Posted tagged ‘Crime’

Working the City – 1,2,3,4

October 18, 2010

It’s an older, inner city neighborhood. The closest shopping area is eight blocks away. The grocery store building at the corner of my block is empty. I’m sitting on money. I’ve been saving it for an eventual move to the country. Yet, as I walk past the ‘For Rent’ sign in the store’s window, I’m attracted to the possibilities. I call the listed number. Within an hour, a sharply dressed older man arrives on the scene in a vintage, maroon Cadillac. He’s asking questions. What’s my plan? Do I have first and last months rent? Utilities deposits? I flash the cash. He gives me three copies of the lease and says I have thirty days to seek a lawyer’s advice before deciding. I scan through the lease and sign all three copies. He takes two copies and hands me the keys.

I clean the store, repair the walk-in cooler, wash the big glass windows in front. Then, early the next morning, I drive my pickup truck to the commercial produce terminal. Wholesale suppliers refuse me, saying my purchases are too small. However, at the end of the loading dock I find a supplier selling smaller quantities of expensive, high quality produce. He welcomes my business. Fresh items arrive early every morning by air freight, mostly from California. I can purchase older produce at reduced prices.

People in the neighborhood are delighted when I open the store with a wide selection of fruits and vegetables. They’re attracted to my unusual assortment of sweet and juicy melons with pink, orange, yellow, and green soft textured interior fruit, each with a unique flavor. They love my bright red tomatoes, gigantic orange carrots, pearly white onions, shades of green lettuce and cabbage. Grapes, apples, pears, and bananas. I’m sold out by the end of the day.

Even at moderate profit margins, I quickly accumulate enough money for a used deli counter with a working compressor allowing me to keep meats, cheeses, and other foods cool while on display behind glass. A stainless steel slicing machine comes with the deli counter. I sell pre-made sandwiches. Customers can buy a variety of ingredients and make their own. I collect an assortment of used kitchen tables with chairs and place them around the front area of the store where the big glass windows allow natural lighting throughout the day.

My shopping trips expand to include bakery, beverage, and condiment products along with the fresh produce, dried fruits, nuts, cheeses, and meats. I hire people from the neighborhood, a woman to make sandwiches, another woman to work the counter, and a man to work the front of the store dealing with customers and security while cleaning tables and taking out the garbage.

Everything’s going smoothly during the lunch rush when a tall man wearing a dark suit, white shirt, and tie walks into the store. He’s the city’s health inspector, looking for trouble. I hold my breath while he sniffs around. He gives me a list of violations to correct and tells me I’m doing a great job. I offer him a sandwich and a beverage but he says he’d rather pay for it to avoid a misunderstanding. We sit at a table to talk. He does most of the talking. He’s a treasure chest of food business knowledge. I ask why he still works for the city. He shrugs and looks out the window like that’s not a proper question.

_______
II

City departments are overwhelmed by job cuts and, in the absence of adequate police protection, the few remaining inspectors rarely venture into the neighborhoods. My store’s liquor license effectively allows me to market beer, wine, and distilled spirits in whatever manner I choose. The legal minimum age remains a priority concern for me and my employees, nonetheless.

The local gang leader pressures me for protection money. I’m able to involve him in a business scheme, giving me the confidence I need to make further investments in the neighborhood.

An empty industrial building six blocks from the store is in excellent condition. It has an attached four story warehouse and a paved parking lot surrounded by a ten foot high fence. I cut a deal with the property management agency. In the absence of other alternatives, they’re eager to work with me and my phased development plan.

Using unemployed workers from the neighborhood, including several master carpenters, I partition the main floor of the warehouse building into a mini-mall of separate stores. When the right time comes, I’ll go city wide with advertising. Until then, I stay under the radar. I don’t want inspectors coming around, going by the book.

I use the second floor of the warehouse building to support the first floor’s business activities. The third floor goes to the local gang leader who runs security operations. The forth floor is a private club with high stakes gambling.

In the large industrial bay, with its four stories high ceiling and one long wall consisting almost completely of big glass windows, I create an area for private parties with a bar, a stage, and a dance floor.

My job is easy. I’m the boss. Although the gang leader who runs security likes to think he’s the boss. He’s controlling crime and violence in the neighborhood, creating a safe environment for business, so I don’t mind humoring him.

_______
III

Pau Patro, that’s the local gang leader’s name. He now runs security operations for all my business activities. I couldn’t operate in the neighborhood without him. He’s young, strong, and ambitious. He reminds me of a line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. He of the lean and hungry look who doesn’t sleep at night. Referring to Brutus, I believe. Machiavelli’s political treatise, The Prince, also comes to mind. My greatest need is stability. Pau’s violent and sometimes cruel actions are predicated on acquiring necessary ends by any means. His methods are justified as the best way to acquire, maintain, and protect neighborhood stability.

There’s another new stadium downtown, along with casino, theater, and hotel renovations. The city’s looking good in mainstream corporate media. However, many neighborhood leaders throughout the city are lobbying for political independence, saying their specific needs are being ignored. They want to break the city up into separate villages with their own taxes and public services.

My neighborhood is a microcosm of the city. Business is good for some, nonexistent for others. Personally, I’m riding a wave of success. But I don’t want to ignore the needs of others. Referring back to Machiavellian theory, I don’t want to be hated by the neighborhood residents. They can hate Pau, not me. I share the wealth. I create jobs, business, and profits for others.

I bend the rules, yes, when they get in my way. But I bend them for others as well. I’m not Robin Hood, no, but I consciously funnel wealth from the rich to the poor. I started doing it for myself, of course, but once I learned how, a spiritual awareness came with it. There are forces at play beyond my understanding, and yet one simple rule to guide me and never bend. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Pau laughs when I tell him that.

_______
IX

Pau walks into my second floor office without knocking. He doesn’t ask if I’m busy.

I’m fascinated by his boldness even as I resent his presumption.

His presence intimidates me. He’s an archetype. An attractive warrior god. Tall, thick, muscular. Large head, dark eyes, wide set. Light olive skin. Thick dark curly hair, salon cut to collar length. His features defy specific ethnic classification. Although he’s definitely Mediterranean.

He slides a big stuffed chair across the room towards my desk, and says: “Who’s this Machiavelli cat you keep talking about?”

“Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli,” I reply, “is an Italian philosopher, writer, and civil servant from the fifteenth or sixteenth century. He wrote one book about how to apply power in the art of war. He wrote another book about how to apply it in politics. He remains famous for that last book because his methods still apply. You seem to know them instinctively.”

Pau smiles. Remains silent. I look away.

He surrounds me, suffocates me, with his presence.

“You think you can run this operation better than me, Pau? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?”

He hesitates, makes me wait, thinking about what I just said.

“I’m telling you I can handle the dance hall and casino operations. Have them cooking every night with private parties. Keep it under control. No cops, no city inspectors. I’m telling you I can do that.”

Our eyes meet. His smile forces me to smile.

“We can’t do it all at once,” I say: “Until we’re sure how it’s going to work, let’s move slowly. Along with alcohol, our drug sales will skyrocket.”

“I can handle it,” he says, pulling a fat joint from his pocket: “Here, try this. It’s excellent pot. I think you’ll like it.”

I take the joint, and say: “I need to get more work done first. I’ll smoke it later. But the drugs I’m worried about are heroin, cocaine, speed, ecstasy. Suppliers of those drugs will zero in on us. I don’t feel comfortable with that. I don’t want to get involved in a city wide drug war.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve got it covered,” Pau insists. He leaves the big stuffed chair next to my desk. He doesn’t close the door behind him.

With an energized awareness from toking on the joint in my office, I enter the expansive industrial bay area of the building where an overhead matrix of lights floods the dance floor, bar, and stage area with bubbles of randomly changing color and brightness while dancers move hypnotically to erotic rhythms. Male and female prostitutes are available for hire but the price of admission to this Sodom and Gomorrah excludes the casual shopper.

Pau calls my name, invites me to his table. An attractive woman sitting with him looks in my direction as I approach. Pau wraps an arm across my shoulders, and says: “Laura, I’d like you to meet Brian. He’s the real boss around here.”

Laura! Fair skin, auburn hair. Oval face, well proportioned. Greenish eyes, lined and tinted. Glossy red lips. She’s beautiful. I’m hoping she’s not a prostitute.

“Laura needs a job, Brian. I thought you could use her. You said you were looking for an assistant, didn’t you?”

She reaches out to me. I take her hand, and reply: “Yes. Yes, I did say that. I’m very happy to meet you, Laura.”

We dance. She presses her body lightly against mine. Our eyes meet. She smiles.

I’m feeling paranoid. Maybe it’s the pot. Maybe not.

All Too Human

April 12, 2010

Books had become Johnny’s main obsession. The world of ideas seemed more real to him than the prison cell where he spent most of his time reading, effectively escaping into his imagination.

He had a parole hearing scheduled for the next morning and he wanted a new book to read, something that would distract his mind from obsessing on the future. Would he have enough free time to read on the outside, he worried, how would he support himself?

“I’ve got just the book for you,” the prison libarian told him: “Listen to this: ‘The essential element in the black art of obscurantism is not that it wants to darken individual understanding but that it wants to blacken our picture of the world and darken our idea of existence.’ Guess who wrote that.”

“Who?” Johnny responded.

“Nietzsche, ‘Human, All Too Human,’ written in 1878, some of his best writing. And he wrote a lot of good stuff.”

“Good stuff, huh? Can you be more specific?”

“You have to read him to understand what I’m talking about. Everybody who reads him gets something different. Because he makes you think for yourself.”

“How can he make you do anything?”

“Well, yeah, first you need to open your mind and start reading, of course. He can’t make you do that. But once you start reading and thinking about what he’s saying, it’s like looking at the reflection of your soul in a mirror.”

“I’m not sure I want to look at my soul,” Johnny said: “But, okay, I’ll give it a try, thanks.”

In his cell, Johnny slowly scanned through the beginning pages of the book until his attention focused on the words:

. . . I commend my personal experiences particularly to the ears and hearts of those who are burdened with some sort of ‘past,’ and have enough spirit left still to suffer from the spirit of their past . . . above all . . . I commend them to you whose burden is heaviest, you rare, most imperiled, most spiritual, most courageous ones who must be the conscience of the modern soul and as such must possess its knowledge, in whom is concentrated all that exists today of sickness, poison and danger . . . whose lot it is that you must be sicker than any other kind of individual because you are not ‘only individuals’ . . . whose comfort it is to know the way to a new health, and alas! to go along it, a health of tomorrow and the day after, you predestined ones, you victorious ones, overcomers of your age, you healthiest ones, you strongest ones . . .

Johnny’s over-burdened conscience had imperiled his mental and spiritual health for as far back as he could remember. As he marked the page and closed the book, he felt a new confidence surging.

During the parole board hearing, one of the nine panel members asked: “What book are you holding in your hands?” Johnny held the book with its cover showing, and the member said: “Human, All Too Human. I’m impressed.”

The final tally came up five to four in favor of parole. The board granted him a conditional furlough to a downtown halfway house. If he held a job and stayed out of trouble for six months, he could move a step closer to personal freedom.

He signed-out from the halfway house early on the first morning to go looking for a job. After going to the university bookstore to purchase his own copy of Nietzsche’s book, he found a restaurant in which to eat breakfast. When he applied for a dish washing job there, the owner came out to interview him.

Noticing the book, the owner said: “What are you reading?”

Johnny held it up for him to see, and said: “I just started reading it but, so far, it’s a really good book.”

The owner silently stared at Johnny for a moment, and then said: “You look like a sober and intelligent guy, why do you want to work in my kitchen?” When Johnny explained his legal situation and promised to do a good job, the owner said: “I’ll give you a try. Don’t let me down.”

During an afternoon break, less than a week into the job, Johnny sat in a remote area of the restaurant’s basement warehouse reading aloud from Nietzsche’s book, listening for additional meaning as the words passed through his ears:

. . . The strongest knowledge, that of the total unfreedom of the human will, is nonetheless the poorest in successes. For it always has the strongest opponent, human vanity . . .

He closed the book, and said: “I don’t get it. Without free will we’d be mindless automatons. We don’t have total freedom, no, but neither do we have total unfreedom. And that’s not my human vanity speaking, it’s my will to life.”

“Who are you talking to?” the restaurant’s owner said as he came down the steps from the kitchen.

Johnny jumped to his feet, and replied: “I’m talking to Nietzsche, sir. I sometimes get the feeling he’s listening to me. It’s just my imagination, I know. Yet I believe Nietzsche intended to have such an effect, like he’s there and he’s talking directly to you.”

The owner silently stared for an instant, and then responded: “If you can break away from yourself, we could use your help in the kitchen.”

The owner’s sarcasm irritated Johnny. He thought about moving on; but he needed the employment to satisfy his parole conditions and he didn’t feel qualified for anything more than washing dishes and disposing of garbage.

He preformed his physical labors with Nietzsche’s words, “total unfreedom of the human will,” still lingering in his mind. Memories from his criminal past entered his consciousness and he thought about robbing the owner or maybe kidnapping his children and holding them for a ransom. But he rejected these thoughts from his consciousness by the free expression of his will; and, in the process, he disposed of Nietzsche’s total-unfreedom theory, he believed.

He kept the book out of sight and he no longer read aloud in the restaurant’s basement warehouse. He decided instead to read a passage every morning before going to work and then analyze it from memory while engaged in his physical labors. To begin, he randomly selected a short aphorism entitled, “Knapsack of the metaphysicians.” He read it through once before separating its logical elements.

. . . Those who boast so mightily of the scientificality of their metaphysics should receive no answer; it is enough to pluck at the bundle which, with a certain degree of embarrassment, they keep concealed behind their back; if one succeeds in opening it, the products of that scientificality come to light, attended by their blushes: a dear little Lord God, a nice little immortality, perhaps a certain quantity of spiritualism, and in any event a whole tangled heap of ‘wretched poor sinner’ and Pharisee arrogance . . .

Nietzsche’s sarcasm, along with the restaurant owner’s sarcasm, reenforced Johnny’s pessimistic mood. “Scientificality of their metaphysics?” he wondered aloud: “Isn’t that a mutually exclusive, contradictory dichotomy?” He scanned through the book and found another short aphorism, “Incurable.” Again, he read it through once before separating its logical elements.

. . . An idealist is incorrigible: if he is thrown out of his heaven he makes an ideal of his hell. Let him be disillusioned and behold!—he will embrace this disillusionment just as fervently as a little while before he embraced his hopes. Insofar as his tendency is among the great incurable tendencies of human nature he is able to give rise to tragic destinies and afterwards become the subject of tragedies: for tragedies have to do with precisely what is incurable, ineluctable, inescapable in the fate and character of man . . .

Johnny laughed, and said: “Makes an ideal of his hell? Oh, now I get it. Nietzsche’s actually a comedian.”

He arrived at work that day in a better mood as a result of his new interpretation of Nietzsche’s persona. The restaurant owner’s sarcasm no longer bothered him. Instead, he found it rather witty.