar and talked to Ray about the great life it must be to have a shrimp boat tied up behind the restaurant and a dandy little place like this to sell his catch. He didn’t roll his eyes, but knowing what I know now, having nearly drowned in my own shrimp boat a few years later, and just the second-hand knowledge of friends and family in the restaurant business, but I’m sure he thought, “I am taking this idiots money, so I won’t say anything.”

Anyway, whatever he thought, he made great softshell crab sandwiches, and told how you get softshell crabs. Rock on 20 something years, Katrina scraped the Mississippi coast like a giant with a putty knife. Lil Ray’s was no more. I was sad, but given all the losses, not having a restaurant that I only visited once per decade on my way to New Orleans was a small loss. But after 3 really bad, terrible, horrible meals, I was very glad to see they had reopened in a new location, and would be open today for lunch.

So we drove the 20 minutes to the Courthouse Rd strip mall. The inside was reassuringly like the old place, and so was the food. S had an oyster po boy and I had my softshell crab sandwich. Both were delicious, just as I remembered. The prices had doubled from 1998, but then, so has everything else. S’s was 12.95 and mine was 10.95, with a dt coke and an unsweet tea (I know, native Mississippians aren’t supposed to drink tea without sugar, but I have never liked sweet tea) , and tip, we spent $35. Worth it, too.

Botched Barbecue in Biloxi

rib breakfast

There are many things I know little about. I rarely let that stop me from having an opinion on the matter, and often a strongly held one, and occasionally, even, a wrong one.

But food, as a consumer, I actually know a lot about. I may even be considered a bit of an expert. (at least by me)

I have never run a restaurant, but I have some advice for anyone thinking of opening one. First, unless you are passionate about serving really good food, please do not bother. We already have McDonalds and the olive garden and they serve perfectly acceptable edible food at affordable prices and they are reliably the same, so very trustworthy. To open a shop, of any sort, but especially food, one must reach a threshold of value that rises above Walmart and McDonalds and home depot.

2nd, if you can’t master it, don’t serve it. Possible the best hamburgers in the world are at a place in Pensacola Florida called Blue Dot. They serve two things burgers and ribs, not sides, no chicken, no nothing, no cheese. Single burger, double burger, and burger with BBQ sauce, cash only, buy it or go away. For 50 years, they have done this, and they ALWAYS sell out, in fact, when they sell out, they go home. Their 5.50 burger is so popular, they now only do ribs on Saturdays. I think you can get canned soda and a bag of chips, but they are in the burger business, and they never serve any burger that is not memorable, never. I mean never.

This is not a post about Blue Dot. This is a post about the Barbecue in Biloxi, MS. Biloxi is a great place for po boys and even some upscale seafood places and the best soft shell crab sandwiches are at a place called Lil’ Ray’s which used to back up to a dock on the Gulf until Katrina rearranged the skyline, so now they are at 500 Courthouse Rd in Biloxi, and worth the drive.

But this isn’t about Lil’ Ray’s either.

My youngest son came out as gay about 2 years ago, and as such has begun to learn a bit about the history of the struggle for equality in this country, including, of course Stonewall. Well, near our hotel is a place called Stonewall’s BBQ. We all love BBQ, especially Sonny’s, which has mastered the art I started with. Unfortunately, the nearest Sonny’s is over an hour away in Mobile, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get some authentic deep south BBQ. I warned my son that Stonewall, in southern Mississippi, might not mean what he thought it meant. He looked quizzical. “Stonewall Jackson.” I explained. He was pretty grossed out by the thought. So I went on line and looked at their webpage, while it certainly didn’t have any rainbows on it, it didn’t have rebel flags either. I called and asked where the name came from. The young lady who answered the phone giggled and replied that she had no idea.

While I was at it, I googled BBQ and found a place called Pleasants BBQ. The photo looked a little more “authentic” so I called to make sure they were open. A gentleman answered in a distinctly southern African American voice and assured me they were. So I gave the family the option of picking either, and gave them the thumbnail of what I had discovered. I leaned towards Pleasants because of a bias I have towards black folks over white folks in southern cooking. (maybe that’s a form of racism, if it is, I apologize, but in my experience, black folks tended to do the cooking when good southern food was served, both of my grandmother’s excepted, of course). Anyway, they family voted for Stonewalls, so off we went. When we got out of the car, the wood smoke smell was SO GOOD, you knew we had made the right choice. Of course, when we went inside and the young lady was wearing a Bama hat, I had misgivings. We ordered what we usually order, or as close as we could get, they had no fries, so S got a ¼ chicken with cheesy potato casserole, I got a pulled pork sandwich and baked beans, C got a ½ rack of ribs.

My sandwich was good. The cheesy casserole was actually kinda nasty, the baked beans were disappointing. C ate ½ of his ½, S ate one piece of chicken. They both looked as sad as I felt. I suggested as it was still pretty early we should drive over to Pleasants and see if we could not yet salvage the dinner.

The gentleman greeted us at the door, was very friendly and we chatted about the hurricane (MS has been overrun by us FL people, but so far, the locals aren’t hating us too much, yet), we basically reordered the same meals as we had ordered at Stonewalls (BTW, the super pulled pork WAS named the Robert E Lee, so maybe it was for Stonewall Jackson. Because of the name, I ordered the regular instead of the large).

“Mr. Pleasant” served us our meals, S couldn’t finish one piece of chicken, C ate ½ of a rib sandwich, I ate my pulled pork sandwich, and picked at the baked beans. S has fried instead of cheesy disaster food, but they were extremely ordinary. C and I preferred the ribs and pulled pork to Stonewalls, but S thought the chicken was much worse. We brought the leftover ribs home and that is what I had for breakfast.

If you are a BBQ place, and you can’t or don’t want to make good sides, DON’T!!!! if either place sold, pulled pork and rib sandwiches, I am sure I would have been writing rave reviews. If you can’t make amazing bread (or source it from a great local baker), with the except for basic white bread or hamburger buns, if you can’t do beans, maybe you shouldn’t open your BBQ place, but if you can’t do beans, and you really want to do BBQ, leave the beans off, same for fries and cheesy stuff and everything else.

If you care enough to get a good recipe, and go to the local market and get fresh ingredients, to learn how to cook and/or train your cooks to consistently make the dish, you can charge a very good price for whatever you cook and people will build a line out your door. I would rather pay 10 dollars for the best burger/sandwich/taco, whatever than $5 for a disappointment. The funny thing is the really good food I have eaten, unless it was in a gourmet, sit down fancy environment is rarely 20% more expensive than crappy versions of the same food.

So, sad to say, there may be some good barbecue in Biloxi, but we did not find any to write home about, and the sides were truly sad.

People, if you have an item that costs you 15 cents to buy and 50 cents to prepare and you sell it for $2, get it right. Or just go to Sonny’s, if you live close to one.

 

 

The Road to Micanopy

 

I was sitting on my porch, my fingers clicking away, the I-pod my son gave me playing Little Betty by Otis Taylor and I felt my cell phone vibrate in my shirt pocket. I fumbled with the tiny controls and shut off Otis, removed the little ear plugs, dug in my pocket and just missed the call. It was a central Florida area code, but not a number I knew. I hit redial.
“Hello?” a tentative female voice answered.
“Sorry, I think I just missed your call,” I said, identified myself and ask if I could be of service.
“I was told you aren’t a regular lawyer. I mean you are different aren’t you?” she said, “My name is Francine Jackson. I live in Micanopy. You live in Salt Springs? Do you work this far over?”
“Actually, I’m not a regular anything; I don’t really practice law in Florida. I teach at U of Florida in Gainesville. What were you hoping I might help you with?” I asked.
“I think I need a lawyer, but I don’t have any money. I mean, I did have money, a little money, but that’s the problem. I had to spend it and now I can’t buy my medications.” Francine said. She sounded near tears.

“Tell me more,” I said, “What happened to your money? Maybe I can help,”

And I probably would help. This is what I do now from my home in the middle of nowhere.  It is not what I have always done. I sit on my screened porch overlooking the little clean boat channel, neatly framed by the seawall, listening to what I know will be a sad and utterly true story of an injustice done.

I live on Highway Three-sixteen, just a mile or so before it dead ends at Salt Springs, about two miles west of the end of the road on 238th Ave. As “big city” as that sounds, 238th Ave. is a dirt road. Starting at US 441 in Marion County, Florida,
the little sandy roads running off of the hard roads are numbered in increasing
order. Some roads go only a block or two and stop.

My road wanders south for exactly two miles. It crosses through sand scrub, over salt marshes, and twists and turns through an almost perfect tunnel of trees for over a mile, then it makes a bee-line south, alongside a row of power poles and dead ends into a dusty horseshoe around a deep channel canal feeding into to Lake Kerr.

There are forty-three homes here: nice suburban ranch-style houses, coastal platform cottages, rusting single-wide trailers and several well scrubbed double-wides nestled along the banks of the water. Most have boat docks. All have screened-in porches.

A few years ago my parents bought a nice double-wide here. My
father added a long screened-in porch and a boat dock. My mother bought dozens of plaster birds for the porch and one black iron rooster wind vane. My father built a roof over the dock and attached it there. It still stands there with little twists of Spanish moss and air orchids hanging from the “s” of the directional bar below, the rooster shifts slightly in the breeze as the wind changes from south to southeast.

The rooster has faded beige white, though the rest remains black. I inherited the “cabin” a couple of years ago. My law degree from the University of Alabama didn’t exactly turn out the way I had hoped. I expected spend my days like Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. It seems that most law degrees now are in the service of big corporate law firms. These firms specialize in shuffling paper for billable hours.
After a decade of filings and shufflings, I packed it all in, including the fancy car and fancy the ex-wife. The car, the wife, and the pricey place in the hills on the
south side of Birmingham all left together.
I got on as an adjunct professor at the University of Florida. With my folks place free and clear and a ten year-old Ford pickup, I do okay. I still do. I don’t expect tenure, but I keep busy with three or four classes teaching Applied Law, that is to say, law for non-law students.
I have a few hobbies. I feed the fish from the boat dock and they feed me. Once a week, I throw a hook in instead of food of very edible fish. My cousin says this isn’t fishing, it is eating your pet fish. The way I see it, the fish are free to leave and I don’t mind the arrangement.
There is the upkeep on a twenty year old trailer: fuses go bad, plastic pipes spring leaks. I feed the squirrels, and don’t even eat them. I warm the fifth pew from the back on Sunday morning at the Community Christian church. It all takes time, too. I go to church about once a month and I go to church socials, especially the suppers. I get to eat good potato salad and fried chicken made by talented country housewives. I occasionally get a jar of honey, or figs or plum jelly.  My ex would laugh at them. She used our oven as storage space.
There is a price for this, not only the sermons but to town folk who are try not to think new thoughts and never ask deep questions. My currency is free simple legal advice. My neighbors trade in knowledge of how to fix a pump or reinforce a seawall,
they will come over and fix mine. They will bring the tools they need. I don’t charge for the legal, and they would never think of charging me. In further defense of the town folk, the crowd in Birmingham and Gainesville mostly think trendy new thoughts and ask the socially approved deep questions.

I have one other hobby. I run a low-key, low-profile justice program. Maybe you’ve heard of the Innocence Project. They convinced the former governor of Illinois to stop the execution of state prisoners and commute their sentences. That is not what we do.

I give extra credit to my students and we seek justice on a smaller scale. We offer help to poor people who have been wronged by the system. Usually people who have been cheated in debt collection or mortgage or personal property issues. Boring stuff, but helpful. We are David to the Goliaths.

Sometimes I bump into someone at church or the hardware store that has suffered injury and found all avenues of redress closed. If the situation is of a private or of an embarrassing nature, or the odds too great, I will handle the case alone.
I wondered if I’d have to ride solo for Mrs. Francine Jackson. She seemed to calm down a bit when she realized I might take an interest in her plight and told me a common story.

While most folks know of Hurricane Katrina; of Andrew and maybe even Camille and Betsy, for central Florida the double whammy of Frances and Jeanne created havoc. Mrs. Jackson lived in a mobile home in Micanopy. The two storms mostly missed Micanopy, but the winds were still enough to rip the metal sheeting from the top of her strapped down trailer.
The FEMA guys came and tacked down a blue tarp and a few weeks later a charming young man came by and gave her a quote to repair her roof. Citizens, the state run insurance company, was her insurer. They approved the quote to repair the roof and sent the check out.

The charming young man, Willard “Bill” Wade, took the check, which the grateful Mrs. Jackson happily endorsed for him. He removed the tarp and poked around a bit on the top of her trailer. Promising her that he would return the next day, Bill left in his pickup which bore a nice red sign the read “Wade Roofing, we can fix it quick!”
Bill did not return the next day, but he did deposit the check before noon the first day. Mrs. Jackson left a series of polite, then desperate, then angry messages on his phone.
Eventually, she hired both an attorney and a new roofer. The roof was fixed to the tune of $6000, and the attorney charged her $2500 to tell her that Wade Roofing ceased to exist, though Mr. Wade was happily running a new firm under the name of Willard Roofing. Due to Florida’s laws, she could not touch him. All the assets of Wade Roofing had been liquidated and she and a few hundred other people were just out the thousands they had paid.
We made a date for me to come over the following day and meet with her. I left my snug little cottage on the outskirts of Salt Springs and drove west on Highway 316. With a couple of twists and turns, 316 ends at US 441. I drove north to the turn off to Micanopy.
Most people think the road to Micanopy is Interstate 75. And they think Micanopy is one of two things It is a town of gentlemen horse farms with  ”devil’s lanes” marked off with freshly painted white wood fences and steepled stables with prancing stallion weather vanes. It is also is known for its “all nude” truckers buffet.

From Salt Springs, there is the real town; the road to Micanopy is an almost straight two lane of asphalt covered by overhanging branches, Spanish moss hangs without discrimination on oak and pine alike. The road is bordered by working horse farms behind pressure treated black plank fencing. The black fence is lower cost and lower maintenance and keeps the horses just as safely penned in as the rich man’s white fence showplace. Working people live in the small houses and scattered mobile homes on lots developed when this was a rural outpost from Gainesville.

Mrs. Jackson and her late husband bought a mobile home and a small lot in a abandoned pecan orchard over twenty years ago. She could probably sell the plot for a good profit, but it is home. Like so many seniors in Florida, she is house poor. With no income other than social security, she can’t borrow against her place with any realistic expectation of being able to repay the loan.…
Mrs. Jackson had spent every penny of her savings and had to borrow $5000. Now she could not pay for the medications which helped which her immune disorder. The symptoms were painful shingle like blotches and caused her joints to stiffen to an almost crippling immobility.

After our visit, I contacted the fraud investigative unit of the local Sheriff’s department. I found out about Willard’s history through the few arrests local departments made. One of the early ones, an officer asked him about his penchant for polyester and he gave a short history.

Mr. Wade grew up in the delta region of Mississippi. He worked in a cotton gin as a teenager, and drove cotton wagons to market when he was old enough. As a result, he developed an unusual but not unheard of allergy to cotton. Consequently, even when he was atop one of his victim’s roof, he wore nothing but polyester.
Willard learned construction working as a helper on a few industrial sites in Memphis. He learned the scam business shortly after he came to Florida, chasing a job with a large construction company. He had worked on their projects in the delta, but when he was laid off there, he followed a rumor to Orlando. It was just a rumor of a job. He did find work with one of the many companies a local man, Jerome Brown, had started, scammed money and then closed.
Willard was no dummy. He was making straight wages from a guy who was stealing a fortune. When the man closed a company and failed to pay him his last check, Willard went into competition. He started at a lower price and promised a quicker time to be finished. Soon he was so smooth, he got a premium and even learned to tell folks he had to wait on materials so they waited contentedly for a couple of weeks. This gave him more time to cash checks and close operations.
Soon Orlando got too hot for him. The local police and code enforcement had him on a watch list. Local TV news did features on him, so he took his cash and followed hurricanes and tornadoes around the South.
His method was to move in right after a disaster promise repairs as soon as materials arrived, take a nice 50% cash down payment. And leave town a few hours before the fraud squad showed up. By the time the twin hurricanes roared across Florida, he had a laptop, professional estimating software, brown leather wingtips, and $800 custom made shiny suits. He looked like a cross between a big city attorney and a used car salesman. But he had charm, and believability. People like Mrs. Jackson thought he was the cavalry; they lined up to hand their money.
Sadly, Florida’s history is full of scam artists like Willard Wade. There is no recourse under the law. Fortunately, I have never felt that justice needed to be confined to the courtroom. I knew Mrs. Jackson would never get her money back, but I thought I might know a way to handle Mr. Wade.

I had coffee with a friend who worked in the Ag department at the University. He was the leading expert on cotton in Florida. I told him I wanted to run some experiments and wondered if he could get me a few cotton bolls. I took my little bag of cotton home.

I looked up everything else I could find about cotton allergy in the web. Turns out that okra, hollyhock and hibiscus are all closely related to cotton. Cotton allergy was not so much an allergy to cotton as to cotton seed dust. I decided to press the seeds to remove as much of then oil as possible. The cotton I threw away.
Once a person develops the allergen, usually from exposure to air borne particles, even a mild exposure to cotton seed dust, such as the tiny particles that get mixed into the cotton boll fiber in cotton cloth, or especially ingest orally or through the nose, a reaction would occur. Mild symptoms were usually itchy rash and head aches. More serious reactions included swelling of the joints and even a swelling of the soft tissues in the throat that could restrict breathing. While rarely fatal, the pain and terror of the more severe symptoms meant a cotton allergy was a condition that required constant alertness on the part of the sufferer.
I went to the local garden center and bought a few hibiscus and holly hocks. I planted them right outside the screen along my porch.
I explained my plan to Mrs. Jackson and she was delighted. I asked her if she could fry a respectable chicken, she assured me that she had been frying chicken for fifty years, and not counting her husband who had passed away a couple of years before the storms, from a massive heart attack, nobody had died from eating her cooking.
I called Willard’s number on the card he had given her. I gambled that he wouldn’t bother getting a new cell phone every time he shut down a business. I was right. I left a message.
Two days later, I got a call from a very interested and charming Willard Wade.
“Is this the attorney who has a business proposition for me?” he asked.
“It is,” I answered.
“What I want to discuss with you is a sensitive matter. It could make us both lots of money, but I don’t care to discuss it by phone,” I continued.
“Understood,” he said. We agreed to meet for dinner at my cottage the following Friday evening. I gave him directions and asked if he liked fried chicken. He said he loved it and was looking forward to our meeting.
Mrs. Jackson was nervous that he would recognize her, but I assured her that she was a faceless face among hundreds, maybe thousands he had scammed along the way. Mrs. Jackson did a little grocery shopping. She bought a whole chicken and a bag of fresh raw okra.
I clipped a few blooms from the hibiscus plants and made a center piece for the table on the porch. A few minutes before eight pm I heard the crunch of gravel. Willard eased his expensive four wheel drive pickup into my drive. In his unmistakable well cut polyester suit, I knew it was him.
“Mr. Wade, I presume?” I said, jovially.
“Yes,” he replied.
“I suppose I’m at the right house,” he added.
“That you are. That you are!” I said.
We went in and I introduced him to Mrs. Jackson, as my housekeeper. He didn’t seem to notice that she was a woman he had taken for a few grand, nor did he seem to think it odd that a country attorney would have a housekeeper who stayed late on a Friday to make dinner. He looked nervously at my late mother’s upholstered furniture. I knew he was trying to calculate whether it was old enough to be cotton instead of polyester.
“Let’s have a drink on the porch,” I suggested. He looked relieved. I turned to Mrs. Jackson and suggested we have dinner outside, as well. Willard was visibly relieved as we settled into the plastic woven lawn chairs.
“Whiskey?” I asked.
“Sure, but tell me about this business proposition. I didn’t drive halfway into the wilderness to have a drink and some chicken,” Wade said, impatiently.
For a minute, we danced the dance of two crooks, not wanting to admit what the other already presumed. Finally I told him of my scam.
“Look, I have a deal worked out with the State of Florida. We are gonna build fourteen hundred affordable housing units. The bid is too low to make a profit, but the draw structure is set up so we get ten grand per unit when we break ground. That’s fourteen million dollars. That’s the only time the project will be profitable,” I explained.
“You want me to help you scam the State of Florida? You never told me. How did you get my name?” Willard asked, as he took a strong draw on the whiskey.
“Jerome Brown. He was gonna do it, but he’s got unrelated charges hanging over him. He’s a no-go,” I said.
“Jerome? That snake? I’m surprised,” he said, smiling.
“If you are interested, come by my office at the University of Florida next Wednesday, Applied Law, we can go over the details there. Now let’s eat some chicken!” I said.
Mrs. Jackson gave me a wink as she brought the bowl of fried okra and platter of fried chicken out of the kitchen.
“Old family recipe, she said.
As we squared away to eat, she headed back towards the kitchen.
“I’ll start cleaning up in there while y’all eat,” she said.
Willard never slowed down; he ate three pieces of chicken and had seconds on the okra.
“What is this side?” he asked.
“Oh, I don’t know, Mrs. Jackson just cooks up something special every time I have anybody over. Sure is good though,” I added.
Willard pushed back from the table. I noticed his face was getting a little red and I thought I noticed his neck looked swollen.
“Man, that was good, but I don’t feel so good. I must have gotten into something on a job site today,” he said.
“You don’t look so good. You sure you can drive?” I asked, truly concerned. I didn’t care if he lived or died, but I didn’t want to have him die on my porch.
“I’m good,” he wheezed.
“But I better be getting back. I’ll see you Wednesday up in Gainesville,” he added, beginning to scratch his arm.
I walked him to the door and thanked him for coming.
“See you Wednesday,” I said as he backed out of the drive.
Mrs. Jackson came out as his taillights disappeared up the dark road.
“Do you think it worked?” she asked, hobbling over to her old sedan.
“Sure, he was looking pretty bad, had trouble breathing, and was beginning to scratch,” I said.
“Serves the bastard right!” she smiled.
Wednesday Willard never called or came by. About four in the afternoon I called his cell phone.
“Man, I been in the hospital. I still am. I got a cotton allergy and something really got me. I nearly died after I got home from your place. I couldn’t breathe. I could hardly walk,” he said.
“That’s too bad,” I said.
“Oh, by the way, the housing deal looks like it is going to fall through,” I added.
“I hate to hear that. I was really looking forward to getting a big score,” his voice sagged.
“Well, it may turn around. I’ll let you know. Anyway, you’ll have to come back out for dinner sometime. Mrs. Jackson can fry about anything. Maybe we can catch a few fish and let her fix those,” I suggested.
“I’d like that. Her cooking was about the only thing good that’s happened to me this week,” Willard said.
“Funny, Mrs. Jackson said she had been looking forward to cooking for you for months,” I said.
“Huh?” Willard replied.

“Yeah, she said she had been waiting to cook you up something special, ever since you took a few thousand dollars from her and forgot to fix her roof. I think she used an old family recipe, cotton seed meal mixed with the flour, yummy, huh?” I asked.

 

“Are you crazy?” Willard yelled.

 

“You two nearly killed me!” He was suddenly enraged.

 

“Well, justice can’t always be perfect. Maybe next time. She said she likes to cook for a man who knows how to eat,” I said, and rang off.
I picked up the phone again. Mrs. Jackson answered on the second ring.

 

“Hello?”

“Your cottonseed meal fried chicken was a real hit!” I said.

 

“Oh?” she asked.

 

“Yeah, our friend nearly died Friday night. He’s still in the hospital, but he said he sure would like some more of your good cooking,” I said.

 

“Anytime,” she said.

“Oh, I doubt he’s coming back for seconds,” I said.

 

“No?” she asked.

“I thought it might get his attention, if he found out what nearly did him in,” I said, laughing.
“But what if he tries to get even?” she sounded worried.
“He doesn’t know where you live, I mean he does, but he hardly keeps records of his victims, and there were a lot of folks he scammed on the road to Micanopy,” I assured her.

“But what about you? I bet he knows where you live,” said a concerned Mrs. Jackson.

“I’m not worried. Most scam artists want easy money and no trouble. He will stay as far away from me as possible,” I said.

And he did.

A Select Passage from the Gospel of Luke, New Antonian Version

And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus replied, “What is written in the law? how readest thou?”

The lawyer answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.”

Jesus said, “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.”

But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”

And Jesus answering with the following story:

A certain man went down from New Orleans to Houston, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.

And by chance there came down a certain Baptist preacher that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

And likewise, a successful businessman, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

But a certain Muslim, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,

And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

And on the morrow when he departed, he took out $1000, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.

Then Jesus asked, “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?”

The lawyer replied, “He that shewed mercy on him.”

Then said Jesus unto him, “Go, and do thou likewise.”

Black People are Too Much!

Growing up in the desegregating south of the 1960s and 1970s, I pretty much heard the worst of the bad stuff coming out of the mouths of white people. Some of it I believed, some of it I ignored, and most of it I rebelled against. Somehow, a white kid who shook both the hands of George Wallace and Jerry Falwell, I grew up believing Martin Luther King was a great man and both of those guys were bad people.

Even though, in their old age, my parents spent a lot of time watching Fox News and believing too many lies about President Obama and Secretary Clinton, when I was a child, they taught me, in their different ways, to not be like so many of my cohorts. Mama was a big fan of Dr. King, and Dad, who wasn’t exactly for equality, still felt that Wallace was wrong about almost everything, and a crook, to boot.

So, I became a progressive southerner, a fighter for civil rights. This fight is with me today, and it now extends to include the rights of gays, Muslims, women, and generally people who are singled out for skin color, race, sex, religion, or national origin. I have been sympathetic to Black people since I was a kid in the 1960s. I embraced the rights of Muslims since I met a group of black Muslims in Cincinnati in the late 1970s, and was very open to a group of Iranian college students I met at a gas station in Alabama.

I supported the Islamic Revolution a year later. I have to admit, like the Cuban and Venezuelan and even the soviet revolutions, it has failed on many levels, at least it is not the direct result of American meddling in the affairs of another state. Though, I might add, our embargoes have caused untold suffering and death.

Yet, for all of this, whatever this is, until a few years ago, it never occurred to me that race was not real. On the face of it, race is obviously real. I remember the little Jesus song about all being precious in his sight: Red, Yellow, Black and White. And while the song kinda got the colors wrong and there seems to be very few people I ever met who were “black” I have met a few people almost jet black in skin color. White folks are from alabaster, especially white people in very cold climates, to reddish brown like me, “black” runs  from a creamy light brown to very dark brown and the yellow and reds were really just other shades of brown, but I took the meaning of the song to be that yes, we were very distinct races, but god loved us all evenly and equally.

If god loved everyone, I should, too. And I did, and I do. The thing is, and it has taken me over 50 years to realize it, race isn’t real. RACISM IS. It took me a decade of playing with this concept to finally “get it.”

I had a dear friend, a black lawyer from Detroit who helped me along the way, but she finally got so frustrated at me, she said I was secretly a racist and that until I got to the point where I quit identifying as white, we could no longer be friends, so we aren’t friends anymore, which makes me sad. I am grateful to her, even if our friendship ended.

The last year or two, I have been dealing with the reality, that my entire life, especially my work life, has been based on a lie. It is the big American lie. The big WHITE American lie. That we treat all people equally, that bad people discriminate against minorities, but that most of us do not. Yet, I have come to realize this: if was not a white male, I probably would be dead by now. I have, more than once, challenged a law officer, not with weapons, but with words, sometimes angry and often defiant words. I am not a criminal, these were traffic stop incidents that I escalated. Invariably, the officers took a fatherly approach and encouraged me to calm down and reminded me they were just doing their jobs. I have no doubt if a six-foot, 250 lb., black male had done the same thing, the same number of times, at least one southern white cop would have shot him dead.

As to my jobs, I was so arrogant and undisciplined that I dropped out of college and never completed my degree, even though I had skipped my first year and college was basically free for me. Yet, I have earned a middle-class income most of my entire adult life. Every good job I have been given, was given to me by a white male who looked a lot like me, and most of them talked a lot like me.

And most of them, at some point in my employment, let me know, they would never have hired anyone but a white male for the job. Even a nice college educated black man, or woman, or any woman, for that matter would not have been given the job. I benefited and probably will continue to benefit for the rest of my life from the almost universal “affirmative action” afforded white people, and especially white males. (This makes the case for the current effort to investigate colleges for reverse racism seem all the more unacceptable to me.)

The things I was taught, not just by my parents, but by my preachers, my school teachers, my friends, the parents of my friends, stayed with me on many levels. Some of the things I believed about black people led me to rationalize and make excuses for black people, instead of examining the whole thought process to see where the faulty logic was.

I believed Black people were mostly lazy, were not as smart as white people, were not as honest, and probably not as moral as white people. It was easy, to believe this, because I lived, and still mostly live in a segregated world. When someone would tell a story about trying to find out why a black employee didn’t show up for work, or who stole or damaged a piece of equipment and no other black person volunteered to rat out the responsible party, the white person would say, “well, you know, they all lie…”

And I would think, well, maybe, but it is because they know how badly you, as a white person, will treat them. When the same situation occurred with white workers, no one said, “well, you know, they all lie…” Instead, usually, the feeling was those not giving someone up were honorable. This is but one example of the hundreds of things taught to me, not in a classroom, but in the play yard, the fields, the workshop, in every corner of my life. Variations on this were also used against Native Americans, Jews, Muslims, Mexicans, Asians, of all stripes.

Recently, I think I am coming to understand what my old ex friend was trying to get through my indoctrinated skull: It isn’t that we should treat all people equally. It isn’t that all the different races ARE equal. It isn’t that some people aren’t alabaster and others almost truly black and a huge spectrum in between. It is the idea that skin color, origin, or anything is a really stupid way to segregate, categorize or think of people.

Do I think of my friends by eye color? By hair color and type? By skin texture? By height? By weight? No of course not, we would never, as bad as weight discrimination is, consider fat and skinny people two different “races.” Everyone agrees that is “NUTS!”

And that is what has taken me a lifetime to realize. I fear most of my generation, and those older than me, at least those who identify as white, have not yet grasped. Racism is real, the legacy of it is with us in many very real ways, as are the glorious cultures of the many peoples from the many places that have come, over the centuries, to make America their home. But there cannot be black Americans, white Americans, brown, or red, or yellow Americans.

In fact, there cannot be Arabs and Asians and Africans, except as a note to say, this person comes from a different geographical, and cultural place, but this person is a human, not equal, not to be treated equally, but the SAME. Being a person of a different shade of complexion, or from a different part of the world doesn’t change who we are any more than whether we are tall or short. Until we can treat each other as equal and as the same, not out of some strange generosity of respect, but out of an awareness that we ARE the same people, we are not going to get to where we need to be.

Where we need to be is where every man, woman and child, regardless of anything, can achieve to their fullest desire and capacity, because no door is locked to them, because “fill-in-the-blank.”

To those of you, who have always known this, probably especially people of color, but to everyone who gets it, I am sure you are saying about now: “Duh!” But I do believe I represent a very large percentage of “White” people, especially in America, and probably wherever there are large groups of pale skinned people who have been very used to the lightness of complexion dominating all aspects of society. I believe most of “my kind” are either about where I am, or even many steps behind me, on this path of enlightenment.

I am not sure how we help others to see this, but until we do, many paths will remain blocked. Not only for minorities, but for society, as a whole.black people too much