highway 99

HWy99

This here is the story of two brothers,
Jake and Randolf Crewes,
who thought of themselves as
the last of the independents.
They found themselves one day
holed up in Calaveras County
on the last, gleaming edge
of the American frontier.

Calaveras County
is a low-down hole, good
for nothing but going out
and getting lost in.
Kind of place a man can find some
lonesome ravine,
park a double wide
and cook up some nasty shit.

Sudafed, iodine, Sodium Hydroxide
they get it out of Drano
dry ammonia, match-heads,
Coleman camp fuel
stripping out batteries, lithium in alcohol
shake and bake crystals, HCI, ammonia
keep them coffee filters
get you higher than a bastard.

Jake and Randy made a
reasonable product upwards 50 pure,
in time they came to see themselves
as American entrepreneurs
in the time of the
Zerobama economy.
Demand was strong up in Vallecito
but the local money was weak

It is not in the nature of the brothers Crewes
to nickel and dime
when the serious money
was waiting down the highway –
so a deal was struck with one Henry Lee Rook
way on down in Tulare.
Two-bit critty for the armpickers,
6K a pound.

The Vasquez boys, Marcos and Castel
did the heavy lifting,
drove the package down Highway 99
to Mr Henry Lee Rook.
Things were going good,
money rollin’ in like snow.
The Vasquez boys, though, they could count
and they got a little entrepreneurial theyselves….

When the count came back three bills light
the first time, the boys figured
the market was slow.
Shit happens.
and when it came back three bills light
the second time, they cursed
Mr. Henry Lee Rook.
It was the third time that got their attention.

A cold Sonora November dawn out off
the Big Hill Road,
the Vasquez boys get called in for coffee.
The package run is delayed
Meanwhile, Randy’s haulin’ ass
down Highway 99
to discuss some pressing business with
Mr. Henry Lee Rook.

Last time anyone seen them
Vasquez boys alive
they were gassing up
at an Arco just outside Madera.
Just off that Golden State Freeway.
Just off that highway to the good life.
Just off the mainline.
Just off the “hope” and “change”.

The moral of the story,
such that it has one,
is that we live on a new, thin edge
of a different American Frontier.
One where, if you want to get ahead
you ask not who will permit you
but one where you bare your teeth and you ask
who exactly the fuck will stop you.

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This entry was published on 04/26/2013 at 7:18 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

58 thoughts on “highway 99

  1. Anonymous on said:

    Well, this was just the end all, beat all tale of the season.

    You got mad skills, Brother, but I sure would not want to be around you when you research these stories. That is getting a little too close to the fire…

    signed: Myke

  2. great narration, loved the music and the words. Great job!

  3. Fucking amazing. “One where, if you want to get ahead
    you ask not who will permit you
    but one where you bare your teeth and you ask
    who exactly the fuck will stop you.”

  4. A note by way of explanation. Back in 2010, or it may have been 2009, when I was a working reporter at a journal of record for San Mateo County, California, some colleagues and I covered two stories – one was the tent cities outside of Fresno and another one into the meth culture in Corcoran. The experiences in working those stories (which included a few hours inside Corcoran prison, easily the most evil-feeling place I have ever been) in part inform at least the shell,the context, of this story.

    Because it isn’t a story about small-time hoods working for an unlikely and shadowy mastermind – I have done that better here – https://beijomacio.wordpress.com/2007/05/09/smalltimers/ and there’s half a hundred tawdry teleplays every week on HBO that can tell such a tale (I’m from Baltimore, of course I have seen “The Wire”!)

    This is, actually, something that I’m really not a good enough writer to write, so I am just leaving here as a shell until I can either learn myself or steal enough stuff off all the good writers to read to finish it. There’s a lot of themes and ideas that the framework or context of the story support but I need to figure out how to make them explicit but not obvious. You’re more than welcome to try and figure them out in the meantime.

    There’ll be more stuff like this in future because I don’t really want to do what I know how to do any more. I want to flail about and fail, over-reach my meagre talents and get hopelessly lost and try to beat back some of the increasing sense of pointlessness that writing engenders. So, really, if you ignore posts that begin with screeds like this, I will be entirely understanding! 🙂

    • evenmorebeautifulthanmorebeautifulthanyou on said:

      You need to keep us updated with how this story evolves. This is gripping – I can see the rich potential for metaphor already,e specially in the comment on the Zerobama economy.

    • Miss Nancy on said:

      I admire your candor here, Seb – but truly, part of the joy of art is watching people struggle with limitations and make progress and breakthroughs. That’s where beauty comes from, from doing ugly, difficult things. So do them and don’t apologize.

      • nataliekosta on said:

        It is good to see you still trying. It must be very tempting just to bang out some trite, pretty words and soak up the adulation. I admire your determination to earn your place at the writer’s table.

    • Quite the self commentary! One could bet that the ancient scribes, too provided their employers with as much, or at least more than what they were paid (or forced) to do day-in day-out. Which I imagine may have in fact served as a reprieve to the head writer and the flailing and building sense of ‘point or no point.’ – hah, maybe when quantum computing launches onto the market, spellcheck and auto-correct will have a 4-D old scribe-like critical analysis fearure, and give writers some relief from the ‘personal’ keyboard. Until then.., there’s always the comments section 😉
      … News and storytelling will always be entertainment, *seriously* – I like the fact that you embrace this and never hide from it, like so many do

    • Fantastic stuff brother, Really draws you in. Slowly exploring your blog now. Top Whack

      • Why thank you, sir! Thanks so much 🙂

      • Your rate welcome, nothing better to find a blog that can keep you happy for a few more hours, I’ll be purusing thine if you don’t mind.
        Loving the ref to that Lil Ol band from Texas too, fits like a glove.
        Mike – UK

  5. Pingback: Straightforward Poems for Straightforward People | tarnation and eudemonia

  6. letsgodownttown on said:

    Fucking brilliant. Seriously. I don’t care what high and arcane point you’re using this as a metaphor for, just as a ass-of-your-pants ride down the highway to hell, this stands alone.

  7. isiscambassassassassian on said:

    I swear, Cicero is the meth capital of America. That highway seems to join up more than chunks of California. love the greasy, sleazy music track too.

    • Actually, Fresno, Ca – jewel of Highway 99, has the highest meth usage in all of the US. It’s exploded out there – Fresno used to be a decent town but now it is just a dried up hole full of jibbheads and bag whores.

  8. tim113 on said:

    The total package. The total, unadulterated package.

  9. I have to say I don’t care much for this, Seb. It’s all sort of pointless when you tell us it isn’t what it appears to be and that it isn’t finished. I wish you’d just keep things like this in the drafts folder until they were fit to show as actual work.

    • I am in agreement. Poetry should aspire to it’s own perfection, not to represent the off cuts on the floor of a butcher’s backroom

    • Doris on said:

      I do not agree with you a poem or any piece of art is never finished, a true poet leaves room for more, makes you think, make you feel, and sometimes makes you say comments like the one you left here. Even if someone says it is good or bad, the artist succeeded, because art is about reaction.

      • Doesn’t it seem cheap, showing unfinished work just for a reaction? How is the artist supposed to let you know when they are finished. Are they not allowed to say they are finished and free to move on?

  10. Oh wow Seb. Fantastic words as always – the way you spin the legend through the narrative. And then the music driving the rhythm of the reading. It’s gritty, dirty and teeth on edge stuff. I want to send this to an ex of mine who always said “poetry is for girls”. Ha.

  11. NotResponsibleAmy on said:

    ha ha! The photo at the top is a dead giveaway! I don’t think you are right on the money here, but it is fascinating to see that you tried. You cannot resist a good visual pun any more than a good verbal one.

  12. I don’t really want to do what I know how to do any more. I want to flail about and fail, over-reach my meagre talents and get hopelessly lost and try to beat back some of the increasing sense of pointlessness that writing engenders… I love this, that you’re experimenting, letting go of what’s safe, and stretching yourself. What I love most about the poem is the strong sense of voice.
    Kind of place a man can find some
    lonesome ravine,
    park a double wide
    and cook up some nasty shit.
    Wow.

    • I’m trying, sporadically, to write a story now about hill people trying to hang onto the last vestiges of their lifestyle and their land in Tennessee in the early 1960’s. It’s taxing because you have to show how deep the roots of these people’s story run, you have to go back, waaay back, back into the earth itself. But the problem is, you can’t stay there. You gotta link all that stuff up. You have to make that stuff have a reason. it’s not the words that I find hard, it’s the reasons….. 🙂

      • The reasons… Yes, that really makes sense. But I can see how critical it would be to delve back into the soil. Keep writing. I would love to read your longer fiction.

  13. (Unfortunately), too much up my alley, but….still, not. Seb, you really are the shit!

  14. 🙂 sounds a bit like highway 41 as well………… Well done (as always), Seb. ~ Bobbie

  15. This is the kind of material that got you run off Myspace! Thank goodness you are still up to no good here. Nice to hear your voice again too.

  16. sex2poetry4life on said:

    Brilliant and vivid. Areally gripping journey into a dark part of our collective psyche.

  17. I think the rather unsubtle hint in the photo and the closing stanza illustrate one of your themes in this poem all too clearly. Don’t know it I agree with it… but it is not like you aren’t being explicit.

  18. Well, from the picture and the closing lines, I would say this is some sort of essay on the consequences of objectivism.

  19. I like this, having two brothers, not totally dissimilar. How are you Seb? Second sun day in a row, more outside now. thanks, hans

  20. thatbiatch1982 on said:

    Oh great. and episode of “Breaking Bad” written by Ayn Rand!

    • Hmmm. Well, off the bat I cannot think of a more over hyped TV show than “Breaking Bad”. It’s just so boring. So damn boring.

      However, you make a good point. Is Walter White an objectivist? I don’t really think so, I think he is an amoral asshole with a god complex. Objectivists are also generally amoral assholes with a god complex, but let us not fall for the fallacy of correlation v association….

  21. Cassie on said:

    You would have thought the flood of meth in California would have had some impact on the crack hos on my corner but nope….. still there. This is ballsy stuff, Seb

  22. Real punch to that closing, Seb. Love it.

  23. You’re such an inspiration, Seb. I like the way you challenge people not to write but to live and then, maybe, write. That’s cool.

  24. parliamentaryowl on said:

    Wow! A visceral feast for the imagination.

  25. So are you saying that the next logical step for the American right is to turn to objectivism? Or that objectivist philosophy is justified in circumstances where political favoritism and collectivism make individual advancement impossible? That we redeem our purpose as “American Independents” by oushing ourselves beyond the fringe sof our communities…. or is this more a DE construction, showing the consequnces of that thinking? Some very bold ideas here wrapped up in, like you say, a tawdry teleplay. Over-engineering at its finest.

  26. liverloverlass on said:

    Oh I really got off on the brutality of this. So outlaw, such greasy violence, so essentially American.

  27. Absolutely gripping, Seb.

  28. It’s not so much a poem as gritty prose, and there’s food for thought in the last line. Although, I suppose, lawbreakers tend to be in the minority, surprisingly. At least, so I’ve always understood. Considering how easy it seems to be to get away with murdering someone, it’s funny that more people don’t. Or then again, maybe they do.

  29. This is a high lowpoint fro your poetry. of course, the closing lines are so obvious, but I guess in what you call the Zerobama economy, they have to be said. It’s like the logical opposite reaction to the collapse of the USA.

  30. The pretty poems may get more “likes” but hot damn in the ugly ones don’t advance your art more!

  31. The phosphorous doesn’t come from match heads – it comes from the strike strips on the matchboxes.

  32. sounds like around the corner from here
    interesting to read some of the comments
    some people like the cold edge of a razor blade others like it “pretty”
    Ive seen this world and almost lost a kid to it
    It’s real and its happening just of the 99

  33. Seb, this is so deliciously seedy and lowlife. I have dwelt in that valley (yeah, shadow of death and all that shit) but not with meth… with rock cocaine. The romance leaves after the first hit. Then it’s like being a sex addict, only worse.

    The politics, as it were, of the drug culture have hit an alltime low. Back when we all blissed out with good weed, it was about sharing, laying back, making music, and generally being in community. Shrooms and milder opiates were vacations. But coke hit the scene, and with that stimulant culture comes a meanness, a pure downright shittiness that pervades the lives of everyone around. Damn, this is good writing!! Amy

    • Hi Amy

      Is it the politics or the economics of the drug culture which have hit rock bottom? The boom in drugs of dependence (crack, crank, whatnot) means it is no longer a buyer’s market and the suppliers can bait and switch to a captive market. It also means they can sell shit critty and no one can complain because the dealers are just as jacked up a bunch of psychos as the users.

      The impact of that economy on communities is so starkly illustrated in the town of Fresno here in Ca. used to be damn nice town, but it took less than 5 years to go right to hell – that downright shittiness you talk about is right there. Scary, mean and hopeless. Go up the valley, up 99 and Interstate 5 – Stockton, Merced, Lodi – it’s all much the same. An all pervasive meanness – I like your description. That’s what it is, right up the main street of California.

  34. Wooo Nelly. It’s a hairpin curve in the fast lane, too.

  35. Hope to ride my bike down that highway one day. Great stuff, Seb.

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