Caught between a torment of a wife and a storm of a mother, with a spinal birth defect that created lifelong pain, an alcohol habit that grew ferocious, to which he and others then added pills of all kinds, and an unmerciful road schedule that pinned him to events every night for months and ground him out like a spent cigarette.
Hard to know which of all that played the biggest part in killing him.
And still he wrote, mostly while on the road. His songs defined country music and spoke simply to folks. He took their titles often from conversations. “You’re gonna change or I’m a gonna leave” “You win again” and others were lines he heard spoken.
He referred to himself often in the third person, as “Ole Hank.”
But he was only 29 when he died.
One beautiful character who emerges in his story is Ernest Tubb, a rock to whom Hank turned often during his constant marital problems with Audrey, whom Chet Flippo portrays as a conniving, money-grubbing plague on Williams’ life – not that Hank didn’t contribute to the disaster that was their marriage. Tubb was by contrast sober, wise, and had learned to manage the country music life in a way that Hank never did.
So, too, an almost-was singer named Braxton Schuffert, who turned his back on the music business and devoted himself to his family back in Shreveport and his job delivering for Hormel Meats. Apparently a talented singer, Schuffert saw the life his friend was leading and didn’t want that for himself, though Hank was often urging him to move to Nashville, offering to get him on the Opry, plying him with songs he’d written. Sounds like Schuffert had a career waiting for him if he’d wanted it. Hank visited him every time he went to Shreveport and Schuffert seemed one of the few in Hank’s life who cared for the singer, but took him as a cautionary tale, no matter how big and famous he got.
The last few months of Hank’s life are painful to read. Constantly drunk or stoned, incontinent, weak and bone thin, plied pills and morphine by a quack ex-felon he hired as his personal physician, divorced from Audrey whom he still loved and hated, banned from the Grand Ole Opry, missing his son Bocephus, barely remembering the words to his own songs, on stage hanging onto a microphone stand, marrying a young country girl three times on the same day, twice in front of legion of paying fans, not remember any of it.
Clearly a man in need of serious addiction and pain treatment, both, and a long break from the road.
The incredible thing is during those last months he wrote Your Cheatin’ Heart, Jambalaya, Settin’ the Woods on Fire and I’ll Never Get out of This World Alive– each one a country classic. It’s not even clear he ever performed Your Cheatin’ Heart live.
He was dying for days before he passed, which he did on New Year’s Eve, 1952 in a Cadillac taking him to a show in Canton, OH. He was only discovered so by his driver, who stopped in Oak Hill, WV, lost and unsure which highway to take to Ohio.
In the back seat lay Hank Williams, cold to the touch. In his hand was a slip of paper with a shard of a song that he composed, likely to his ex-wife, minutes before he died.
“We met, we lived, and dear we loved, then comes that fatal day, the love that felt so dear fades far away.
Tonight one hathe one alone and lonesome, all that I could sing. I you (sic) you still, and always will, but that’s the poison we have to pay.”
Not long ago, in eastern Tennessee, I had the chance to record a conversation with Isabel Workman.
Isabel is an elementary school teacher who, along with her husband, adopted two children born to different mothers, but both dependent on opiates.
She and I had a poignant chat about one of the most lacerating byproducts of the opiate-addiction epidemic in America: the rise in infants born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, essentially in withdrawals from drugs, these days mostly from narcotics.
That in turn has overwhelmed the foster-children agencies. Many are being raised by their grandparents, while others are being adopted by couples like Isabel and her husband. Without these folks, the country would be in even more serious trouble.
All across America this is increasing, but Eastern Tennessee is one place where it’s felt with special intensity.
Our conversation lasts slightly less than 25 minutes (piano by my daughter).
The other day, I was out in Pomona – 40 miles east of Los Angeles — and took a swing by what was once one of the region’s most notorious parks.
In south Pomona, it was for years officially called Madison Park, but known to everyone around as Sharkie Park. The 12th Street gang, which dates to the 1940s, had its territory nearby, took the nickname the Sharkies and used the park as its main hangout.
Gang members who killed were allowed to get a shark tattoo. They feuded famously and endlessly with Cherryville, another Pomona neighborhood gang. They were among four Pomona gangs targeted last year by a federal task force in Operation Dirty Thirds.
Today, the park is an emblem of how gang culture has retreated in Southern California.
Madison (Sharkie) Park was rechristened Tony Cerda Park, for a local Chicano activist. From Facebook, I’m seeing that it occasionally has exercise classes. Police I spoke with can’t remember the last shooting there — a remarkable fact. Indeed, the park was quiet, with only an elderly fellow riding by on a bike.
I spent some time driving around 12th Street and I found what I’ve found in other once-notorious gang neighborhoods.
No one hanging out. No graffiti.
Blank walls everywhere. The only sign that graffiti was once there is what appears to be a floodwaters stain about seven feet high, which is about as high as gangsters could reach with a spray can. It’s where wall owners, or the city, had to paint up to to cover the graffiti.
After that, the wall slightly changes color. You can see this in these pictures.
This is the new sign of Southern California’s change – this floodwater look, as if seven feet of water was once here and has receded. (Beneath it, you can bet, are layers and layers of graffiti alternating with beige or white paint, going back decades.)
You see this everywhere. It’s a hopeful mark. It means that the scourge that once drowned working-class neighborhoods has departed.
I have no idea if Pomona 12th Street still exists and, if so, in what form; nor do I know what’s happened to their feud with Cherryville. I can say that whatever they’re up to, they no longer are visible on the streets where they gained their reputation. So homeowners no longer have to invest in painting over their graffiti.
Southern California still has some pockets where gangs are an issue. But they’re the exception now.
My dad died early Friday morning. He was a great father, loved his boys fiercely, a beloved and tempestuous literature professor at Claremont McKenna College, a husband, scholar and author.
I’m only beginning to understand how much I’ll miss him.
Here’s my obituary for him, which I’ve submitted to the newspaper in our hometown:
Ricardo J. Quinones, a long-time Claremont resident and retired comparative literature professor at Claremont McKenna College, has died from complications of a many-year struggle with Parkinson’s Disease.
Prof. Quinones was also founding director of the Gould Center for Humanistic Studies at the college, which now has a distinguished lectureship in his name. For several years, he served on the board of directors of the National Council for the Humanities, appointed in 2004 by President George W. Bush.
He died in hospice care at his home in West Los Angeles on Jan. 25, 2019. He was 83.
Prof. Quinones and his young family arrived in Claremont in an old Buick station wagon in 1963, straight out of Harvard University, where he earned his PhD under renowned literary scholar Harry Levin.
Over the years he became a fixture on the small, growing campus, a beloved teacher for generations of students, in love with his subject. He was chosen Professor of the Year in the mid-1970s. He was also at times a tempestuous figure. He protested the Vietnam War, supported the Civil Rights Movement, loved Robert F. Kennedy and voted for George McGovern.
Years later, with increasing encounters with a stifling political correctness in academia, his politics veered away from the Democratic Party, believing it had left him, though his favorite presidents remained Harry Truman and John Kennedy.
He was one of the first presidents of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers – which formed in 1994 in opposition to the politicization of debate in the humanities and as an alternative to the Modern Language Association, the mainstream organization of literature scholars.
Through it all, he loved reading and literature and all kinds of stories, baseball and basketball, movies, especially gangster movies, and The Godfatherabove all. He was as delighted by Bird and Magic as he was by T.S. Eliot and King Lear. During the 1963 move to Claremont, he entertained his then-two young sons with the stories of Odysseus, and his office was a famous chaos of books and papers piled in seemingly incoherent stacks, in a filing system only he could decipher.
In his long career, he wrote nine books of literary criticism, including three in retirement while battling Parkinson’s. He was a noted scholar and expert on the works of Shakespeare, Dante, and James Joyce. He was selected to write the entry on Dante Alighieri for Encyclopedia Britannica.
His last book, North/South: The Great European Divide, in 2016, was a discussion of Protestant and Catholic Christianity and their effect on economic development. His first book,The Renaissance Discovery of Time(1972), is considered a standard of literary studies of the period.
Novelist Charles Johnson used Quinones’ book, The Changes of Cain, an exposition on the Cain-Abel theme in literature, to influence his 1998 historical novel, Dreamer, about the life of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In retirement, he also wrote five books of poetry. His poetry tended toward storytelling. He wrote a poem about the plane that went down in that Pennsylvania field on September 11 – Shanksville– and another about his memories at age 10 of the men returning from World War II.
As the disease withered his muscles and twisted his fingers and toes, he nevertheless held poetry events, with actors reading his work, combined with a cellist or a violinist.
Ricardo Quinones grew up in Allentown, PA, the second child of Laureano and Maria Elena Quinones: He an immigrant from Galicia, Spain and a worker in a brewery; she a worker in a sewing factory, born in America to a large family of immigrants from Calabria, Italy.
Laureano Quinones had been born an illegitimate child, abandoned by his mother in his seacoast village in Spain. Leaving her baby with relatives, Eliana Otero fled to Argentina and was never heard from again. Laureano was raised by an uncle, taking the uncle’s last name of Quinones. At 20, he left Spain and, alone, made his way to Puerto Rico, where he cut sugar cane, then to New York and finally to Allentown, PA, where he met and married Maria Elena Matriciano.
They lived in the First Ward, a teeming, densely packed neighborhood of immigrants from Italy, Poland, Hungary, and Syria, who had large families and came to the town for its easily available manufacturing jobs. Bethlehem Steel and Mack Trucks were among the mainstays of the town.
Growing up, Ricardo Quinones was an altar boy and a copy boy at the Allentown Morning Call newspaper, where he one night shepherded the news that Hank Williams had died.
A friendly priest channeled him into college, something rare for kids from the First Ward, where many parents had little education and spoke English poorly.
Like his father before him, he left the comfortable enclave and struck out into the world – taking a bus alone to Chicago and Northwestern University, a private school where upon his arrival he was the among the poorest students on campus.
Originally intending to be a journalist, he fell under the mentorship of Donald Torchiana, a Northwestern literature professor, and from there his career focus shifted to academia.
At Northwestern, he also met his first love, Lolly Brown, a student from an upper-class family in Des Moines, Iowa. They were married in 1956. Their early days were spent in Europe on a Fulbright Scholarship, studying in Italy, Germany, and France, where he played basketball for a club in the town of Clermont-Ferrand.
He came to Claremont as the town was morphing into a place of great musical, and artistic effervescence. His friends were poets and artists, then later political scientists and economists. His sons attended Oakmont Elementary, El Roble Junior High, and Claremont High School, and he sent them to Berkeley, Yale, and CMC.
He encountered death too young. His mother died when he was 11; his father when he was 22. His second son, Nathanael, died at 18 in a car accident in February, 1979, followed by his wife, who died of cancer that May.
After that, he raised his two youngest sons – Ben and Josh – alone. They went on to become attorneys. His oldest son, Sam, is a journalist and author.
In the late 1990s, he met Roberta Johnson, a literature professor at Kansas University specializing in Spanish women writers. They fell in love and married in 1998. One of his books of poetry is titled Roberta. She cared for him through his illness, along with his wonderful caregivers, Anthony, Marlon and Ferdie.
In 2008, he survived the rupture of an aortic aneurysm, something few have done. Then, in a kind of slow-motion torture over many years, Parkinson’s took most of what made the man. He could only shuffle toward the end. Yet he wrote every day, pecking away through each morning, until the very end, when it took that from him, too.
Apart from cigars, Italian food and red wine, books were the only material possessions he loved. At his home, his shelves remain the earthly expression of his fertile mind. In his stacks is Heaven: A History, and The History of Hell. One of his favorite poets, the storyteller Robert Frost, stands in between Joe Stalin and Martin Luther; Henry Kissinger’s World Order next to Lord of the Flies — testament to how he enjoyed throwing ideas together and seeing what the collision produced.
On Christmas Eve, when his sons’ families were about to meet for dinner, they thought it best he not come over but instead head to a hospital for his low blood pressure. It didn’t seem safe. But he insisted on being at the dinner. Demanded it. Marlon Batiller, his dearest caretaker, told him, if you can stand, I’ll take you. He stood. On this, his last family Christmas dinner, more fragile than ever, he read For the Union Dead by poet Robert Lowell.
A few weeks later, on his last time out of bed, he asked Marlon to pull him up and into his wheelchair, and roll him into the dining room. There, on the table, sat the readings for his next project. It was to be a book about the 1800s, though he wasn’t sure yet what. His reading for it included Treasure Island, Huckleberry Finn, biographies of U.S. Grant, Napoleon, and others.
He’d grown to love Grant. He added him to his list of favorite presidents and defended him vigorously as mistreated by history.
That morning, emaciated, he sat in his wheelchair beside his books. He held the Grant biography. Then he leafed through the Napoleon. The books were new, and thick, and heavy and he re-read a bit from each.
Finally, he placed them back on the table and he sat in the chair in silence just looking at them one last time. And after a great long while like that, he asked Marlon to wheel him down the hall and back to the bed, where, two days later, he died.
A public memorial service will be held Sunday, April 7 at 12:30pm at the CMC Athenaeum.
In Los Angeles, Craigslist has emerged in the last few months as a major new marketplace for illicit fentanyl.
The online classified ad service has for several years been a virtual street corner, a place where drugs are sold under lightly veiled pseudonyms: black-tar heroin (“roofing tar”), crystal methamphetamine (“clear sealant”), or generic and most likely counterfeit oxycodone 30 mg pills (“M30”).
But fentanyl, the deadliest of them all, is a new arrival, apparently within the last year, and for the moment appears to be for sale on Craigslist only on its Los Angeles site.
A search of Los Angeles Craigslist revealed numerous listings for fentanyl code words “China White Doll” or “White China Plates” or “China White Dishes.” A few were even more brazen: China “fenty fent” White read one. The ads usually display no photographs or images other than maps of the areas the vendors purport to serve.
The search did turn up numerous ads of what appeared to be vendors of actual dinnerware; these included photographs of plates, bowls, teacups.
But other ads were like this one, from a West Hollywood vendor, who advertised under the headline, “White China Christmas Edition – $100”:
“Were you left out in the cold? Were you served fake stuff? Are you sick? Let me help you ease your pain. …Tired of the petty games or fake product being sold at a cheaper price, or waiting hours upon hours for the dude.”
Offering “Winter White Fine China,” a Sherman Oaks vendor advertised professionalism, reliability, fast service and “product testing available. No pressure to purchase.”
“Yes honest vendors still exist!” the vendor wrote. “Be cautious, stay alert & don’t get fooled! If you’re not absolutely satisfied we go our separate ways!”
“Mention #painpaingoaway for the sale prices,” read one Wilshire vendor’s ad.
Another in Gardena offered a “brand name substitute of roofing tar”: “$20/strip if you’re buying one, price breaks if you need more. White china plates also available as well, $100/half set $180/full set. TEXT ONLY PLEASE. When you contact me, please include your name, what you’re looking to purchase and if you’re mobile or if you need delivery (If delivery, include your location as well)”
Many listed the keywords that buyers might be using to find vendors: “Addys, blues, China, perks, xanax, white, coke, fent, Subs, Percocet, oxycodone, Norco, Suboxone, adderall, fentanyl, Dilaudid, tramadol.”
I sent an email to Craigslist media department requesting an interview on how and why this occurred and is allowed, but I’ve received no response.
“We’ve observed a high frequency of involvement of Craigslist in the dissemination of [illegal] drugs,” said Ben Barron, an assistant U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles who is prosecuting the region’s first Craigslist-related fentanyl death case. The case involves Andrew Madi, an alleged Craigslist heroin and fentanyl dealer who is accused of selling fentanyl that killed a buyer last summer.
Madi, 25, was indicted earlier this month on charges that he sold fentanyl to a buyer, recently out of drug treatment, who responded to his Craigslist Los Angeles ad. Barron said Madi allegedly advertised “roofing tar” (black-tar heroin). Then, via texts, Madi allegedly told the buyer he was out of roofing tar, but had “China White,” offering a money-back guarantee if the buyer was unsatisfied with his product.
When Madi texted him later asking his opinion of what he’d been sold, the buyer replied that “this white does the job for sure.” On July 6, the buyer was found dead in his apartment, with a baggie containing fentanyl nearby. Officials allege that Madi had been advertising fentanyl, heroin and Xanax on Craigslist since March.
“We have very good reason to believe that this was just one small slice of the trafficking [Madi] was doing using many email addresses and burner cellphones” on Craigslist, Barron said.
A cursory check of Craigslists in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, Seattle, Minneapolis, Charlotte, San Francisco, Palm Springs, and Las Vegas turned up only a small number of similar listings, or none at all. New York’s listing offered a handful of such ads. San Diego and Orange County Craigslists had several, though far fewer, suspect listings than did Los Angeles.
Barron suggested the reason may be related to Los Angeles’s position as a major drug hub, both from Mexico and from China, where much of the fentanyl powder is made by hundreds of chemical companies.
“Even if we don’t have the same degree of opiate overdose problem as you’d see in the Rust Belt, the drugs are flowing through here,” he said.
One long-time heroin addict, who requested anonymity, suggested the Craigslist fentanyl marketplace was due to the bust of an extensive, well-used San Fernando Valley-based heroin delivery services — known by addicts and police as Manny’s Delivery Service — in December, 2017. Addicts and mid-level dealers from as far away as Anaheim and Bakersfield were said to patronize the service.
The service reputedly did not sell fentanyl, but the addict said many people have switched to fentanyl after Manny’s cheap, potent heroin, and the organization’s convenient delivery, were no longer available — though other services have stepped into the vacuum Manny’s left behind.
The Craigslist ads for fentanyl, he noted, began popping up not long after Manny’s was taken down by local and federal authorities. The cases against 16 defendants in the Manny’s indictment are still winding their way through court.
Fentanyl might have arrived anyway, said the user, given its advantages as an underworld drug. “But I can tell you without a doubt what has happened to the L.A. dope scene since they were busted: Fentanyl is everywhere. There’s a lot of people who are choosing to use fentanyl,” he said in a telephone interview.
If you have any stories of buying fentanyl, heroin, or other illegal drugs on Craigslist, or from Manny’s Delivery Service, please feel free to comment below, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fentanyl is a legitimate medical painkiller – a synthetic opioid – used often in cardiac surgery and to control chronic pain. But it is up to a hundred times more potent than morphine and highly addictive, and thus has become a street drug as America’s epidemic of opiate addiction has spread in recent years. The epidemic began with doctors overprescribing narcotic pain pills. Many patients grew addicted to those pills and some of them switched to heroin, which is mostly from Mexico or Colombia. Recently, though, traffickers have turned to fentanyl as a heroin substitute because it is cheaper to manufacture and, due to its potency, easier to smuggle in small quantities.
Public health and law enforcement officials attribute the record overdose-death rates of the last few years to widespread addiction to opiates across the United States and the arrival of illicit fentanyl – often in powder form – on the streets in response.
Fentanyl has become widely offered for sale on the Dark Web — that part of the Internet that requires a special connection and expertise to connect to. But Los Angeles appears to be the first place where the drug is offered on the open web.
The emergence of the Craigslist fentanyl marketplace is alarming, Barron said, because at least “on the Dark Web, there’s a degree of sophistication involved in that, whereas anybody can use Craigslist.”
One thing I tend to encounter is stories of how we become American.
I met a Lyft driver recently named Aldo who’s changing his name to Bruce Wayne.
He’s from Guatemala and came here 30 years ago, at 14, escaping civil war.
He doesn’t want anything to do with Guatemala any more, he told me.
He went back for the first time not long ago, and couldn’t stand it.
“Nobody follows the rules,” he said. “You can’t just drive along peacefully like this. You gotta be aware of these other drivers running redlights. Motorcyclists coming up to rob you.”
I’ve heard the greatest stories from Lyft drivers. I met the brother of the champion of Mongolian BMX racing one time. Another was a Vietnamese screenwriter. A third was a Dreamer.
As Aldo and I drove along, he extolled the virtues of his Kia Optima hybrid, how he’d lived peacefully with his family in South Gate for eight years until his landlord married a Colombian woman and she started causing problems.
He told me he’d adopted his wife’s children — she was legally changing her name from Maria de la Luz to Lucy — raised them. They are now grown or growing. That he contracted polio when he was born and walks with crutches.
In Guatemala, he couldn’t go back to his old neighborhood because he might not be able to leave it. He also couldn’t stand the smells in the outdoor markets.
So he came back from his visit home and is getting his U.S. citizenship next year. When he does he’ll change his name to Batman’s alter ego.
“I’m American,” he told me. “Everybody knows him.”
Reynoso was part of L.A. crime lore. He was a member of Big Hazard, an East LA street gang.
Later, he was made a member of the Mexican Mafia while in prison. He was one of the 22 Eme members indicted in the first federal RICO case against the gang — coming in 1995, and hingeing on the testimony of Ernie “Chuco” Castro, up to that point one of the most influential members of the organization.
The trial pulled back the veil on the mafia in several ways – one of which was to reveal its scheme for using street gang members to tax drug dealers in the barrios of Southern California, the revenue for which was funneled to mafia members and their associates.
The scheme remains in place today and has turned the Mexican Mafia into more than a prison gang –rather, an organization with enormous influence beyond prison walls.
At his passing, he was deemed the highest-ranking active Mexican Mafia member.
The last few years have seen the passing of several Eme figures from those years — those who formed or spread the Eme: Peter “Sana” Ojeda, Frank “Frankie B” Buelna, Ruben Rodriguez, “Black Dan” Barela. Joe Morgan and Benjamin “Topo” Peters died years ago. Many others have dropped out of the gang while in prison – an exodus that began with Castro, who went into federal witness protection, and, before him, Ramon “Mundo” Mendoza.
Most of the older Eme members, like Reynoso, were heroin addicts on the street — reflecting the fact that their criminal careers began in the late 1960s, early 1970s — a time when heroin crept into the Mexican-American neighborhoods of Southern California with a vengeance.
Great columnists possess one common trait: They’re all newspapers reporters at heart. They sometimes opine on the day’s news, but they usually leave 24-hour news punditry to others.
Instead, what they most believe in is going to talk to the neighbor, the cop, the pastor, or the taco truck owner. Reporting, true and straight. Nothing like it for burning away crud and getting to a joyous kernel of veracity.
That’s what Mike has done as a columnist. He combined that instinct with a deep knowledge of his native town.
Today, awash in the sewage of 24-hour news, we too often confuse columnists with pundits. They are not the same – at least the best columnists aren’t.
The best columnists help you understand where you live, often by pointing out the tiniest corners of the town that you realize only later that you were dying to know about. Mike did that.
It’s not that they don’t have opinions. Columnists’ job, in part, is to have opinions. But these opinions should be based on the relentless collection of facts, not on ideology. Mike did that.
Sadly, we Americans prize pundits, who are cheap, as everyone has an opinion; we don’t want to pay for columnists and thus we are poorer for it. We have too many of the former and one less of the latter today.
Mike and I met when I began my stint as the Record’s crime reporter. He took me around to meet the cops and others that would make up my daily rounds for the next four years (1988-92). That first night we drove to south Stockton where a car had plunged through a house and landed on a woman sleeping in her bed. I’d never known that to happen, but in Stockton I covered another dozen of those.
In a year or two, they made Mike a columnist. We sat across from each other for a couple years, as he churned out terrific snapshots of the corners of the town, of its politics, its neighborhoods filled with Cambodians, Sikhs, Michoacanos, blacks, and the whites of north Stockton and east Stockton – which were then two separate planets.
We covered the horror of Cleveland School together, where a drifter showed up in January 1989 with an AK-47 and killed five kids and wounded 30 more.
We were part of a staff then that I believe the best I ever worked with – young reporters, eager to cover the world, growing with experience, and set loose on a town that was full of stunning, beautiful, crazy, terrible stories.
Mike and I got along because we recognized in each other a kindred spirit: we were both born to be reporters. We’d have been miserable and failures in any other profession.
It helped Mike, too, to that Stockton is one of the great American cities. Integrated, roiling, common-sensical, a lot of problems and a lot of heart.
As Mike writes: “It’s the drug addict in recovery. The Hmong in adult education class. The millennial who wants to live in a high-density downtown community. Filipinos digging out their history to restore their lost narrative.”
Mike got out of the office and told their stories and many more. That’s what great columnists do.
This summer, a sculptor built a steel, 11-foot, 800-pound bent heroin spoon. With the help of an gallery owner, he put it on a trailer and drove it to the headquarters of Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin.
The bent-spoon protest of the country’s opiate epidemic by Massachusetts sculptor Domenic Esposito and Fernando Alvarez, owner of a Connecticut art gallery, stayed in front of the company’s Stamford, CT offices for only two hours before police impounded the sculpture, but it gained worldwide attention.
Alvarez was arrested and eventually convicted of a misdemeanor charge of blocking free passage.
I was in Boston recently and had a chance to meet and talk with Esposito about the episode and what brought it on.
Our conversation ended up including his brother’s addiction, drug marketing, Americans’ pain, and #thespoon movement they hope to ignite.
Great story. Take a listen. Share it if you like it:
I don’t go in for nostalgia much. The Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, for example, seems a sad place to end up because it means you and what you created are antiques, dead.
So last night, when I went to the resurrection of The Palomino nightclub (for one night only) in the San Fernando Valley, I was wary.
The Palomino, until its closing in 1995, was part of the roiling, ethnically based music scenes that spawned in Los Angeles in the decades before the Internet and changes in the music industry and club world made such conglomerations rare.
Music is created in a time and a place by people from both and eventually they all pass, and only the records remain, which I figure is good enough.
The excuse for last night was to hold a benefit for a new pop-art museum – Valley Relics. Really, though, it was a chance to remember.
But instead of wallowing in the past, a dozen or more singers showcased the beauty of the music created at The Palomino. True, there were a few too many speeches about how great things were back when. But what I’ll take with me is a raw and simple sweetness, intensity, and longing in the music that I don’t associate with oldies, nostalgia shows.
Three monster backup bands, including one led by guitarist James Intveld, who got his start at The Palomino, were worth paying to see by themselves; his band included the tremendous Marty Rifkin on pedal steel.
Last night, I was finally able to see Rosie Flores, who rocks as hard as anyone. Jim Lauderdale was impeccable and has a voice that, if anything, has improved with age. I first heard him on an anthology album called A Town South of Bakersfield that I found sometime in the early 1990s and was my introduction to L.A. country music.
Most unexpectedly, Gunnar Nelson, of the heartthrob band Nelson, and son of TV-teen-idol-turned-country-act Rick Nelson, showed up to play a Dylan song and two by his late father. He told the story behind his dad’s hit, “Garden Party,” which Rick Nelson wrote after playing a Madison Square Garden oldies show, only now he was playing hippie country music and the crowd hated it. He wrote the song and its chorus (“You can’t please everyone so you gotta please yourself.”) in response. Never knew that story. The song took on a power and poignancy I’d never associated with it until his son played it.
(I’ll admit to not knowing until today that Intveld’s brother, Rick, played in Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band and both were killed when the band’s plane crashed in Texas in 1985.)
A slide show on a wall reminded us that the great days of The Palomino were the 1970s and into the 1980s. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Those were great years for music scenes in L.A., and thus for the clubs where they found their legs.
In the late 1970s, legions of white punks in Hollywood created their own scene, complete with clubs but also halls rented for DIY shows. That was followed in the mid-1980s by black kids from Compton creating beats in their garages on SP 1200 drum machines, birthing gangsta rap. Not long after that, the narcocorrido scene emerged in the newly forged Mexican-immigrant enclaves of South Gate, Bell, Huntington Park, Lynwood southeast of L.A., growing from the music of Chalino Sanchez, who was murdered in 1992.
All of these had in common a lot of young folks who were initially ignored by the recording industry and mainstream radio, and who thus learned to make their own records and promote them on their own, selling them in swap meets and outside shows.
Meanwhile, out on Lankersheim in the then-largely white San Fernando Valley, The Palomino attracted huge stars of country music – Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Tom T. Hall, Marty Robbins, Kris Kristofferson. But the club was also a magnet for young musicians who came to LA from all over to play country music. Some of the best country music in America was created there.
The Palomino offered what all music scenes must have: A venue for young artists and bands to aspire to, a place to hone, to be heard and discovered. Dwight Yoakam was an opening act there. The club was also a hangout for young actors and stuntmen in the film industry.
So last night was a good night. In the end maybe I was affected by some bit of nostalgia. The night made me yearn for the days when I was going to the Hong Kong Café and watching the Germs, the Plugz and the Go-Gos on the same small stage. (I think I once went to The Palomino – can’t remember any more – but I do know that back then a trip to the 818 was, for me, almost like a trip to another country, so it didn’t happen much.)
Today, from what I can see, the era of the L.A. music scene is largely dead. My take is that the Internet has made music so easy to create that the industry has fragmented into a million little pieces and no sufficiently large critical mass of fans, clubs, and media attention can form around a small group of artists doing daring new stuff.
Plus record stores, where like-minded fans and musicians often met, are all gone.
Everything’s so diffuse. Listen to KCRW and you rarely hear the same band – they just cascade by.
I’m sure someone will correct me on this. Maybe I’m not paying as much attention as I used to.
But going out to dive clubs where daring music is played doesn’t seem quite the thing to do that it once was. Without the clubs as centers of community where fans can see musicians and musicians can improve – like, in their day, the Hong Kong Café, El Parral, and The Palomino – it’s hard to imagine that kind of musical effervescence repeated.
New stuff will come along, but it seems unlikely it will be forged in the same kind of community as LA made possible for so long.
I’m here in Topeka, Kansas, where I’m speaking to the Kansas Medical Society, and it’s an overcast day.
First time here. So I stopped in at the Brown v. Board of Education historic site in the southwest part of town, where the neighborhoods have a lot of nice wooden houses with porches under tall trees.
The site is the old Monroe Elementary School, once segregated, where the black families who brought the suit had their children enrolled.
Oliver Brown and his daughter Linda Brown were the lead plaintiffs in the case. In 1950, they had gone to a white school to enroll Linda. They were turned away. Their case went to the Supreme Court and changed America by, among other things, beginning our country’s agonizing process of living up to our constitution as written.
The court’s 1954 ruling, of course, overturned the idea, enshrined in U.S. law following the Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), that separate and equal public schools were constitutional.
Using the Brown case as a test, the NAACP and its attorney Thurgood Marshall argued that separate but equal violated the 14thAmendment. The amendment was passed during Reconstruction guaranteeing, among other things, equal protection under the law. Jim Crow had suffocated the amendment.
The court agreed unanimously with Marshall — and with that began the resuscitation of that part of the Constitution.
I learned a few things.
One was that Brown was only the lead of five school segregation cases that were argued before the Supreme Court that day. Others were from South Carolina, Virginia, Delaware and Washington DC. The Kansas case was chosen as the lead case because the effects of segregation were less bad – the differences between white and black schools weren’t as pronounced — and thus the case had the potential for setting a new high standard for black schools – that of white schools in Kansas. In some cases, the black schools were actually better than the white schools. So a ranger explained to me.
The idea of choosing Topeka as the lead suit was to make school segregation itself, and not the school quality, the key issue.
Also, I learned that Topeka didn’t wait, but began integrating its schools a year before the Supreme Court’s ruling. Other regions of the country, of course, rebelled.
I heard the name of Charles Houston for the first time.
Houston was the dean of the Howard University Law School who turned the school into a “West Point for civil rights attorneys,” mentoring Thurgood Marshall, as well as many other less-heralded but equally energetic attorneys.
Sounds like quite a figure in American history.
I bought a biography of Marshall written by Juan Williams because it appears to have a lot of references to him. Houston worked his students like a drill instructor, flunked a good many, and had a saying when students complained about the hard work: “no tea for the feeble; no crepe for the dead.” In time, he took Howard Law from an unaccredited backwater into a powerhouse, churning out talents attorneys whom I suspect, like Marshall, helped change the country.
Through all our complicated history, the courts remain the place, as Houston knew, where people, though it would take so much painful time, eventually could find justice.
Here’s a photo of Linda Brown, who was 7 and in the 3rd grade when her father first took her to that white school to be denied enrollment. That’s quite a dramatic image – this big man holding his daughter hand in his as they walk up the steps into this school where they’ll likely be rebuffed.
It now appears that within the NIH push is what is described to me as “a lot” of money (though how much is as yet unknown) to establish three research centers around the country. Here are the guidelines for applying for that money.
Sounds like it might be a good moment for folks in the tri-state Ohio River Valley, so badly hit by the epidemic and deindustrialization, to marshal some forces and look to the future of what such a center can mean for research, dollars, and attracting PhDs to the area — and what all that might mean, in turn, for regional economic development.
They might also consider, as I wrote two years ago, what such a center could mean for all those recovering addicts now studying to be drug counselors and social workers, who might be hired to help in the studies such a center would fund.
After so many years of negative behavior, many I’ve met are now eager to be part of something positive and something bigger than themselves. Harnessing them could mean a massive infusion of new energy to a region that’s lost a lot of it.
This being the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on our country of Sept. 11, 2001, I’m publishing a poem written about the day by my father, who is professor emeritus of comparative literature from Claremont McKenna College.
By Ricardo Quinones
Whatever it was,
Needing a companion at 40,000 feet,
The accumulating spotty clouds
Suggesting the beetle bush wildness
That overhung his eyes;
The patches of ground below
That resembled the splotches
Of his nearing-ninety skin,
Or the flight path itself
Southeast of Pittsburgh,
Some twenty minutes from D.C.
Placing us directly over Shanksville,
The last great chapter of American democracy.
All conspired to bring to mind
The presence that they required.
And so I said to the presiding form
The poetic father of us all
“Kitty Hawk, Kitty Hawk,”
And he, pleased by the recollection,
Replied, “Shanksville, a name quite different,
Like many along these rural roads,
But what’s in a name?
What matters are the revelations they contain.”
Out of the depths of the American past,
He established the tableau of vision
That would govern our conversation.
The Wright brothers had it all,
Tinkerer’s genius of invention
Coupled with the thirst for competition.
The French were dogging their tails.
But they were masters of locomotion
And at Kitty Hawk
Were the first to lift a powered device
Weighing more than air
Twenty feet off the ground for twenty seconds
A distance of 120 feet.
To the derision and abuse
Their claims elicited
Galileo’s defense was ready for use,
“Eppure si muove,” nevertheless it flew.
The French with justice in their hearts
Were brought to admit and apologize
For discrediting this first adventure into space
That in more than a half -century’s time
Would send a human to stroll on the moon. Continue reading →
Today I learned that the Orchard Supply Hardware store near me is closing.
Some 4300 people* are losing their jobs. A chain of growing and seemingly profitable hardware stores, serving well their communities, is being liquidated.
OSH, as it’s known, has 99 stores in California, Oregon and Florida. If you don’t live in those states, you may wonder why this matters to you. But it does.
For this is not about globalization, or low-skilled immigrants stealing 4300 jobs. Instead it’s Wall Street; it’s about a few rich guys who need to make their numbers.
When I talk about Dreamland, I often say that our opiate epidemic grew from our destruction of community, in many ways, all across America. The demise of Orchard Supply Hardware, announced last week, is the kind of thing I’m talking about.
OSH was a place where the community came, where people bought things with which they built their homes and yards.
The store had a rare combination in hardware these days: great customer service and smaller stores. That meant you could actually find the things you needed. This earned it $600 million in sales last year. OSH, which is owned by Lowe’s, was expanding.
OSH is a chain but people I know feel like it’s their local hardware store. I didn’t buy hardware anywhere else. With all the crappy chain stores and chain restaurants we Americans have to tolerate stomping all over our country, here was one that people actually wanted to shop in, and felt close to.
It seemed that behind OSH was a creative idea: position it as an alternative in a world where customers are moving away from big box stores they have to drive for miles to get to. Smaller stores, easier to get to, alert and knowledgeable staff.
Sadly, Lowe’s backed off this inventive positioning of OSH in July when it hired Marvin Ellison as CEO.
You may wonder: What about that record makes this guy worth hiring anywhere?
You may wonder: What company looking to rebound in this retail environment would hire anyone from JCPenney?
Another question that may occur to you is, why does Lowe’s feel in such a hurry to boost its stock price? Well one reason, apparently, is that a big chunk of Lowe’s stock has been purchased by Bill Ackman, an activist hedge-fund investor, who is hankering for change and wanted Ellison.
Here’s why: Ackman’s hedge fund once had $20 billion, but as investors have pulled out amid its poor performance, the fund now has only $8 billion. Of that, he’s betting $1 billion on Lowe’s stock to rise, and quickly, to staunch the investor exodus. (For more, watch this CNBC interview.)
Thus, Forbes wrote, “The Lowe’s clock is ticking. And with Ackman as the timekeeper, Marvin Ellison is a man in a hurry.”
First idea: liquidate a growing and seemingly profitable chain of stores and its 4300 employees. Double down on big-box retailing just as consumers are rejecting it.
Mind you, this has nothing to do with improving the long-term viability of Lowe’s as a business.
But I guess if I’d lost as much money as Ackman has, I’d be in a hurry to earn it back, too.
Still, you know, Ackman and Ellison might take a moment. Common folks are paying the price: the employees, the contractors and communities that rely on those stores.
In corporate America — as we’ve swooned over it, exalted it, praised its wealthy leaders for making themselves lots of money — the clear hunchI have is that, really, a lot of the fellows at the top are not that good. It’s mediocrity on parade a lot of the time, insulated from results, from any whiff of merit pay, and from the consequences of their failures, particularly as they are felt in towns across America.
I spoke to a guy at my OSH store who said he had worked for the company for 20 years. Here’s how he was told the news: On the afternoon of Tuesday last, company officials suddenly shut the store, escorted the remaining customers out, assembled the staff, and let them know their jobs were ending; the store was closing Oct. 20.
“Today you’re Orchard Supply Hardware. Tomorrow you belong to liquidators,” he said they were told.
Within a couple days, “Everything Must Go” signs were all over the store.
You may wonder: How is that okay?
Here’s Ellison: Lowe’s is “developing plans to aggressively rationalize store inventory, reducing lower-performing inventory while investing in increased depth of high-velocity items. Exiting Orchard Supply Hardware and rationalizing inventory are the driving force behind the changes to Lowe’s Business Outlook.”
So they’re going to stock stuff that sells well. Brilliant idea.
But why does that mean OSH must close? Why not sell it to someone who actually gives a damn about Americans and their communities, and who has the creativity and energy to run such a company?
(NOTE: A Lowe’s spokeswoman emailed me this morning (8/29) with this response to the columns, saying that OSH was not profitable:
We are working hard to make this transition as smooth as possible for our associates and our customers. We will be retaining our associates through the store closure process and are encouraging them to apply for open roles at Lowe’s stores, where they will receive priority status. Associates will receive job placement assistance, and we will be providing eligibility for severance. 86 percent of Orchard locations are located within 10 miles of a Lowe’s store.
The decision to exit Orchard was based on the need to focus growing our core home improvement business and deploy our capital to more profitable projects. Orchard’s 2017 earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) was a -$65 million on sales of approximately $605 million.*)
Instead, Marvin Ellison, escaping JCPenney, decided within less than two months to close 99 stores and lay off 4300 people.
All because? Well apparently Bill Ackman has lost a lot of money in bad investments.
As I’ve traveled the country, I’ve learned that the cost of losing Main Street has been incalculable – yet we bow to the free market as if we have no choice. That’s what’s happening here.
The good news? Lowe’s stock price has gone up a few bucks – so I guess we can all breathe easier.
This move will harm Lowe’s in the long run. I know sales are going online, but hardware will always be different. Customers need that contact with sales staff who know their stuff. Even contractors say that. (See a video about contractors’ opinions on OSH closing.)
OSH formed in 1931. Many years later it was bought by Sears, whose glory days were well behind it, looking to spruce up its home-improvement position. Owned finally by a hedge fund, Sears apparently did what Sears is now known for as a hedge-fund property – it muddled through. (Read an LA Times story here.)
Finally, it spun the company off, but not before saddling it with enormous debt. Naturally, that debt crushed OSH into bankruptcy within two years. This is how Business Insider described it:
“In 2005, Sears Holdings – by then run by hedge-fund guy Eddie Lampert – announced that it would extract a special dividend of $450 million out of OSH, and that OSH would borrow the money to pay this dividend.
“In January 2012, in typical private-equity manner, the now heavily indebted OSH was spun off to the public; 18 months later, in June 2013, OSH, buckling under this debt that Sears Holdings had put on it, filed for bankruptcy.”
In bankruptcy, OSH was bought in 2013 by Lowe’s, which, under then-CEO Robert Niblock, did some great things. Above all, it remodeled OSH stores. Funny what happens when you invest as if for the long run. The staff now seemed motivated. The store came to life; so apparently did the chain. In Pasadena, it became one of the city’s biggest sales-tax generators.
Until that day in July when OSH’s parent company hired a guy from JCPenney at the behest of a hedge-fund owner losing money in a bull market.
You may wonder at it all.
If so, here’s a petition to make yourselves felt. Please share it, and this article, if you like it.
(Correction: I originally noted the number of OSH employees as 5400. A Lowe’s spokeswoman informs me that the correct number is 4300 and I’ve made that correction throughout.)
In Louisville the other day, I wanted to see how jail was changing in America.
This epidemic of opiate addictions calling on us to reexamine a lot about how we live, our values, culture, ideas and institutions we’ve taken for granted.
One of them is jail. Jail has always been a crippling liability in our fight against drug abuse. Jails are usually places where humans vegetate, sit around, argue, learn better criminal techniques, then get out weary and stressed and, if they’re addicted to drugs, they head straight to the dealer’s house.
This epidemic is forcing new ideas. One of them is jail turned into an asset, a place of nurturing, of communion as addicts learn to help each other.
That’s a bizarre concept. I never thought I’d write “nurturing” and “jail” in the same sentence, but it’s happening.
The state of Kentucky seems furthest along in all this. I wrote an Op-Ed column for the NY Times about a visit I paid to the jail in Kenton County, Kentucky. Yet what’s being tried in Kenton County – and a couple dozen other county jails in Kentucky — began in Louisville – in Metro Jail.
Well, if “we can’t arrest our way out of this,” as is so often said, then we need more drug-addiction treatment. Yet this epidemic has swamped our treatment-center infrastructure. New centers are costly to build, politically difficult to site, and entering them is beyond the means of most uninsured street addicts, anyway.
I know that jailing addicts is anathema to treatment advocates. But opiates are mind-controlling beasts. Waiting for an addict to reach rock bottom and make a rational choice to seek treatment sounds nice in theory. But it ignores the nature of the drugs in question, while also assuming a private treatment bed is miraculously available at the moment the street addict is willing to occupy it. With opiates rock bottom is often death.
Jail can be a necessary, maybe the only, lever with which to encourage or force an addict to seek treatment before it’s too late. In jail, addicts first interface with the criminal-justice system, long before they commit crimes that warrant a prison sentence. Once detoxed of the dope that has controlled their decisions, jail is where addicts more clearly behold the wreckage of their lives. The problem has been that it’s at this very moment of contrition when they have been plunged into a jail world of extortion, violence, and tedium. It’s a horrible waste of an opportunity, and almost guarantees recidivism.
With this epidemic, though, we’re seeing new approaches – jail as a place of rehabilitation, a place where recovery can begin.
Several years ago, as heroin began to grip the area, the Louisville jail saw inmates dying from overdoses.
Mark Bolton, the jail’s director, said the spate of deaths forced new ideas.
“We modeled a pod on outside treatment (centers),” he said. “It became a matter of taking the resources we had and repurposing them. We sent people [to drug rehabilitation centers on the outside] and found out how they run their peer detox program. We learned from them.”
Louisville Metro began with female inmates. Those who were just off the street and detoxing, and who normally were spread across the jail, were placed together in one pod, christened Enough is Enough. This allowed more focus on their needs, and got them away from other inmates who were angered by their withdrawal symptoms, which included vomiting, diarrhea, screaming, insomnia and more.
Jail officials began allowing people in recovery into the detox pod as well. These recovering addicts mentored the new arrivals – washing and soothing them. Officers preferred it, as they no longer had to clean up vomit and diarrhea.
In addition to bathing and caring for those in withdrawal, inmates take classes in relapse prevention, understanding criminal thinking, accountability, parenting, and more; they run their own 12-step groups.
As the Enough is Enough pod began to function, there were fewer fights, less contraband. “Inmates into their recovery and into their sobriety are self-policing. The wear and tear is less,” Bolton said. “After we worked out the bugs, we began to see some of these people show progress. The inmates into their treatment appreciated the fact that they were caring for a human being that was at a place where they had been once.”
When they leave jail, they’re given a Vivitrol shot, which blocks opiates, and they were connected with housing and follow-up Vivitrol shots.
The jail now has the one women’s pod and three pods for men: 56 detox beds and 64 recovery beds, total.
I visited the pod – with about 30 women, four of whom were detoxing. The walls were covered with art work.
(Click here to hear the end of the pod’s afternoon meeting that day.)
It seemed, finally, a nurturing place in jail – far more about recovery than its connecting pod, where fights and loud noise were common until the early morning.
I spoke at length with a woman named Kara, whose addiction was more than 20 years old. This was her 17th time in jail. She had come from washing the vomit off another woman who had just arrived in the pod.
Here’s our interview:
The Louisville jail experiment isn’t a cure-all – no one thing is for this opiate-addiction epidemic. And the jail has difficulty tracking inmates who leave, so it’s unclear how well they do on the outside. What’s more, inmates by this time face a daunting uphill trudge to sobriety, hampered by family dysfunction on the outside, shredded personal relationships, a private sector wary of hiring them, and on and on.
And of course, there isn’t nearly enough in available treatment options.
“I would love to shut some of these programs down,” Bolton said. “This shouldn’t be the jail’s responsibility. [Addiction] is a public health issue. Our job is detention, protection of the public, to get people to court. When we have to become the quasi mental health facility for people who are poor and don’t have access to services, or for people who are drug addicts and who’ve created these chaotic lifestyles for themselves and can’t get treatment in the community — then we become this de facto fallback place for everybody. That’s not what jails are designed to do, nor should they be.”
Yet until a massive investment in community drug rehab and medically assisted treatment takes place, it’s likely that pods like Enough is Enough will be necessary.
It also occurs to me that with jail rethought and remade — a nurturing place — we have the chance that it will be an asset in the next drug scourge that comes along.
Either way, as with Kenton County, it seems like a better bet of public money than the way jail has been done up to now.