At the coffee shop. The old sour poet and the lady who fell asleep with her finger in her nose haven’t been here for weeks. Never see them again. There’s a fellow in an easy chair engrossed in a book - no, amend that, he’s asleep.

What is it about this coffee shop that encourages somnambulism?

Trying to come up with a column idea; nothing is presenting itself. This is because I want to get a new career as a cactus cataloger. I want to walk around the desert and take pictures of cactuses for a year or two, and perhaps paint some cactuses. Plaid? If the mood strikes. But aren’t they protected plants? you ask. Some of them are, I think - the succulentus clicheus, the ones even a three-year old in Alaska recognizes as a cactus, if only from a Road Runner cartoon or some other amusement set in the desert so someone can get a needle in the buttocks.

If cactuses evolved needles for self protection, why hasn’t some creature developed the ability to secrete novocaine at will? That’s it! I’ve disproved evolution!

Anyway, it’s just a mood. I have something to do and that means I would rather do something else. Just that simple. If I had to go out and take pictures of cactuses I would rather sit down and write.

After the coffee shop, we will go to the Dollar Store to see what sort of seasonal merchandise heralds spring. If they have Fourth of July merchandise I will burn it all down. We’ll also get some cereal, because Daughter loves the small boxes of Gold’n Puf’t grain nodules. Only a dollar! Yes, but there’s one bowl in there. If that. Only a dollar! Child, you need to learn economics. Compare weight and price. Only a - Oh, okay.

To read the weight and price, she'd have to have good vision, and this might be an issue. She might have to get glasses. The school sent back the results of an eye test, and she is mortified over the prospect of glasses. Contacts horrify her, because putting something in her eye somehow goes contrary to instinct. I had contacts before they were flexible, and man, that was like putting a Fiestaware serving platter on your eyeball. Lost one up in my eye socket, too. Oh the joy of getting a lash under one of those things.

“I’m only bad in one eye,” she said. “I could wear an eyepatch.”

So glasses are bad but an eyepatch is cool? You’re absolutely right, but no, you’re not going to wear a patch. But how about a monocle?

She’d be okay with that.


Watched “Mad Men,” and no, this is not about that. Except that the story used the Dick Speck murders as a subplot. The entire episode was dank and nightmarish. And funny:



It made me look up Speck on wikipedia; I knew the case, but not the background. The usual sad scrape of a misspent life. This reminded me of another case, Caryl Chessman, to whom I was introduced in a Genesis lyric: “Caryl Chessman sniffs the air and leads the parade / he knows in a scent you can bottle all you made.” It’s typical Peter Gabriel: in a scent sounds like “innocent,” which is what Chessman insisted he was. Never killed anyone, but he was a habitual miscreant, the Red Light Bandit, a rapist. Scum. The death penalty came from a liberal interpretation of the Lindbergh law that made kidnapping a capital crime. Once in prison he set about writing a series of self-exculpatory books, and as this site notes:

"With extraordinary energy, Chessman made, on the very edge of extinction, one of those startling efforts of personal rehabilitation, salvation of the self," wrote Elizabeth Hardwick in a poignant essay that ran in Partisan Review at the time of Chessman's trip to the gas chamber. "It was this energy that brought him out of darkness to the notice of the Pope, Albert Schweitzer, Mauriac, Dean Pike, Marlon Brando, Steve Allen, and rioting students in Lisbon (Lisbon!)."

The list of people who advocated for the commutation of his sentence also included:

Eleanor Roosevelt, Pablo Cassals, Aldous Huxley, Ray Bradbury, William Inge, Norman Mailer, Dwight MacDonald, Christopher Isherwood, Carey McWilliams, Billy Graham, and Robert Frost.

Why? Because he could write, I suspect. The book is online, and just dipping into it you sense the boundless self-regard that led him to act as his own attorney in court. There’s a scene where he realizes he could kill someone if he wanted - but of course it’s the realization he could strangle a noxious pimp, or anyone else who degraded women. When he gets out of jail he goes on a crime spree, yes, but he’s robbing bordellos. It’s all rather dashing and romantic. Oh how he hates pimps! Won’t even take their jewels; flushed them down the toilet.

One day he tries weed, and doesn’t like it. No sir. He’s not a degenerate. Marvel, if you will, at this paragraph. He’s Whit. He writes about himself in the third person. My thoughts in brackers:

“Where was the stuff coming from? [Yes, that would be the natural question of anyone who tried marijuana and didn’t like it. Where is it coming from?] He found out, paid a visit to the upstanding citizen who was masterminding its distribution. [Hypocritical society! It’s the upstanding citizens who are really the most corrupt, when you poke deep enough. Also, this was the plot of a Dragnet radio show.] A violent argument developed [Theodore Dalyrimple notes how criminals usually describe their assaults as though they had no agency, that things just happened] and was resolved suddenly and decisively by Whit, who then buried his snub-nosed gun where it would never be found. Later he told a friend, ‘But don’t go jumping to the conclusion I murdered the sonofabitch, because I didn’t.”

As you might suspect, he knew how to plug into the worldview and lingo of the Thinking Class:

As he put it in The Face of Justice, the last of what he considered his "trilogy" and the one he wrote in secret with death only a matter of hours away, he was killed because he made America uncomfortable. Though he was really just fighting for his life—not playing intellectual games or thumbing his broken nose—he was nonetheless seen, as he put it, as "a justice-mocking, lawless legal Houdini and agent provocateur assigned by the Devil (or was it the Communists?) to foment mistrust of lawfully constituted Authority."

No, he was not killed because he made America uncomfortable. I’m guessing he was killed because the jury thought a guy who tricked women into stopping on the highway by pretending he was a cop, and then raped them, had worn out his welcome. He was eventually gassed, and in a twist right out of a bad movie based on a bad book, a stay of execution came in at the last minute - too late! The pills had dropped! They couldn’t get him out without gassing the observers as well.
As wikipedia notes, Gov. Brown stayed the execution, because President Ike was going to South America, and didn’t want there to be riots over Chessman.

The New York Times on his book: “a highly readable document liberally enriched with authentic lingo . . . a sparkling contribution in the field of criminological thought.” His imdb page - he was listed as “writer” of a movie based on his struggle not to be gassed - lists one piece of trivia:

Was idolized by 'Angelo Buono' who is known as The Hillside Strangler


Because everyone’s sick of hearing the backstory and the gosh-darn fascinating passages where I write about the fact that I wrote, I will post the first chapter of the first novel on Friday. As payment, I require that you read this:


There are three steps to writing a novel. 1. You write it. 2. You rewrite it. This may involve root removal or branch trimming, and can be reasonably easy if you’re a first-draft writer, like I am. I don’t know if that means I’m too lazy to revise, but I don’t do serious deep revision much. There isn’t any time, and I generally get it the way I want it the first time. This revision is for consistency, because characters can change names or attributes, and your timeline may be fubar’d. (I kept changing the dates as I rewrote, forgetting that it was absolutely critical to have the climactic scene take place on Dec. 9, 1981.) Then 3. Polishing the brightwork. This is the easy one; you give it a final look before it’s sent off.

But. When I started phase 3 last night I realized that a certain character hadn’t really been allowed to introduce himself. That was a good addition. I realized I’d better introduce the Citizen-Herald newspaper, which goes through all the books. In the second revision I rewrote a character to be the son of a character in the second book, setting him up for his narration of the third book. An offhand description of the newspaper as the last-place player included a remark about their comics page - they couldn’t get the popular comics, so they were all obscure old strips, serials that had been running since the 40s . . . so I made one up.

Sat back, looked at it, thought: that has to run through all three books. Somehow. And so it will. This means inserting a few lines about the ongoing story of the comic strip all through the novels. A new thread. Gah. But it’ll be better for it.

So you’ll see what I mean on Friday. New 20s cover with some limited annotation; just enjoy the ancient images. See you around!













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