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This is fiction, except when it isn’t (Part 2)

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Why we need comics

 

Jim Gabour
8 April 2012

The first hour of consciousness each day was always a muddle for him.

This morning he had slowly maneuvered down the stairs from his bedroom without incident, other than a small misstep caused by a loose carpet edge on the lower landing.  But he overcame that stumble, righted himself, and made his way safely to the kitchen, performed the necessary stoking of coffee maker, and now had a full cup in his hand, which he held with great care. This beverage was essential to the righting of his ship of consciousness as it emerged from the deep seas of sleep.

Beau Munson walked with less than agile step across the room, from kitchen counter to the beautifully scarred wooden table, a prized piece of furniture made from pecky cypress planks striped with the deep parallel grooves of age.  The table was safe harbor for him mornings, especially when he had dwelled for hours in involved dreams dredged from his actively convoluted unconscious.  

He moved at a shuffle, with squinted eyes serving as an initial line of protection against the morning, crossing through a broad diagonal beam of morning sun given a tangible texture by otherwise invisible swirls of dust.  

Dust.  He had long ago acknowledged to friends that he needed a housekeeper, as he had no knowledge of or motivation to accomplish cleaning by himself.  Yet he also remained disinclined to having a stranger in the house, especially on a regular basis. And he held similar views of the acquisition of a roommate, or the oft-proposed-but-never-accepted live-in girlfriend who possessed convenient household skills.

So he suffered the consequences of living alone, dust least among them. This morning the intruding sunbeam’s furthest end formed a radiant shape that glowed on the front page of his unopened newspaper as it lay on the table.  It reminded him of some vague internal organ.  

“Spleen?,” he said aloud, then “Why would I be thinking ‘spleen’?  Why would I ever possibly think I would even know the shape of a spleen?”

The final “spleen” rang in a brief diminished echo down the attached hallway, then the house was quiet again.  There was no further sound, save the incongruously cheerful chirping of birds outside the window.  He pulled the end chair back, sat awkwardly (his knees ached and popped, as they had the last five or so years), and then settled in with a sigh, taking an initial sip from his cup.  

An immediate grimace.  The coffee was not right.  Not hot.  In fact the liquid was well on its way to becoming room temperature.  

“The first cup is always like that,” he thought, logic unconsciously at the fore, even at such an early hour.  “The water cools going through the grinds and then needs enough time to get hot again while it sits on the thermal pad.” He walked back to the counter, removed the pot from its slot and poured the coffee back in before returning it to the machine’s heating element, determined to do things right.  He would have hot coffee.

Back in his chair for the interim moment, still not quite awake, his mind rambled in its typically over-structured manner.  “This is just like me. Inevitably I try for fulfillment in the simplest thing, buy this brand-name, expensive, complex machine so I can come awake every day to the proper physical sequence of events, and yet still I have to wait until this device sees fit to give me what I want.  I can never seem to gain control of my life.”

He pulled the folded newspaper toward him, extracting the Metro section.  He liked reading local news first.  “7 accused of running drug, gun gang,” jumped out at him from the top of the page.  This was not what he wanted to digest with his coffee. “Damn,” he thought, but was unable to keep himself from reading.

Federal prosecutors unsealed a 23-count racketeering indictment Tuesday that accuses seven men and women of running a wide-ranging gun and drug gang that accounted for several carjackings, arsons, assaults and murders. The indictment alleges that the group, which included a mother and son duo, ran a sprawling operation beginning in July 2006, intimidating members of rival gangs and executing up to ten people.

His eyes widened as he read the next paragraph, a list of characters:

Those charged include: China “Mom” Stewart, 40, the alleged main supplier, processor and distributor of crack; her son Tyronne “Duke” Stevenson, 21; Carey “Bean” Jones, 22; Theron “Therma” Golston, 23; Ryan “Ronnie Boo” Carroll, 26; Bernell “Bussy” Williams, 22; and Walter “Ike Neezy” Conley, 23.

Mom and Duke and Bean and Therma and Ronnie Boo and Bussy and Ike Neezy.

“What sort of world is this?” Munson thought, gesturing with his hand so violently that he scraped his palm on the tabletop.  “Since when do murderers get family and children’s nicknames?  And why would a newspaper even care to mention such ridiculous tags?  To make these animals seem human?”  He lowered his hand and placed it palm down on the page.  Shook his head, as if clearing a further bad dream: “This simply cannot be real.”

But, still without coffee and half asleep, he was caught by the narrative pull. The story continued:

Prosecutors noted that the group itself didn't unite under any particular name or moniker, though they targeted several people, especially members of a rival drug group, the so-called “Hell City” gang which operated out of Pigeontown.

The latest indictment paints the picture of a network of people who came together to make money through violence and drugs. “This case is illustrative of the loosely-knit gang violence that plagues our city,” the US Attorney said.

Munson dropped the paper, walked back through the light beam to the counter and re-poured his coffee.  It was hot now.  He took a sip, feeling he was finally on his way to full wakefulness.  Though at the moment that prospect was not comforting.

He returned to the table and sat.  The same page he had been reading was still open and its content still actively pursuing him.  Right there next to the story he had been reading was yet another:  “Suspect acquitted in death of three-year-old”. It was almost as chilling as the one that preceded it, and just as impossible to ignore:

Deshawn Greene was 3 years old when he found a handgun stuffed in the cushion of a living room couch, pulled it out and fired a fatal shot into his own face. His caretaker that night, Tyrone Black, told police he slept through the gunfire that passed a bullet through the child’s skull and left a hole in the ceiling of the house. Black only discovered the dead child’s body when he came down about 8am to answer the doorbell.

Black, the child's mother's boyfriend, was arrested that same day. According to police, Black was taking care of Deshawn overnight and had friends over, smoking marijuana. At some point, police said, he left a Glock model 23 handgun buried in a sofa cushion downstairs, where the child was sleeping. The weapon had no safety mechanism.

The boy's mother was staying in a hotel in Metairie, allegedly involved in prostitution.

On Tuesday, Criminal District Judge Franz Zinnich found that nothing Black did amounted to a crime, acquitting him of murder in a trial that lasted just a few hours. Zinnich ruled that Deshawn's killing wasn't committed during a crime of cruelty to a juvenile, and so it didn't qualify as second-degree murder.

Black wept over the innocent verdict.

Black’s attorney, Frank DeSans said:  “The kid went to sleep and sometime that morning he woke up, found a gun under a seat cushion, played with it and shot himself.  It's a real tragic thing, but it's not a crime.”

Over this last statement, Munson found himself spewing the newspaper with coffee as he once again spontaneously spoke aloud:  “The kid?!!  This paid hack gets a drug-dealing gun-toting and obviously dangerous character off the hook for a death in which he played the central and responsible role, and the lawyer still has the nerve to denigrate the dead child, whom he names as if he were just old furniture, as being just ‘the kid’?”

He slapped the page as he delivered this last statement, punishing the offending attorney for his insensitivity.  The contents of this piece of newsprint was darkening his morning.

And yet there was more. Physically tying the two first stories together there was another, headlined as “Crime concern named as dominant in city”:

Crime is by far the dominant concern among residents of this city, many of whom are dissatisfied with police protection and don't feel safe in their own neighborhoods, according to a new survey released Tuesday. The survey -- taken to gauge residents' perceptions of living conditions in the urban area -- shows that the proportion of respondents who regard crime as the city's biggest problem jumped from 46 percent in 2010 to 61 percent this year. 36 percent of those polled said they didn't feel safe in their homes -- nearly double the 19 percent who expressed that opinion in 2010.

19.5% of respondents said they routinely hear gunfire in their neighborhoods.

Residents were also less happy with the quality of police protection.  In 2008, the last time the question was asked, 30 percent thought it was good or very good, versus 23 percent this year.  In the suburbs, the satisfaction figure was nearly four times higher.

The survey's authors offered several reasons for the anxiety about crime and the dissatisfaction with police protection, including an uptick in homicides -- 175 in 2010 compared to 199 in 2011 -- and repeated incidents of police misconduct.

“I don’t want to know this!” Munson yelled.  Suddenly he pulled the page apart from the rest of the paper, balled it up and tossed it toward the kitchen sink.  “Garbage disposal,” he muttered, “that’s where you’re headed.” He began aggressively riffling through the other sections of the newspaper.

“Comics, comics, that’s what I need.”


On Wednesday 28 MAR 2012, page B1 of the Metro section of New Orleans’ Times-Picayune contained the following stories:

- 7 accused of running drug, gun gang

- Suspect acquitted in death of three-year-old

- Crime concern

And beside them on-line:

- New Orleans murder map

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