Friday, March 11, 2022

Molly Ivins Liked to Screw

 




Jordan Smith is a veteran reporter at The Intercept and before that the Austin Chronicle where she chronicled shootings and beatings and goings-on-about-town involving the Austin Police Department for fifteen years, more or less. She’s Caucasian not that there’s anything wrong with that. If my memory is correct Jordan is the daughter of a well-regarded reporter for one of the Dallas daily newspapers back in the day. Our relationship—me and her—we’re not talking right now or we won’t be when she reads this. So, like, Jordan Smith is a good person, we were teammates at the Chronicle for exactly one year and the only quarrel we might have would be about how well she performed her duties in the Live Music Capital of the World. The Intercept describes Jordan on its webpage, btw and to be fair to her, as “one of the best investigative reporters in Texas.” Jordan would probably give herself an A or A- for her work on the local pigs alone, which led to her being hired at The Intercept one supposes. Speaking as a noble black man and as a former colleague of Jordan’s and as someone who knows the police as only the American Negro male can, and as someone who knows the Austin P.D. specifically as an organization and as a threat to life and liberty. My evaluation of Jordan’s performance is that she deserves a C- or a D. And therein lies a tale.

Jordan is the author of about 3,000 articles, some on the subject of women’s health but the majority of her work on the subject of policing and the courts and much of that published back when the Chronicle was still a good newspaper, an old-fashioned hard-punching counterculture rag, under editor Louis Black. And almost as important—had a big news hole in print. It is precisely because the Chronicle was so successful in guerrilla journalism that Jordan Smith now has such a large oeuvre to parse. Her work about one of the most racially-challenged police forces in the American South—APD—also known by its gang moniker, River City Pigs. You may say, well, it’s unfair to single out Jordan Smith for criticism. There have been mistakes made in coverage of race everywhere in the country—the principal mistake being believing the police. But forgiveness is something that a white colleague would more likely grant Jordan than a Negro. This is about accountability. In a cracker state. In a white hipster city. In a highly non-diverse profession—not policing but journalism.

If Jordan Smith wanted to be a pig reporter she should have done a better job and that meant nailing APD for murder, that would be my storyline here. She never sealed the deal, you could say, Jordan never caught the cops red-handed. With blood on their hands—over 15 years—even though clearly there was a lot of bloodshed in this capital city. A lot of ass-kicking and beaucoup—beaucoup—unrighteous busts. Beaucoup. It’s hard to describe the history of the Austin Police Department in mere words—there’s suddenly the realization now that something is wrong in Austin just like in Minneapolis. One APD officer has been charged with two murders, another porker with one. A much longer list includes what hasn’t led to arrest, among past cases that the Grand Jury did not vote to indict including a white officer who chased down and killed a black man over loud music. Literally. Here in the Live Music Capital of the World. It wasn’t just the evil white people who fucked up, either. Black people have lent a hand in our own oppression, along the banks of the mighty Colorado. Barack Obama carries blame as well. During his administration, this is more or less correct, some guesswork but offering the best scenario about why the White House did not pursue bad cops in Austin, Texas. The U.S. Attorney in Austin at the time was Robert Pitman—a good guy even if he is white. He is now U.S. District Judge Pitman, sitting in Austin where he has recently been much in the news. To set the scene.

So, like, Judge Pitman has a master’s degree in human rights, or some such, from Oxford, or somewhere—not to get all la di da. But he knows his shit and was endorsed by both of Texas’ Republican Senators, John Cornyn and, at the time, Kay Bailey Hutchison, aka "The Cheerleader," who was on the squad back in the day at UT. Apparently, then-U.S. Attorney Pitman recommended to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder—presumably through the Department of Justice’s civil rights chief—that was Thomas Perez at the time, but who is lately a big Democratic Party money guy. Politically astute, you could call him. General Holder is a black man of course, like the president himself. Our U.S. Attorney in Austin wanted to open a larger investigation of APD, like the kind that Attorney General Garland just ordered in Minneapolis for the good officers of MPD. But U.S. Attorney Pitman was overruled by—there’s no direct evidence, this is a whisper that reached my ears—the president’s political people who didn’t want to anger blue Austin in red Texas. You feel me? It gets worse. There was also a race traitor working as a mole for The White Man! In our innocent black midst! This traitorous nigger helped to skew results to allow white oppression to continue—in a kind of black-on-black political betrayal, worse even than what the damn police did and do. This black cat was formerly one of District Attorney Ronnie Earle’s assistants, back in the day.

The backstabbing brother, named Brown, was police monitor for five years—and was supposed to keep an eye on the pigs but did not, and later got endorsed by the police union for the state judgeship he holds today. Betrayal pays well in Austin. That means the judge is a Tom, as in Uncle Tom, something Jordan Smith couldn’t say or wouldn’t know how to say as a white reporter but a reporter of color would recognize and get on the judge’s ass. Professionally speaking. That’s another reason for avoiding white journalists—guys or chicks—covering cops. In this post-George Floyd era, may he rest in peace, any changes we’re seeing are not the work of a hot-shot Pulitzer Prize winner, either. The real hero is a nameless electrical engineer at Samsung or wherever who first had the idea to put a camera in a cell phone. If not for technology, the white press would be just as clueless today or just as unmotivated as always. So, like, you may ask, where specifically did Jordan fuck up? The critical fact that Jordan failed to wrestle to the ground, not to be judgmental, and was revealed by the black man—me—not to beat my own black drum, but as part of this critical race dialectic. This journalistic coup came with a big assist by the Times and concerned the Austin district attorney not the pigs themselves. This was to write the nut paragraph by the way—you feel me? To bring down the police union and the D.A., wrap it up pretty and put a bow on it just like a gift from Black Santa. To set the scene.

So, like, the D.A. during most of Jordan’s time in the saddle was a Democrat—Ronnie Earle, who was the local prosecutor in ATX for more than three decades. Ronnie was a Yellow Dog Democrat, which is not always a good thing, he was in office so long that the Chronicle once referred to him as the “District Eternity.” To set the scene. And throughout those decades—across dozens of police shootings—Ronnie Earle’s response was always the same. “I’ll take it to the grand jury,” or words to that effect, and the grand jury never charged the pig. So, like, enter—and exit—Eric Garner, in a coffin, in the Year of Our Lord 2014—suffocated by NYPD on a sidewalk on Staten Island, and all of it on tape. After Garner (“I can’t breathe”) and after Ronnie Earle’s retirement as D.A. (pushed out the door by the local NAACP, or so it is rumored) and around the time Jordan pulled the plug at the Chronk, that is loosely the timeframe we’re talking. So, like, after Mr. Garner’s death the Times ran a report about why police shootings so seldom lead to charges against officers. One important reason being that prosecutors make a presentation to grand jurors on police shooting cases without making a recommendation to charge or not to charge, as they did and do in all other cases. Simply dropping the case file on the table, in other words, and walking out of the Grand Jury Room or wherever—leaving to the jurors themselves to sort out the facts and decide if the puerco committed murder, or not, or if este cochino was really a mad dog killer which he very often was, in my modest opinion. Why would Ronnie want to do that? Why would he want to protect the pigs and why would he be so overall pork-friendly? Because the police union—APA—was becoming the most powerful organized labor group in Austin and  always endorsed Ronnie for reelection, our Yellow-Dog D.A. To set the scene. Jordan Smith played and plays in the big leagues of journalism. There’s no doubt. You can talk about foreign correspondents or talk about writers of great opinion pieces but my belief is that the real elites of journalism are on the telephone asking the medical examiner was it one bullet or two? That’s just my view having done the job, lo these many years. So, like, armed with this knowledge about the Grand Jury—courtesy of the New York Times—a public bus carried me one sweaty afternoon to the home of a judge in a northeast neighborhood in our bucolic River City. This jurist of color answered his own door.

This was a cold call—catching the judge by surprise. It wasn’t so much that times had changed but the dynamic at the Travis County Courthouse had changed too. Jordan and Ronnie were both gone. Suddenly it was a black reporter knocking on the door of a black judge (not the Uncle Tom mentioned above) who knew the truth and who spilled the beans as soon as he was asked. Like he had been waiting for the question. And he could trust me because we shared the culture and shared the concern. “Ronnie never made a recommendation,” he said. In the case of a police shooting—Ronnie never told the Grand Jury his opinion as D.A., whether it was a good shooting or not. There was just a file left on the table metaphorically and maybe physically too. Leading grand jurors to believe that Ronnie Earle felt the case was weak. And the ploy worked year after year—decade after decade—because the grand jurors turned over every few months and a new group could be misled the same way the old one was. A simple but effective system used to disenfranchise blacks and Latinos and keep the affection of the Austin Police Association, which is like the damn Mafia in this bucolic River City. And just to be sure—as a noble black journalist—just to be sure and not unduly trash white chicks like Jordan for not sealing the deal—for not bringing home the bacon——or white guys like Ronnie Earle for being corrupt—an interview was conducted with the executive director of the Texas District & County Attorneys Association. Who was a good guy—an honest white guy of which there are one or two—the fingers of one hand are enough for the count in this town, btw, here along the banks of the Colorado River. The worst part is what happened next, in this black narrative that is actually recorded by an African American, not a white reporter who has race as a beat.

So, like, a charitable view is that Jordan didn’t understand what it all meant. But it is my thesis that the biggest problem with these white chicks is that they are not cut out for the work, actually. They lack the cultural skills and white privilege means there’s no urgency in the task—subliminally they don’t want to eliminate police violence because it’s a good beat, covering racism and all—not living it—a reliable source of woe that wins prestigious jobs and Pulitzer Prizes. Not to be Old School or anything. There are all these people going into journalism today, not to be a scold, because they think it’s prestigious. They think it’s cool. They’ve seen the movie, like Kim Jones over at the Chronicle now, not to dish dirt or anything. She started out as a movie reviewer, not that there’s anything wrong with that. No shit. And became editor in chief of the Chronicle without any journalism training or experience to interrupt her ascent. These white chicks think that the way it works is you get an anonymous call at midnight about a plot in Texas government. First thing a good reporter needs to know in Austin is that there are always two or three plots brewing at the State Capitol and you have to pick and choose. Or these inexperienced white chicks think that someone mails you a thumb drive with all the files and that's how you break the story. What really happens is you have to talk to people and people have to feel comfortable talking to you, like me and the black judge. It’s called cultural competence—you have to understand what you’re hearing from others, and know what questions to ask. Which is usually a whole lot easier if you share the culture. Hello! 

As for police violence—white reporters don’t have skin in the game. Literally. Not the white guys and especially not the chicks. A white cop who just shot a black man could be her boyfriend or brother or father. What’s she likely to feel? How might that influence her storyline? And why do we have so many white women covering cops and the courts anyway? Which predominantly affect minority men? Where brothers and chulos got such profound experience, you know? And God forbid that the white chick on the beat is frightened of black men or desires our robust manhood, you feel me, as part of a social-professional-sexual dialectic? Or she holds racist views herself—just like big bro or her daddy? Is that possible? Are white chicks saints? How exactly does peeing sitting down make you a better person? That’s my question, actually. The people most affected by police violence—men of color—don’t get the job. Whites do. These white chicks, you got to shut them down early before their nose is all up in the air and they start acting like the sun shine out of their damn vagina. Maybe it do—if she’s really really really hot. That would be my whole point, actually. You may ask why are you taking all these shots at people? My answer is instead offending white people one at a time, like in the past, why not offend everybody all at once and call it a day?

The criminal justice reporter for the Texas Tribune is Jolie McCullough, who covers the executions for which Texas is famous and which again disproportionately affect minority men. So, like, she wrote in Medium about viewing her first execution. “As the drugs began to flow, there was an uneasy sense of calm. Garcia stopped speaking and let out a big, comfortable yawn. His eyes drooped slightly. He looked relaxed, not scared. I, meanwhile, had begun to sweat. My vision was tightening. I bent my knees to keep them from locking and tried to take deep, discreet breaths. ‘Losing vision,’ I scrawled, almost illegibly, before losing consciousness.” For real? In one sense, yes, because race relations in this country are always viewed through a white lens, even in death. In this example this guy is getting whacked by the State of Texas, not an infrequent occurrence—that is men of color getting the needle. But the execution is somehow all about Jolie McCullough. White girls are famous for that shit, btw, ask any sister or Latina. In an earlier draft that was also published on Medium she wrote that her pulse only started beating again when the condemned man’s stopped. Please. Do your fucking job, lady. It’s not bad enough that the guy is being whacked, for something that he may or may not have done, his execution has to serve as grist for a white reporter’s novel. Bet you any amount of money that Jolie tells friends/family, “I have to go witness an execution tomorrow,” expecting sympathy. Just another privileged white woman, that would be my estimation, as part of a psycho-social-gender dialectic. White chicks are all damn drama queens, not to generalize or anything. This one is another white woman among the many making a living as a white savior journalist. As for social justice, we’ve gone from white guys to white chicks, not to repeat myself, with nothing in between.

The Marshall Project—named after former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who was black, btw—covers criminal justice and policing exclusively but the staff has almost exclusively been white and, specifically, Jewish women. How does that work? Isn’t that theft of someone else’s narrative? How many Jewish homies are wearing stripes and swinging scythes on East Texas prison farms? That would be my question in the journalistic context. Or on Death Row waiting for their turn with the needle? How many are Jews? The editor of Marshall, Susan Chira who is white of course, she's a former NYT chick, had to be harangued over the course of two years to finally desegregate her staff, in order to empower men of color regarding our own narrative. Hello. To cover a subject that disproportionately affects black and Latino men. Hello? After a protracted recent search for a police reporter, Ms. Chira announced the hire—you guessed it—of a white woman. Who is Jewish and has a Pulitzer Prize, as if that ends all debate on her qualifications as a pig reporter. How do we know she’s not just another white tourist in the hood? Bottom line in American journalism—the take-home from my rap—before it was white guys—now it’s white girls. That doesn’t mean that the white chick got the job because she brought home the bacon, either.

Ditto at Pro Publica. Which is on everyone else’s ass about doing the right thing, right? Race stories at Pro Publica are good stories, which is how Molly Ivins liked to call them too, good stories, back in the day at the Observer. They usually involve a killing, at least in Texas. They win Pulitzers. White journalists—previously white men but now a lot of white women—these white chicks see the subject of race as key to success in the newsroom. Whereas reporters of color see racism as something that needs to be eradicated. Who has the better narrative?

 

Imperious Tex In a way Jordan was a victim of her own success. Early in her career she nailed the D.A. on a trumped-up murder case involving black teenager Lacresha Murray, who was charged with the death of a child. Jordan’s work was picked up by the Times. It was a particularly ugly case in a courthouse known for ugly cases, often involving colored defendants. But Lacresha’s story was one that any blackreporter would have pursued also—it doesn’t take a white woman to save black people, that would be my point. This was Jordan’s responsibility, too, and didn’t make her a savior of African Americans or anything. In the course of her reportage, D.A. Ronnie Earle was embarrassed publicly. So he froze Jordan out—no more access to the D.A.’s Office, basically Jordan had fucked Ronnie once and he made sure that she did not fuck him again. Which in terms of tradecraft points to the importance of having a beat reporter who is different from the investigative guy or girl, if possible. But if not—be sure that the beat guy or beat girl has a new beat lined up because he or she will be denied access after the story runs, at least in the Travis County Courthouse, and probably everywhere else too. If the D.A. gives you the evil eye, so to speak.

The Chronicle didn’t have the kind of staffing to work around an impediment like that. Louis Black and publisher Nick Barbaro had limited resources, Jordan was it—for both the pigs and for the courts—women’s health too—and Louis and Nick were lucky to have her. So, like, some might argue that Jordan did the best she could. She didn’t have access to the big guy in the courthouse who turned out to be the heavy in this motion picture. The district attorney. As one might say in a critical race dialectic. Jordan has game as a journalist, no doubt, she did some good work on the structure of the pig pen—the scaffolding and the concrete—but less on the feeding trough and the latrine, metaphorically-speaking. She never brought home the bacon, to be blunt. She never served no damn pork on a plate. That would be my whole point, really. You have to know how an institution like a police department is constructed before you can tear it down—her work was valuable in that respect. Jordan wrote about Chief Acevedo’s tenuous relationship with the union, for example, as APA became the most powerful political force in the city. After the real estate lobby of course—let’s be honest here, this is Austin—developers own the whole fucking political establishment. Even more powerful than the police are developers, not to repeat myself. Anyway, despite its inherent evil, the Austin Police Association still had its own narrative at the time, which was just as good as anyone else’s frankly, and better than most. This is really cool, just alerting you ahead. APA—the union of cochinos, this herd of sowbellies—became powerful because they were at risk and there was safety in numbers. To set the scene.

Austin has a lot of important people and big shots and/or bigwigs at the Capitol who may drink and drive—or drink and snort—and who one night, under the influence, may think that the garden hose is a boa constrictor. It’s happened before. There’s also a lot of sketchy shit that happens “out at the lake,” being Lake Travis. Some pretty weird and horrific shit happens not just downtown, in the high-rises and hotels, but anywhere the responding pigs get fucked for doing their jobs. To be honest and to give the motherfuckers their due. And back in the day—tired of being rat-fucked for doing their job—the Austin Police Association was formed for protection. The index case—that explains the origins of police unions everywhere in America, not just in the Live Music Capital of the World, took place in 1980 across the street from the Texas statehouse, actually, on Congress Avenue where the building that houses the Texas Tribune now stands. To set the scene. This is one of my favorite anecdotes, actually, the kind of thing that if you bought me a beer or we shared a spliff back in the day, you would have heard during my brief period of innocence as a cub reporter. This was long before the horror of the Bush years. So, like, back in the day in the Continental Bus Station, on the site of today’s Tribune—in the men’s room of the station—the Austin Police Association was born. Not just in a metaphorical sense, but in reality.

So, like, that afternoon a middle-aged white guy was arrested in that men’s room for trying to “touch the penis” of the guy next to him, who happened to be an undercover Austin vice cop. That’s basically all the background you need to know. The charge was colloquially known at the time as “weeny-wagging” although the alleged illegal action may not have actually involved wagging. No effort will be made to defend the statute—regarding what would normally be consensual behavior between consenting adults—but at the time it was an offense in the penal code. For the record. And the middle-aged guy who got arrested—a cat named Killinger—just happened to be the chairman of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. To set the scene.

Chairman Killinger had a lot of friends in high places, including at the pig pen. The next time the two vice cops who busted Mr. Killinger made a work-related appearance on Congress Avenue, after the big arrest, it was a very short time later, actually—this is my eyewitness testimony in fact, they were back in uniform, riding three-wheelers and passing out parking tickets. Not far from the Continental Bus Station in fact. One of those two ex-vice cops—a cat named Lummus—actually a cool white guy and a cop—it’s hard to believe—there are a few—very few. Anyway Mike Lummus became president of the nascent Austin Police Association. So, like, everyone has a narrative—that is what President Obama said just after he was elected, btw, his best speech in my modest opinion, early in his administration. It was delivered in Cairo, the guy was beautiful, that was before the drones were yet airborne, btw. Everyone has a narrative, the President said. Even the Austin Police Association. And it may be a very powerful narrative, like APA’s. The problem arises when the narrative gets rewritten—or people lose their way. People can go astray which is a surprisingly frequent storyline here in the Live Music Capital of the World. That’s what happened to Jordan Smith actually. She went astray. Or that’s my theory. She lost her way, or at least that’s my way of seeing it. The pigs felt they could talk to Jordan, you could say that for her, which is important, but Jordan’s primary role should have been more confrontational, you feel me? Jordan was trying to understand the cops while my approach or the approach of another noble black journalist would have been to fry up some bacon. Because black people already understood everything we needed to know about pigs. We just wanted a stop to police killings. Jordan should have brought home the bacon to the black community but she did not. So, like, one day after the Chronicle weekly editorial meeting—it was clear to me at that point that Jordan was not going to make headway busting po-po’s balls. This was not my call to make in the editorial hierarchy of the newspaper, but it was my call to make as a black man. So, like, my suggestion to her as a friend was, after that meeting, headed for the door at the end of my brief tenure at the Chronicle—kind of like my brief tenure everywhere else but maybe briefer. My suggestion to her was that maybe she wanted to try another beat?

Which was met with an astonishing reply from Jordan. “I’m quite satisfied,” she said, “with my”—Jordan was looking for the right word—“fiefdom.”

What the fuck did that mean? It wasn’t her fiefdom, It was our ass, you feel me? Jordan went astray, not to get all dramatic. She lost her way, that was my take. This town, what can you say?

So, like, the American-Statesman did a statistical analysis of police encounters with minorities and Jordan went on a rampage literally. She was jealous. Black men don’t do that so much, btw, we don’t usually engage in the green-eyed thing, especially not if the chick we might want to criticize is hot or she’s actually bringing home the bacon. “According to the daily,” Jordan wrote, “Hispanics are 25% more likely to have force used against them, and African Americans are 100% more likely to have force used against them, than whites. These are inflammatory, even shocking, statistics. Unfortunately for the city, the APD, and most especially the Statesman, they appear to be dramatically exaggerated—indeed, almost entirely untrue.”

Oh really?

 Instead of accepting the daily newspaper’s statistical analysis—which has turned out to be pretty fucking accurate, by the way—she attacked the methodology. Who won that debate? Which narrative has turned out to be closer to the truth? Colonel Cox’s family-owned Chamber-of-Commerce-friendly daily newspaper or the left-leaning liberal weekly alternative? The Statesman’s team was multi-ethnic, btw, that would be my argument. The daily’s team knew what they were looking for because they knew the pigs’ reputations in their own communities—although they didn’t use that word, “pig” or the adjective porcine, which is one of my favorites, not that that’s pertinent here. Jordan got some criticism for her criticism of the daily, some pushback you could say, so much that her news editor—a white guy named Michael King who was previously my editor at the Observer—he devoted a column to defending her in the Chronicle.

“So we do not apologize for publishing a strongly skeptical analysis of the Statesman series, and for strongly questioning its principal conclusion.” Oh really? He continued, “The real problem, for the Statesman, is that those comparisons do not show the radical degree of racial disparity that generates alarmist numbers like ‘African Americans are 100% more likely to be met with force,’ and sensational headlines like ‘Blacks bear the brunt when police use force.’ Even on the Statesman’s own terms, the latter headline, which opened the series on Jan. 25, is so misleading as to be untrue—for in plain English it says that ‘On those occasions when police use force, African Americans are treated worse.”

How could you be more wrong? That would be my question. Michael knew better—he was editor of the Observer when “The Color of Justice,” about pigs in Tulia, was published. But it was more important to rag the competition than publish the truth. It’s unlikely that a black editor would have defended Jordan, as hers did, no matter how good a person she is, and Jordan Smith is a good person. But she was wrong here. White people do not understand race at the best of times and cannot be trusted to responsibly cover a problem that they are responsible for causing in the first place. That would be my point, actually. In this case in order to discredit the competition, a statistical study that should have been welcomed was discredited. Pro-pig propaganda instead appeared in the Chronk. Which is why white people have dubious value covering cops. That would be my whole argument, practically. They have no skin in the game. It’s just a beat. And speaking for myself—the least judgmental and least racist person in the whole world—some of these white chicks get on my last damn nerve. They’re just as bad as the guys—that’s a late dispatch from the trenches of the race wars, btw. Unless she’s really hot and a dispensation for hotness can be made. Does that sound sexist? Like on television—if she has aesthetic game even if she can’t report for shit? That sometimes happens with white reporters while sisters or Latinas or Asian chicks—or any minority whatsoever—is almost guaranteed to have journalistic game, hot or not. Does that sound racist?

The bottom line is that you can’t let white people moderate the debate on race in this country. That’s like asking a rapist to define consent. The best you can say about the average white reporter—male or female—white guy or white girl—is that it’s about their careers not our lives. Race is “a good story,” especially if the narrative features wild pigs and leaves behind a body or two, like Molly Ivins of the Texas Observer used to say, back in the day. Molly herself is a good example of a white savior, btw—far more that type of journalist than Jordan Smith who, whatever her faults, has never been a self-promoter. Molly covered cops for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis too, btw, and quit, these are her own words, because the newspaper wouldn’t allow her to do first-person stories about how bad that racism made her feel. Molly was completely crazy and self-obsessed—totally Molly-centric—all the time—not that there’s anything wrong with that. Everyone in Texas journalism was obsessed with her at one point, actually, and that was her goal, fame, especially when W was president and he was committing, you know—how can one say this—war crimes? Molly tried to warn us, to give her credit.

Technically-speaking Molly Ivins was my supervisor at the Observer when one of the greatest pieces of white savior journalism was published—a zenith achievement among my generation of reporters. Not at the Chronicle actually but at the Observer, at the turn of the last century. One story was everything that Jordan Smith’s work was not. My presence was entirely incidental to the reportage, btw, let me say that at the start. And Molly, who was Big Mama at the Observer at the time, was just following the magazine’s principal storyline since the beginning of the publication, when founding editor Ronnie Dugger wrote about racism and about the liberation of black people in the Lone Star State. But didn’t actually have any in his editorial department.

Bell Canyon Roots as a reporter were planted during my undergraduate years, doing burglaries in suburban L.A. Monday, Wednesday and Friday were lecture days when you would’ve seen me toting a backpack on campus, probably near Bunche Hall, home of the Economics Department. Tuesday and Thursday were off days when you wouldn’t have seen me at all, practicing my new vocation. After a rocky start, good grades got me on the Dean’s List and kept me there until LAPD ended a promising academic career. It’s strange as you age what you remember most of the old days, before the fall or falls as the case may be. What impressed me about UCLA was not ivy-covered buildings, not intellectual rigor nor the healthy environment for debate. Not my first attempts at problem-solving or learning the discipline of putting one’s thoughts on paper instead of up in somebody’s face. 

Not seeing the tall lanky figures of the basketball stars walking between classes, or my morning commute past cool houses in Westwood. Mostly it was the pussy. Being completely honest here. There were some really fine mamas in attendance, then as presumably now, Southern California may be superficial—that was the rap you heard for the difference between going to UCLA or USC, instead of the Bay Area schools Berkeley and Stanford. Southern California was home of the lightweights, that’s what we heard on campus even though the Internet was being invented at UCLA at the time. Whatever their intellectual failings the SoCal schools had other assets. There were fine chicks everywhere, shorts and halter tops being the school uniform those days, the early 1970s,Vietnam winding down and Watergate heating up, when some kind of mildly-infectious social bug was the only danger of hooking up. The rumor was that chicks at Berkeley didn’t shave under their arms. At UCLA they shaved all the way down to their toenails. Where would you choose to study? 

My journalistic epiphany did not take place on campus but instead in Bell Canyon, an exclusive housing development in Ventura County, about an hour west of UCLA. Bell Canyon was a gated community but had no fence. To set the scene. There were no man-made barriers with the exception of a front gate, the rough countryside was like a wall that surrounded the exclusive homes, if one wished to view white people’s wealth through the lens of a race & power dialectic. Studying economics was giving me some pretty good problem-solving skills and my solution to getting inside was to park short of the guard post and hike in through the hills. The inhospitable landscape would delude these folks into thinking that their shit was secure, if one viewed through the lens of sheer thuggery. Choosing a target was also a rational exercise thanks to my sharp undergraduate eye and California’s system of higher education. 

In economics classes we did some rudimentary gaming to model the choices made by consumers. SoCal being built like Texas on the edifice of the automobile my plan was to pick the first house that had no cars in the driveway on the assumption that in a mobile culture, where even kids had their own vehicles, if there were no cars present that meant nobody was home. Not brilliant but workmanlike and the kind of thinking that put to use the education my family was paying for. Later, that ability to think like a thug would pay dividends as a reporter in our bucolic River City. You have to have a plan but it doesn't have to be original, only effective. Assigned readings taught me that. That was my understanding of history too, whatever worked worked, whatever didn’t didn’t. What my professors beat into us was that the simplest solution is usually the best, over-intellectualizing is as dangerous as being rash. You tend to overestimate the risks of action, that’s what rational decision-making said, intellectual training is, it seems to me now, all these years later, after Bell Canyon, as much about balls as brains. You want to be just analytical enough to consider the risks—and dumb enough to do it anyhow. 

Timing was in my favor. In that age before technology brought the home alarm system into practically every householder’s financial reach, there were no circuits to short or cameras to dodge. No access code to obtain or password to guess. In an exclusive community with a guard a mile away, at the front gate, duped into a sense of security, not everyone locked their doors. Nice.

So, like, the first house with no automobiles parked outside and an unlocked back door became my target. An apology at the start. Burglary is a trade not an art. But it was also a political act, separating the white man and white women from their ill-gotten gains and the fruits of slavery, not to sound noble or anything. My business plan was to expropriate, ideologically-speaking, to take back from The Man what he had taken from us. Call it wealth-sharing if one considers the historical imperative, not to repeat myself. To answer the ethical question at the start—before we go inside, so to speak, how can you justify entering another person’s home uninvited? That’s what a Scandinavian friend once asked me, hearing about my college years. 

My friend was big-titty and blond-haired, not that that’s important, although it kind of was. She was entirely hot but totally clueless about the societal pressures that might drive the black male, who grew up in the 'hood, where everyday was a struggle just to survive. Gritty ghetto reality meant that by the time you were watching somebody’s house you were already past the particular concerns of my hot Norwegian friend. When you’re already checking the frequency of police patrols you really didn’t care so much if you hadn’t received a RSVP. Her question only confused me at the time because there didn’t seem to me to be anything wrong with breaking & entering, in my undergraduate understanding of ethics, if you didn’t get caught. In lecture my philosophy professor had mentioned Socrates or one of those medieval bitches who speculated that wrong is contextual, not absolute. My bad, call that a moral failing on my part, a missing gene for honesty, but to answer my Norwegian friend’s question completely let’s use an analogy that isn't about sex. My feeling in Bell Canyon that day was that if someone left their house unlocked they must've wanted a nigger to go inside. Which is what this one did. 

The house was split-level, modern, painted gray and would have cost about 100K at the time, which was a lot of whole lotta money then. The back door led into the kitchen which was also modernistic and high-tech for the age, like the kitchens of homes you still see in architectural magazines with everything impossibly, perfectly stacked or put away. A long butcher block table down the center of the floor with forever-unused shiny copper-bottom pots hanging overhead. It was a scene not a kitchen. In my memory the home is more affluent, more opulent than it probably was, but these people were still loaded—to my innocent black eyes. My feeling was, frankly, they needed to share. From a revolutionary perspective, of course, merely to recoup what had been taken from us. The whole house was a museum. Clean, orderly and amazing to me coming from a home where disorder was the only rule, everything in its place. To a young brother that could be mildly disorienting and it was. The family must have had a maid and it must have been her day off. Again, lucky for me. My modus operandi at the time was no jewelry, no artwork, no stereo systems, just cash. 

A lot of bad boys today head straight for the bathroom, that’s my observation of crime in the modern era, comparing and contrasting what it was like being a young thug back in the day. The medicine cabinet is more important today—so they say. Painkillers can sell for twenty dollars a pill on the street in River City, more if it’s anything with genuine addiction potential like Oxycontin. Decades ago we didn't think like that. It was another era, a different time. A Negro was taking his life in his hands just being in an exclusive neighborhood, much less looking in white people’s medicine cabinets. Which, even today, tells you everything you need to know about most people, what meds they’re taking. Personally, as a then-immature member of the black revolutionary movement, booze and drugs were off limits. Call it the healthy West Coast lifestyle, if you like, my ethos was living right—macrobiotics and good karma—in tune with nature and all that. No chemicals—no thank you—just cash.

Teenagers lived upstairs in matching bedrooms on the split part of the split-level, a boy and a girl from the look of the clothing. They yielded most of the cash, actually. Saved allowances or whatever. Christmas gifts or birthday presents from Aunt Jen, you feel me, an amount that was really pretty hefty for kids. In my modest opinion. Call me old-fashioned but they were thrifty children and you had to give the parents credit for teaching good values. But as would also be true later, busting balls and breaking news in bucolic Austin, looking for that rich seam of corruption that sources would one day tell me runs through Travis County, from the Governor’s Office to the County Jail. The search was somehow more rewarding than the results. Call me kinky—call me a freak. There was just something orgasmic about being in a stranger's home—going through personal papers and belongings unbeknownst to the owners. Or known to them, as long as they didn’t get home in time. It took a while certainly. It was not so much thoroughness on my part as curiosity. Insurance documents, photo albums, electronics warranties, they had two TVs and both were color, we had just gone color at my house too but there was only one TV that we all had to share. Which was an affront to my black dignity, actually. There was personal correspondence—people still wrote letters and kept them in the envelopes they arrived in, in desk drawers. Where a stash of cash might also be hidden, not to sound mercenary. In a search like that you don’t necessarily want to be detailed and thorough, like an artist or a scientist, B&E is more a practical endeavor, and much constrained by time. Basically you were looking for the color green. For this purpose, that day in Bell Canyon, my mother had unknowingly given me a hint about how to proceed. "If you ever want to hide anything from a black man," she once told me, spinning old Negro wisdom, "put it in a book. He'll never look there." Forewarned, my host family's library got a good going-over. Nothing

The search for money took me everywhere in the house but especially into drawers and cabinets and boxes of documents where a bank envelope might be hidden. Today most everything in the modern home of the same socio-economic class would be computerized but back then people still had a lot of paper and containers to hold it. My timing, as it turned out, assisted but also hampered efforts to execute a successful theft. Society was just moving to credit cards and this was the beginning of the era when people began to cut back on cash on hand. Even economics training had not prepared me for the possibility that this family that was the subject of my present efforts, in Bell Canyon, was wealthy but didn't keep any money at home. Oh well, one learn through trial and error—by breaking and entering. 

The kids had their own passports, holy shit, did that mean they could leave this bitch? On their own? That was my dream—getting away to anywhere that wasn't amerika. Like everything else in this white household the kids' rooms were perfectly ordered, beds made and bedcovers smooth. No one is that neat, at least no child, even an adolescent—especially not an adolescent. Again good for me. You didn’t have to hunt blind, shit was where it was supposed to be, like in drawers and with labels. On some level you have to love white people. Was this how they came to rule the world, by putting things back where they belong? We didn’t have that discussion in class. Burglary is a very intimate crime, it seems now, looking fondly back, much more personal than most of the so-called “crimes against persons” that cops focus on, mugging for example even if there’s bloodshed. Or carjacking—even homicide. Unless of course it’s a hit that’s up close and personal. But how much emotion does it really take to pull a trigger? Today you can text and get it done. Not to be old-fashioned or anything but you have to be respectful in the host’s absence, doing B&E. Don’t throw shit on the floor is the first rule. And remember you can bust a nut on curiosity as well as cash. That's what my visit to Bell Canyon taught me. That fact would enable my later efforts as a reporter.

Coincidence played a big part that afternoon. There was a little metal box with a combination lock that the family used for important documents and shit, instead of a safe. This locked box had a roll of three side by side tumblers that you could set to any combination you liked and the coincidence was that my older brother, in a doomed-from-the-start effort to keep his private life out of my reach, had bought one just like it. Score! While my big bro’ was away at college, great helpings of time and patience (which would serve me so well in the Fourth Estate) taught me how to hold one tumbler at a time stationary and roll though all the possible combinations with relative ease. It worked in Bell Canyon too. That was the first hint of the felonious serendipity that marked my career later in Texas. The secretary is away from her desk for instance. The mere absence of someone from their desk fueled my reporting career on more than one occasion. Or the drawer is unlocked, that kind of thing, in the room where you’ve told to wait for someone from the State of Texas to come and lie to you? Or the lock can be easily forced, although that's crude and noisy and is something you probably want to do only at night. One of my happiest memories as a teenager was picking the lock on a desk. With a paper clip like in a movie, you know, a sense of achievement, it really worked, but it took a lotta time and a lot of patience, not to brag or anything. In Bell Canyon there was no cash or diamonds in the box but it was one of my first times taking a skill learned in one area and applying it in a totally different field, and was almost as gratifying as finding a stack of freshly-minted twenty-dollar bills. A kind of crossover, if you will, and the sort of aha moment that my professors talked about which made it doubly cool, being a striving undergraduate and all. Mostly, though, what got me off that day was the search. Not to sound like a freak or anything, not to repeat myself. So too later, in journalism. It seems to me that as a reporter you have to choose your method. Basically, in my day, you were either an interview person or a documents guy or girl. Although interviews are always necessary, especially when wrapping up, today you have to count the third and most dominant format, video. There are great journalists who just specialize in getting the video. But my thing, going back to my apprenticeship in Bell Canyon, was getting the paperwork. Seeing something in print. 

There’s something so undeniable about having a state official's signature on the bottom of the page, no matter how you got the document. A signature can be a thing of beauty when you’re trying to burn the State of Texas—as intrinsically important in my system of values as primo weed or a chick who’s shown a willingness to give it up. Why not both? Why not all three? Interviews, even juicy shit off the record, are so wishy-washy. What people say they can deny later or say they misspoke. If the target has any sense whatsoever he’s watching what he says, especially if he or she is press-savvy like a public official or professionally wary like a prosecutor or a pig. So, like, unless you’re doing a magazine interview or writing a book and there are multiple sessions and hours of tape to review later in a search for subtleties and nuance—or unless you’re a hot chick and can show a little leg or boob in order to speed disclosure, don’t go there. It’s like Southern California, you know, it’s just so superficial. 

For me, documents have mostly been the way to go. Since Bell Canyon. That trip to the countryside revealed for me the intrinsic beauty of knowing somebody’s else business—of being in somebody’s business. For a greater cause of course, in this case, black liberation. For me that has just always had a certain je ne sais quoi, not to get all sentimental. For me, in Austin, the State of Texas was like that white family in Bell Canyon. The State wasn’t home either, and white people in power, instead of them serving on my jury, it was me serving on theirs. Is this a great country or what?

 

Cultivo una Rosa Negra  My first crib in Austin was on the third floor of the Alamo Hotel between the not-yet-extant Elephant Room, which is my current bar, and the original location of Whole Foods, which hadn’t yet been built. Not because the two sites, the original Whole Foods and the Elephant Room, are related somehow but because they were my primary references points downtown when W was in office, beside the Capitol and the Travis County Courthouse. The Elephant Room would become my personal bar like the Cedar Door was my professional bar, back in the day, as the principal place where the Statesman staff did their heavy drinking, after putting the newspaper to bed. Long before the origins of Whole Foods, actually, which began later, as a funky little organic grocery store on Lamar Boulevard, where only white people went and not yet become a nationwide symbol of conspicuous consumption, Whole Foods that is. To set the scene geographically. Everything for me was within a 30-minute walk downtown. The Alamo was a residence hotel full of pensioners and transient musicians and people who couldn’t put together first and last month’s rent for a real apartment—people like me. The Alamo had a barbershop and restaurant on the first floor but you probably didn’t want to get your hair cut there and you definitely didn’t want to eat the food. 

My room in the Alamo had a four-poster bed, half-bathroom, hot plate and windows that opened out over Guadalupe at Sixth Street, who could ask for anything more? For a year that was my home and the hotel still has a special place in my heart, not to go all sentimental, because my first and most enduring drug addiction was nurtured there, in that tiny little room on the 3rd floor. The hotel’s most famous guest, living downstairs, was Sam Houston Johnson, former President Johnson’s little brother. No lie—me living that close to Texas Royalty! This particular member of the Johnson family was already in his sixties at the time, some ancient age like that, like me now btw, and was alleged to be involved in a wide variety of improprieties and illegal shit and not a favorite with the rest of the dead president’s family, hence his chosen location, the Alamo Hotel. A kind of exile, sure, but still on the ranch, so to speak. So, like, he dies one day—Sam Houston we’re talking about because the great Lyndon had already gone to the last round-up, like, five years before my arrival in River City. 

Hearing one day in the newsroom of Sam Houston’s demise my first instinct was to run home and check out his room and see if he left behind anything incriminating. But the door was locked and had probably already been cleaned out by the U.S. Secret Service or whoever takes care of those matters. The Johnson Family never produced any really good material for me. My memory is of, decades later, wasting a lot of time trying to run down the rumor that when LBJ died, out on the ranch, his heart attack or whatever happened, happened when he was in the saddle with the ranch foreman’s wife. That was the extremely juicy rumor and half of me still thinks it’s true. But you couldn’t track it down for the same reason, you couldn’t see the evidence, because the U.S. Army wouldn’t give up a copy of the autopsy report. The point is that this town may be the “World Capital of Live Music,” or whatever, but it’s still a highly-charged political environment ,and at one time the Johnson Family ruled as far as the eye could see. Then everything became Bushland—except in about a five-mile radius around the Elephant Room, or equivalently around the State Capitol. Around the State Capitol but not in it, btw, where a non-partisan black man like me has largely been able to walk the streets unmolested, this last half-century or so. Having gotten away with shit that would have gotten a nigger lynched in a prior generation, mind you. Point is—if you have your music—in my case jazz—and a bottle to go along with it, and maybe a little herb to go along with that, who’s in the Governor’s Mansion or who occupies the White House is a lesser consideration. 

But as a newbie reporter you had to pay attention to shit, because there was a lot going on. For me, covering the courts meant dealing with the alphabet agencies too, FBI, DEA, ATF, IRS as well as the Secret Service which had a big presidential detail in town to cover LBJ’s family and the LBJ Ranch, where the former president rode off into the sunset a few years before my arrival at the City Desk, not to repeat myself, instead to set the scene at the time. While this may all sound very impressive, cool and important for a young reporter, especially a member of the Black Press who was, basically, working in the heart of the Old Confederacy. The opportunities to poke a finger in the eye of the Confederacy were beaucoup and there were scores to settle, not to sound vengeful but because white people needed a comeuppance. Public debate in the circulation area of the American-Statesman concerned a single issue played out day after day in the newspaper’s pages—on radio and on TV and which was not part of my beat. Growth versus no-growth. The question was whether a small Southern town with some artistic charm and considerable natural resources would become home to hundreds of thousands of new residents. Midwesterners escaping a newly-oxidized Rustbelt, Easterners and Californians tired of their own over-developed seashores and coming to the Third Coast too. The question before the public, to repeat, was whether ours would remain a sleepy state capital with some quaint Old South racial practices, like shooting niggers, and home to a huge state university and surrounded by a town with a reputation for the best live music on the planet. To set the scene. We now know how the debate turned out but at the time the issue was still in doubt. The best metaphor seems to be a young girl with her virginity still intact trying to decide whether to sleep with her boyfriend. She ends up turning tricks. For this bucolic River City the jump was from innocent to jaded with only a “For Sale” sign in between. City fathers and mothers went for the money, an inevitable decision one supposes now but that no one expected at the time. Austin was still innocent—still cherry, you might say. It didn’t last. This town. People lose their way. 

For my reporting the setting was more important than the actors themselves. Trying to acquaint myself with the city, learning its ways and the geography most of my landmarks were water, btw. My life and work almost never took me south of the Colorado River, to South Austin, no farther than Deep Eddy Pool in the heart of white West Austin or east of Montopolis Dam—and only then to score a baggie. On the north end of town my effective reporting range, riding trail here in Austin, Texas, the Live Music Capital of the World, was the UT campus or the alphabet avenues just beyond campus, to interview a minor drug dealer or a disgruntled graduate student cooking crystal on Avenue F. Today people would call the area inscribed by these borders downtown but back in the day it was the whole town and for me it meant running into important people on the sidewalks downtown, a few blocks from my crib, on Congress Avenue for example, those blocks between the south face of the Capitol and the Congress Avenue Bridge. The South Congress restaurant Guero’s, just across the river, where the beautiful people like to be seen these days? It was a feed store. 

There were social limits in River City, borders you could call them and they were not crossed. The capital city took its racial demarcations seriously as a respectable Southern town. Nice girls, for example University of Texas co-eds and especially sorority girls, sweethearts of Kappa Phi or whatever, didn’t drive east of the interstate because black people and “dirty Mexicans” lived there. It just wasn’t done. Unless it was for music or sex or drugs or all three. But their boyfriends drove on to the eastside all the time—perhaps even to rent the charms of the legendary Titty Mama, a sister with an existential rack who, it was said, introduced a generation of white fraternity boys to the wonders of coitus, in car backseats, parked off Twelfth Street in East Austin. To set the scene. Titty Mama would have been fucking guys from all over the State of Texas, here to attend UT, her fame must have spread that way to faraway, otherwise-pissant Panhandle counties and to the Coastal Bend. On the eastside, searching for pussy or weed you met white boys, the races mingled, yeah, and even Boopsie came east when she wanted good lovin’ or when she wanted to dance the boogie woogie, everyone was brought together by the most fundamental human need, pleasure. To bust a nut. Professionally, for me, everything was in reach and almost as welcoming as Titty Mama. 

Downtown, you might see the Lieutenant Governor walking to work because he used his apartment in the statehouse as a guesthouse. Years later it was W, when he was still in Austin and beginning his campaign for president. Bush made a habit of walking from the Mansion down Congress Avenue to an office building next door to the Elephant Room, where his presidential campaign was headquartered, not to repeat myself. My guy, my source on W’s walk is a lawyer who worked in the same building where Bush’s campaign was and said that W made a big deal in the afternoon of walking from the State Capitol down to his national campaign headquarters, near the banks of the mighty Colorado. And this lawyer said that in the early days when W entered his campaign office, you know who would follow him and enter the campaign office a short time later? Walking in from the street, just like the governor, and going into the Bush national campaign office? Michael Dell, the computer guy. Dell was one of W’s early money guys. This town. People lose their way. And if you were a reporter, it could happen to you too, so sudden, one day you were breaking good stories and the next thing you knew you were selling your ass on Congress Avenue, just like a damn ho.

Austin! That was all the coroner needed to write on the report. We saw it all the time back in the day. You started out so high, literally—good weather, good vibes, good music. There was Lake Travis, fine pussy and all that—dick if it’s your thing. After that it was just so easy to spiral down or spin out of control. If you've lived in this bucolic River City, and everyone has at one time or another, you know it's true. Which is why chasing public officials became my bread-and-butter, my meal ticket, so to speak, like Ronnie’s was niggers. With politicians you don’t get so attached. Wrongdoing in public life is a pretty good assignment in this town. At the beginning, for me, public corruption was only a passing interest. Negroes were my principal beat. That led me to on the slime trail to the police because there were so many police interactions. But my primary responsibility in the American-Statesman newsroom was never black people per se but there were only two people of color working on the City Desk at the time, in a newsroom with a couple of dozen reporters, and there was all of East Austin to cover. It was an era when people still subscribed to the daily newspaper, delivered to their home and still believed what they read in it, more or less. 

Because black reporters knew our own culture and would do a better job than a white guy or girl, me and the other brother did a lot of eastside coverage for the City Desk as well, including los puercos from time to time, not to repeat myself, back before racial justice was as popular a reporter’s beat as it is now. Sometimes it was just a form of translation. Like, white people had a lot of curiosity about African-Americans even then and sometimes your job was merely to interpret the culture, to translate for those who didn’t understand jive, so to speak. And occasionally to let white people know when they were treading on dangerous ground. Like, no, you don't want to go there, bro’, although we didn’t say bro’. Or no, you don’t want to say that or you’re going to get your ass kicked. So, like, the advice that most was a part of my repertoire with white people at the time, even if he or she was really really angry with a black man or black woman, never raise the subject of a black person’s mother, upon possible pain of death. Or, like, telling a white colleague, “That over there, my friend, that's the jungle. Keep the fuck out.” The job also meant writing about a lot of firsts, first black this, first black that, as White Society tried to make Negroes believe we were being integrated into the Chamber of Commerce culture of this bucolic River City. 

And of course the aftermaths of police shootings, then as now, listening to a grieving mother ask why they had to shoot him six times, you know, if he was unarmed? It was always SOS, the same old shit, the same old story from APD, just as it is today. Someone still has to write it. 

It was particularly frustrating covering the police because local pigs, APD, were determined to make all the same mistakes dealing with niggers that every other police force in the South had already made. The last cop to be killed in the Live Music Capital of the World, btw, a year or two before my arrival on the scene, was a Latino who was machine-gunned by a white drug-dealer. There didn’t seem to be any racial animus involved, in pace requiescat for both guys because the killer was the last person to be executed from Austin. But the pig who got snuffed before that was a white guy who started hassling a Black Muslim selling the in-house organ of the Nation of Islam, Muhammad Speaks. In other words a soul brother, a strong black male like me, who apparently didn’t take shit from white people, also like me, but in this particular case unpuerco blanco. Couldn’t have helped the guy who got taken out by the AK-47—when somebody empties a machine-gun into your chest it’s a karma moment, God is telling you to lie down and stop breathing. But having completed my City Desk internship covering cops in Atlanta, the so-called Black Mecca, and knowing a little bit about the Nation of Islam, more apparently that did the Austin police. If anybody had bothered to ask me, which they did not, my advice would have been don’t fuck with the Nation. Cop or no—magnum on your hip or venerable .38 revolver—you may not live long enough to use it. Which turned out to be what happened to the pig in question on Congress Avenue. Those Muslim brothers don’t play around. If you mess with them or disrespect their religion, someone may end up bleeding out. Oh well. The message got passed on directly, not by me, just a little late to help the aforementioned officer of the law. So, like, there was like some racial polarization in River City, yes, you could say that. As well as geographic division. Interstate 35, which separated white West Austin from black and brown East Austin.

Despite its reputation as progressive, whatever that means, the People’s Republic of Austin was like so many small towns in the South, divided by a road, just as train tracks had been the black-white division before the highway. Blacks lived east of the line, wherever that line was. White people generally had to have a good reason to be on the eastside, often to buy drugs or rent pussy or in the case of the white cops, to prevent same. So, like, you could talk about who was getting busted or which neighborhoods had the poorest infrastructure or why the kids in the black elementary schools in Austin wore heavy coats in winter—the boilers were out of service. But not at the white school across town where classrooms were warm and toasty. The best explanation, the most revealing detail to describe this bucolic River City racially, at the time, as a member of the Black Press, involved the criminal justice system. Which was technically my beat—the pigpen in other words, the police, the courts and His Honor the District Attorney. 

At night, if you listened to the police scanner, which you had to do if you were covering cops, even as a weekend fill-in like me. On the scanner a common call was an acronym, “B.I.W.A.,” pronounced bee-wah. This was used well into the ‘90s, a Travis County prosecutor told me. That’s all the pig would say, “B.I.W.A.” He would say he was pulling over a car, maybe give the license number, and of course the location. But the reason for the stop was just “B.I.W.A,” and the dispatcher or sergeant listening knew exactly what the first pig meant. B.I.W.A. stands for “Black in White Area.” That was River City, Texas. Some say it still is. Which is what this is mostly about. It’s about B.I.W.A. And Ronnie Earle. 

 

To Bust a Nut This was when Molly took over the Observer for the second time—our paths crossed for the second time too, although not in person. This was after she covered pigs for the Star-Tribune or whatever and was Rocky Mountain bureau chief or whatever for the Times. To set the scene. The story told in the Observer editorial offices during my stay was that Molly left the NYT because the Gray Lady would not make her a columnist. Later, one of Molly’s friends told me that the Times’ owners, the Sulzberger family or whoever, got tired of Molly paddling around the most prestigious newsroom in the world in bare feet, and banished her to the Denver bureau or wherever. Later there was a complete parting of the ways, Molly couldn’t tell the truth if her life depended on it but that was different from her writing which was pure and beautiful, kind of, at least regarding the American Antichrist, George W. Bush. From the very start she pegged W as bad news. So, like, our second meeting—although we never saw each other in the flesh—was at the end of Ann Richards’ governorship and during George W. Bush‘s time in Austin after W defeated Richards but before he moved to D.C. Just before the turn of the 21st Century, actually, to set the scene again. It was then that the index case of racist policing in America was exposed by a white savior journalist—in Tulia, Texas, a High Plains shithole somewhere outside godforsaken Lubbock. What happened in that shit-shoveling farm town in the Texas Heartland told you everything you needed to know about a racist criminal justice system and American journalism both. This was the single best example of pig reporting—in my modest opinion—or that has come to my attention as a pig reporter. That opinion is coming from an aficionado of the form as well as a pro. So, like, basically, the Tulia story began with Molly, that’s my best guess. Everything that happened at the Observer during my stay, roughly five years, began with Molly Ivins, and often it was at the back of our minds working, or at least the back of my mind, what would Molly think? Because she was the Big Girl in charge. Every reporter in Texas of a certain age has a Molly Ivins story, btw, and in my random memory there are three pertinent anecdotes about her, each more amusing than the other. Regarding this white chick star-journalist—not to be jealous or anything. Men don’t get jealous so much, that’s more a chick thing. Or at least that’s been my observation during these long years in the saddle, here on the Silicon Prairie.

These three incidents tell you everything you need to know about Molly and about white saviors and about white savior journalism and about people who still want to bust a nut just like everybody else, even if they're reporters. And about Texas, the Lone Star State. In another age and another era. People often ask me why shit always happens in Texas and my belief is based in science, actually. The reason has something to do with magnetic fields that run between the Red River and the Rio Grande, there’s an authoritative source, we have plenty of data points already, somebody just needs to sit down and do the math. So, like, my first anecdote is vintage Molly.

A sister journalist, literally—a former member of the Black Press, who was a good friend of mine but is no longer—after a disagreement over Molly, basically. That’s the role the Big Girl plays in people’s lives even still. Some black women worshipped Molly, not for her empowerment of black people, which was pretty lame, but for her empowerment of women which was outstanding. Anyway, this sister was telling me about coming out of the New York subway one day with Molly Ivins, back in the day, this would have been the Seventies when Molly was still walking barefoot at the Times, one supposes. And my friend said that she and Molly came out of the subway and passed a street guy who made a grossly crude and sexually-suggestive remark to Molly and Molly stopped and turned back to the guy and said something even more grossly inappropriate and crude back to him. That was the Molly Ivins you had to love. Even if she was a crazy fucking bitch which she was, btw, a crazy fucking narcissistic bitch—not that there’s anything wrong with that in American journalism, because she was merely supplanting the narcissistic white guys who proceeded here. So, like, our only meeting—me and the Big Girl—actually more or less the same time of what can be called Molly Ivins’ Subway Incident—happened in 1979 in Seadrift, a southeast Texas shithole on San Antonio Bay where there had just been what Molly would call a good murder. To set the scene. So, like, this was an early case of stand-your-ground in which the good guy was the shooter. To set the scene again.

A Vietnamese immigrant killed a white Texan, apparently over shrimping grounds or nets, or whatever, as part of a dispute with racist overtones. My memory is of literally tearing the story off the Associated Press wire because we weren’t computerized yet at the American-Statesman news desk, back back in the day. This was an era when things moved more slowly than today. Two days later it was basically just me and the Calhoun County sheriff, chatting in his office, after my stagecoach arrived from Austin. The sheriff was a bayou-bred presumed-cracker and Yellow Dog Democrat because that was a time when cracker sheriffs in Texas were whack-job Democrats not yet whack-job Republicans like today. Not to generalize. So, like, this guy was pleased as punch to talk to a reporter from the capital city daily newspaper. To be interviewed about his thoughts on the killing, and all. The sheriff was eating out of my damn hand. When suddenly a shadow passed over us where we sat, me and the cracker sheriff, and we both looked up at the same time to find this Amazonian-sized white chick standing over us.

She stuck out her hand to the sheriff—her arm straight out but bent down at the wrist, like a society matron, or a debutante, and said, “I’m Molly Ivins from the New York Times.” No shit. When Molly spoke—you couldn‘t help but notice—the accent was on Molly Ivins not on the New York Times. That was the end of my interview with the sheriff and the beginning of Molly’s, not that there’s anything wrong with that because the story had an especially joyous ending. The Vietnamese shrimper was found not guilty, because the guy he shot was apparently a confirmed cracker. My takeaway from Seadrift as a young reporter? Don’t fuck with the Vietnamese. First the French, then the U.S. Army and now this Calhoun County cracker who had just been capped by the noble AAPI shrimper. That was the possible storyline developing in my head, going back to Austin, but it didn’t explicitly get into the newspaper that way.

As a noble black man—and a gentleman—it never occurred to me to complain about Molly taking the peckerwood sheriff away from me. Ending my interview, as viewed through a racial lens, and beginning her own. It was just like white people to steal from POC, btw. This was just another episode of white privilege, which had not been explicitly named at that point but was known by other appellations. It never occurred to me to say, for example, “Bitch, this is my interview.” Molly could lay on the East Coast thing, btw, when it suited her—talking high-and-mighty to the peckerwood sheriff, whereas when she talked to national TV news years later about George W. Bush—to warn the world about the rise of W—if only we had listened! On TV she tried to sound like an old girl and all country and that she knew W was dangerous because of some kind of ranch-bred wisdom. Please. Molly went to Smith College and spent a semester in Paris after graduation. She was about as country as a plate of filet mignon. She was full of shit but sometimes shit has uses in journalism. Whatever it takes to get the story is my mantra, you have to be prepared to be at least as evil as the people you are stalking. And certainly as full of shit, until it comes time to write and then the sun shines through the poop? Molly’s mantra on the other hand was whatever it takes to communicate the story. If people needed to believe she roped cows in her youth, so be it. Anyway that was the first, last and only time me and Molly ever met. Although she was technically my supervisor over the course of those later years at the Observer—my time in the saddle at the magazine. In an office the size of a matchbox, btw. My occasional question, at the time of those visits to editorial, to drop off a manuscript or whatever, was, “Hey, where’s Molly?” Not really giving a shit, frankly, it was just kind of weird that she was never there. More curious than concerned, you could say.

Especially because the answer was always the same from the editors, “She’s at home writing.” Writing—screwing and drinking—was my guess about Molly’s home life, not that that there’s anything wrong with any of that. The meeting in Seadrift is my second Molly Ivins story, btw. My third Molly-related anecdote involves sex and it’s the best of the three because there’s a hint of mystery. This actually preceded the other two. No objective evidence exists that what you’re about to hear really happened. Both the people directly involved are dead. No video or any independent acknowledgement exists whatsoever. But the details fit Molly and fit the era—which was during her first tenure at the Observer, maybe mid-70s or whenever she was there, before she left for the NYT. It's a terrible story and as a reporter, of course, it gives me extraordinary joy to recount. So, like, Molly needed to drive to Houston and somehow the news got out. That’s all the background we have.

Molly’s planned trip to the Bayou City somehow came to the ears of a Democratic politician named Bob Bullock—later lieutenant governor to both Ann Richards and George W. Bush and a brilliant guy in his own right. A complete thug who one day would threaten to kill me, not that there's anything wrong with that, and who once threatened to shoot Sam Kinch of the Dallas Morning News Austin Bureau and actually reached into his desk drawer and pulled out the gun and showed it to Kinch which he never did with me. But we digress. In his personal life Bullock liked to screw, what a small world, just like Molly. So, like not to dish dirt or anything—that’s not me—but Bullock’s sexual activity was not merely for pleasure, not merely to bust the proverbial nut like your average black guy. But also to keep tally as a woman-killer, or whatever, or so it is said. Bob Bullock was a little guy who got off to conquests, not to go all Freudian or anything. So, like, Bullock convinced Molly to give him a ride to Houston, because he needed to go too, or so he told her. And Molly agreed.

So, like, they’re off the road somewhere—let’s say Fayette County, in La Grange, you may have heard of the home of the Chicken Ranch bordello run by the widow Mrs. Swine? To set the scene. La Grange is a shithole about halfway between Austin and Houston. So, like, they’re in the back seat of Molly’s car which was a VW Bug? Suppose. But—this is the kicker to the story—Molly was too big to get in the appropriate position to achieve liftoff. And you’re going to say that is a crude and inappropriate thing to say, about a respected and influential woman, and is only intended to diminish her historical standing. My reply would be that in an age of female liberation one can be just as crude and inappropriate about women as about guys, right? What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, what's liberation for one is liberation for the other. The real question, was it true, and there are a number of reasons to think it was, speaking as an experienced reporter, somebody accustomed to making tough calls about veracity. Did thus-and-so-happen or did it not. What are facts? First, Molly Ivins like to screw, as did Bullock and as do we all. So, like, it passes the sniff test, so to speak, as something not completely beyond the realm of possibility.

And Molly is said to have driven a VW during her hippie days as hard-hitting leader of the Observer for the first time, before we met. And Molly was a big girl and it’s hard to imagine that she could fit into the backseat of a Bug and successfully bust a nut although Bullock, who was a little guy, could. Those are the details as they are known today, after the fact. And Molly was screwing someone she should have been covering, not to get all holier-than-thou. If one respects the traditions of Old School journalism, that is, as a member of the Black Press, what Molly did was wrong. Sexual activity between reporters and the people they cover is something that one hears about even today in Austin, actually, and probably in New York and D.C. too. Everywhere in fact, in a word it’s shameful, there are no boundaries anymore. In Austin there is a club of white journalists—and mostly Democratic politicians—and high-level State of Texas bureaucrats—and tech people—who drink together and socialize and screw. It’s disgraceful, frankly. A noble black man would never step across that line. Unless the story was really really really important or the chick was really really really fine. That is the so-called Aesthetic Exemption for sleeping with the people who you cover. Especially when there are obvious workarounds available. You can sleep with the person and then really screw him or her in print, not to sound cold-hearted or unromantic or anything, merely practical.

The Observer has always had a small editorial department, half a dozen reporters and editors, if that many. Which was fine back in the day because the space was small and people didn't work so much from home except the Big Girl. Molly obviously was working at home, at least part of the time, because she was prolific. The best way to see her, my colleagues told me, was at Molly’s famous soirees where heavy alcohol would presumably be imbibed. This was against my training, actually. In my journeyman days at the now-defunct Houston Post, they put me at a desk in the newsroom across from the only other black staff member, a sister, who was far more experienced than me. This was the same chick, actually, who told me about coming out of the subway with Molly. So, like, one day, sitting across from each other, my respectful question to her as a senior sister—with more experience dealing with potential crackers in the newsroom than me—my question was how to survive in an almost-all-white environment and, transitively, how to survive in a world still ruled by white people? And at the time you as a Youngblood one listened to black women more than black guys because what black guys told you would get you killed or arrested. And the sister leaned forward and whispered one of her coping secrets about dealing successfully with members of the Caucasian race. My expectation was for something pithy and meaningful. She leaned closer. “I don’t eat with them,” she said.

My take is slightly different: “I don’t drink with them.” Weed is different of course because herb brings people together and breaks down the white man’s and white woman’s natural defensiveness, and natural aggressivity. My experience of drinking with white colleagues for example, over the years, is almost uniformly bad. If you’re really out to get seriously intoxicated. Drunk white liberals are almost always maudlin and in the end they invariably want to know if they know you well enough to use the word nigger, which they do not. My experience of drunk white Texas Republicans is that they are a lot more fun and usually begin by calling you nigger, and then spend the rest of the evening trying to apologize. Unless you run into a real Bubba or Karen and then all bets are off. But we digress. The first inkling of the Tulia story for me came from opening the magazine and reading the story, actually. Apparently it had been completely need-to-know in the Observer office and nobody else needed to know except Nate and the editors, until the bomb dropped. Which it did. It hit journalism and policing with explosive force. ”The Color of Justice” was written by a white guy named Nate Blakeslee and was, simply, brilliant.

What Tulia represented can be described as multiple storylines and led to criminal charges, which is the gold standard for reporters. Those cracker cops were using fake charges as a way to depopulate a black community. You couldn’t make this up. Read it yourself but the bottom line is that Tulia changed policing and changed police reporting and is a fundamental work of American history, in my modest view. But Nate’s work and Nate Blakeslee the guy are two different things. Nate is a cracker. That’s coming from someone who has worked with crackers during all of my professional life and is expert on the form. Me and Nate worked on and off together in that cramped old Masonic building that housed the Observer, back in the day, turn of the century, in a Masonic building catercorner to what is now the Austin History Center but what was then Central Library, for a few years. At first we were competing for a job that Nate won and deservedly so. Later he was my editor. But Nate Blakeslee didn’t care any more about black people than he cared about the man on the moon. Nate cares about Nate—just like Molly cared about Molly. Indeed Nate and Molly’s self-absorption and self-promotion were in stark contrast to my own self-effacement and humility. It may be tribal with me, going back to the African motherland—where the men were strong but silent hunters—and unflinching warriors against colonial invaders, too. But we digress again. Nate was a full-blown cock-bite, in my experience, not to rag him unmercifully or anything. In terms of self-obsession he made Molly look like Mother Teresa. Yet Nate is one hell of a reporter. And you have to respect that. His recent book about wolves is even more important than his work on wild pigs in Tulia was, because Mother Nature is the nigger now. Nate’s cracker-centric outlook was absolutely indispensable to understanding racism in policing, up in the High Plains shithole of Tulia, and maybe everywhere else in America too.

Tulia was a story that could never have been written by someone like me, for example. My problem was still having faith in the American criminal justice system, as some Negroes still inexplicably do. Maybe not faith in the outcomes but in the ideal? Which “The Color of Justice” stripped clean fucking away. Nate was able to figure it all out because Nate is a cracker and sometimes it takes a cracker to spot a cracker, you feel me—it takes a con to spot a con—it takes a pimp to spot a ho, that’s my dictum, it takes a noble black man to say it out loud. Ditto with Molly who was born into the petroleum-burning Texas aristocracy and found the primary target for her journalism there. Molly Ivins was a great journalist who deserved all the praise she received, and more, for one reason only. She knew one great thing. She recognized George W. Bush early on for what he was—a potentially-existential threat to humanity, Vladimir Putin on the Prairie, so to speak.

The rise of W was Molly’s Tulia, kind of. So, like, in both cases—Molly and Nate—the people at the Observer didn’t care about blacks or Latinos or the Iraqis or Palestinians or whoever, not particularly. But they loved our narratives. They coveted our stories, especially black Texan stories. Whites like Nate and Molly and founding editor Ronnie Dugger just wanted to be the narrators, to tell important stories, sure, and also to make themselves look good as white saviors. That’s what it means to be a white savior, actually. To add to this dialectic there was the geographical context—the scene of the crime so to speak—Texas and, later with Jordan, this very River City. Jim Shahin is a retired professor of journalism at Syracuse University who was once political editor of the Austin Chronicle and is a good reporter—Old School like me. So, like, he remarked recently that the Live Music Capital of the World’s much-promoted reputation for liberalism has always been about the environment, not about race. Even today when liberal whites in Austin need to throw somebody under the bus—whether in the realm of housing—crime and punishment—or more recently health care—black people and Mexicans still get picked. You may say, well, so, like, you want to throw Jordan Smith under the bus now? Exactly. She wanted to go for a ride in a black neighborhood, nobody forced her. She took the risk—that’s my view. No one told her that she had to cover cops but if she did, she needed to do the job properly and bring home the bacon, like Nate did. That’s what a black man or black woman would have done as well. It doesn’t take white skin to do the job. Or ovaries, necessarily. But you do need a hard heart. A former Austin police monitor, btw—who was responsible for policing the pigs—told me, recalling her time in office, “You can’t be people’s friends if you really want to change things.” Exactly. Whoever gets hired has to understand that—if not, they need to get out of the way. You got to bring home some dome bacon, in this existential view. Jordan was trying to understand the pigs while what she really needed to do was hang 'em up by their little feet and start slicing. Nate did and power to him for that. Even if he is a cracker, which he is, not to repeat myself. In addition, the institutional barriers to non-racist reportage can be worse than any peckerwood, actually. Danielle Kilgo—who is an African-American professor of journalism in Minneapolis—and who got her PhD in Austin—this Texas-born black academic has an awesome rap about how hard it is to get race right in American journalism, at the best of times. And it’s a problem, she says, that is not limited to the tyranny of breaking news.

The first person the reporter hears back from will be the public affairs guy or girl calling from the pig pen. That’s what she says. Who is almost certain to mischaracterize the shooting, or the arrest, to make it sound more reasonable than it really was. Putting lipstick on the pig you could say—although Professor Kilgo did not use those words. Basically, to recap, back in the day white guys were writing the stories and now it’s white chicks and nothing much has changed. For example the absolutely same story that Jordan missed about our D.A. fixing outcomes at the Travis County Grand Jury was pitched next—after Kimberley Jones, editor-in-chief of the Austin Chronicle, said “I’ll pass.” This very same important-to-black-people story was pitched to Emily Ramshaw, the white chick who was editor-in-chief of the Texas Tribune at the time. She didn’t even respond. Ms. Ramshaw is now president of the The 19th, btw, devoted to, well—basically, long story short—white chicks and white chickdom. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, not to sound jealous or anything, because strong black men rarely get jealous, it’s just not in our DNA.

Ms. Ramshaw btw also hands out awards as a member of the Pulitzer Prize board, what a small world in which we live. So, like, also the guy at Pro Publica, Stephen Engelberg who is on the board of the Pulitzers too and had a wretched record on diversity in his own fucking newsroom, until a noble black man stepped forward and got on his ass. The Pro Publica trick to maintain a white news operation is by not advertising positions and instead hiring among the existing journalists' network, which is also white. Ditto, The New Yorker which somehow never manages to post writing jobs on its website. Gee, isn't that the kind of racism/corruption that we write about as journalists? But we digress. Because the object of today’s exercise is to rag white chicks not white guys. Ragging white guys is so yesterday, in today’s critical race dialectic. The only difference between Ms. Ramshaw and white guys like Mr. Engelberg at Pro Publica is the plumbing, that would be my argument, basically. In the continuing debate over cancel culture there’s an idea that should also be considered: accountability.

The best example of a lack of accountability, actually, regarding white reporting of racist policing, is Nancy Barnes, head of National Public Radio. She’s a member of the Pulitzer Prize board too, let’s get that out of the way. My basic mantra is to be totally non-judgmental but some things just cry out to be said. So, like, let me dish on Nancy. Before NPR, Nancy was editor of the Houston Chronicle and before that she was editor of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis—what a small fucking world—for nearly a decade. Her successor in Houston began a hiring initiative to bring non-whites into the newsroom, which means that Ms. Barnes apparently did not, and ditto at the Star Tribune which has historically been a super-white newsroom and still mostly is. The Minneapolis newspaper won a Pulitzer for breaking news for coverage of the murder of George Floyd but the real issue is its pig reporting before Floyd. That's a question for Ms. Barnes. At the Star-Tribune there’s now the disquieting internal debate about how the newspaper misread the violent intentions of the Minneapolis Police Department for so long? Long before George Floyd was murdered, actually. And even today during this time of self-reflection—in Minneapolis and across the nation—the reporter in charge of the Star Tribune’s public safety coverage is—you guessed it—a white chick. Because they’ve done so well in the past? What Ms. Barnes now of NPR did and didn’t do over all those years in Minneapolis is important today, because Nancy and her mostly white subordinates believed the police and accepted the official version of the facts, which was a lie btw, just like here in Austin. To set the scene. That’s the best spin you can put on the Star-Tribune’s reporting performance, while the worst would be racism in the newsroom. Let’s run with that thread, and it involves recent presidential aspirant, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota who was the chief prosecutor in Minneapolis for part of the time that Ms. Barnes was editor. Like three or four years of their tenures coincided.

Yet Hennepin County Attorney Klobuchar received no real scrutiny from the newspaper on the subject of the comportment of police. Because her father was a longtime columnist for the newspaper? My bet is no, that was not the reason. Because the Star Tribune’s newsroom never reached the level of consciousness required to have those kinds of qualms. That’s my view. Ms. Barnes never brought home the bacon either, btw, just like Jordan. But unlike Jordan Smith, Nancy Barnes never even saw the pig. At least Jordan knew Hogzilla existed even if she never got the big porker in her sights, in an allegorical sense, you feel me? Nancy Barnes believed the white guy or white girl in uniform. In Minneapolis there was no reason for the newspaper to question the actions of the prosecutor if the cops were telling the truth, which they actually were not. It’s like membership in a club—Amy Klobuchar and her dad belonged—together with the good Ms. Barnes—while the people who got shot or beaten by los puercos did not, if one views the facts through a black liberation lens. Nancy Barnes’ major investigation in Minneapolis, btw, that won a Pulitzer Prize btw, was about deaths in day care. Her position now on the Pulitzer Board—is that, like, a reward for the good work she has done on the most important subject of her generation of journalists? In Minneapolis she even had time to write a book about a rustic white girlhood in turn-of-the-century Colorado, or wherever, but she didn’t have time to take down P.D.? NPR won its first and so far only Pulitzer during her tenure at her present gig, certainly it had NOTHING TO DO with Nancy being on the prize committee. Journalism is just as corrupt and racist as any other industry in America, not to repeat myself.

My time in the saddle is almost over. Let my words ring out. Almost half a century has passed since my initiation into the Black Press, in Atlanta and here in the Live Music Capital of the World. There are a lessons that must be passed on to youngbloods, not just my warning about white chicks—they cannot be trusted with our narrative any more than white guys could, not to repeat myself. For me—saddling up Old Black one last time to ride off into the sunset—people have asked me about the old days at the Observer, which coincided with the magazine’s golden age. People want to know who the best writer was, and that’s easy, it wasn’t me. The best reporter was Nate and the best reported piece was “The Color of Justice,” no doubt about that during my time in the saddle for T.O. The best writer was actually not Nate or Molly or me, it was—in my modest opinion—Karen Olsson, who never got her due. A white chick actually, not that there's anything wrong with that. One of my clearest memories, back back in the day, going into the office to deliver a manuscript and looking across the room. There was this young white woman, maybe mid or late-20s. The editor who was looking at my piece i.d.’d the newbie for me as our new reporter.

Practicing my growl—coming from the hard-bitten veteran—my question to the editor was, like, can she write? And he looked up from my work and said over his glasses, “Oh there’s no doubt.”

Karen had studied maths or something technical like that at Harvard and her work was pretty fucking surgical. She was a new reporter and still a kid but seemed to know already the possibilities of the medium, which was magazine journalism. Busting a nut literally, in print. What was best about Karen from the point of view of black liberation, which was important to me, she knew her own limitations. Karen didn’t see herself as a white savior like Nate and Molly did, like Ronnie Dugger and all the other Observer libs. She knew what she didn’t know and that ignorance informed her work. Molly was jealous—that’s a big chick thing, btw, let me tell you. With me headed out the door and willing to tell some uncomfortable truths, the jealousy thing, it’s not just a stereotype, and frankly it’s deplorable—black men don’t have green eyes like jealous white chicks, believe what you will. Anyway, the best journalist of that golden age was Molly Ivins, that’s a 100% fucking certainty too. Hands down, thumbs up and no doubt. That crazy bitch—no disrespect to women intended, or even to bitches. That crazy fucking white bitch, not to be racist or anything, not that there’s anything wrong with it either, being a crazy fucking white bitch, some of my best friends are, you know? Molly was a completely narcissistic white woman, but she also understood what it meant to be a journalist better than any of the guys. In fact Molly was the latest, new improved model of the white male writers who preceded her. Not only a reporter of the news but someone who influenced the news or interpreted it. Estrogen-filled instead of testosterone-loaded, although she had a quite a pair of balls too. Often Molly did this through humor. If she hadn’t done journalism, she should have done stand-up.

A movie came out about Molly a couple of years ago, it was terrible. A complete blowjob—hagiography in the extreme. Don’t be lazy, look the word up. You could’ve used the celluloid to wipe your ass for all the honesty there was. But there is an illuminating scene when Molly’s sister or somebody close to her is talking about coming home once and finding a black guy with Molly up in her room. This probably would have been when she was studying at St. Johns? So, like, that’s supposed to be a sign of Molly’s early civil rights work, one supposes. What Sis doesn’t say in the documentary is what they were doing up in Molly’s room and my guess is that they were screwing, because that was what Molly liked to do. Also mentioned in the docu is that Molly allowed a black person to swim in the family pool, early on before it was common among her wealthy white neighbors. Is that right? And how bad that racism made Molly feel. Oh really? The filmmakers make it sound like she had marched hand-in-hand with Dr. King, it’s laid on pretty thick. If Molly tried to use black people in order to push her writing or publicize herself, which she did, that’s hardly news. And it’s certainly not worth the price of a movie download. You may ask if Molly was such a bad person—which is not the point of my criticism, actually, because she was a great woman. But you may ask why was she the best journalist? Because it had nothing to do with race, a subject on which Molly Ivins was as clueless as her white colleagues. Her reputation hinged entirely on the war criminal George W. Bush. To set the scene.

So, like, Molly went after W early and often—it was both beautiful and extreme. She harped on him before many reporters, including me, even understood why. At first it seemed like Molly was angry at George W. Bush for defeating Molly’s close friend Ann Richards. That wasn’t it at all—Molly Ivins recognized George W. Bush for what Molly herself was—a member of Texas’ petroleum-burning elites. On race, she was a cracker. On the dangers of the Texas rich she was a fucking prophet. In Texas there’s been an effort recently, after the Trump Presidency, to say that W wasn’t really that bad. Oh yes he was. He just did his evil overseas. At the same time at the Observer, back in the day, W's day actually, Molly became hostile to me. My lone noble attempt to communicate with her—she never responded. Recently an old friend of hers, agreeing that Molly harbored a certain testiness with black men, told me, “Molly had a difficult relationship with her father.” But what the fuck does that mean? What the fuck does that have to do with anything? Who gives a fuck about Molly’s relationship with her fucking father? Was Molly's daddy black? Although there were almost certainly a few black daddies in Molly’s life, like the Negro up in her room in Houston, but . . .  . no. What a load of bullshit, in other words. At the Observer you heard—and probably still do—a bunch of Freudian crap about Molly Ivin’s relationships. Please. It was hard for me to keep a straight face even then.

So, like, fuck Molly’s relationships and fuck Molly too, not to sound ignorant. Fuck Molly and the horse she ride in on, to adopt a Western motif. That woman was queen of making herself the center of the conversation. If you were to ask me, forcefully, if you were to twist my arm for a reply—me being totally not interested in getting into Molly’s personal business. My belief is nonetheless that, on the personal side—sexuality—having no factual evidence whatsoever, only an experienced reporter’s instincts—my belief is that by the time our paths crossed the second and last time, at the Observer—Molly was already eating at the Y. There, it’s said. At that point she was getting a lot more pussy than she was getting dick, in other words, at least after W went to Washington, to put it in a timeframe of national politics. That would have been my conjecture—if anyone asked. Drinking at the Texas Chili Parlor with another reporter of color, for example. Which was my watering hole back in the day, the Chili Parlor—where a noble black journalist could discuss issues with colleagues, with absolutely no facts to back him up. Because, like, it wasn't going in a newspaper, right? Probably it was hard for Molly to find any man strong enough to be her mate, that would have been my view at the bar or at a back table. You may find that condescending. On some level it probably is. But it was also important to speculate—not gossip—about sex because my best takeaway for young reporters even today—after all these years riding the range, so to speak, me and Old Black—and getting ready now to saddle up for the last time. Sex is a critical part of getting the story. So, like, who's fucking whom—man, woman, gerbil or plastic doll? You may need to know that as a good reporter. But you don’t have to use it.

Take Kyrsten Sinema. The Democratic senator from Arizona? This chick practically oozes sexuality, not that there’s anything wrong with that. My radar goes off whenever she’s on the screen, just looking at her. If she were on my beat, her relationships would be fair game. Mos def, you feel me, mos def. As a thorough reporter you’d have to give her a good look over, because a chick like that—if she’s your type, her style is kind of cool, gotta say that. Although she does little for me personally because my personal preference is Latinas. Or Chinese chicks. My feeling is, you may not agree, that chicks from mainland China are far hotter than Taiwanese, btw, which says something for Communism after all. The point is that Senator Sinema is probably not going out with a mail carrier or a plumber but instead someone who is also powerful—also in the game. That means there’s a chance for mischief. Which is what one hopes to find as a reporter, something amiss that'll get your piece on the front page. Not who is gay or straight, who cares anymore about sex except as it applies to politics? Especially in Austin, Jesus. Who likes to play rough for example, that could be interesting, in the boudoir or on the House floor. The operative question is who is fucking whom? This is often an important consideration, at least in the State Capitol. A white Democratic female legislator is said to have done the nasty with a black lobbyist in front of the Speaker's podium, back in the day, of the Texas House of Representatives. Late late at night, of course, not while bills were being considered or anything. On the floor, literally. Now, that's a story, the only way it could be better is if the chick was Republican. That’s why Molly made a mistake with Bullock actually, trying to bust a nut with a guy she should have been covering, not to get all holier-than-thou again. The black man is not a prude. The point is just that —looking nobly back, as a black reporter who is ready to ride off into the sunset—it’s a big problem with reporters in the Live Music Capital of the World. They’re screwing somebody physically who they should be screwing in print, you feel me? Not to go all Old School but there has to be a professional standard. If you were asking my view—through a black revolutionary lens and as part of a psychosexual dialectic. A fundamental factor in public affairs in this town is, subliminally, white puddy.

The struggle for mating access to white women, actually, through a straight black male lens and as part of white lesbian reasoning. Fundamentally—it’s my well-founded belief—Molly’s hostility to me arose from a white lesbian fear of the power of black dick. That’s one way of looking at it. Black men have taken down beaucoup white booty, beaucoup, to the displeasure of white lesbians worldwide who also want white pussy. It’s really quite simple. There’s a lot of penis envy out there, people, take my word for it—and brothers take the brunt of the anger because we have or we are the biggest dicks. It’s all about pussy, not to repeat myself. That’s my final thumb-sucker—my last think-piece—this cop reporter’s swan song, from someone who likes to think that he brought home more than his share of bacon, some pork sausage and even fatback ribs.


Whole Foods So, like, Whole Foods has these awesome muffins, outrageously over-priced like everything else in the store and, like, only one good deal, one reasonably-priced item in the whole fucking store, back in the day you could buy stone cold allegedly-from-Italy mineral water in a big glass bottle, a liter, for a dollar, and carry it around in your backpack and survive downtown in summer when even a strong African-American warrior like me, whose ancestors ran barefoot on the savannah—hunting gazelle and zebra—and whose more recent ancestors worked in East Texas cotton fields, hoeing a tough row. It takes a lot to make my people sweat. So, like, at the time the Whole Foods mothership downtown used state troopers for security. 

The store had a Texas Department of Public Safety guy at the door, in uniform, as people came and went, probably more for appearances than anything else, but who you never saw inside. Never saw a trooper wrestle anybody to the ground at WF but it was a good choice using DPS instead of the local pigs because you’d have to worry more about merchandise losses with A.P.D. than from the damn customers, you know? 

It was once my common practice, while shopping at Whole Foods back in the day, to eat from one end of the store to the other, but that’s just human nature, right, not a real crime. Grazing at WF made up for the high prices on the days you actually made a purchase, right, because it was all such an outrageous rip-off? Stop me if you've heard that before. So, like, the trooper’s instinct to stop me one afternoon was right on, at the door of the store, but his luck was bad because there was a receipt in my pocket. Maybe not my receipt but a receipt nonetheless and it’s not like he was going to go item by item through my bag to be sure. Which emboldened me in the coming interaction. And so, like, instead of going off on this particular pig and asking what are you stopping me for, motherfucker—me being the only person of color leaving the fucking store, because Whole Foods at the time, under its original management, was a white store, not the way it is now under new guy Jeff Bezos, who just wants your money, the original ownership was not Negro-friendly. So, like, Whole Foods has always been expensive, then and now, but the store was previously an environment where the colored peoples of the earth were not a presence, as customers and especially not as staff. So, like, back in the day if that state trooper stopped me, which he was about to do, my question to him was going to be why don’t you look in that little white-bitch blond soccer mom’s bag over there, the one leaving the store ahead of me? You know, the one pushing the baby carriage? She could be walking out with a pound of truffles or new potatoes. Literally. Which she could. Literally. 

But the pig picked a brother to roust instead, that's nothing new when you’re a proud black man, here in River City where the Confederacy still lives. The white man and white woman are always challenging our legitimacy and saying, “You don’t belong.” At least the state troopers are usually polite even when they’re profiling, which this one was, but he was Latino which gave him points in my book, like, me sharing his pain as a member of a minority group in the Lone Star State. Although unlike me he could shoot a white guy if the opportunity arose and get away with it. Suffice it to say that this DPS puerco got me on a good day. My medication was working. So, like, this was not long after me and Ronnie Earle ran into each other in front of BookPeople, which is next door to REI now, but was next door to the Whole Foods mothership back then. To set the scene, back in the day. BookPeople is the center of non music-related White Culture in Austin, which means pretty much for the whole fucking town, btw, and has historically had little literary interest in niggers or Mexicans, except as subjects of white people’s narratives. It’s been like Austin policing but instead of a gun, whites have used a pen. But we digress. So, like, this time the trooper on duty signaled me to stop at the exit to the WF parking lot. He didn't really stop me but he was going to, so my preemptive move was to approach him, save him trouble because most pigs are lazy, you know? Not to generalize or anything. He didn’t draw his gun or pull out the cuffs or anything like that, if that’s what you’re wondering. That’s not where this is going. He was cooler about his suspicions about me, which the state troopers usually are, they're really polite too, it’s a performance measure for the Texas Department of Public Safety, they can be fired for being rude, unlike APD for whom rudeness is what, like, a job requirement? 

Before the trooper signaled me to stop, through his demeanor not anything he said, he was looking at the bag of goodies hanging from my shoulder but looking in a discreet way because WF is an upscale expensive trendy store where wealthy white people, Democrats and Republicans shop there, the cool and the not-so-cool, and security didn’t want to make a big scene or put off a liberal enjoying his or her foie gras, or champagne, by clubbing Negroes to the ground during store hours. In the parking late at night after lights out, maybe, the troopers could lay down a beating then, one supposes, but not while customers were still enjoying the Whole Foods shopping experience. WF then was a white store that had two fences up to keep minorities out, the prices, that are still high, and the store environment. Blacks and browns did not shop there much and the staff was heavy-hipster, not that there’s anything wrong with that, the cool and the want-to-be cool. So, like, after his professional curiosity was satisfied me and this Lone Star Puerco who was Latino, btw, at the WF door we got to talking and somehow the conversation turned to W, who at that time was President Bush and it turned out this pig, this state trooper trying to catch me shoplifting, wasn’t an ordinary trooper. He was not Highway Patrol or a mere driver’s license examiner. He was not one of the guys who stops overloaded trucks leaking oil on the road to Laredo. 

He was Capitol Police and he was working store security as an extra gig. 

He said that on U.S. Election Day ‘00 he was actually on duty at the Texas Governor’s Mansion and W was home. Yeah, that's what this pig said. And that's where it got interesting. We’re still standing at the door of Whole Foods. People feel comfortable talking to me, what can you say, it’s part of the psychic freight one carries as a noble black man. We feel too much. Some of us also have the gift of bullshit but many do not. So, like, W came out early that morning, Election Day 2000, onto the front lawn of the Mansion, in his robe and slippers or whatever, to collect his morning newspaper, this pig said, still standing at the door of Whole Foods. He was half talking to me and half watching the exceptionally fine puddy coming and going from the store. Latino guys are often like that, but black men know when and where is appropriate. Which is one of my major reasons as a black man for shopping there too, not the organic yams, although they areexceptional. It’s more the melons and watermelons, you feel me? There’s so much talent at Whole Foods, even on a bad day you see women who make you want to cry because they are so fine. So, like, W was trying to act like an ordinary guy on his front grass in case the media was watching or whatever, which they were that morning, in 2000, at the Texas Governor’s Mansion. The pig at Whole Foods was there, or so he said, working that day on the Mansion grass. There were like a zillion news vans and reporters already camped out and the number only grew until the Supreme Court ruled. This was my neighborhood, by the way, and walking past, you just felt numb, not that that’s important here. 

So, like, my question to the DPS guy was, like, stop right there. Stop right there. Stop! This is completely professional. What newspaper? What did W subscribe to? What was he picking up on the lawn that morning, the day of the 2000 election? 

And the trooper said, actually, that W subscribed to two newspapers, that were delivered every morning to the front door of the Mansion, for the lord of the manor and of the state. The Wall Street Journal and the Houston Chronicle. So, like, not the American-Statesman, which meant Bush was actually smarter than he looked. 

That’s a joke, actually.

 But it’s true, or that’s what this puerco said, the Chronicle and the WSJ. So, like, the trooper continued, we’re still standing in the WF doorway, just far enough outside not to trigger the electronic sensor that opens the door. He’s still checking out the customers, discreetly, but no niggers or Mexicans coming or going, so no one with probable cause to stop, you know? He continued with his rap. And he said him and the other puerco on duty that morning, on the front lawn of the Governor’s Mansion, at the risk of repeating myself. The troopers said to W that morning, on Election Day of the new fucking Millennium, “Hey Governor, how’s it going?” And Bush, who was always nice to the help, pretty cool one-on-one—so they say—he rolled his eyes and smiled that good-old-boy aw-shucks Yale-educated peckerwood smile, and replied, half-joking, “It’s going to be one of those days.” Which it was, actually.

 It was "one of those days" for like the next month or so, until the Supreme Court ruled that those votes in Florida didn't count. Or, like, for the next few years, actually. Through Hurricane Katrina, certainly. Until the surge started working in Iraq, that would be my feeling, professionally, as a reporter. Throughout the Bush Presidency, actually. If you consider all the available evidence. 

Never met the Big Guy in person, W that is, but everybody told me, both D’s and R’s, he was very charming, very personable up close, both in Austin and in D.C. The First Lady turned into Queen Anne in the White House by W himself remained down to earth one-on-one. They also said he was always the smartest guy in the room, at the State Capitol, which seems dubious now, in light of later events in D.C., and in Baghdad and in Fallujah. But that’s what people said who met him when he was working on Congress Avenue. The smartest guy in the room, no shit. And this one chick, a friend of mine, an acquaintance, who was a hot little Chilean abnormal psychologist and briefly the subject of my non-professional interest—this is absolutely true. She asked me once about W, while he was in office.  That was what she wanted to know most about the United States. 

Knowing that Texas is my home, what is he really like, she asked, what was President Bush really like? Who? W, she said. And my response was, well, he’s very personable one-on-one, because that's what everybody had told me. And she looked at me and answered, completely seriously, this is absolutely true, “They said the same thing about Hitler.” So, like, after that—after our discussion that evening in Antofagasta, Chile, nowadays when people ask me about W, as a trained observer with strong analytical skills, my response is to skip straight to the chase and say that he’s a fucking Nazi. No lie. For me, mostly though the truth was found in documents. 

Spent a few weeks, back in the day, at the Center for American History, when W was governor, looking at Ann Richard’s official correspondence from her four years in the Mansion that preceded his. It was a complete waste of time from the standpoint of a story to write or a deadline to meet but there were three pieces of paper that fixed my attention and made worthwhile all the time spent going through blue-ribbon proclamations and drafts of forgotten speeches. 

One was a letter from the Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, a Republican who had just sworn Richards as Governor. In the letter, handwritten and angry, the chief justice accused Governor Richards of sending her political enforcer to his chambers, to persuade the judge to resign. It was a kind of hardball you wouldn’t have associated with the ladylike governor and the judge wrote to Ann to call her bluff. The correspondence was helpful for what it revealed about the governor more than the Chief Justice. Richards’ political instincts had taken her so far but would not carry her to re-election. Democrats not Republicans were the endangered species at the Texas statehouse and she didn’t have a clue. The other correspondence was vintage Ann, in the form of two thank you notes. Her father died just after her loss and in her correspondence file, at the Center for American History, from like the month after W won and right before she ceded office, there was a handwritten condolence from George W. Bush and a copy of Ann’s thank you note in return. No mention of the election which had been dirty—not particularly dirty by Texas standards but dirty enough to shock and offend, which is the kind of thing the Lone Star electorate likes. Reading the exchange of letters from the old governor and the new one, W, taught me something that my own parents should have, but did not. That there are some things you can never let go of—courtesy and respect for family loss being among them. This was old Texas. Even after a statewide pissing match like a general election. Ann Richards was still a lady even when she played hardball. W, despite many faults, becoming a war criminal is one, was a gentleman, whatever that means. A stormtrooper, ultimately, but a well-bred one. 

In terms of the reporter’s tradecraft, technology not politics nor good manners were becoming the arbiter of this time of great change. Computers, certainly. God created snoops but the Internet made us dangerous. Email was coming. Mostly for me it was about a way of reporting not the story. That’s what sent me out day after day, to ride trail on white people in this Hill Country heartland, not to sound all noble or anything. The principal of newspaper work was that everybody is equal. Black, white, brown or yellow. Yellow Dog Democrat, Klansman or Black Panther, we’re all equal. Anybody can take a fall. That’s what makes this country great. We all fall down, we all disappoint, we try to get back to our feet, some do, some don’t, the only difference is who’s there to put it in the newspaper the next morning. For a time that was me. A thuggish little nigger from nowhere, instead of doing time in prison after another bust—that would have been my future if not for the Fourth Estate. Society gave me a chance to fuck with people who were, like, way above my social level. Can you believe that shit? People who might otherwise be sitting on my jury. Is there an Allah or what? Instead of them passing judgment on me, it was me judging them. Ours is a society where one can rise above humble origins, and go from street nigger to Black Avenger in one long jump. That’s what journalism gave me, not to get sentimental or anything.

My last Whole Foods encounter was among the high prices and beautiful people, but in check-out, not on the bulk aisle where my favorite pastime was grazing, as part of my own efforts at “mini-reparations,” as seen through the lens of a black liberation dialectic. In the WF mothership’s express checkout one afternoon there was a striking older white lady one or two customers ahead of me. Somehow she looked familiar. Don’t know what she was buying although it was too expensive whatever it was, we were in Whole Foods, not to repeat myself. WF doesn’t do cheap, not to beat a dead horse. This lady looked like she could afford it though. Not Michael Dell-rich, not like she could buy the whole fucking store, just whatever she wanted in it. 

What struck me most were her clothes. Her apparel. She was not dressed for the rodeo, unless it was Rodeo Drive or somewhere else in Beverly Hill. She was rich enough to be understated which in Texas means wealthy indeed. She wore fashionably broken-in jeans, almost chic, like someone had worn them for her to soften high-priced denim up. A sheer expensive maybe silk blouse and a thin gold bracelet on her wrist, not at all like the ingots that ordinary Texas rich women wear. But this wasn’t oil money or cattle wealth. It was political gold which means respectability as well as cash. Her hair, kind of golden, actually, was perfect. A helmet but perfect. She looked well-cared for. It was Ann Richards. We chatted for a moment. It had been twenty years, longer, since she’d been at Precinct 1 in the Travis County Courthouse, and we hadn’t seen each other since. We had talked on the telephone once during a time long ago but that conversation was also in an Austin that no longer exists. 

Ann’s rap after she got beat for reelection by W was that she never looked back. That’s what she told interviewers if anyone asked. What happened happened, she lost, W won—that was that and she moved on. Which meant going to New York or wherever and working as a political consultant, a commentator or strategist or whatever, making big bank. That’s what she said. That’s what a lot of ex-politicians do. That's what she did and there's documentary evidence to prove it. But by the time we ran into each other at Whole Foods, her version of history was no longer holding up. What had happened in the meantime was Iraq. W had four years in D.C. at that point, as the most powerful man in the world, when Ann and me met in express checkout. This was like September or October, at the end of the Bush first term in the White House and a lot of people were dead who otherwise might not be. Iraq was in ashes. The metrics, the numbers, described it all, particularly the body count. And you could kind of see that on Ann’s face. She had fucked up and she knew it. 

She didn't say anything, Governor Richards was far too smart a woman for that, too experienced after four years in the Mansion. She certainly wasn't going to say anything to a reporter and not this reporter who she didn't trust. Her features were harder to control, though. Nothing was said but nothing needed to be, it was all written on her face. You might think she was ill but the cancer hadn’t been diagnosed yet. This was something different, regret. Me not being an abnormal psychologist or anything, not like my Chilean friend, my bet was still that Ann felt responsible. She felt guilty for unleashing W on an unsuspecting world. 

The election wasn’t just about her, contrary to what she believed at the time. Contrary to what she told the press. As the pundits like to say, elections have consequences, mostly for people other than the candidates, which is something the pundits don't say often enough. Ann didn’t do what was needed to do to win. She didn’t play dirty enough, frankly. The trouble was, and this may have been Ann’s thinking, when you bring in somebody to go dumpster-diving you can’t always be sure whose dumpster it’s going to be. That may have been what she feared. 

She tried desperately at the end of the campaign, when she finally recognized the danger that W represented. She ratcheted up the executions, in order to appeal to the mob. Which in Texas is a completely legitimate political move. She tried to be a pistol-packing mama and all that, taking a course on the FBI gun range, posing with a handgun for the cameras, but it was all too late. It’s always amazing that people who never knew her talk about what a saint Ann Richards was. If she was a saint, the Governor’s Mansion was the wrong place for her to be. She didn't like “What’s the dirt?”, but it still seems like a pretty fair question, even today, long after Ann has left the scene. Fair in Austin at least, here in this bucolic River City. Somehow it seems to get more pertinent every day. 

Who a leader nurtures—who a leader praises—are important and Ann did a good job of that, encouraging women to join the political process and all, being a mentor you would call it, or better, a role model. But just as important as whose career you start is whose career you end. She should have strangled W in the crib, you feel me? It would have saved a lot of blood later. Anyway we shook hands outside Whole Foods and she walked away. She was living around the corner in some condos, someone told me later, whose other principal resident was one of President Johnson's daughters. Can’t remember if it was Lynda Bird or Luci Bird, whichever one of the LBJ’s girls lives in town. Watching Governor Richards walk away at Whole Foods, she had no security, no assistant, nothing except the purchases in her hand. In this town that's what it always comes down to, no matter how you start out, one day you end up carrying your own groceries out of Whole Foods. It can be a lonely walk through the parking lot. 

Anyway that day, back inside, collecting my shit—and a receipt—saying to the checker, like, “Do you know who that was? That was Ann Richards.” 

The cashier was a hipster, probably a glass-blower or mixed-media artist, just working the cash register to pay for the herb that gave him inspiration. If you asked me to guess. Beside the plastic arts he was also certainly a member of a band. Everybody in Austin is in a band. This guy was completely unimpressed. “I just saw,” the checker told me, “Sandra Bullock in produce.”


Con los Pobres de la Tierra  Let me ask you a question, it may seem incongruous, you ever ride the Number 1? If you want to get a quick and dirty view of what River City has become during my time in the saddle, you need to take the Number 1 bus. It’s not pretty. The route starts somewhere south, almost the fucking Alamo, comes up Congress Avenue past new and trendy shops, restaurants, saloons and crosses the river—passes the Capitol—past the Governor’s Mansion, past the Travis County Courthouse, the University of Texas and the State Hospital. You roll by the headquarters of the Texas Rangers too, look for the DPS building with antennae sticking up, creepy and loathsome like a slimy bug. The #1 covers many of the social services stops in town, if you're unemployed or “at risk” or just out of your fucking mind, which is a surprisingly significant demographic in ATX. The head-jobs and druggies mostly come out at night but my most formative experience on the #1 actually took place during the day and south of the river where there’s usually less chance of mischief, not north 

So, like, it was a Saturday, late morning, me coming back from Big Stacy Pool on the southern edge of Travis Heights, to catch the #1 headed north toward downtown. To set the scene. Molly lived in Travis Heights, btw, someone told me later, not that that’s important here, and so does Jim Hightower who was also Observer editor back in the day. This has always been a liberal neighborhood in other words, if you can say that, and cracker sightings have been rare even when there were more crackers per capita in Travis County than now. So, like, you walk up the hill from Stacy Pool to South Congress and there’s this little park on the corner, across from what was an X-rated theater and is now a tech startup? Remember what it was like? On the other side of the street from that nursing home—you know, if there’s a breeze you can smell the pee drying as you walk by? So, like, homeless folks have always used the little park across from the nursing home as a place to hang out during the day, especially when it’s hot. Pigs are usually not far away, waiting for a chance to bust some balls or break some heads. If memory serves me correctly, this was, like, right around the corner from where that Texas senator—Nixon was his name, same party but no relation to the former President. Where Senator Nixon got busted as a John back in the day. Now you remember? He picked up what he thought was a working girl but she had a silver badge in her panties. That may have been before your time, if like so many you’re new to River City.  So, like, a lot of hookers work or worked this part of South Austin after East Austin started getting gentrified and became just another part of Hipsterland. So, like, this was the turn of the century, turn of the millennium, 2000, Y2K or maybe a few years before, W was governor. 

My preference is always to sit up front on buses, to watch the road, sometimes chat with the driver if he’s got anything to say. Some of the Capitol Metro drivers just sit there, it’s all they can do to handle the traffic on Congress Avenue, but other drivers got a decent rap, you have to talk to the motherfucker to find out because there's no other way. And sitting up front with me that day was this couple, looked like small town folk, Ma and Pa Peckerwood from Giddings or maybe Milam County or some East Texas shithole like Bastrop County before Bastrop became suburban Austin and started sprouting fern bars and cafes. To replace the feed stores and Western wear shops, you know, like Bastrop when Nig Hoskins was still sheriff. They called him Nig because he killed a black man. But we digress.

So, like, there were a couple of black guys in that little park where the bus stops, up the hill from the pool, two Negroes just chillin', minding their own black business like the Texas Constitution says we have a right to do. Maybe getting high too, which is cool, each to his own herb—indulge or not—that's the mantra in this town, it may even be codified. So, like, this was sacred ground to me geographically, this intersection next to the park because on one of my prior visits to Stacy Pool, which was then my pool, btw, my swimming hole that eventually changed to Deep Eddy and then Barton Springs. But was then Big Stacy in South Austin, and me one day walking by that nursing home across from the park and there was a fifty-dollar bill on the sidewalk. That was me going to the pool. But this was me coming back from the pool, walking to the bus stop in front of the park where there was the two brothers just chillin’. To set the scene. So, like, that day was one of the last times Austin felt real to me, boarding the bus with Ma and Pa Peckerwood from Giddings. 

It wasn’t the last day or anything, wasn’t the beginning of the end like Winston Churchill talked about during the second World War but it was the end of the beginning like the great man also said. In the beginning, for me, River City was fucked up but it was largely a holistic experience. It was the kind of place you could work on your karma. Weed was cheap. Pussy was free or reasonably priced, $35 on east 12thStreet for a half-n-half actually, although you had to check before you climbed on board that it really was a she. At the time of my arrival a black man could still run his game with enough intimidation and white guilt to get away with murder. Almost. That was the old Austin, for me, it was kind of beautiful back in the day and it lasted like that for a while. But RIP, motherfucker, because that bitch is dead and gone now. If you asked me to put a date on when the world changed for the worse that would be kind of hard to say but it was an era—a political era, a social climate you could call it. Basically when George W. Bush was in the Governor's Mansion. At first the Live Music Capital of the World was still easy-come easy-go, even after George and Laura Bush hit town. The black man did not feel that his freedom was curtailed except in interactions with the pigs, before W got here. You could walk by the back gate of the Mansion and see the parties on the grounds, back in the day, there wasn’t barbed wire or machine guns yet, you didn't feel like snipers were tracking your every move, either. Not like now. Before the Bushes came to town, and when Ann Richards lived there and you walked by at night you could swear you heard women's laughter and you probably did. At the Bush parties, during those fall and summer afternoons, the women wore big sun hats and were holding drinks. Even if W himself was on the wagon, born again and all that, no alcohol, it turned out he only drank blood. 

Sometimes, also in the late afternoon, if you visited Central Library just down the street from the Mansion, which was one of my favorite haunts, btw, because it was across the street from the Observer. In the library there were sometimes reports that the Bush twins were up on the 3rd floor studying, they’d walked over after class at Austin High. That was part of my Austin too. It was a small town. If it was a weekday you could stand on Congress Avenue and look up at the front of the Capitol and if it was anytime, say, after 10 a.m. but before four in the afternoon there was a silver Continental parked out front like the owner was home. That was W's car. He was in. Today of course all you'd would need to do is look at the surveillance tape. There are more cameras covering Congress now than in Hollywood, which is another change the black man is not entirely comfortable with, but that’s what we call progress in high-tech River City. Point is that you knew shit, even deep shit, without having to work hard, back in the day. The lazy man’s way to investigative reporting, you just had to hang out on Congress Avenue to do the job. At the time you were still seeing people downtown or you knew people who were seeing the people you needed to see downtown, in about a six-blood radius of the State Capitol. My boss came into the office one day during those years, the Bush years, and said, like, he just saw former Governor White at a wine store on West 6th Street, which blew his mind. “Mark White buys bad wine just like me!” he said literally. A small town, yeah. 

Ran into Ronnie Earle another time, about this same time, the W years, on the steps leading to the second floor of the Capitol. He was showing his father around, and showing his dad where Ronnie worked meant taking his father to the legislature not to the courthouse. Probably took him both places, the House and the courthouse actually. Saw Ronnie again a year or two later, the last time we met actually, outside Whole Foods which was pretty much the center of my social existence at the time. No longer hanging out at my dealer’s apartment up near the university Drag, which had been Ground Zero for me back in the day. Not at the Central Library anymore either, with the Bush twins, library management didn't like too many Negroes in the downtown location, they kind of made their feelings known. Suddenly my principal hang-out was Whole Foods. Not the current store, at 5th & Lamar, not the national mothership but the prior one, next door to BookPeople, across the street basically. Don’t know if Ronnie was coming out of Whole Foods or going into Book People but we stopped and chatted. He was still D.A., a quarter century after we first met. You know what he told me that day outside BookPeople, as advice? “Write what you know.” He even did a recommendation for me to UT, to complete my unfinished degree. Look how he has been repaid. But we digress. 

So, like, anyway, the bus, the #1, was stopped at that corner next to the park, up from Big Stacy Pool, waiting for a red light to turn green and proceed down Congress Avenue toward the Capitol and the guy from Bastrop looked out the window at the two brothers in the park and this cracker said to his old lady sitting next to him, straight up like they’re still in Crackerville, East Texas, or wherever, not like he was actually in Trendyville, the Third Coast, the Live Music Capital of the World. Where he really was. “There’s two kinds of coon," he said to his wife. She looked at him expectantly. "Them that walk on four legs,” Bubba pointed his finger out the window, indicating the two brothers just chillin’ in the park, “and them that walk on two.” His wife chuckled. He slapped his thigh and had a good laugh and smiled big. With both teeth. And then he looked my way, me sitting on the other side of the bus aisle but still pretty close and this cracker realized that he had spoken loud enough for one that walked on two legs to hear. And he stopped smiling. So, like, if this was Chicago or even L.A. the motherfucker would have been dead right there, boom boom boom, at least two in the chest, his old lady too. Meet my friend Mr. Nine Mil, you feel me? But this was River City, Texas, the old Austin where we always tried to be user-friendly, where we tried to be understanding even of rednecks like our challenged brothers and sisters from the pineywoods of East Texas, or wherever. Although this is a problem that is not limited to that part of the Lone Star State. And actually it didn’t really bother me, you know? Because Bubba was up front about it. You knew what you were dealing with until relatively recently, you knew Billy Bob because you knew what he looked like. He looked like this motherfucker sitting at the front of the bus with his old lady. He looked like poor white trash or just trash, irrespective of color. Nowadays, the dentition is better but the sentiments are pretty much the same. Hipsters have totally replaced hillbillies. They just don’t say dumb shit, sitting in the seat next to you, most of the time, not without looking around first. They don’t usually use the bus much either. They ride on Treks or drive hybrids, not to induce class envy or anything. 


The Man in the White Hat Interesting that the major fault line at the Observer did not involve black people or Latinos but instead Palestinians and Jews. That was my contribution actually. Mine, both in fact and in deed.

So, like, the major donor to the Observer over decades has been the Rapoport family of Waco, a Russian-Jewish-Texan family who owned liquor stores in Waco in the early 1900s and moved into insurance, and now traffic in journalism as one might say. There was a time back in the day when the family patriarch—Bernie Rapoport of American Income Life Insurance—was one of only two liberal money guys in all the whole Lone Star State. So it was said. And to give him the credit he deserves Bernie was a liberal white guy who employed black people in good jobs in the relative shithole of Waco, Texas, not to repeat myself—even when other whites would not. Because the rest of the people with money in the state were conservative or ultra-conservative nutjob white guys, even if many of them were Yellow Dogs too. If you were a good Democrat and had a good Democratic cause you could call Mr. Rapaport and he might write a check for $5,000 to make it happen. Texas conservatives always have dozens of wealthy boosters—Democrats only had one or two, Bernie Rapaport being the number one guy. The problem was that Bernie Rapaport was also a plant-a-tree-in-Israel nutjob American Jew, pardon me for saying that. Of which there were more then than now—thank you, very much. And he believed that the Palestine Liberation Organization then was like Islamic State is today, along those lines. Although the PLO’s violence was all right, in my modest opinion as a natural-born black man, because everyone else in the Middle East is violent too. Enter my mother—may she rest in peace. Who also believed in violence and was part of Bernie Rappaport’s generation of Texan, but the other end of the spectrum politically, born in Galveston during Jim Crow and becoming kind of hardcore. And who was a big fan of the PLO, for the simple reason that the Palestinian struggle is like the African American one. And in order to please my mother—like any good son wants to do—and for no other reason—a devious plot was concocted by one conspirator, me. Involving Bernie Rapaport of American Income Life Insurance. May shame be heaped upon my black soul.

So, like, this is going to sound terrible. Just to warn you. After writing an account of my time working on a kibbutz in Israel—back, back in the day—before my arrival in the Fourth Estate—my service to the Jewish State and all that you could call it, as an agricultural worker. Back to the plantation, you could even say, that was kind of the whole vibe of the piece. It was a wonderful time to be in the Holy Land btw, the Israelis were cool—the chicks were hot—there’s some amazing talent in the Holy Land, let me tell you, Arab and Jew—this was roughly the era right before the right-wing whackjob Likud began to take over, to put the period in historical perspective. So, like, after pitching this tale of my time on kibbutz to the Observer as a novel-in-progress—it was accepted for publication. Can you believe that shit? Even though the story had absolutely fuck all to do with Texas, you feel me, which was suspicious right there, completely sus in fact. And the magazine didn’t really run fiction either. But my W.I.P; was accepted and ran, no shit. And prominent in this alleged novel-in-progress was reference to a bird—colored black, white and green—and called a tafara. Which got into the magazine too as part of this extremely dodgy work of literature. Again to my great surprise—and at a time in my life that not even half of my far-fetched writer’s traps caught anything. Apparently the story ran because Bernie Rapaport liked it or would like it and he was writing the checks. So, like, tafara is “Arafat” spelled backwards—as in Yassir Arafat who was chairman of the PLO. Something that the editors didn’t notice before publication. And black, white and green happen to be the Palestinian colors. You may say, wow, that was really juvenile and it certainly was, in the bright light of day and with benefit of hindsight, those would be my only caveats. But it was also a whole lotta fun. And if you’re going to blacklist me about anything—which the Observer did after that—after the Rapaports presumably got scraped off the ceiling of their presumably palatial home in Waco. If you’re going to blacklist me for any single reason, Palestine would be my second choice after Mother Africa—to risk all for. Not to sound noble or anything.

Someone told me recently that in the Observer’s papers, which were donated to the University of Texas and are being cataloged by UT archivists as we speak, there’s an angry letter from founding editor Ronnie Dugger to Bernie Rapoport. Apparently referencing an argument over Palestine. In this alleged document Ronnie tells Bernie that Bernie is not going to dictate editorial policy and that Bernie can take the Rapaport money and shove it, basically. Or so it is said. Not having seen the correspondence myself but as it has been described to me. That does not mean that Ronnie Dugger defended me tho. Au contraire, mon ami. He cut the black man loose—as has happened so often in Texan history if one looks thru the lens of a critical race dialectic.

Ronnie Dugger and Molly and Nate considered me an uppity nigger, btw—or so it was said because they didn't say it to me. In any case after the tafara incident my goose was well and truly cooked. Through, again—you know—if you look at the Tafara Affair as it has come to be known, if you look dispassionately, it was through minimal fault of my own. It wasn’t even me actually at all, if you want to be technical. My mother was responsible, for teaching me that the Palestinians are an oppressed people. There were severe professional consequences for the appearance of the bird in print, you could call it, but if history has taught us anything about the noble black man it is that he must do what he must do, in order to liberate the oppressed everywhere. At that point in my life Old Black had taken me to Minneapolis, btw, where everyone in Austin ends up. The towns are similar, yeah, with similar populations, a lot of liberal white people who are not quite as liberal as they think. Both Minneapolis and Austin are great places to be when it’s not a full moon and when P.D. isn’t on the hunt. To set the scene. So, like, my memory is of being in the Twin Cities and receiving a copy of the Observer’s collection of best stories—freshly-printed. The collection was from the first 50 years of the magazine—a period of time that included my tenure as a Contributing Writer. So, like, there were like 90+ stories but none by black writers and apparently only one piece authored by a black person—a note to the Democratic faithful about “boll weevils,” conservative Democrats who vote like Republicans. a phrase you never hear anymore sadly, boll weevil, because it’s so descriptive and means basically traitor. The warning was written by a Congressman-of-color, back back in the day. My own writing was not included, not that there’s anything wrong with that. The magazine's lone black writer was not included. You may ask, did Molly know? Molly did it, she chose the pieces to include in the collection. Karen had only one story and it was not her best work. Ronnie Dugger had eleven bylines—not that we’re counting, generally-speaking black men do not get jealous. We are known for our ability to look at facts dispassionately, not like white chicks for example. Anyway, this was out of 94 pieces in the collection, or whatever. One of Ronnie Dugger’s stories was about the killing of a child in Shithole, East Texas, back in the day, the kind of reportage that made the Observer’s reputation before Tulia or George W. Bush. Molly’s major contribution was her realization—over the years and in print—that W—future Butcher of Baghdad, as one could call George W. Bush—so-called Fiend of Fallujah—was a danger to humanity, not just Texas. Certainly it’s great that Ronnie Dugger wrote the child’s story but it was his job and didn’t make him an emancipator of the black peeps, or whatever, which is how he likes to be viewed, a la retraite, as our savior.“He has an ego,” one of Ronnie’s friends told me recently, and that comment is so unlike the black man who is practically egoless. Molly was like that too—a personality the size of the Trans Pecos. She had four stories in the collection and Nate had three, actually, including the Tulia piece which as mentioned was awesome. Fifty Years of the Observer was white people’s views of the State of Texas and specifically white people’s views of race. White views of race, politics and culture actually—with a little—very little—Tejano thrown in. Mostly you had to be a liberal white guy or girl to appear in the collection’s pages, it was mostly white guys and a few white chicks. It was like literary segregation, or like a white club. It was a white club, for journalists. Nate was picked to be the voice of black people. He’s a white boy, lest we forget, from the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex.

An interesting anecdote about how far the magazine has deceived about its own history, this is recounted only to help, comes from a writer of color at the Observer before me. He is Latino and was hired by Ronnie Dugger back in the day, the late ‘70s, but who eventually left journalism and went to law school. He said that he was invited a few years ago to one of the magazine’s social events, a fundraiser or awards banquet or whatever, and the editors insisted on introducing him to the audience as a Latino former editor of the magazine. As the Observer tries now to atone for a non-diverse past. “I told them,” he said, “I was never editor.” To no avail.

The Rapoports basically own the magazine, Bernie’s son and granddaughter lead the board, which has traditionally consisted of liberal white West Austin do-gooders and now has a couple of diverse do-gooders but the Rapaports still call the shots because they’re writing checks just like Bernie used to do. According to the family foundation the Rapaports give about $100K or $150K yearly, roughly, out of the Observer’s budget of $1 million-plus-change. The Rapaport money comes from their foundation not out of the family’s own pockets, fyi. But they had to make the money first—to give the Rapaport family credit they deserve—selling insurance or whatever, in order to pay taxes later. Still it’s money that otherwise would have gone to Uncle Sam, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Not to point out the obvious. Basically the magazine is at the family’s orders—impoverished, financially although not editorially—under Rapaport control because they in effect make up the difference in the budget every year. It’s a good deal for Abby and her father Ron but maybe not as good a deal for Texas journalism. Abby has—backed by Daddy—fired an editor or publisher—or two—or so it is said. In the journalism world she is recognized as “owner” of the Observer, which she kind of is, actually. Fewer than 40,000 subscribers in a state with 30 million people. Influential in some circles, but with a highly underpowered engine, you could say, whose only real moneymaking endeavor, according to the magazine’s non-profit disclosure form, is The Molly journalism awards banquet. “Those tables are not cheap,” said a Democratic mover-and-shaker who has attended, which means that the expense prohibits the same people who the Observer is supposed to be working for, from going to the banquet. Not to get all nose-up-in-the-air about hypocrisy. The banquet pulls in about 100K a year and The Molly is usually awarded to a Jewish writer on the liberal journalism circuit. A couple of years ago the prize was awarded to one of the judges, which seems kind of dodgy but is no longer the concern of this black cowboy. That doesn’t mean that the Rapaport family has not given a lot to the magazine—the Rapaports have been very generous—but so have many others, including the writers. My own work for the Observer was all paid at the same rate whatever the story: $20-per-piece. Regardless of how long it took to report and write, not to sound like a victim. In fact the magazine still owes me for my last story, not to sound bitter or aggrieved.

Where the Observer shines and needs more resources is not race but environmental coverage. That’s not my problem anymore, saddling up Old Black for the long ride home. There really is such a thing as a reporter’s instinct—mine tells me that what we’re going through now with the pandemic is the beginning of something not the end. You heard that here first—end times but instead of God’s wrath it’s Mother Nature’s. Kiss your ass goodbye, not to get all negative, but things can get worse and probably will. Which is another reason to ride off into the sunset while there’s still a sunset to ride into, my plan is to enjoy life before the apocalypse. Meanwhile, let’s all do ourselves a favor—if you know a reporter who covers the environment, buy him or her a drink. Or share your stash or give up a little pussy or dick as the case may be. Because that beat is now the cutting edge of journalism. Otherwise, basically—if you ask me, considering my experience as a reporter—we’re all fucked. Although bad news does make for some great stories, as Molly Ivins liked to say. Looking around this Hill Country one last time—as Old Black hooves the ground to signal he’s ready to go—if you ask me about good journalism—if you ask me about the craft of reporting—there has been only one enduring institution during my time on the range. The Times. The Gray Lady still brings home the bacon.

If anyone else wins a Pulitzer you should be suspicious—the Pulitzer Board is just another white club after all, where relationships are everything. The Pulitzers are about power and influence not necessarily good journalism. The prizes are about connections and friends, whose turn at the trough, that sort of thing, not to sound jaded. Who has the stroke to win, in other words—who knows whom. But if the Times is the winner—in news or business reporting for example—or any kind of investigation—you can almost guarantee that the Times people earned it. Not for arts coverage—no way—especially not at the NYT. In that case you need to be highly suspicious. Or the opinion page which is wired so tight that the editor must squeak when she walks, another white chick, btw, not that there’s anything wrong with that, who took over from a white guy. Like the New Yorker, in fact, a great magazine back in the day which seems to get more clubby all the time. A club that few of us belong to. Is it possible that American journalism has had a rough ride recently because the industry is so corrupt? As well as racist? Just a random thought. The Times ran an opinion piece a few months ago—this one was actually pretty good. Something to the effect that voting for the Academy Awards is based upon relationships not merit. That was my guess, looking at the title. Not having actually read the piece myself—life is too short—but after spending a few seconds studying the headline. When one reaches a higher level of journalism consciousness, one does not even have to read a story to know what it's about. In any case the same thing can be said of the Pulitzers, n’est-ce pas? That would be my view as a retiring black practitioner of the profession. Racism exists in American journalism just like in policing, health care, Hollywood and every other fucking aspect of our culture.

After the Observer crossed me off the list, Texas Monthly, the Texas Tribune and ProPublica followed suit, all taking their cue from Bernie Rappaport, for the crime of dissing Israel. At the Tribune that call was made by Corrie Maclaggan, managing editor, and the editor in chief—the excellent Ms. Ramshaw now of The 19th—not to name names, both Jewish journalists, not to go ethnic or religious. At the Observer the editors even went online and inserted code in one of my stories to make it read like gibberish. But not the novel-in-progress in which the tafara flew, so to speak. You may say, well, Lucius—maybe they’re not racists—they just didn’t like you? Which is a fair question to ask, actually. The problem is though—if they just didn’t like me—why didn’t they find another Negro? In my entire time in the saddle—almost half the last fucking century, not to repeat myself, since finishing my internship at the Atlanta Constitution, in 1977, and being sent by Cox Newspapers to Austin to work as a reporter on the City Desk of the American-Statesman—besides me, there has been just one black male reporter at any of these Texas publications. And only a handful of black women. At the Statesman for instance, despite groundbreaking coverage of the pigs, that you have to give the daily newspaper credit for, over the years, frying a lot of bacon, there have only been half a dozen blacks since my departure in 1980. A local black civic leader recently described the Statesman newsroom as historically inhospitable to black men. The only blacks at the Tribune have said the same thing about TT’s editorial offices, under white chicks Emily Ramshaw and Corrie Maclaggan, not to repeat myself, a hostile atmosphere for black journalists. It’s called racism, people. You don’t get a pass because you publish stories about race. The only reason not to mention Texas Monthly is that the Monthly avoids these problems altogether by not hiring African Americans in the first place. Before the problem was attributable to white guys and now it’s white chicks, that would be my whole point, actually. It bears repeating.

As for the Gray Lady, she’s still kinda hot. What’s cool about her is that you can reverse-engineer the coverage—it’s that good. That deep. Sometimes there’s some really multidimensional shit, not to sound ignorant, that can lead the reader to extra value in the reportage. During MeToo for example, for which NYT won a Pulitzer and deservedly so, the Times ran a list of a bunch of big guys in arts and in the media who were major suspects with women. What was surprising about this blacklist—which pleased me, btw, a lot more than the other kind, that kept me out of work as a journalist during the best years of a noble black life—was the high percentage of Jewish men. Not because Jewish guys are the biggest dogs with women. There’s a lot of competition for that dubious honor, from Latinos and from black men. But because there are so many Jews in positions of power and MeToo is about power not sex. That was my take-home lesson from reverse-reading the Times. The newspaper is something else, in a good way, and has resources which are just as important as sources. Some publications can put together a team of three or four reporters once in a while—"for a project”—NYT is doing that shit all the damn time. Times reporters uncovered what was happening in the Travis County District Attorney’s office in Austin, Texas without ever coming to the Lone Star State. That’s the power of good journalism. The Gray Lady may not be as good as she once was but she’s still better than everybody else. Not on the arts, however, which is what’s important to me now, pulling tight the stirrups on my ride. Because art imitates life.

In Austin the music plays a huge role, we all know that. To the point where the gig assumes critical importance. If you asked me about my experience of that scene—lo these many years riding fences on the Silicon Prairie. Living through traumatic eras of history, having seen black bodies on the ground after police shootings, the mother wanting to know why they had to shoot her son eight times? And having heard the music playing in the background during mucho mucho mayhem—you might ask what was the most powerful protest song or who was the most powerful protest singer during my time on the range? That’s easy. It wasn’t James Brown or the Temptations. Not Queen B or Marvin Gaye. The song is not “Cop Killer” either—by Body Count—although the title does have a melodious ring. The best protest song of my generation is “Sweet Home Alabama,” that would be my opinion. In which crackers took charge of their own narrative and decided it was okay to be peckerwood. Lynyrd Skynyrd was the bomb—that got dropped on the rest of us. The song makes me almost—almost—want to spend time with white boys and has had the greatest social impact during my time in the saddle, that would be my call. You cannot ignore the role of the arts in revolution, even if it’s not your revolution. If you asked me what was the most poignant time for me, personally—as a black man and a black journalist—during the last half century? What was the most emotionally and spiritually impressionante time ever, in Austin that was also an artistic experience. My memory is clear, before the drugs and booze took a toll. This was in a movie theater in what was then far North Austin but is now considered downtown. So, like, this was music-related like so much that happens here, not to repeat myself. After dropping a tab of acid—you know, the cheap kind that was more speed than LSD? Back in the day, if you were around back then and if you were a drug fiend like me. To set the scene. Never used acid at work, btw—if that’s your concern. But at the City Desk, the clerk was a brother named Marvin—who had a twin sister named Marvina—who sold vials of crystal speed for $10, if you needed a quick pick me up at deadline.

So, like, at the theater, me stoned out of my mind but still agitated due to the speed in the tab? To set the scene. The movie was Apocalypse Now. Which had premiered. And it was like the helicopters were coming straight into the theater, not to get all dramatic or anything. Me whimpering like a a bitch, sunk down in my seat. The music was cataclysmic too, The Doors. That may just be classic rock now but was scary shit at the time. In the Live Music Capital of the World it’s always about the music, btw, that would be my whole point, actually. My best memory of live music is Junior Walker singing “Shotgun” at Antone’s, also back in the day. Junior wore a cape over his shoulders and everything, an attendant removed the cape when Junior got too hot from his music, you know? The kind of routine patented by James Brown the Godfather of Soul, but was still pretty common among black singers, not that that’s pertinent here. Everything in this town comes back to the gig—the music—the song or the band—not so much the written word. My theory? The East Coast is literary, the West Coast is cinematic, but the Third Coast is all about the music. Unless there’s a tafara flying through and they won’t let you forget what was just basically a little indiscretion. You may say, well, you sound like a bigot. Kind of. But that’s what it means to be American, right? The U.S. was built on bigotry. It’s just our turn now. Let me say in all candor: Some of these white chicks get on my last damn nerve. 

So, like, there are even one or two decent white guys. In my modest opinion, other black people may disagree. Doyne Bailey is a white guy of my acquaintance or formerly of my acquaintance because we haven’t see each other for many years. He’s a pig—or a proto-pig because he became Sheriff of Travis County or, actually now, a retired pig. To set the scene. Later Doyne was also Governor Richard’s main criminal justice guy. But the day we're talking about he was a homicide sergeant for APD looking at the untimely death of a white guy in a black neighborhood.

So, like, Doyne is an unrepentant porker but he’s one with wide knowledge and a certain style. He ran the state liquor board for a while too, if memory serves. And before all that—he was president of the APA and helped to establish the organization that eventually turned into the KKK we know it today. To come full circle, because we started with puercos, didn’t we? And he’s a great guy—Doyne—as hard as that may be to believe, being a pig and all that. Luckily black men hold very little real racial prejudice. So, like, my first Doyne Bailey encounter was over this white guy's dead body and that was music-related too,btw. So, like, me and Doyne met in 1978—maybe ‘79—in East Austin, around the time Molly and me crossed paths in Seadrift but not at the same exact time, obviously. My guess now, lo these many years later, is that the dead white guy in East Austin preceded the dead white guy in Seadrift but both events seemed to be relatively felicitous, because it was nice to go to cover a shooting and the victim wasn’t black. To set the scene. Back then, back in the day, white people didn’t go to East Austin. If you were a white guy or God-forbid a white chick east of I-35, at that time, you weren’t looking for a fixer-upper, your needs were more immediate, more pressing, you feel me? The reason was sex, drugs or boogie woogie, not to stereotype or anything. Where me and Doyne hooked up that day—where we met on the sidewalk—was Austin’s black neighborhood, B.G., before gentrification. So, like, me and then-homicide Sergeant Bailey—you’re not going to believe this, but this is how karma plays out in our bucolic River City.

Sgt. Bailey was on foot with his partner going house to house—canvassing the neighborhood, just across the Interstate from the State Capitol, where this late white guy had been found dead, only a few blocks away from the Governor’s Office actually, between the interstate that marked the border and the black cemetery, another world entirely. Enter the black man. The American-Statesman staff car pulled up with me at the wheel. The dead guy was the wrong color in a segregated neighborhood, in one of the little houses that real estate agents now call high end cottages, the kind of house that cost $35,000 then, maybe, and maybe $500,000 now, if we wish to view history thru the lens of home affordability.

Doyne’s partner went on to the next house while Doyne, as the senior detective, stayed on the sidewalk to deal with me, the dreaded press. We got along okay actually—it surprised me as much as it did him. Asking the usual questions, peppering him with mis perguntas, as a member of the Black Press, Doyne deftly turned the interview around. “What do you know?” he asked. Which meant that P.D. didn’t know shit and was desperate for leads. You know what he also told me, that day on the street near the dead guy’s last known address? Not to sound jaded at age 22 or whatever. You know what the pig—Sergeant Bailey, a good guy, actually, as hard as that may be to believe. A white guy and a pig, not to repeat myself. Do you know what Doyne said was the only thing missing from the victim’s house? A guitar, actually. This town. People lose their way. That’s my whole point, really. That, and don’t trust white chicks any more than you trust white guys. Not to sound jaded again, at age 65. It doesn’t mean that you can ignore white chicks, that's all. If—for example—you asked me who was the most important public figure of my age in Texas it was a woman, Ann Richards. Not because she was a great governor. Ann made the mistake that Molly never did, btw. Governor Richards underestimated George W. Bush.

Early on, Ann Richards was involved in all the important relationships during the formative years of my career. She was the center of my professional sphere, you could call it. Ann was my county commissioner back, back in the day, and a big part of my first beat—the County Courthouse, the courts and county government. Later Ann lost the struggle between good and evil at the Capitol, which was also on my watch at the Observer. Before she left office she took some of those checks that Bernie wrote and made Bernie chair of the Board of Regents. Which is perfectly cool—that’s what governors do. Ann was Molly’s bosom buddy—some said best friend—others said lover. Probably not, it's said that Ann liked tall, powerful rich men. It’s not up to me now to make that call now, but it was pertinent, not to get on my high horse or anything. Ann Richards, btw, drove Bob Bullock—who Molly wanted to screw—to rehab. That’s a fact. Or a factoid actually, because my memory is not clear. Who was the driver and who was the passenger? Maybe it was Bullock who drove Ann. That’s it. Because that’s how you define friendship at the Texas Capitol, who is there to intervene and drive you to New Mexico, to the spa, to dry out. You know Sara Weddington, btw, the lawyer who successfully argued the big abortion case Roe vs. Wade? She died recently and feminists made a big deal, rightfully so. After Roe, she became a state representative and you know who her legislative director was? Ann. She was everywhere in Texas at one time or another, she knew everybody and that was the source of her power. With guys it’s whose ass you kicked that gets your power, with chicks it’s who you bond with, not to go all philosophical. Gender trumps race, btw. My belief is that guys are going to end up like bee drones, only used for mating and then you die. Sounds okay to me.

If you asked me what is the one most sinister and karma-filled place in the state—it sure as shit isn’t the Alamo. A noble black man or black woman should never set foot inside, btw, you have to draw a line somewhere and call bullshit. But there is a single location—combining history and happenstance—bad karma and ill Lone Star will—all in one place. After almost five decades riding trail—and having seen some serious shit—there is still a single location capable of invoking a kind of primordial dread in my soul. It’s not the Capitol. It’s not in Austin at all. My stomach begins to tighten and sweat erupts on my brow at the mention of the name of a high school—St. Johns in Houston. It's across the street from St. John the Divine but with the school there’s no affiliation to Christ in deed or in fact. 

St. John’s was Molly’s alma mater and also the high school of America’s favorite fraudster—Elizabeth Holmes. Liz is one of those Texas white girls gone bad, that would be my take, but she’s not alone, that would be my argument too. Think of St. John’s like a finishing school for privileged female gangbangers. Speaking as the least judgmental and least racist person in the whole world, some of these white chicks get on my last nerve. They act like the sun shines out of their damn vagina when the fact is they’re as bad as white guys. Unless one formally invokes the S.H.E. protocol, also known as the Smoking Hot Exception. You know, when the chick is so fine that you don’t care if in her spare time she’s an ax-murderess? It’s rare, during my time in the saddle only happened twice and only once was there an opportunity to hit the booty, not that that was important to forming my professional judgment as a journalist. The other time it was just worship from afar, you feel me, not to sound noble or anything. My observation is that most often the hot evil-doing chick is a white woman because women of color rarely get into a powerful or affluent enough position to do genuine certifiable evil like white girls do. White chicks are increasingly villains. That’s my theory. White chicks are just as rapacious as the guys but they look better doing it. Believe what you will.

Yet another proud St. John’s grad is Katie “I-almost-burned-down-the-Capitol-on-Spring-Break” Hobby, daughter of Texas’s then-lieutenant governor. Katie brought the party back from the Driskill Hotel, on Congress Avenue, to Daddy’s place of work, also on Congress, you could describe the night that way. And left two dead and $200 million in damages, you would want to have that in the story too, not to be judgmental. All three—Molly, Elizabeth and Katie—they’re St. Johns girls. That high school produces bad girls, not to generalize or anything, the last few years bad girls have been my favorite prey, actually. As a general rule, white girls are just as sketchy as white guys, unless she’s really really really hot and you invoke S.H.E. If you asked me—looking back across the broad expanse of my time in the saddle—as Old Black scratches the ground now with his hooves, telling me it’s time to go. You probably want to know the most important story that got away? This would be the story where the black man did not bring home the bacon, or not much and certainly not the whole damn pig? To set the scene. If you asked me—if you twisted my arm. And—not to totally slime somebody without proof—but based on mere suspicion. Let’s do it anyhow. The bad guy—the Man in the White Hat? That would be Michael Dell of Dell Computers. Who is my favorite candidate for Mister Big, the guy moving all the pieces around in the background, here on the Silicon Prairie. Not to get all conspiratorial but if the facts fit, yeah, right on, motherfucker. And they do.

So, like, you can complain about Big Pharma. You can bitch about the military-industrial complex. Or berate the petrochemical industry that made Molly’s family affluent and created the monster George W. Bush. But the most certifiably evil stories? In my experience they all come from real estate. Land. That’s how Native Americans got fucked first on the fruited plain, right? The Pilgrims wanted their land, if we look through the lens of a critical race dialectic, that has not been a particularly popular storyline in American journalism. The Mexicans too, right? Whites wanted Texas and California, the whole fucking Southwest in fact, if you look at the facts on a macro level. That was about real estate too.

On a micro level, gentrification in Austin—the tech industry wants land for techie housing and has pushed out blacks and Latinos to get it. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. My belief—the Big Picture you could call it—is that there has been a Mister Big in this not-very-complex weave of racism and corruption. Other high tech guys and biopharma types have been involved too of course—but mostly it’s been our favorite PC maker. Michael Dell is a bad guy—in other words—in the view of this noble black cowboy. Who has seen a lot of bad guys during his time in the saddle—from evil crackers to mean niggers to the inscrutable damn Chinese, not to be ignorant or anything. Because a lot of Chinese chicks are actually super-hot, btw, which can be a sign of evil. But we digress. It is PURELY COINCIDENCE that East Austin is just south of the Dell campus—the housing stock was already there, so to speak. The only thing left to do was push out the niggers and the Mexicans. Mission accomplished. Michael Dell will still be a bad guy when me and Old Black disappear over the horizon, that’s just the way it is, goodness does not always triumph, like in Apocalypse Now when the General sends Captain Willard to kill Marlon Brando. You remember that scene? The black reporter does not always shoot straight, either. There have been misses during my career. Not so much choosing the wrong targets but not choosing a big enough gun. Or not tracking the beast back to its lair and giving a wounded animal the coup de grace. This is a true story. It’s a little hazy. So, like, this was when W was governor—during my time running traps for the Observer which calls itself, “A Journal of Free Voices,” unless you're saying something that white people don't want to hear.

So, like, after making a request for disclosure from the Governor’s Office, guess what happened? There were some peculiar notations in the file that arrived—which was real paper, at the time, not a file attachment, and came in the U.S. mail. These documents from the State of Texas involved operations of the Governor’s Office, although it’s been a while and it's hard to cite the details. This was my self-appointed beat, W’s administrative side, state government, while Molly or whoever did politics. To set the scene. And reviewing the released documents—there was a long series of abbreviations—each the same, actually. On several contracts, or whatever. “MSD,” “MSD,” “MSD”….”MSD”. And not knowing what MSD meant at the time—because this was a pre-Internet age or pre my exposure to the Internet—and me being naturally too lazy to walk over to the Secretary of State’s office to look at the business entity lists.

But hearing—years later—that MSD stands for Michael S. Dell, the computer guy, it’s his private business-making entity, apparently. MSD as opposed to his public computer company or his foundation, MSD being what he uses to do private deals? Michael Dell helped to create W btw, as much as the State of Texas under W helped to build Dell Computers, through contracts. Anyway, currently, that new Taj Mahal-sized Google headquarters downtown, next to Central Library? If you look at the paperwork on the City of Austin website, the financing was provided by “MSD”. Does Google really need Michael Dell’s money to build a big building? One supposes not—it may just be something for the accountants. But Michael Dell the computer guy is my candidate for Mister Big, He’s always been in the background of turning Austin into a tech mecca, no matter the cost to other people. Even if it means anyone who gets in the way or anyone who can’t pay the higher rent gets pushed out. Whatever the cost may be to P.O.C. or the poor, for example, not to get all judgmental and call Michael Dell a bad guy although he apparently is. One of my best sources is a big Jewish business guy and he won’t even talk about Dell off the record because he’s afraid, not physically, but do you really want to take the guy on in Austin, Texas? “You’ve got the wrong cowboy,” he said of himself, meaning that he would not discuss MSD even on background. My original plan was to do a big MSD expose—you feel me—you know, what the daily newspaper is afraid to do? Follow the trail of deal-making and all that, and see what’s what. That is part of my skillset, actually, developed over decades of chasing white guys. The will is still there but the flesh is weak. Old Black is tired now—he’s getting old and wants to spend some quiet time in pasture, maybe jump a mare or two. So, like, this is my last Michael Dell anecdote and it involves the Observer. So, like, these are the details that came to my ears. My estimate of the probability this really happened is 70%, maybe 75. A preponderance of the evidence, like they say in the Travis County Courthouse, enough to get a big financial settlement but not enough to get a criminal conviction. It’s like Molly in the back seat of the Volkswagen. It certainly sounds true.

So, like, this is a couple of years pre-pandemic, maybe five years back. A freelance writer is said to have submitted a piece to the Observer that—basically—alleged that Michael Dell’s people reach out and get stories about him killed. Coverage of Dell Computers’ share price or a new Dell product line—or the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation’s charitable works which are many—that’s okay but anything more revelatory gets spiked. As we said back in the day, btw, when there really were spikes on the City Desk where copies of stories that were not going to run for any number of reasons, including pressure from big advertisers, got impaled. Not to be all sentimental about the old days of newspaper work. And you know what happened to the proposed Observer story about Michael Dell getting stories killed? It got killed. Or so it is said. In Austin people lose their way—that would be my whole fucking point, actually. Maybe you start out doing good reporting, running your traps, and then one day you’re sleeping with the people you should be writing about or you just start to sell your ass on the street just like a damn ho. No disrespect to hos intended. The Observer editor at the time of this particular sell-out is said to have been Nate’s protégé, btw, it gives me extraordinary schadenfreudlich pleasure to say that. Because he’s a ho. He’s a corncob-smoking backwoods cracker and all-around-peckerwood named Forrest. Who, when last we looked, was news & politics editor at Texas Monthly. To set the stage. So, like, the president of the Observer’s board at the time the Dell story allegedly got killed was Abby Rapaport—Bernie’s granddaughter. Which she still is, btw, board president and apparently leader of the Rapaport clan.

Abby's father is the real asswipe, sources tell me, Ron Rapaport is a former professor who wants what he wants to appear in the magazine. With Abby it’s different, she was a reporter not long ago, it’s said that she couldn’t accept editing and got all dramatic about her sterling prose. What does that tell you? A noble black journalist, for example, who is professional in all things reportorial, respects his editors. Unless they’re just plain fucking idiots or unless they’re fucking with his copy intentionally in order to subvert the black man’s rap and he has to snatch the fucking manuscript off the desk and walk out. But we digress. Abby is also longtime president of the board of Shalom Austin at the Dell Community Center although that had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with spiking the story about Michael Dell getting stories spiked. To set the scene.

We’ll never know what happened, one supposes, Dell’s media people, who have been asked before, said that they will have nothing more to say. And MSD is not granting interviews to the Black Press, of course. Abby and Forrest and the Observer’s publisher—the perfectly sleazy Mike Kanin, again not to be judgmental—have all declined comment, btw. Which can be considered suspicious, n'est-ce pas? We digress again. There’s something about Michael Dell that chafes my scrotum, frankly. If you really want to know. A couple of times through the years people have told me that they’ve run into Mister Big personally. Austin is still a small town, in some ways, or it was until the last few wagon trains from California arrived, and you still used to run into big wigs in parking lots. Especially walking across the lot at Whole Foods. They were usually driving a SUV or whatever. And my sources said—that Michael Dell is a asswipe behind the wheel. Again, not having run into him myself, not having a driver’s license actually, and relying instead on third-party reports. How you drive—isn’t that a sign of what kind of person you really are? Again, not having a driver’s license of my own. Old Black is my ride and is saddled up now, ready to go. You may say, well, MSD aside, you’ve criticized all these Caucasian chicks. Does that mean it’s impossible for a white female journalist to do the job? To bring home the bacon? Are white women really no better than white guys?

The answers are no and no and no—and probably not—they’re not any better than white guys really. That’s pretty much 100% fucking certain, in fact. But there is, right here the World Capital of Live Music, a culturally-competent white practitioner of pig reporting who manages to do what all these white chicks can’t. He slices off big pieces and puts that pork on a plate.


OLD BLACK So, like, police beatings—suffocation of the suspect—overuse of the old reliable forty cal, you name it, Tony Plohetski has reported it. Use of incentives by a suburban sheriff for violent arrests, in order to provide better video for a live cop show, you couldn’t make this up. The outrage would be greater except Tulia kind of took away our capacity for outrage. Still, you name it, as a journalist of major impact Tony Plohetski has been there and done that. His depth is basically everything that Jordan Smith didn’t do in Austin and Molly and Nancy didn’t do in Minneapolis. To set the scene.

Tony Plohetski alone is responsible for any credibility the American-Statesman has in the black community, for years. There’s a video in Plohetski’s oeuvre from a few years ago that burns in my own memory—of a black woman—an elementary school teacher actually—being taken down by an Austin cop in a parking lot, basically for talking back to a white man. Just like that state trooper and Sandra Bland, btw. The police union has never forgiven Tony P. for what sounds like a wonderful story about nightlife on Sixth Street, long ago, there may not be a link. This was pre pre pre-pandemic, Plohetski profiled not bars—not prolific nor cinematic Austin drunks, nor Texas literary scoundrels—instead the most dangerous cops on the beat. A black man gotta love that. My favorite Tony Plohetski story—it’s a hard call—what makes him a professional crush is not, actually, pig-related or in any way porcine. This comes from the COVID-19 worsening. We’re getting really sick and trying to stick to the guidelines? He broke the story that our mayor was filming his stay-at-home warning from a condo in Cabo. Forget the Pulitzer—just to have a piece of a story like that would be a wet dream for any reporter. Tony Plohestki? This guy has sources.

So, like, one theory that explains Plohestki’s success is that he’s gay. He has championed the under-represented or those who are discriminated against because he is member of a minority group himself. So, like, that’s also true of Judge Pitman who apparently did not think that APD passed the smell test. Judge Pitman is another good white guy, btw, there aren’t enough—he is said to be gay. Austin has always had a strong LGBQ community, in any case, some of them are shits like the city manager and good guys like the judge, gay power as opposed to gay bashing, like at the State Capitol. Judge Pitman also ruled against Texas’s new abortion restrictions—you may have heard. Even though he was overturned by the Supremes. Anyway, Plohetski’s husband is a lobbyist at the Capitol, which also means knowledge of how things operate in River City, and it’s not pretty. There are people who may not have disclosed their orientation but still push a social justice agenda. So, like, my theory with absolutely no facts to back it up, except it sounds cool, that is the foundation of Plohetski’s success. He is plugged into his own community. APD has a gay association of officers, btw, just like the association for blacks and the one for Latinos, but there are also a number of gay cops who are not out and who feed Tony P. information. That’s my theory. If one wished to speculate. But the guy is so dangerous as a reporter because he has empathy. And he knows how to get the video. So, like, this is my best Tony Plohetski story and after this, it’s bedtime for Bonzo, we’ll call it a night. It shows what’s necessary to get the real story—not that press release version that you checked a little with the media guy or media girl from the state agency you're trying to screw, but the real story, like a real pro. It requires a little set-up. So, like, to set the scene.

We were in my favorite Starbucks, a few blocks from the Capitol—me sitting there with a full view of the premises, pre-pandemic maybe by two or three years. My back was to the wall, the way Wild Bill Hickok's should have been we got killed in that saloon in Deadwood, and accompanied by my old friend, Bill Cryer. Who was press secretary to Governor Richards back in the day and who was my supervisor on the City Desk before that, back back back in the day, at the daily rag, here in the Live Music Capital of the World. Cryer actually trained me as a reporter. He taught me how to dig. To set the scene again.

So, like, Bill has been around the block multiple times—he was president of Planned Parenthood at one point, he just told me that a little while ago—what the fuck. He's a good guy—one of those rare good white guys, there aren’t many, not to belabor the point. You know it’s kind of like saying “my white friend,” the way white people are always mentioning their black friend? But we digress. Bill basically taught me how to report, back in the day, and taught me the ethical guidelines of the profession, which sounds worse than it was, when he was the assistant City Editor who supervised me. So, like, who should walk in the Starbucks door while me and Bill were sitting there chewing the fat and reminiscing? Tony Plohetski.

This is so cool and so admirable on Tony's part. He was easy to recognize, btw, from his TV gig.

So, like, Plohetski got his cappuccino or whatever—and paid—and he was conscious of his environment and all like a good reporter needs to be and he looked around and he must have spotted Bill. Who was a player, back in the day, and a good reporter before that, and is still in the know. Not because Cryer knows the details but because he’s seen the same shit happen multiple times here in our bucolic River City, you feel me? The facts may change but the storylines do not, except now it’s the evil Republicans and before it was corrupt Yellow Dogs, like Ronnie Earle. So, like, you know how you get your cappuccino or whatever and then you go over to one of the counters where there are plastic stirrers or whatever and napkins, or whatever, to make it the way you like? There was one of those counters next to where Plohetski was standing but he came all the way over to a counter across the room, next to where me and Cryer were chatting.

Bill didn’t know Tony P. But Tony P. apparently knew Bill. And me and Cryer were just shooting the shit—literally—bitching—two old men talking about the old days, such as they were, at the daily rag, such as it was. Who was a good reporter and who was not. Who’s got Parkinson’s now and who has already gone on to the great newsroom in the sky. And Tony Plohetski who works for the daily rag now but who didn’t know that—that all me and Cryer were talking about was just old men’s bullshit—nothing newsworthy. You could tell as he was stirring his cappuccino or whatever he was trying to overhear our conversation. Isn’t that beautiful? It almost makes me want to cry. He was trying to eavesdrop. To learn the subject of the conversation, which was our prostates, actually. You know what you call that? A reporter. 

Not one of those damn media bitches—no disrespect to women. Not like Nancy at NPR or Kimberley over at the Chronk. Because Tony Plohetski isn’t waiting for a call from an anonymous source in the middle of the night. Although he probably gets those too. He’s not waiting for somebody to send him a thumb drive with everything in black and white. He goes out to get the story and we can all thank God that he does. Anyway, the time has come for this cowboy to ride on. Giddy up, Old Black, giddy up.