That’s how it happened on a national scale, weighed down by debt, bad times, and the fear of worse to come, all signs pointing south, a convergence of forces collided. It was the mother of all rip tides, as if a massive earthquake or multiple earthquakes around the world went off at once sending tsunamis hurtling towards each other, speeding towards each other across vast oceans with an earth-shattering power nothing man-kind, in all its mortal deviancy could match.
If you’ll indulge me a bit more seismic hyperbole, me, Max, Rosie et al were drilling holes in tectonic plates, planting dynamite and sparking explosions propelling lava thrust earthward and directions too random to predict, the flow, once unleashed following its own course reeking its own destruction, which held, as volcanic islands do, the key to creation.
None of this high-falutin imagery occurred to me then, though something like it drove me on, justifying the violence as an omelette's broken eggs, growth pains, shedding of skin. And, no that irony is not lost on me. I can see creating a violent peace movement is oxymoronic on its face, was I Gerry Adams achieving peace throwing bombs?
I hear the megalomania creeping into my words, taste the sweet-bitter nectar of power again on my tongue as I sit here recalling the spine-tingling excitement found standing above a crowd of thousands shouting to them, exhorting them to cast off their velvet shackles, to fight, yes fight with fists and stones, bombs and guns, with fire, yes with fire – and hearing them roar back their crowd lust approval guttural and high piercing shrieking mixing to create a cacophonous wave of motivated real gutblood emotion.
We were to meet fire with fire, and it would culminate in those historic days that made the Battle in Seattle look like Romper Room, that transformed Seattle from a sleepy backwater on the periphery of the nation into the nexus of change, the fulcrum upon which history turned, balancing growing Pacific Rim economies on the better half of a country, bridging an ocean whose very name represented our goals yet held like all nature immense destructive capacity, latent, just waiting for the right combination of events.
Our time had come, and those summer days, those long hot, nay flaming, smokin’ days, they stand out now in my memory acrid still, my eyes burning again from the mere recollection. But, I get ahead of myself.
It must be the cold here spurring recollection of the conflagration, though that’s tantamount to dropping a nuke to warm your toes.
In those early days when Gianni was providing protection you could say we were consolidating our base. Early meetings resulted in fisticuffs as players wrangled for control. The cash from recycling bred greed, but big hauls from the drugs and guns spawned envy, gluttony and lust – it was like they’d traded up from sloth. I took the remainder of those seven sins, pride and wrath.
Those petty little power plays made me feel superior to the more insignificant players, my carrier-brothers who so easily cast aside decency to follow me towards their deaths. I lost a lot of myself in those days and acquired someone else.
Gianni had taken the operation to another level, and we followed right along. The entire time, though, Max and I had the majority, we had the sway of the crowd. It required some wrangling to garner consensus, a mandate if you will. Milton, our former night shift boss, had his own power base, as well; and he called a meeting with us one day to discuss matters, because matters desperately needed discussing.
Milton’s home was the International District, he’d grown up there, born abroad, but raised since infancy on the grease-slick streets populated with odd shops, spicy restaurants and the crews that ran them. He knew that milieu top to bottom, working his way up from busboy to waiter to maitre d'. Then into a more respectable career, a government job that made his family proud, their immigrant son was now a full-fledged part of their adopted country.
What could be more American?
He rose through the ranks of the post office until the point where I made his acquaintance as that first stone turned starting the avalanche, the cascade of postal employees that flooded the streets and washed them clean with blood. He’d grown disillusioned with this “America” his parents found so wonderful, equal opportunity didn’t seem as equal as it could be despite the window dressing, lurking below the pretty veneer was blatant hypocrisy. He didn’t like it and wanted to see something else.
That day in the back room of a nameless eatery; however, Milton was just getting started stirring things up.
“There’s gonna be big trouble,” he pithily summarized in gross understatement. There was no escaping from where we were then. Everyone, well, all the worst elements in town, knew what we were doing. Milton’s people were getting scared Gianni wouldn’t provide them protection, they didn’t think they could trust him. In the end they figured they’d get cut loose and left asses to the wind. So, some were falling under the spell of local gangs, who wanted to take a cut which would have set up brutal war between Gianni’s people. But they figured, why put their necks out and pay protection money when they knew the Fat Man wouldn’t provide protection when they really needed it.
To explain this concern you must understand how complex the operation had become. With the postal service fundamentally corrupted we had at our disposal an unrivaled distribution network. From Canada to Mexico we were shipping pharmaceuticals and armaments; everything from Ambien to Zantac, from AK-47s to Z-Force stun guns, you name it we’d ship it, for the right price. Cheap prescription drugs across from Canada were a volume play, but we’d played on volume for years, you could say it was our forte. Marijuana, meth, heroin, ecstasy, you name it, our mailrooms were a smorgasborg of illicit substances filling the bags my brothers carried to the resellers and local dispensaries. Guns moved by the truckload to warehouses up and down the coast.
That day the three of us decided to get ahead of this toxic wave. Milton’s men didn’t like the drugs, not the meth and narcotics at least. Guns were no problem, but the idea of falling from decent hard-working people just to become drug dealers wasn’t gonna wash.
“Look, there are three kinds of people in this world,” Milton started.
“Two kinds. It’s always two kinds of people,” Max interrupted.
“Not in my world. There are people who shower before they go to work, people who shower after they come home from work, and people who don’t shower. I wanted to be the kind of guy who showered before work. I wanted something better, we all do. At first, I thought it was about money. People came into places like this,” he said with a sweep of his arm to encompass the private room and restaurant in totality.
“I see them laughing, eating, drinking, and putting down credit cards without even thinking and I wanted that, I wanted not to worry about money and food for my family.”
Milton expressed in his eloquent way what so many people, from all walks of life, from all eras, had discovered at one point or another. Then it sounded quaint.
“Unhappiness from wanting money is stupid. It’s not money, it’s not comfort, it’s peace of mind. It’s knowing if you got sick or shot you’ll be OK, that your children will have a life you don’t have to worry about, that you can die knowing they can do well and be happy.”
He captured in a way Max and I found particularly moving, the struggle of generations, how the hope of one can lead to greatness in the next, how love can reflect itself in discipline and ambition. How without that hope, love and discipline, leading, in the simplest terms, to something better, it’s all pointless. We should all strive to leave this world a better place, and right then the world had gotten pretty shitty and it didn’t appear anyone was stepping up with a pooper-scooper.
“The kids don’t care. It was bad enough before, now they see what’s going on and it’s chaos. Why should they listen to elders when the government is screwing them and not just some far off government, people like me, right in their own neighborhood who’ve completely gone off the tracks.”
We needed to offer something better. Max and I knew what we had to do. This was exactly the subject of our rantings and ravings working the late-night shifts shouting to each other over the noise or barking back and forth with others in the break room.
It wasn’t about stealing some money or trying to lighten our load. It was about sticking a wrench in the works, fucking with the system. All those credit card offers, catalogs and coupons were mere symbols of our collective inadequacies. Every smiling model saying buy this and be like me, every promise of $30k in pre-approved credit, a promise of prestige and a chance to look good in front of neighbors, to go places and buy things to enhance your status and build self worth.
“I’m so much freer now,” I told Max. “I have no stuff, I want nothing. All this crap they push holds no meaning.”
“OK, Gandhi, but what about food, insurance, healthcare, what if it ain’t just you, huh, then what. Say you’ve got kids and they need good schools and doctors, are you just gonna tell them to meditate and free themselves from want by not owning anything. No. It doesn’t work like that.”
He was right. My path wasn’t for everyone. I’d always been a selfish prick, and the selfish prick path runs narrow. Thank god the wife and I never had kids.
“It’s about the collective good,” Max went on, “About the greatest good for the greatest number, the lucky helping out the luckless.”
“OK, Karl Marx,” I shot back at him. “Eat the rich, is that your motto, redistribute the wealth and create a utopian workers paradise. Been done. Didn’t work out too well.”
“I’m not talking communism, I’m talking common decency. Helping out your brother. I mean, shit, you listen to these fucking ‘Christians’ on the right talk about ‘entitlements’ like some welfare mom’s picking their pocket. We’ve got the capacity to roll out Christ’s teaching right at our fingertips, they wouldn’t even have to get their hands dirty doin’ in and instead they talk about drowning government in a bathtub, and THEY’RE government! I’d like to drown them in a bathtub, the selfish mother-fuckers.”
On and on we went and now here Milton was adding his voice to the mix. It was clear we needed to retake the moral high ground, and that’s when the pontificating began.
For Max it came natural, he’d been prepped by years of holding court across sorting tables and in lunch rooms, a lifetime in churches listening to sermon after sermon exhorting the poor to give to the less poor cuz the rich were nowhere to be seen.
It came harder for me, the meetings at Max’s were one thing, drinking beers and talking smack with co-workers came naturally. Gathering crowds and holding them rapt with my words and ideas was terrifying work.
Starting in bars was the logical first step, a step I’d already taken, I just needed to speak up, let the voices in my head stream screaming out my mouth, and I did. First at the Saloon and the Card Room then further out of my comfort zone, gathering people on the streets, taking a phalanx of my carrier-brothers and pulling together the guys outside the Mission, standing on proverbial soapboxes in the pale light of early morning or the stark darkness of night.
I roused rabble.
Taking it to the street wasn’t going to be enough, though. Max, Milton, Rosie and me and all our cohorts could bluster and blather all we wanted in the city, but there were acres and acres of folks in their tract homes watching the teevee and listening to their traffic reports on the radio as they drove right by and they wouldn’t hear a peep in their plush leather seats butts warm and dry. We were invisible to them.