Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers
by Tom Wolfe
Going downtown to mau-mau the bureaucrats got to be the routine practice in San Francisco. The poverty program encouraged you to go in for mau-mauing. They wouldn't have known what to do without it. The bureaucrats at City Hall and in the Office of Economic Opportunity talked "ghetto" all the time, but they didn't known any more about what was going on in the Western Addition, Hunters Point, Potrero Hill, the Mission, Chinatown, or south of Market Street than they did about Zanzibar. They didn't know where to look. They didn't even know who to ask. So what could they do? Well ... they used the Ethnic Catering Service ... right ... They sat back and waited for you to come rolling in with your certified angry militants, your guaranteed frustrated ghetto youth, looking like a bunch of wild men. Then you had your test confrontation. If you were outrageous enough, if you could shake up the bureaucrats so bad that their eyes froze into iceballs and their mouths twisted up into smiles of sheer physical panic, into shit-eating grins, so to speak--then they knew you were the real goods. They knew you were the right studs to give the poverty grants and community organizing jobs to. Otherwise they wouldn't know.
There was one genius in the art of confrontation who had mau-mauing down to what you could term a laboratory science. He had it figured out so he didn't even have to bring his boys downtown in person. He would just show up with a crocus sack full of revolvers, ice picks, fish knives, switchblades, hatchets, blackjacks, gravity knives, straight razors, hand grenades, blow guns, bazookas, Molotov cocktails, tank rippers, unbelievable stuff, and he'd dump it all out on somebody's shiny walnut conference table. He'd say "These are some of the things I took off my boys last night ... I don't know, man ... Thirty minutes ago I talked a Panther out of busting up a cop ..." And they would lay money on this man's ghetto youth patrol like it was now or never ... The Ethnic Catering Service, the bureaucrats felt like it was all real. They'd say to themselves, "We've given jobs to a hundred of the toughest hard-core youth in Hunters Point. The problem is on the way to being solved." They never inquired if the bloods they were giving the jobs were the same ones who were causing the trouble. They'd say to themselves, "We don't have to find them. They find us" ... Once the Ethnic Catering Service was on the case, they felt like they were reaching all those hard-to-reach hard-to-hold hardcore hardrock blackrage badass furious funky ghetto youth.
There were people in the Western Addition who practically gave classes in mau-mauing. There was one man called Chaser. Chaser would get his boys together and he would give them a briefing like the U.S. Air Force wing commander gives his pilots in Thailand before they make the raid over North Vietnam, the kind of briefing where everybody is supposed to picture the whole mission like a film in their heads, the landmarks, the Red River, the approach pattern, the bombing run, every twist and turn, the SAM missile sites, the getaway, everything. In the same way Chaser would picture the room you would be heading into. It might be a meeting of the Economic Opportunity Council, which was the San Francisco poverty-program agency, or the National Alliance of Businessmen, which was offering jobs for the hard core, or the Western Regional Office of the Office of Economic Opportunity, or whatever, and he'd say:
"Now don't forget. When you go downtown, y'all wear your ghetto rags ... see ... Don't go down there with your Italian silk jerseys on and your brown suede and green alligator shoes and your Harry Belafonte shirts looking like some supercool toothpick-noddin' fool ... you know ... Don't nobody give a damn how pretty you can look ... You wear your combat fatigues and your leather pieces and your shades ... your ghetto rags ... see ... And don't go down there with your hair all done up nice in your curly Afro like you're messing around. You do down with your hair stickin' out and sittin' up! Lookin' wild! I want to see you down there looking like a bunch of wild niggers!"
This Chaser was a talker. He used to be in vaudeville. At least that was what everybody said. That was how he learned to be such a beautiful talker. When the poverty program started, he organized his own group in the Western Addition, the Youth Coalition. Chaser was about forty, and he wasn't big. He was small, physically. But he knew how to make all those young aces of his take care of business. Chaser was black with a kind of brown hue. He had high cheekbones, like and Indian. He always wore a dashiki, over some ordinary pants and a Ban-lon shirt. He had two of these Ban-lon shirts and he alternated them. Anyway, he always wore the dashiki and a beret. He must not have had much hair on top of his head, because on the sides his hair stuck out like a natural, but the beret always laid flat. If he had as much hair on the top of his head as he had sticking out on the sides, that beret would have been sitting up in the air like the star on a Christmas tree. When everybody started wearing the Afros, it was hard on a lot of older men who were losing their hair. They would grow it long on the sides anyway and they would end up looking like that super-Tom on the Uncle Ben Rice box, or Bozo the Clown. Sometimes Chaser would wear a big heavy overcoat, one of those big long heavy double-breasted triple-button quadruple-lapel numbers like you see the old men wearing in Foster's Cafeteria. When you saw Chaser with that big coat on, over top of the dashiki, you'd have to smile, because then you knew Chaser wasn't in anybody's bag. Chaser was in Chaser's bag. That was all right, because you don't meet many men like Chaser. If there is any such thing as a born leader, he was one of them.
"Now, you women," he'd say. "I don't want you women to be macking with the brothers if they ain't tending to business. You women make your men get out of the house and get to work for the Youth Coalition. Don't you be macking around with nobody who ain't out working for the Youth Coalition. If he ain't man enough to be out on the street working for the people, then he ain't man enough for you to be macking around with."
This worked like a charm with the women and with the men, too. Chaser kept saying "You women," but he was really talking to the men. He was challenging their masculinity. A lot of these young aces knew that their women thought they weren't man enough to stand up and make something out of themselves. And the women liked what he was saying, too, because he was including them in on the whole thing.
Then Chaser would say, "Now when we get there, I want you to come down front and stare at the man and don't say nothing. You just glare. No matter what he says. He'll try to get you to agree with him. He'll say, 'Ain't that right?' and 'You know what I mean?' and he wants you to say yes or nod your head ... see ... It's part of his psychological jiveass. But you don't say nothing. You just glare ... see ... Then some of the other brothers will get up on that stage behind him, like there's no more room or like they just gathering around. Then you brothers up there behind him, you start letting him have it ... He starts thinking, 'Oh, good God! Those bad cats are in front of me, they all around me, they behind me. I'm surrounded.' That shakes 'em up.
"And then when one of the brothers is up talking, another brother comes up and whispers something in his ear, like this," and Chaser cups his hand around his mouth like he's whispering something. "And the brother stops talking, like he's listening, and the man thinks, 'What's he saying? What kind of unbelievable shit are they planning now?' The brother, he's not saying anything. He's just moving his lips. It's a tactic ... you know ... And at the end I'll slap my hand down on the desk--whop--and everybody gets up, like one man, and walks out of there. And that really shakes 'em up. They see that the people are unified, and disciplined, and mad, and tired of talking and ready for walking, and that shakes 'em up."
Chaser had his two main men, James Jones and Louis Downs. Downs was Chaser's showpiece. He was sharp. He was young and had a very athletic build. He had a haircut of the intellectual-natural variety and a pair of Jose Feliciano sunglasses and a black leather dashiki, and he'd have on a pair of A-1 racer pants. The A-1 racers are not just narrow, they're like a stovepipe, with the 16 1/2 inch cuffs. And he'd have on either a pair of Vietnam combat boots with the green webbing or a pair of tennis shoes, but a really expensive kind of tennis shoe. You look at them and you know he really had to look especially hard to find that pair. He'd always be bracing his hands in front of him, pressing the heels of his hands together, which made the muscles pop up around his neck and his shoulders. James Jones was Chaser's philosopher. He was a talker, too. He'd come on like a Southern Christian Leadership preacher, giving all the reasons why, and then Downs would come on hard and really sharp. Between the three of them, Chaser and Downs and James Jones, they were like the Three Musketeers. They were beautiful to behold.
Chaser was funny. Just like he had everything planned out on his side, right down to the last detail, he thought the Man must have it planned out that far, too. Chaser had a kind of security paranoia. At a demonstration or something you'd see Chaser giving instructions to his boys with his hand over his mouth, mumbling into his fingers, and he'd tell his boys to talk that way, too. Chaser was convinced that the Man had electronic eavesdropping devices trained on them. He'd tell you about the "parabolic earphones" and the deaf-mutes to read lips for crowd control. He'd have you believing it, too. It was like, What would you do if you were a deaf-mute and shuffling and shitkicking through life and the government comes along and offers to pay you money for reading lips and playing C.I.A. ... Chaser didn't blame them any more than he'd blame a dog ... They were being exploited like all the other Toms that didn't know any better ...
Brothers like Chaser were the ones who perfected mau-mauing, but before long everybody in the so-called Third World was into it. Everybody was out mau-mauing up a storm, to see if they could win the victories the blacks had won. San Francisco, being the main port of entry for immigrants from all over the Pacific, had as many colored minorities as New York City. Maybe more. Blacks, Chicanos, Latinos, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, American Indians, Samoans--everybody was circling around the poverty program. By the end of 1968 there were eighty-seven different groups getting into the militant thing, getting into mau-mauing.
Nobody kept records on the confrontations, which is too bad. There must have been hundreds of them in San Francisco alone. Across the country there must have been thousands. When the confrontations touched the white middle class in a big way, like when black students started strikes and disruptions at San Francisco State, Columbia, Cornell, or Yale, or when somebody like James Forman came walking up to the pulpit of the Riverside Church carrying a four-pound cane the size of the shillelagh the Fool Killer used to lug around to the State Fair to kill fools with--when Forman got up there with that hickory stick like he was going to swat all undeserving affluent white Christians over the bean unless they paid five hundred million dollars in reparations--then the media described it blow by blow. But what went on in the colleges and churches was just a part of it. Bad dudes were out mau-mauing at all the poverty agencies, at boards of education, at city halls, hospitals, conventions, foundations, schools, charities, civic organizations, all sorts of places. It got to be an American custom, like talk shows, Face the Nation, marriage counseling, marathon encounters, or zoning hearings.
That was certainly the way the message came down to the youth of the Third World in areas like the Mission, Chinatown, and Japan Town. Mau-mauing was the ticket. The confrontation route was the only road. So the Chinese, the Japanese, the Chicanos, the Indians picked up on mau-mauing from the bloods. Not only that, they would try to do it exactly like the bloods, try to wear naturals like the bloods, even if their hair was too straight to do it. There were Spanish and Oriental dudes who washed their hair every day with Borax to make it fluff up and sit out.
When anybody other than black people went in for mau-mauing, however, they ran into problems, because the white man had a different set of fear reflexes for each race he was dealing with.
Whites didn't have too much fear of the Mexican-American, the Chicano. The notion was that he was small, placid, slow, no particular physical threat--until he grew his hair Afro-style, talked like a blood or otherwise managed to seem "black" enough to raise hell. Then it was a different story.
The whites' physical fear of the Chinese was nearly zero. The white man pictured the Chinese as small, quiet, restrained little fellows. He had a certain deep-down voodoo fear of their powers of Evil in the Dark ... the Hatchet Men ... the Fangs of the Tong ... but it wasn't a live fear. For that matter, the young Chinese themselves weren't ready for the age of mau-mauing. It wasn't that they feared the white man, the way black people had. It was more that they didn't fear or resent white people enough. They looked down on whites as childish and uncultivated. They also found it somewhat shameful to present themselves as poor and oppressed, on the same level with Negroes and Mexican-Americans. It wasn't until 1969 that militants really got into confrontations in Chinatown.
Every now and then, after the poverty scene got going, and the confrontations became a regular thing, whites would run into an ethnic group they drew a total blank on, like the Indians or the Samoans. Well, with the Samoans they didn't draw a blank for long, not once they actually came up against them. The Samoans on the poverty scene favored the direct approach. They did not fool around. They were like the original unknown terrors. In fact, they were unknown terrors and a half.
Why so few people in San Francisco know about the Samoans is a mystery. All you have to do is see a couple of those Polynesian studs walking through the Mission, minding their own business, and you won't forget it soon. Have you ever by any chance seen professional football players in person, like on the street? The thing you notice is not just that they're big but that they are so big, it's weird. Everything about them is gigantic, even their heads. They'll have a skull the size of a watermelon, with a couple of little squinty eyes and a little mouth and a couple of nose holes stuck in, and no neck at all. From the ears down, the big yoyos are just one solid welded hulk, the size of an oil burner. You get the feeling that football players come from a whole other species of human, they're so big. Well, that will give you some idea of the Samoans, because they're bigger. The average Samoan makes Bubba Smith of the Colts look like a shrimp. They start out at about 300 pounds and from there they just get wider. They are big huge giants. Everything about them is wide and smooth. They have big wide faces and smooth features. They're a dark brown, with a smooth cast.
Anyway, the word got around among the groups in the Mission that the poverty program was going to be on the short end. So a bunch of the groups in the Mission got together and decided to go downtown to the poverty office and do some mau-mauing in behalf of the Mission before the bureaucrats made up their minds. There were blacks, Chicanos, Filipinos, and about ten Samoans.
The poverty office was on the first floor and had a big anteroom; only it's almost bare, nothing in it but a lot of wooden chairs. It looks like a union hall minus the spittoons, or one of those lobbies where they swear in new citizens. It's like they want to impress the poor that they don't have leather-top desks ... All our money goes to you ...
So the young aces from the Mission come trooping in, and they want to see the head man. The word comes out that the No. 1 man is out of town, bu the No. 2 man is coming out to talk to the people.
This man comes out , and he has that sloppy Irish look like Ed McMahon on TV, only with a longer nose. In case you'd like the local viewpoint, whites really have the noses ... enormous, you might say ... a whole bag full ... long and pointed like carrots, goobered up like green peppers, hooked like a squash, hanging off the face like cucumbers ... This man has a nose that is just on the verge of hooking over, but it doesn't quite make it.
"Have a seat, gentlemen," he says, and he motions toward the wooden chairs.
But he doesn't have to open his mouth. All you have to do is look at him and you get the picture. The man's a lifer. He's stone civil service. He has it all down from the wheatcolor Hush Puppies to the wash'n'dry semi-tab-collar shortsleeves white shirt. Those wheatcolor Hush Puppies must be like some kind of fraternal garb among the civil-service employees, because they all wear them. They cost about $4.99, and the second time you move your toes, the seams split and the tops come away from the soles. But they all wear them. The man's shirt looks like he bought it at the August end-of-summer sale at the White Front. It is one of those shirts with pickets on both sides. Sticking out of the pockets and running across his chest he has a lineup of ball-point pens, felt nibs, lead pencils, wax markers, such as you wouldn't believe, Paper-mates, Pentels, Scriptos, Eberhard Faber Mongol 482's, Dri-Marks, Bic PM-29's, everything. They are lined up across his chest like campaign ribbons.
He pulls up one of the wooden chairs and sits down on it. Only he sits down on it backwards, straddling the seat and hooking his arms and his chin over the back of the chair, like the head foreman in the bunkhouse. It's like saying, "We don't stand on ceremony around here. This is a shirtsleeve operation."
"I'm sorry that Mr. Johnson isn't here today," he says, "but he's not in the city. He's back in Washington meeting some important project deadlines. He's very concerned, and he would want to meet with you people if he were here if he were here, but right now I know you'll understand that the most important thing he can do for you is to push these projects through in Washington."
The man keeps his arms and his head hung over the back of his chair, but he swings his hands up in the air from time to time to emphasize a point, first one hand and then the other. It looks like he's giving wig-wag signals to the typing pool. The way he hangs himself over the back of the chair--that keeps up the funky shirtsleeve-operation number. And throwing his hands around--that's dynamic ... It says, "We're hacking our way through the red tape just as fast as we can."
"Now I'm here to try to answer any questions I can," he says, "but you have to understand that I'm only speaking as an individual, and so naturally none of my comments are binding, but I'll answer any questions I can, and if I can't answer them, I'll do what I can to get the answers for you."
And then it dawns on you, and you wonder why it took so long for you to realize it. This man is the flak catcher. His job is to catch the flak for the No. 1 man. He's like the professional mourners you can hire in Chinatown. They have certified wailers, professional mourners, in Chinatown, and when your loved one dies, you can hire the professional mourners to wail at the funeral and show what a great loss to the community the departed is. In the same way this lifer is ready to catch whatever flak you're sending up. It doesn't matter what bureau they put him in. It's all the same. Poverty, Japanese imports, valley fever, tomato-crop parity, partial disability, home loans, second-probate accounting, the Interstate 90 detour change order, lockouts, secondary boycotts,, G.I. alimony, the Pakistani quota, cinch mites, the Tularemic Loa loa, veterans' dental benefits, workmen's compensation, suspended excise rebates--whatever you're angry about, it doesn't matter he's there to catch the flak. He's a lifer.
Everybody knows the scene is a shuck, but you can't just walk out and leave. You can't get it on and bring thiry-five people walking all the way from the Mission to 100 McAllister and then just turn around and go back. So ... might as well get into the number ...
One of the Chicanos starts it off by asking the straight question, which is about how many summer jobs the Mission groups are going to get. This is the opening phase, the straight-face phase, in the art of mau-mauing.
"Well," says the Flak Catcher--and he gives it a twist of the head and a fling of the hand and the ingratiating smile--"It's hard for me to answer that the way I'd like to answer it, and the way I know you'd like for me to answer it, because that's precisely what we're working on back in Washington. But I can tell you this. At this point I see no reason why our project allocation should be any less, if all we're looking at is the urban-factor numbers for this area, because that should remain the same. Of course, if there's been any substantial pre-funding, in Washington, for the fixed-asset part of our program, like Head Start or the community health centers, that could alter the picture. But we're very hopeful, and as soon as we have the figures, I can tell you that you people will be the first to know."
It goes on like this for a while. He keeps saying things like, "I don't know the answer to that right now, but I'll do everything I can to find out." The way he says it you can tell he thinks you're going to be impressed with how honest he is about what he doesn't know. Or he says, "I wish we could give everybody jobs. Believe me, I would like nothing better, both personally and as a representative of this Office."
So one of the bloods says, "Man, why do you sit there shining us with this bureaucratic rhetoric, when you said yourself that ain't nothing you say that means a goddam thing?"
Ba-ram-ba-ram-ba-ram-ba-ram--a bunch of the aces start banging on the floor in unison. It sounds like they have sledge hammers.
"Ha-unnnnh," says the Flak Catcher. It is one of those laughs that starts out as a laugh but ends up like he got hit in the stomach halfway through. It's the first assault on his dignity. So he breaks into his shit-eating grin, thise is always phase two. Why do so many bureaucrats, deans, preachers, college presidents, try to smile when the mau-mauing starts? It's fatal, this smiling. When some bad dude is challenging your manhood, your smile just proves that he is right and you are chickenshit--unless you are a bad man yourself with so much heart that you can make that smile say, "Just keep on talking, sucker, because I'm gonna count to ten and then squash you."
"Well," says the Flak Catcher, I can't promise you jobs if the jobs aren't available yet"--and then he looks up as if for the first time he is really focusing on the thirty-five ghetto hot dogs he is now facing, by way of sizing up the threat, now that the shit has started. The blacks and the Chicanos he has no doubt seen before, or people just like them, but then he takes in the Filipinos. There are about eight of them, and they are all wearing the Day-Glo yellow and hot-green sweaters and lemon-colored pants and Italian-style socks. But it's the headgear that does the trick. They've all got on Rap Brown shades and Russian Cossack hats made of frosted-gray Dynel. They look bad. Then the man takes in the Samoans, and they look worse. There's about ten of them, but they fill up half the room. They've got on Island shirts with designs in streaks and blooms of red, only it's a really raw shade of red, like that red they paint the floor with in the tool and dye works. They're glaring at him our of those big dark wide brown faces. The monsters have tight curly hair, but it grows in long strangs, and they comb it back flat, in long curly strangs, with a Duke pomade job. They've got huge feet, and they're wearing sandals. The straps on the sandals look like there were made from the reins on the Budweiser draft horses. But what really gets the Flak Catcher, besides the sheer size of the brutes, is their Tiki canes. These are like Polynesian scepters. They're the size of sawed-off pool cues, only they're carved all over in Polynesian Tiki Village designs. When they wrap their fists around these sticks, every knuckle on their hands pops out the size of a walnut. Anything they hear that they like, like the part about the "bureaucratic rhetoric," they bang on the floor in unison with the ends of the Tiki sticks--ba-ram-ba-ram-ba-ram-ba-ram--although some of them press one end of the stick onto the sole of their sandal between their first two toes and raise their foot up and down with the stick to cushion the blow on the floor. They don't want to scuff up the Tiki cane.
The Flak Catcher is still staring at them, and his shit-eating grin is getting worse. It's like he knows the worst is yet to come ... Goddamn ... that one in front there ... that Pineapple Brute ...
"Hey, Brudda," the main man says. He has a really heavy accent. "Hey, Brudda, how much you make?"
"Me?" says the Flak Catcher. "How much do I make?"
"Yeah, Brudda, you. How much money you make?"
Now the man is trying to think in eight directions at once. He tries out a new smile. He tries it out on the bloods, the Chicanos, and the Flilipinos, as if to say, "As one intelligent creature to another, what do you do with dumb people like this?" But all he gets is the glares, and his mouth shimmies back into the terrible sickening grin, and then you can see that there are a whole lot of little muscles all around the human mouth, and his are beginning to squirm and tremble ... He's fighting for control of himself ... It's a lost cause ...
"How much, Brudda?"
Ba-ram-ba-ram-ba-ram-ba-ram--they keep beating on the floor.
"Well," says the Flak Catcher, "I make $1,100 a month."
"How come you make so much?"
"Wellllll"--the grin, the last bid for clemency ... and now the poor man's eyes are freezing into little round iceballs, and his mouth is getting dry--
"How come you make so much? My fadda and mudda both work and they only make six hundred and fifty."
Oh shit, the cat kind of blew it there. That's way over the poverty line, about double, in fact. It's even above the guideline for a family of twelve. You can see that fact register with the Flak Catcher, and he's trying to work up the nerve to make the devastating comeback. But he's not about to talk back to these giants.
"Listen, Brudda. Why don't you give up your paycheck for summer jobs? You ain't doing shit."
"Wellll"--the Flak Catcher grins, he seats, he hangs over the back of the chair--
Ba-ram-ba-ram-ba-ram-ba-ram -- "Yeah, Brudda! Give us your paycheck!"
There it is ... the ultimate horror ... He can see it now, he can hear it ... Fifteen tons of it ... It's horrible ... it's possible ... It's so obscene, it just might happen ... Huge Polynesian monsters marching down to his office every payday ... Hand it over, Brudda ... ripping it out of his very fingers ... eternally ... He wrings his hands ... the little muscles around his mouth are going haywire. He tries to recapture his grin, but those little amok muscles pull his lips up into an O, like they were drawstrings.
"I'd gladly give up my salary," says the Flak Catcher. "I'd gladly do it, if it would do any good. But can't you see gentlemen, it would be just a drop in the bucket ... just a drop in the bucket!" This phrase a drop in the bucket seems to give him heart ... it's something to hang onto ... an answer ... a reprieve ... "Just consider what we have to do in this city alone, gentlemen! All of us! It's just a drop in the bucket!"
The Samoans can't come up with any answer to this, so the Flak Catcher keeps going.
"Look, gentlemen," he says, "you tell me what to do and I'll do it. Of course you want more summer jobs, and we want you to have them. That's what we're here for. I wish I could give everybody a job. You tell me how to get more jobs, and we'll get them. We're doing all we can. If we can do more, you tell me how, and I'll gladly do it."
One of the bloods says, "Man, if you don't know how, then we don't need you."
"Dat's right, Brudda! Whadda we need you for!" You can tell the Samoans wish they had thought of that shoot-down line themselves--Ba-ram-ba-ram-ba-ram-ba-ram--they clobber the hell out of the floor.
"Man," says the blood, "you just taking up space and killing time and drawing pay!"
"Dat's right, Brudda! You just drawing pay!" Ba-ram-ba-ram-ba-ram-ba-ram
"As I've already told you, he's in Washington to meet the deadlines for your projects!"
"You talk to the man, don't you? He'll let you talk to him, won't he?"
"Send him a telegram, man!"
"Well, all right--"
"Shit, pick up the telephone, man!"
"Dat's right, Brudda! Pick up the telephone!" Ba-ram-ba-ram-ba-ram-ba-ram
` "Please, gentlemen! That's pointless! It's already after six o'clock in Washington. The office is closed!"
"Then call him in the morning, man," says the blood. "We coming back here in the morning and we gonna watch you call the man! We gonna stand right on top of you so you won't forget to make that call!"
"Dat's right, Brudda! On top of you!" Ba-ram-ba-ram-ba-ram-ba-ram
"All right, gentlemen ... all right," says the Flak Catcher. He slaps his hands against his thighs and gets up off the chair. "I'll tell you what ..." The way he says it, you can tell the man is trying to get back a little corner of his manhood. He tries to take a tone that says, "You haven't really been in here for the past fifteen minutes intimidating me and burying my nuts in the sand and humiliating me ... We've really been having a discussion about the proper procedures, and I am willing to grant that you have a point."
"If that's what you want," he says, "I'm certainly willing to put in a telephone call."
"If we want! If you willing! Ain't no want or willing about it, man! You gonna make that call! We gonna be here and see you make it!"
"Dat's right, Brudda! We be seeing you"-- Ba-ram-ba-ram-ba-ram-ba-ram--"We coming back!"
And the Flak Catcher is standing there with his mouth playing bad tricks on him again, and the Samoans hoist their Tiki sticks, and the aces all leave, and they're thinking ... We've done it again. We've mau-maued the goddamn white man, scared him until he's singing a duet with his sphincter, and the people sure do have power. Did you see the look on his face? Did you see the sucker trembling? Did you see the sucker trying to lick his lips? He was scared, man! That's the last time that sucker is gonna try to urban-factor and pre-fund and fix-asset with us! He's gonna go home to his house in Diamond Heights and he's gonna say, "Honey, fix me a drink! Those motherfuckers were reader to kill me!" That sucker was some kind of petrified ... He could see eight kinds of Tiki sticks up side his head ...
Of course, the next day nobody shows up at the poverty office to make sure the sucker makes the telephone call. Some how it always seems to happen that way. Nobody ever follows it up. You can get everything together once, for the demonstration, for the confrontation, to go downtown and mau-mau, for the fun, for the big show, for the beano, for the main event, to see the people bury some gray cat's nuts and make him crawl and whine and sink in his own terrible grin. But nobody ever follows it up. You just sleep it off until somebody tells you there's going to be another big show.
And then later on you think about it and you say, "What really happened that day? Well, another flak catcher lost his manhood, that's what happened." Hmmmmmm ... like maybe the bureaucracy isn't so dumb after all ... All they did was sacrifice one flak catcher and they've got hundreds, thousands ... They've got replaceable parts. They threw this sacrifice to you, and you wnet away pleased with yourself. And even the Flak Catcher himself wasn't losing much. He wasn't losing his manhood. He gave that up a long time ago, the day he became a lifer ... Just who is fucking over who ... You did your number and he did his number, and the didn't even have to stop the music ... The band played on ... Still--did you see the look on his face? That sucker--
When black people first started using the confrontation tactic, they made a secret discovery. There was an extra dividend to this tactic. There was a creamy dessert. It wasn't just that you registered your protest and showed the white man that you meant business and weakened his resolve to keep up the walls of oppression. It wasn't just that you got poverty money and influence. There was something sweet that happened right there on the spot. ou made the white man quake. You brought fear into his face.
Black people began to realize for the first time that the white man, particularly the educated white man, the leadership, had a deep dark Tarzan mumbo jungle voodoo fear of the black man's masculinity. This was a revelation. For two hundred years, wherever black people lived, north or south, mothers had been raising their sons to be meek, to be mild, to check their manhood at the front door in all things that had to do with white people, for fear of incurring the wrath of the Man. The Man was the white man. He was the only man. And now, when you got him up close and growled, this all-powerful superior animal turned out to be terrified. You could read it in his face. He had the same fear in his face as some good-doing boy who has just moved onto the block and his hiding behind his mama and the moving man and the sofa while the bad dudes on the block size him up.
So for the black man mau-mauing was a beautiful trip. It not only stood to bring you certain practical gains like money and power. It also energized your batteries. It recharged your masculinity. You no longer had to play it cool and go in for pseudo-ignorant malingering and put your head into that Ofay Pig Latin catacomb code style of protest. Mau-mauing brought you respect in its cash forms: namely, fear and envy.
This was the difference between a confrontation and a demonstration. A demonstration, like the civil-rights march on Washington in 1963, could frighten the white leadership, but it was a general fear, an external fear, like being afraid of a hurricane. But in a confrontation, in mau-mauing, the idea was to frighten white men personally, face to face. The idea was to separate the man from all the power and props of his office. Either he had enough heart to deal with the situation or he didn't. It was like to saying, "You--yes, you right there on the platform--we're not talking about the government, we're not talking about the Office of Economic Opportunity--we're talking about you, you up there with your hands shaking in your pile of papers ..." If this worked, it created a personal, internal fear. The internal fear was, "I'm afraid I'm not man enough to deal with these bad niggers!"
That may sound like a simple case of black people being good at terrifying whites and whites being quick to run scared. But it was more than that. The strange thing was that the confrontation ritual was built into the poverty program from the beginning. The poverty bureaucrats depended on confrontations in order to know what do do.
Whites were still in the dark about the ghettos. They had been studying the "urban Negro" in every way they could think of for fifteen years, but they found out they didn't know any more about the ghettos than when they started. Every time there was a riot, whites would call on "Negro leaders" to try to cool it, only to find out that the Negro leaders didn't have any followers. They sent Martin Luther King into Chicago and the people ignored him. They sent Dick Gregory into Watts and the people hooted at him and threw beer cans. During the riot in Hunters Point, the mayor of San Francsco, John Shelley, went into Hunters Point with the only black member of the Board of Supervisors, and the brothers threw rocks at both of them. They sent in the middle-class black members of the Human Rights Commission, and the brothers laughed at them and called them Toms. Then they figured the leadership of the riot was "the gangs," so they went in the "ex-gang leaders" from groups like Youth for Service to make a "liaison with the key gang leaders." What they didn't know was that Hunters Point and a lot of ghettos were so disorganized, there weren't even any "key gangs," much less "key gang leaders," in there. That riot finally just burnt itself out after five days, that was all.
But the idea that the real leadership in the ghetto might be the gangs hung on with the poverty-youth-welfare establishment. It was considered a very sophisticated insight. The youth gangs weren't petty criminals ... there were "social bandits," primitive revolutionaries ... Of course, they were hidden from public view. That was why the true nature of ghetto leadership had eluded everyone for so long ... So the poverty professionals were always on the lookout for the bad-acting dudes who were the "real leaders," the "natural leaders," the "charismatic figures" in the ghetto jungle. These were the kind of people the social-welfare professionals in the Kennedy Administration had in mind when they planned the poverty program in the first place. It was a truly adventurous and experimental approach they had. Instead of handing out alms, which never seemed to change anything, they would encourage the people in the ghettos to organize. They would help them become powerful enough to force the Establishment to give them what they needed. From the beginning the poverty program was aimed at helping ghetto people rise up against their oppressors. It was a scene in which the federal government came into the ghetto and said, "Here is some money and some field advisors. Now you organize your own pressure groups." It was no accident that Huey Newton and Bobby Seale drew up the ten-point program of the Black Panther Party one night in the offices of the North Oakland Poverty Center.
To sell the poverty program, its backers had to give it the protective coloration of "jobs" and "education," the Job Corps and Operation Head Start, things like that, things the country as a whole could accept. "Jobs" and "education" were things everybody could agree on. They were part of the free-enterprise ethic. They weren't uncomfortable subjects like racism and the class structure--and giving the poor the money and the tools to fight City Hall. But from the first that was what the lion's share of the poverty budget went into. It went into "community organizing," which was the bureaucratic term for "power to the people," the term for finding the real leaders of the ghetto and helping them organize the poor.
And how could they find out the identity of these leaders of the people? Simple. In their righteous wrath they would rise up and confront you. It was a beautiful piece of circular reasoning. The real leaders of the ghetto will rise up and confront you ... Therefore, when somebody rises up in the ghetto and confronts you, then you know he's a leader of the people. So the poverty program not only encouraged mau-mauing, it practically demanded it. Subconsciously, for administrators in the poverty establishment, public and private, confrontations became a ritual. That was the way the system worked. By 1968 it was standard operating procedure. To get a job in the post office, you filled out forms and took the civil-service exam. To get into the poverty scene, you did some mau-mauing. If you could make the flak catchers lose control of the muscles around their mouths, if you could bring fear into their faces, your application was approved.
Ninety-nine percent of the time whites were in no physical danger whatsoever during mau-mauing. The brothers understood through and through that it was a tactic, a procedure, a game. If you actually hurt or endangered somebody at one of these sessions, you were only cutting yourself off from whatever was being handed out, the jobs, the money, influence. The idea was to terrify but don't touch. The term mau-mauing itself expressed this game-like quality. It expressed the put-on side of it. In public you used the same term the whites used, namely, "confrontation." The term mau-mauing was a source of amusement in private. The term mau-mauing said, "The white man has a voodoo fear of us, because deep down he still thinks we're savages. Right? So we're doing to do that Savage number for him." It was like a practical joke at the expense of the white man's superstitiousness.
Almost every time that mau-mauing actually led to violence, you would find a revolutionary core to the organization that was doing it. If an organization was truly committed to revolution, then the poverty program, or the university, or whatever, was only something to hitch a ride on in the first place. Like at San Francisco State when the Black Students Union beat up the editor of the school newspaper, The Gater, and roughed up a lot of people during the strike. The BSU was allied with the Black Panthers. Stokely Carmichael, when he was with the Panthers, had come over to State and worked with the BSU, and given a speech that fired up the brothers for action. The willingness to be violent was a way of saying we are serious, we intend to go all the way, this is a revolution.
But this was a long way from the notion that all black militants in the ghetto were ready to be violent, to be revolutionaries. They weren't. A lot of whites seemed to think all the angry young men in the ghettos were ready to rise up and follow the Black Panthers at a moment's notice. Actually the Panthers had a complicated status in the ghettos in San Francisco. You talked to almost any young ace on the street, and he admired the Panthers. He looked up to them. The Panthers were stone courageous. They ripped off the white man and blew his mind and fucked him around like nobody as ever done it. And so on. And yet as an organization the Panthers hardly got a toehold in the ghettos in San Francisco, even though their national headquarters were just over the Bay Bridge in Oakland. Whites always seemed to think they had the ghetto's leaders identified and cataloged, and they were always wrong.
Like one time in an English class at San Francisco State there was a teacher who decided to read aloud to the class from Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver. This teacher was a white woman. She was one of those Peter, Paul, and Mary-type intellectuals. She didn't wear nylons, she didn't wear make-up, she had bangs and long straight brown hair down to below her shoulders. You see a lot of middle-class white intellectual women like that in California. They have a look that is sort of Pioneer Hip or Salt of the Earth Hip, with flat-heeled shoes and big Honest Calves. Most of the students in her class were middle-class whites. They were the average English Literature students. Most of them hadn't even reached the Save the Earth stage, but they dressed Revolutionary Street Fighter. After the strike at State, middle-class students didn't show up on campus any more in letter sweaters or those back-to-school items like you see in the McGregor ads. They dressed righteous and "with the people." They would have on guerrilla gear that was so righteous that Che Guevara would have had to turn in his beret and get bucked down to company chaplain if he had come up against it. They would have on berets and hair down to the shoulders, 1958 Sierra Maestra style, and raggedy field jackets and combat boots and jeans, but not Levi's or Slim Jims or Farahs or Wranglers or any of those tailored hip-hugging jeans, but jeans of the people, the black Can't Bust 'Em brand, hod-carrier jeans that have an emblem on the back of a hairy gorilla, the real funky jeans, and woolly green socks, the kind that you get at the Army surplus at two pair for twenty-nine cents. Or else they would go for those checked lumberjack shirts that are so heavy and woolly that you can wear them like a jacket. It's like the Revolution has nostalgia for the proletariat of about 1910, the Miners with Dirty Faces era, because today the oppressed, the hard-core youth in the ghetto--they aren't into the Can't Bust 'Ems with the gorilla and the Army surplus socks. They're into the James Brown look. They're into the ruffled shirts, the black belted leather pieces from Boyd's on Market Street, the bell-cuff herringbones, all that stuff, looking sharp. If you tried to put one of those lumpy lumberjack shirts on them, they'd vomit. Anyway, most of the students in this woman's English literature class were white middle class, but there were two or three students from the ghettos.
She starts reading aloud from Soul on Ice, and she's deep into it. She's got the whole class into Eldridge Cleaver's cellblock in San Quentin, and Cleaver is telling about his spiritual awakening and how he discovered the important revolutionary thinkers. She goes on and on, a long passage, and she has a pure serene tone going. When she finishes, she looks up in the most soulful way, with her chin up and her eyes shining, and she closes the book very softly under her chin, the way a preacher closes the Bible.
Naturally all of the white kids are wiped out. They're sitting there looking at each other and saying, "Far out" ... "Too much" ... "Wow, that's heavy" ... They're shaking their heads and looking very solemn. It's obvious that they just assume tat Eldridge Cleaver speaks for all the black people and that what we need is a revolution ... That's the only thing that will change this rotten system ... In their minds they're now in the San Francisco State cellblock, and the only thing that is going to alter this shit is the Big Bust-out ...
The teacher lets all this sink in, and then she says: "I'd like to hear some comments."
One of the ghetto brothers raises his hand, and she turns to him with the most radiant brotherly smile the human mind can imagine and says, "Yes?"
And this student, a funky character with electric hair, says: "you know what? Ghetto people would laugh if they heard what yo just read. That book wasn't written for the ghettos. It was written for the white middle class. They published it and they read it. What is this 'having previously dabbled in the themes and writings of Rousseau, Thomas Paine, and Voltaire' that he's laying down in there? You try coming down in the Fillmore doing some previously dabbling and talking about Albert Camus and James Baldwin. They'd laugh you off the block. That book was written to give a thrill to white women in Palo Alto and Marin County. That book is the best suburban jive I ever heard. I don't think he even wrote it. Eldridge Cleaver wouldn't write something like that. I think his wife wrote it ... Pre-vi-ously dab-bled ... I mean like don't dabble the people no previouslies and don't previous the people no dabblies and don't preevy-dabble the people with no split-level Palo Alto white bourgeouis housewife Buick Estate Wagon backseat rape fantasies ... you know? ..."
As you can see, the man goes completely off his bean on this subject. He's saying every outrageous thing that bubbles up into his brain, because he wants to blow the minds of the whites in the room. They're all staring at him with congealed faces, like they just gotten sapped in the back of the neck. They hardly had a chance to get down into the creamy pudding of their romantic Black Hero trip, when this dude comes along and unloads on them. But they don't dare say a word against him, because hes hard-core, and he has that ghetto patter. He's the one who must know ...
So mostly the fellow is trying to blow their minds because they are being so smug and knowing about The Black Man. He's saying, Don't try to tell us who our leaders are, because you don't know. And that's the truth. The Panthers were righteous brothers, but there were a lot of militants in the ghettos of San Francisco who had their own numbers going. There were the Mission Rebels, the Cortland Progressives, the New Society, the United Council for Black Dignity, the Young Adults, the New Thang, the Young Men for Action ... it was a list with no end ... By the time you completed the list of all the organizations that existed at any given time, some new ones would have already started ... Everybody had his own angle and his own way of looking at black power. The Panthers were on a very special trip. The Panthers were fighting The Pig. And the Pig was fighting the Panthers. If you joined the Panthers, you had to be ready to fight the police, because that was the trip you'd be on. One of the main things you stood to get out of it was a club up side your head, or a bullet. If you were a man who had really been worked over by the police, then you could relate to that and you were ready for that fight. The Panthers were like the Muslims in that respect. But as bad as things were in the ghettos, there weren't but so many aces who were ready to play it all or nothing that way.
The ghettos were full of "individualists" ... in the sense the Russian revolutionaries used to use that word about the lumpenproletariat of Russia. The lumpenproleteriat--the "underclass," as they say today--used to drive the Russian revolutionaries up the wall. Someone like Nikolai Bukharin would end up talking about them like he was some cracker judge from the year 1911 "... shiftlessness, lack of discipline, hatred of the old, but impotence to construct or organize anything new, an individualistic declassed 'personality,' whose actions are based only on foolish caprices ..." He sounded like some Grand Kloogle on the bedsheet circuit.
In the ghettos the brothers grew up with their own outlook, their own status system. Near the top of the heap was the pimp style. In all the commission reports and studies and syllabuses you won't see anything about the pimp style. And yet there it was. In areas like Hunters Point boys didn't grow up looking up to the man who had a solid job working for some company or for the city, because there weren't enough people who had such jobs. It seemed like nobody was going to make it by working, so the king was the man who made out best by not working, by not sitting all day under the Man's bitch box. And Thorstein Veblen wrote that at the very bottom of the class system, down below the "working class" and the "honest poor," there was a "spurious aristocracy," a leisure class of bottom dogs devoted to luxury and aristocratic poses. And there you have him, the pimp. The pimp is the dude who wears the $150 Sly Stone-style vest and pants outfit from the haberdasheries on Polk and the $35 Lester Chambers-style four-inch-brim and black beaver fedora and the thin nylon socks with the vertical stripes and drives the customized sun-roof Eldorado with the Jaguar radiator cap. The pimp was the aristocrat of the street hustle. But there were other lines of work that the "spurious aristocrats" might be into. They might be into gambling, dealing drugs, dealing in stolen goods or almost anything else. They would truck around in the pimp style, too. Everything was the street hustle. When a boy was growing up, it might take the form of getting into gangs or into a crowd that used drugs. There were plenty of good-doing boys who grew up under the shadows of their mothers and were aiming toward a straight life. But they were out of it in their own community. The status system on the block would be running against them, and they wouldn't "come out," meaning come out of the house and be on their own, until their late teens.
The pimp style was a supercool style that was much admired or envied. You would see some dude, just some brother from down the hall, walking down the street with his Rollo shirt on, and his black worsted bells with a three-button fly at the bell bottom of each pants leg, giving a spats effect, and he is walking with that rolling gait like he's got a set of ball-bearing discs in his shoulders and his hips, and you can say to the dude, "Hey, Pimp!" and he's not offended. He'll chuckle and say, "How you doing, baby." He's smiling and pleased with himself, because you're pulling his leg but at the same time you're saying that he's looking cool, looking sharp, looking good.
Sometimes a group of buddies who ran together, who were "stone pimp," as the phrase went, would move straight into the poverty program. They would do some fabulous, awesome, inspired mau-mauing, and the first thing you knew, they would be hanging out in the poverty scene. The middle-class bureaucrats, black and white, would never know what do make of an organization like this. They couldn't figure them out. There was one organization in a city just outside of San Francisco, in the kind of section that catches the bums, the winos, the prostitutes with the biscuits & gravy skin, the gay boys, the flaming lulus, the bike riders, the porno shops, peep shows, $8-a-week hotels with the ripped window shades flapping out. This area had everything you needed for a successful application for a porvery-program grant except for the one thing you need the most, namely, the militant youth. So that was when a remarkable ace known as Dudley showed up with a couple of dozen bonafide spurious aristocrats ... his Ethnic Catering Service for skid row ... There wasn't one of them that looked much under thirty, and nobody had ever heard of any black youth in that area before anyway, but they could mau-mau as if they had been trained by the great Chaser himself ... They got a grant of nearly $100,000.
Every now and then the poverty bureaucrats from the Economic Opportunity Council or from City Hall would hold an area executive board meeting or some other kind of session at their clubhouse, and it was always a bear. A group of poverty workers and administrators would walk in there for the first time, and you could tell from the looks on their faces that something had hit them as different ... and weird ... They felt it ... they sensed it ... without knowing what it was. Actually it was a simple thing. The pimp-style aristocrats would be sitting around like a bunch of secretary birds.
There would be Dudley and his boys ... Dudley, with his Fuzzy-Wuzzy natural and his welts. Dudley was a powerful man with big slabs of muscle like Sonny Liston and these long welts, like the wleted seams on top of a pair of micassins, on his cheeks, his neck, on the backs of his fists. These welts were like a historical map of fifteen years of Saturday night knife-fighting in the Bay Area. And Dudley's Afro ... the brother had grown the rankest natural of all times. It wasn't shaped or anything close to it. It was growing like a clump of rumpus weed by the side of the road. It was growing every which way, and it wasn't even all one color. There was a lot of gray in it. It looked superfunky. It looked like he'd taken the stuffing out of the seat of one of those old ripped-up chairs you see out on the sidewalk with its insides spilling out after a fire on Webster Street--it looked like he'd taken the stuffing out of one of those chairs and packed it all over his head. Dudley was the fiercest looking man in the Bay Area, but there would be him and all his boys sitting around like a covey of secretary birds.
That was the pimp look, the look of hip and supercool and so fine. The white bureaucrats, and the black ones, too, walked in trying to look as earthy and rugged as they could, in order to be "with the people." They tried to walk in like football players, like they had a keg of beer between their legs. They rounded their shoulders over so it made their necks look bigger. They thickened up their voices and threa a few "mans" and "likes" and "digs" into their conversations. When they sat down, they gave it that Honcho wide-open spread when they crossed their legs, putting the right foot, encased in a cordovan brogue with a sole sticking out like a rock ledge, on the left knee, as if the muscles in their thighs were so big and stud-like that they couldn't cross their legs all the way if they tried. But the pimp-style aristocrats had taken the manhood thing through so many numbers that it was beginning to come out through the other side. To them, by now, being hip was striking poses that were so cool, so languid, they were almost feminine. It was like saying, "We've got masculinity to spare." We've been through so much shit, we're so confident of our manhood, we're so hip and so suave and wise in the ways of the street, that we can afford to be refined and not sit around here trying to look like a bunch of stud brawlers. So they would not only cross their legs, they'd cross them further than a woman would. They would cross them so far, it looked like one leg was wrapped around the other one three or four times. One leg would seem to wrap around the other one and disappear in the back of the knee socket. And they'd be leaning forward in the chair with their heads cocked to one side and their chins hooked over their collarbones and their shades riding low on their noses, and they'd be peering out over the upper rim of the shades. And they'd have one hand cocked in front of their chins, hanging limp at the wrist with the forefinger sticking out like like some kind of curved beak. They would look like one of those supercool secretary birds that stand around on one long A-1 racer leg with everything else drawn up into a beautfiful supercool little bunch of fluffy feathers at the top.
They liked to run a meeting like everything else, namely, very cool. Dudley was conducting the meeting when in through the back door comes one of his boys, a tall dude with the cool rolling gait and his hands stuck in his pants pockets, which are the high Western-style pockets. The door he came in leads up a short flight of stairs and out onto an alley. This is a commercial district, and the alley is one of those dead-end slits they use for deliveries. It's always full of corrugated boxes and excelsior and baling wire and industrial wrapping paper and other debris. It's the kind of alley that has a little half sidewalk on one side and there are always a couple of cars parked lopsided with two wheels up on the sidewalk and two on the alley. Anyway, the dude comes lollygagging in, as cool as you please, and walks over to where Dudley is sitting like a secretary bird and leans over and whispers something to him. Even the way he leans over is stone pimp-style. His legs don't bend and his back doesn't bend. It's like he's been cleaned, pressed, and Perma-creased at hip level, right where his hand fits into his Western pocket, and he just jackknifes at the desired angle where the crease is. He keeps his hand in the pocket when he bends over. He just lets the hand bend backard at the wrist. It looks like his fingers are caught in his appendix.
"Say what, man?" says Dudley. "Don't you see I'm trying to hold a con-fer-ence in here?"
"But like man," says the Dude, "this is ve-ry im-por-tant."
"What the hell you into that's so im-por-tant, sucker?"
"Well, man, just wait a min-ute and let me tell you. You know that wino, Half and Half, that hangs out in the alley?"
"Yeah, I know him."
"Well, man, he's out there in the alley trying to burn down the buil-ding."
Dudley doesn't even move at first. He just peers out over his shades at his boys and at all the bureaucrats from downtown, and then he cocks his head and cocks his index finger in front of his chin and says, "We gonna have a tem-po-rary re-cess. The brother ask me to take care some business."
Then Dudley unwinds very casually and stands up, and he and the brother start walking toward the back doow, but so cook and so slow, with the whole rolling giat, that it looks like Marcel Marceau doing one of those walks where he doesn't actually move off the spot he started on. They open the door like they're going out ot check out the weather, but once they're on the other side--whoosh!--it's like somebody lit their after-burners. They're up those stairs like a rocket and out into the alley and on top of the wino, Half and Half, in just under one half a second.
This Half and Half is one of those stone winos who hang around there, one of those winos whose face is so weather-beaten it looks like a pebble-grain full-brogue oxblood shoe. He has white hair, but a full head of white hair, so thick it looks like every hair he ever had in his head was nailed in for good. All that boozing and drinking half-and-half, which is half sherry and half port, must do righteous things for the hair, because there are no old men in the world who have hair like the winos. This Half and Half is such a stone wino that the only clothes he has left are the green KP fatigues they hand out in the hospitals and the jails, because the rest have been ripped up, vomited on, or stolen. He has on the fatigues and a pair of black street shoes with thin white hospital socks. He has pushed the socks way down into the heels of the shoes because his ankles are swollen and covered with skin ulcers, which he swabs with paper towels he cops from out the public toilets. The old crock hates these black studs who have turned up down on his skid-row cul-de-sac, and he keeps trying to burn up the building. He has a big pile of paper and excelsior and other stuff shoved up against the wall and he has it smoldering in a kind of fogged-in wino way, trying to in-cin-e-rate the mother.
All of that is going on outside in the alley. From inside the clubhouse at first there's nothing: silence. Then you start to hear a sound that sounds like there is a paddlewheel from off a Mississippi steamboat out there in the alley, and to every paddle is attached a size 12E motorcycle boot, and as the wheel goes around every one of these boots hits the wino ... thunk ... thunk ... whop ... whump ... thunk ... thunk ... whop ... whump ...
And then the white bureaucrats look at the black bureaucrats and the black bureaucrats look at the white bureaucrats, and one of the bureaucrats who is dressed in the Roos-Atkins Ivey League clothes and the cordovan shoes starts going "Unh, unh, unh." The thing is, the man thinks he doesn't have any more middle-class Uncle Tom mannerisms and attributes, but he just can't help going into that old preachery "Unh, unh, unh."
thunk ... thunk ... whop ... whump ...
"Unh, unh, unh."
thunk ... thunk ... whop ... whump ...
"Unh, unh, unh."
Then it stops and the door opens again, and Dudley and the Dude come walking back in even slower and more cool except for the fact that they're breathing hard, and they take their seats and cross their legs and get wound back up and cocked and perched, and Dudley peers out over his shades and says, "The meeting is resumed."
Brothers from down the hall like Dudley got down to the heart of the poverty program very rapidly. It took them no time at all to see that the poverty program's big projects, like manpower training, in which you would get some job counseling and some training so you would be able to apply for a job in the bank or on the assembly line--everybody with a brain in his head knew that this was the usual bureaucratic shuck. Eventually the government's own statistics bore out the truth of this conclusion. The ghetto youth who completed the manpower training didn't get any more jobs or earn any more money than the people who never took any such training at all. Everybody but the most hopeless lames knew that the only job you wanted out of the poverty program was a job in the program itself. Get on the payroll, that was the idea. Never mind getting some job counseling. You be the job counselor. You be the "neighborhood organizer." As a job counselor or a neighborhood organizer you stood to make six or seven hundred dollars a month, and you were still your own man. Like if you were a "neighborhood organizer," all you had to do was go out and get the names and addresses of people in the ghetto who wanted to relate to the services of the poverty center. That was a very flexible arrangement. You were still on the street, and you got paid for it. You could still run with the same buddies you walways ran with. There was nobody looking over your shoulder. You didn't have to act like a convert, like the wino who has to sing hymns at the mission before he can get his dinner, to get something out of the poverty scene. In fact, the more outrageous you were, the better. That was the only way they knew you were a real leader. It was true that middle-class people who happened to live in the target areas got the top jobs, but there was still room for street types.
You'd run into some ace on the corner and you'd say, "Hey, man, what you doing?"
And he'd say, "Nothing, man what you doing?"
And you'd say "I'm a neighborhood organizer," or "I'm a job counselor, man" ... and that gave you status, because it was well known that there were some righteous brothers in on the poverty program.
Some of the main heroes in the ghetto, on a par with the Panthers even, were the Blackstone Rangers in Chicago. The Rangers were so bad, the Rangers so terrified the whole youth welfare poverty establishment, that in one year, 1968, they got a $937,000 grant from the Office of Economic Opportunity in Washington. The Ranger leaders became job counselors in the manpower training project, even though most of them never had a job before and weren't about to be looking for one. This wasn't a case of the Blackstone Rangers putting some huge prank over on the poverty bureaucrats, however. It was in keeping with the poverty program's principle of trying to work through the "real leaders" of the black community. And if they had to give it the protective coloration of "manpower training," then that was the way it would have to be done. Certainly there was no one who could doubt that the Blackstone Rangers were the most powerful group in the Woodlawn area of Chicago. They had the whole place terrified. The Rangers were too much. There were champions. In San Francisco the champions were the Mission Rebels. The Rebels got every kind of grant you could think of, from the government, the foundations, the churches, individual sugar daddies, from everywhere, plus a headquarters building and poverty jobs all over the place.
The police would argue that in giving all that money to gangs like the Blackstone Rangers the poverty bureaucrats were financing criminal elements and helping to destroy the community. The poverty bureaucrats would argue that they were doing just the opposite. They were bringing the gangs into the system. Back in 1911 Robert Michels, a German sociologist, wrote that the bureaucracy provides the state with a great technique for self-preservation. The bureaucracy has the instinct to expand in any direction. The bureaucracy has the instinct to get all the discontented elements of the society involved and entangled in the bureaucrayc itself. In the late 1960's it looked like he might be right. By the end of 1968 there were no more gangs in San Francisco in the old sense of the "fighting gangs." Everybody was into black power, brown power, yellow power, and the poverty program in one way or another. This didn't mean that crime decreased or that a man discontinued his particular hustles. But it did mean he had a different feeling about himself. He wasn't a hustler in the hood. He was a fighter for the people, a ghetto warrior. In the long run it may turn out that the greatest impact of the poverty program, like some of the WPA projects of the Depression, was not on poverty, but on morale, on the status system on the streets. Some day the government may look back and wish it had given the Flak Catchers Distinguished Service medals, like the astronauts.
The poverty program, the confrontations, the mau-mauing-brought some of the talented aces something more. It brought them celebrity, overnight. You'd turn on the TV, and tehre would be some dude you had last seen just hanging out on the corner with the porkpie hat scrunched down over his eyes and the toothpick nodding on his lips--and there he was now on the screen a leader, a "black spokesman," white whites in the round-shouldered suits and striped neckties holding microphones up to his mouth and waiting for The Word to fall from his lips.
But whatever you wanted to achieve, for your people, for the community, or for yourself and your buddies--the competition was getting rough. Every day there were new organizations coming out of the woodwork. To get your organization in on the poverty program, you had to get recognized by some official agency, and to get recognized you had to do some mau-mauing in most cases. Once you got recognition, then you had the bureaucrats working full-time for you, drawing up the statistics and prospectuses, knocking on the right doors, and making the applications for the "funding," the money that was available from the government, the foundations, or the churches.
But it didn't end there. Just like you were trying to put the pressure on the bureaucrats, the brothers in your organization would be putting the pressure on you. They'd be waiting on your doorstep to see if you were getting anything for the brothers, to see if you really had any class. That was one reason why Summer Jobs was such a big deal. That was what the whole session between the Samoans and the Flak Catcher was over, summer jobs. The jobs themselves were nothing. They were supposed to be for teenagers from poor families. It waas an O.E.O. program, and you got $1.35 an hour and ended up as a file clerk or stock-room boy in some federal office or some foundation--hell, they didn't even need one half the people they already had working for them, and so all you learned was how to make work, fake work, and malinger out by the Xerox machine. It is true that you learned those skills from experts in the field, but it was a depressing field to be in.
Nevertheless, there was some fierce ma-mauing that went on over summer jobs, especially in 1969, when the O.E.O. started cutting back funds and the squeeze was on. Half of it was sheer status. There were supposed to be strict impartial guidelines determining who got the summer jobs--but the plain fact was that half the jobs were handed out organization by organization, according to how heavy your organization was. If you could get twenty summer jobs for your organization got five, then you were four times the aces they were .. no lie ... But there were so many groups out mau-mauing, it was hard to make yourself heard over the uproar. You practically had to stand in line. It was a situation that called for a show of class. You had to show some style, some imagination, some ingenuity.
It brought out the genius in seemingly plain people. Like there was one man with a kind of common name like Bill Jackson. He and some of his buddies had created a poverty organization, the Youth of the Future, and had gotten recognition from one of the E.O.E. area boards. But when it came to summer jobs, the Youth of the Future was out of it, like a lot of organizations. Apparently some people thought that was all the Youth of the Future was, just another organization on the poverty scene, just this Bill Jackson and his buddies from of the block.
So one morning about eleven o'clock a flamboyant black man in a dashiki turns up at City Hall. And this flamboyant black man, the Dashiki Chieftain, isn't running with any brothers from off the block. He is at the head of an army of about sixty young boys and girls from the ghetto. And even his dashiki--it's no ordinary dashiki. This number is elegant. It's made of the creamiest black and red wool with great leopard-fur cuffs on the sleeves and leopard-fur patch pockets on the front ... and a belt. You don't see a dashiki with a belt every day. And he has one of those leopard-fur African fez numbers on his head, and around his neck he has a necklace with beads and tiger teeth leading down to a kind of African carved head pendant. He comes marching up the stairs of City Hall and through those golden doors in his Somaliland dashiki, leading the children's army. And these kids are not marching in any kind of formation, either. They are swinging very free, with high sprits and good voices. The Dashiki Chief has distributed aong them all the greatest grandest sweetest creamiest runniest and most luscious mess of All-American pop drinks, sweets, and fried food ever brought together in one place. Sixty strong, sixty loud, sixty wild, they come swinging into the great plush gold-and-marble lobby of the San Francisco City Hall with their hot dogs, tacos, Whammies, Frostees, Fudgsicles, french fries, Eskimo Pies, Awful-Awfuls, Sugar-Daddies, Sugar-Mommies, Sugar-Babies, chocolate-covered frozen bananas, malted milks, Yoo-Hoos, berry pies, bubble gums, cotton candy, Space Food sticks, Frescas, Baskin-Robbins boysenberry-cheesecake ice-cream cones, Milky Ways, M&Ms, Tootsie Pops, Slurpees, Drumsticks, jelly dougnuts, taffy apples, buttered Karamel Korn, root-beer floats, Hi-C punches, large Cokes, 7-Ups, Three Musketeer bars, frozen Kook-Aids--with the Dashiki Chief in the vanguard.
In no time at all the man's dashiki is practically flapping in the breeze from the hurricane of little bodies swirling around, roaring about with their creaming wavy gravy food and drink held up in the air like the torches of freedom, pitching and rolling at the most perilous angles, a billow of root-beer float here ... a Yoo-Hoo typhoon there ... The kids have discovered the glories of the City Hall lobby. Such echoes! Their voices ricochet off the marble in the most groovy way. Screams work best, screams and great hollow shrieks ... and the most high-toned clatter of sixty pairs of little feet running at top speed ... This place is Heaven off-the-rack!
The lobby is officially known as the great central court, and it's like some Central American opera house, marble, arches, domes, acanthus leaves and Indian sandstone, quirks and galleries, and gilt filigrees, like Bourbon Louis culicues of gold in every corner, along every molding, every flute, every cusp, every water-leaf and cartouche, a veritable angel's choir of gold, a veritable obsession of gold ... and all kept polished as if for the commemoration of the Generalissimo's birthday ... and busts of great and glorious mayors of San Francisco, perched on top of pedestals in their business suits with their bald marble skulls reflecting the lacy gold of the place ... Angelo Rossi ... James Rolph ... cenotaphs, pediments, baroque balusters, and everywhere marble, marble, marble, gold, gold, gold ... and through this Golden Whore's Dream of Paradise rush the children of the Youth of the Future.
By now the guards are asking the Dashiki Chief what he thinks he's doing. City Hall functionaries are asking him what he wants. The Dashiki Chief informs them that his name is Jomo Yarumba, and the Youth of the Future are now here, and he wants to see Mayor Joseph Alioto.
Meanwhile, the childstorm is itensifying. A little girl carrying a soft-top beer-style container of Fresca is about to collide with a little boy holding a double-dip Baskin-Robbins strawberry rhubarb sherbet cone, and the City Hall lifers can envision it already: a liver-red blob of sherbet sailing over the marble expanse of the City Hall lobby on a foaming bile-green sea of Fresca, and the kids who are trying to rip the damned paper off the ice-cream in the Drumstick popsicles, which always end up inextricable messes of crabbed paper and molten milk fat, mixing it up with the kids whose frozen Kool-Aids are leaking horrible streaks of fuchsia and tubercular blue into the napkins they have wrapped around them in their palms and mashing it all onto the marble bean of Mayor Angelo Rossii ... and now Jomo Yarumba and his childstorm are swooping up the great marble stairs of the great central court toward the first gallery and the outer office of the Mayor himself, and the City Hall functionaries are beginning to confer in alarm. By and by a young man from the Mayor's office comes out and explains to Jomo Yarumba that the Mayor regrets he has a very tight schedule today and can't possibly see him.
"We'll wait for the cat to get through," says the Dashiki Chief.
"But he's completely tied up, all day."
"Hell, man, we'll stay here all night. We'll see the cat in the morning."
"That's right. We ain't budging, man. We're here to tend to business."
The young guy from the Mayor's office retreats ... Much consternation and concern in the lobby of City Hall ... the hurricane could get worse. The little devils could start screaming, wailing, ululating, belching, moaning, giggling, making spook-show sounds ... filling the very air with a hurricane of malted milk, an orange blizzard of crushed ice from the Slurpees, with acid red horrors like the red from the taffy apples and the jelly from the jelly doughnuts, with globs of ice cream in purple sheets of root beer, with plastic straws and huge bilious waxed cups and punch cans and sprinkles of Winkles, with mustard from off the hot dogs and little lettuce shreds from off the tacos, with things that splash and things that plop and things that ooze and stick, that filthy sugar moss from off the cotton candy, and the Karamel Korn and the butterscotch daddy figures from off the Sugar-Daddies and the butterscotch babies from off the Sugar-Babies, sugar, water, goo, fried fat, droplets, driplets, shreds, bits, lumps, gums, gobs, smears, from the most itchy molecular Winkle to the most warm moist emetic mass of Three Musketeer bar and every gradation of sulubility and liquidity known to syrup--filling the air, choking it, getting trapped gurgling and spluttering in every glottis--
And it was here that Bill Jackson proved himself to be a brilliant man and a true artist, a rare artist, of the mau-mau. One of the few things that could stir every bureaucrat in City Hall, make every bureaucrat rev up his adrenaline and quicken his pulse and cut the red tape and bypass the normal channels and get it together by word of mouth, by jungle drum, by hoot and holler from floor to floor, was just what Bill Jackson was doing now. Even an armed attack wouldn't have done so much. There's already an 84-page contingency paper for armed attack, emergency guidelines, action memos, with all the channels laid down in black and white for bucking the news up the chain ... But this! Sixty black hellions and some kind of crazy in a dashiki wreaking creamy wavy gravy through the grand central court of City Hall ... This lacerated the soul of every lifer, every line bureaucrat, ever flak catcher in the minincipal government ... There are those who may think that the bureaucrats and functionaries of City Hall are merely time servers, with no other lookout than filling out their forms, drawing their pay, keeping the boat form rocking and dreaming of their pension like the lid on an orderly life. But bureaucrats, especially in City Halls, have a hidden heart, a hidden well of joy, a low-dosage euphoria that courses through their bodies like thyroxin ... Because they have a secret: each, in his own way, is hooked into The Power. The Government is the Power, and they are the Government, and the symbol of the Government is the golden dome of City Hall, and the greatest glory of City Hall is the gold-and-marble lobby, gleaming and serene, cool and massive, studded with the glistening busts of bald-headed men now as anonymous as themselves but touched and blessed forever by The Power ... And in an age of torrid sensations, of lust, gluttony, stroke-house movies, fellatio-lipped young buds jiggling down the street with their hard little nipples doing the new boogaloo through their translucent nylong jerseys, an age of marijuana, LSD, TCH, MDA, cocaine, methedrine, and motels where the electric ozone of the central ozone of the central air conditioning mixes with the sickly sweet secretions oozing from every aperture--in the midst of such cheap thrills and vibrating nerve ends, who is left to record the secret, tender, subtle and ineffable joys of the line bureaucrat savoring the satin cushion of City Hall? Who else is left to understand the secret bliss of the coffee break at 10:30 a.m., the walk with one's fellows through the majesty of the gold-and-marble lobby and out across the grass and the great white walkways of City Hall Plaza, past the Ionic columns and Italian Renaissance facade of the Public Library on the opposite side and down McAllister Street a few steps to the cafeteria, where you say hello to Jerry as he flips the white enamel handle on the urn and pours you a smoking china mug of coffee and you sit down at a Formica table and let coffee and cigarette smoke seep through you amid the Spanish burble of the bus boys, knowing that it is all set and cushioned, solid and yet lined with velvet, all waiting for you, as long as you want it, somewhere below your consciousness, the Bourbon Louis baroque hulk and the golden dome of City Hall, waiting for you on the walk back, through the Plaza and up the steps and into the great central court, and you stop and talk with your good buddy by the door to the Registrar's or by the bust of Mayor Angelo Rossi, both of you in your shirtsleeves bit with your ties held down smoothly by a small-bar tie clip, rocking back on the heels of your Hush Puppies, talking with an insider's chuckles of how that crazy messenger, the one with the glass eye, got caught trying to run football-pool cards of the Xerox machine because he couldn't see the Viper standing there on his blind side for five minutes with his arms folded, just watching him ... while your eyes play over the lobby and all the hopeless wondering mendicants who wander in off the street looking this way and that for some sign of where the Assessor's office is, or the Board of Supervisors', or the Tax Collecotr's, probably taking their first plunge into the endless intricate mysteries of The Power, which they no more understand than they could understand the comradely majesty of this place, this temple, this nave and crossing of the euphoria of The Power--and suddenly here are these black ragamuffins! neither timorous nor bewildered! On the contrary--sportive, scornful, berserk, filling the air, the very sanctum, with far-flung creamy wavy gravy, with their noise, their insolence, their pagan vulgarity and other shitfire and abusse! And no one can lay a hand on them! No one can call in the Tac Squad to disperse sixty black children having a cotton-candy and M&M riot for themselves ... The infidels are immune ...
The incredible news was now sweeping through City Hall. The Mayor's number-three man came out and took a look and disappeared. The Mayor's number-two man came out and took a look and disappeared. They Mayor's press secretary came out and took a look ... it was rumored that The Media were heading over ... and the press secreatary disappeared, and the kids dervished through it all, spinning their inspired typhoon up to the very architraves, and Bill Jackson orchestrated the madness in his whirling dashiki ...
And in no time at all here was the Man himself, Mayor Josph Alioto, advancing into their midst, attended by the number-four man, the number-three man, the number-two man, and the press secretary, and with his bald head gleaming as glriously as Angelo Rossi's or James Rolph's, heading toward Jomo Yarumba with his broad smile beaming as if he had known the famous youth leader all his life, as if nothing in the world had been weighing more on his mind this morning than getting downstairs promptly to meet the inspring Youth of the Future ... And as the Mayor shook hands with Jomo Yarumba--there! it was done in a flash!--the Youth of the Future were now home safe ...
Thereafter Bill Jackson could get get down to the serious business, which was to use his official recognition to raise money for the sewing machines for his organization's dashiki factory ... black-designed, black-made, black-worn fashikis to be manufactured by the youth themselves ... There were no two ways about it. Bill Jackson and his group were looking good. That particular scene gave a lot of people heart. It wasn't long before an enterprising brother named Ronnie started his own group, The New Thang.
"The New Thang?" said Mayor Alioto, after they had put in their own unique and confounding appearance at City Hall.
"That's right, THe New Thang."
The Mayor looked wigged out, as if the lights had gone out in his skull.
"Thang," said Ronnie. "That's Thing in African."
"Oh," said the Mayor. There wasn't even the faintest shade of meaning in his voice.