Running With Scissors While on Fire

Ah hour after sorting all the books to be shipped to Bakersfield, I was re-boxing them and loading them into the back of my dump truck. I’m now helping ‘Book Boy’ to steal books. After meeting with him over some coffee at the Circle K gas station, I became an ally. By the end of the day, a fervent follower.

We’ll call him JD. He’s responsible for the church store in Bakersfield. He admitted right off the bat he ships the books to himself. He was amazed I figured it out in one day. Everything I wondered about was true. He sells some of the books to vendors on a regular basis besides stocking his own second hand church store in downtown Bakersfield. Not wanting to blow smoke up my ass, he suggested we load up the latest books then hit the trail to Bakersfield so I can see how large he lives on the stolen loot.

JD is older than me with a frail build and a white ponytail. His eyes look larger through his thick glasses. His glasses are thick, but nowhere near the world record holder in my world, Dean Martin. Boy, you could signal space with Martin’s lenses. Easily an inch thick. Back to JD. We don’t drive straight to his other store. First, it’s multiple stops at markets, stores and bakeries for free day-old food stuffs and dented cans and such. With the dump truck, he goes hog wild. I end up with stacked pies, cakes, brownies, blueberry muffins, boxes of breads and stacked ten high in their hard plastic containers in the crew cab back seat of the truck. JD fills me in on what he does and why.

JD: “The Tehachapi store makes most of its income from donations and clothing sales. Books aren’t that big an item. Incomes are higher and all the electronics and such have book reading tapering off dramatically. Now, in the poorer areas, it’s just the opposite. Books fly off my shelves. Unlike other items in the store, they’re not stolen as frequently. I sell them so cheap, there’s really no need. I go for volume in the store, higher prices to the vendors and vultures for the book stores in competition with me. I take the money as I can get it. Without the book sales the Bakersfield store would fold in a month. In a little while, you’ll understand why I can’t let that happen!”

We small talk and enjoy the pleasant drive through the pass towards the Kern River and the outskirts of Bakersfield. Off to our right, I point out a big yard crane in a used heavy equipment yard. The boys and I had checked it out a few weeks ago for fun at one of the yards sales. When I asked the owner if it would start, he climbed right into the cab and fired the 60-ton behemoth up. It turned over, but didn’t catch. It did cut the leg off of an opossum that had been living under the big engine housing. The uncovered fan had nailed it as the engine firing panicked it.

Our next stop is to deliver some food. I’m given some advice while we wait for a long line of traffic to move. Bakersfield is laid out like a drunken whore on acid. No overpasses to get you over the train tracks is one huge clusterfuck. When a train stops to let an opposing train blow past, you stop, too. I look in my rear view mirror at the miles of cars stacking up behind us. JD took it in stride. It’s normal to him. With the engine off and nothing to do, I look around at our surroundings. Vast fields of used pipes stacked forty feet high. Rusted, stained with goo and tar, just laying in the dirt. Hey, where’s the EPA? Where’s the District Attorneys that tore down my tree house? Not in Bakersfield, I guess. You’re only allowed to live in Bakersfield if you have at least two broken down vehicles and never clean your yard. It’s the law. Huge insect-looking oil pumping machines dot the landscape everywhere you look. Some slowly bobbing up and down like a bored crack whore on her fifteenth customer of the night, to just sitting quietly, leaking hydriodic fluids and covered in grease and gunk. Finally, the train moves.

As we pull into a small beat up churches parking lot in a really tough part of town, no one pays us any mind. As soon as JD steps out of my truck, i’ts as if we whistled for a casting call for a new ‘Dawn of the Dead’. My truck is surrounded by twenty people in two minutes and the crowd only grew. I start to put the dump truck tailgate down and my arm is grabbed in a panic by JD. He shook his head in a fast ‘no’ then nodded for me to get into the bed and hand items over to him to distribute. At my hesitation, he ignores me and climbs into the back on his own. For an older guy, he was a lot spryer then me. In five minutes I regretted not doing as told. The crowd was not happy and calm. Most ate the food as I handed it to them if possible. Some covered their share like NFL running backs going for a touchdown as they juked and jived out of the crowd for home. Once the pies and cakes and such went, the crowd settled down. The older folks and kids moved in for the canned foods and frozen stuff that was out of date. My entire truck was empty in less then ten minutes and more and more people were flowing into the parking lot. Back in the truck and rolling for JD’s store, he fills me in on how lucky we had been. “They didn’t know your vehicle. If you tried to pull in here again so easy, forget about it. Cell phones would have this lot jammed before we turned the last corner!”

On the way to the second hand store, I had to join three street gangs and get the obligatory tattoos. The area only got rougher. I noticed that the Latino ghettos are different from the black ghettos like Compton and Watts used to be. Gee, how would I know? I worked them for thirty years, my friend; plus every other suck shit through a straw area in, above and around L.A. Phone men follow the cables. They don’t all run through Beverly Hills. That dial tone in Hollywood is connected to a cable in Axminister. Figure the rest out on your own.

In the black ghettos, anyone with money has every god damned window covered with steel bars and grills. Every access door has a steel screen type double locked cover, before the actual front or rear door. No grass. It’s all cement front yards, or there’s a big cinder block wall and concertina wire on top of the chained link.

In the Latino ghettos? Completely the opposite. Every area is sectioned off and controlled by familias and neighbors. Each and every one more than happy to beat the living shit out of anyone who doesn’t belong. Doors are wide open. Kids are all over the place. Backyards have roosters crowing, goats bleating and tips of tall corn peeking out over the tops of the beat up fences. Every home, no matter how thrashed, is in some sort of repair mode. Hey, at least they try.

As we pull into the church parking lot, I let out JD to help me back closer to the rear door of the store right next to the church using the same lot, just the other end. Some people wave and nod at us. I wonder why we’re not mobbed like the other place. JD laughed as I drop the heavy tail gate of the dump truck. “They’re not stupid. Who wants to unload books?” Gee, where was my head.

The store looked pretty good. If you’re a zombie with brains on your clothes and wanting a new look. Holy shit, they should have been playing ‘Tobacco Road’ over the paging system to make the scene complete. While carrying books to the book area, I wonder about all the clothes laying on the floor. JD gives me a poor people class while we suck down some bottled water. “Everyone steals here. Get used to it. It’s not like Tehachapi or other areas with some money. Here, there is NO MONEY. They don’t have a dollar for used underwear or baby clothes. Most will try and be polite and change clothes while you’re not in the room or able to see them. We all know what’s going on. I look this way while you do your thing that way. There’s nothing you can do about it. Some bring eggs and cheese. Some work around the store or do sweeping and such. It’s just the way it is. A lot of people’s big deal of the week is to eat at McDonalds!”

On the way back to Tehachapi, a lot of thoughts run through my mind. Our nation is falling apart was number one. How do you explain the abject poverty and hopelessness. The despair and sadness. All right next to gated developments right across the street? I thought getting my place bulldozed was bad. Not anymore. At least I had a shot at happiness. I never finished my project but at least had 30 years to work on it. Not these people. Not these walking dead. No hope. Hassled constantly by cops and Immigration goons. Hey, you don’t like the illegals? Guess what, they’re not too happy about their situation either. Everyone wants a job and a nice place to raise their kids. If I was stuck in Mexico or some other South American hell hole I’d want the fuck out, too. Then, to rub salt in their eyes they get the double whammy. No recourse when ripped off by the powers that be.

JD and I traded horror stories about what our government does to the poor and downtrodden. Since my wife Pat was an immigration attorney for fifteen years, I heard about what really goes down first hand while walking past her at two in the morning as she prepared for the next day’s court loads, tired out of her mind. Why did she kill herself? Say you’re finally on top. You can’t get your papers for a variety of reasons but your lawn mowing business is doing well and you have two family members as employees. You get pulled over. “Hey, Manuel, this I.D. is phoney. Step out of the vehicle please!” Manuel might never see his family and kids for YEARS. Maybe NEVER. Huh? You say. You have recourse. Not Manuel. While he sits waiting to be deported, the Man nails his ass to his own personal cross. Since his Social Security number is fake, he gets NONE OF IT. Seized by the Man. His business is history. With no income and four kids, plus three more kids you’re taking care of from family members in jail, dead or already deported, the house is history soon too.

Back and forth JD and I went. Each story worse then the next. He topped me just as we reached Tehachapi. JD: “I had a really good worker who used to fix any problem I had. Electrical, painting, dryer out of service. Just a great handyman. He gets drunk one night and is in the drunk tank. He gets his prints run. He had been busted for under age sex with a child and had a warrant out for eight years he didn’t know about since he usually stayed under the radar. He goes to a federal pen for twenty years. The under age sex? It had been with his own wife. He was just turned 18, she was 15. They were from the same village where its common to marry at such ages. Now, his wife and kids are all alone. One of his kids gets in trouble with a local gang over some lost drugs he was supposed to move. Can’t go to the cops, so the wife goes to smooth things over. She’s gang raped then tossed nude from a moving car in an intersection in Fresno!”

This stuff goes on EVERY DAY. I talked to the guys in my lockdown when I was waiting to be bailed out. They accept their plight. Jail is no hindrance at all to them. Jail is just “Keep on keeping on, bro!” Inside, outside, everything is normal. Usually locked up for drugs or booze, jail is a place to wait out the next party and catch some new tats.

I’ll be back at my Community Service store on Friday. I can’t wait to steal books…

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