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Self Rediscovery


One Too Many
The Barbary Coast
It was the debut of Remy Martin XO. A bottle of which cost more than a day's wages.

It was also the debut of the new POTUS. An old cowboy actor who was famous for working with a monkey. He raised the minimum wage from $3.10 to $3.35, and introduced a new economic theory. I never left home without my American Express.

The DJ was spinning the latest version of a 20 year old song. "Ue o Muite Arukō"

Uso Jessie, the off-duty cop was still educating me on how Asian culture works. We were joined by a cousin of his. A female deputy sheriff. At the time, she was the first female Asian American Pacific Islander to work behind the bars of the local county jail. No doubt because she was as big as a linebacker, and could smack down any inmate who wasn't going with the program. Their family would, generations down the line, dominate professional wrestling. Ironically, her name was Jessica. We had a banquet table for 10, with 8 empty chairs. And she chose to sit on my lap.

The DJ played Jessie's Girl. To this day, whenever that song comes on easy listening radio in an elevator or at a dentist office, I still get fond memories of my lapdance with a 200 lb Samoan girl.

"Those red envelopes all have twenties. The girls come in, and have to pay up $20 to you, your Uncle Gandhi, and The Mama San", before they can start their shift. "

But wait a minute. They gave envelopes to Uso Jessie, and the Patrol Special also. They fork over $100, to come in the door. And they don't get paid by anyone. Now, it's up to them to hustle tips from the customers.

"Yeah, yeah. That's how it is. Don't worry. They're making more than you. They have to kick up. It's the cost of doing business for them. Every time somebody wants to come to our table, and have a drink with us, it's also $20. There's usually a dozen girls every night. We'll drink with maybe 10 or 15 people. We'll toast them and wish them prosperity. They'll all say that we're in the same boat. Then they give us red envelopes. At the end of the night, your Uncle Gandhi & The Mama San will each give you an envelope also. It's not much. You're only getting twenties. Just tea money. Coffee money. You know, so that you can go 'yum cha'. Billy Jean, your lawyer, will catch up with you later next week, to settle up what they owe you for professional services."

My mind was spinning. There was a two hundred pound Samoan in my lap, wiggling her hips and causing unavoidable arousal. My left hand had already absentmindedly dropped and was now caressing her ample derriere. 25 or 30 red envelopes every night, stuffed with twenties. That's what someone makes in a month. It's about what this cop makes every two weeks. I'm getting this on Friday and Saturday night. And it's just "tea money".


One Too Many
The Barbary Coast
I'm watching, observing, absorbing, like a newborn baby, with fresh eyes on the world. All the while, absentmindedly groping a girl who was bigger, and stronger, than most guys. If Uso Jessie noticed that I was feeling up his cousin, he didn't let on. Jessica. Jessie. It must be a family name. I wonder how many more of their cousins are named "The Rock". She was there, like me, to learn the operation. The deal was that there would be nights when he couldn't make it, and she would sit at the table with me.

Red envelopes were being passed around like candy. People usually came in groups. The red envelopes started getting passed right as they came in. Mei Mei's Dad was always behind the bar, and they went to him first. He got a red envelope from everyone coming in the door, like some kind of cover charge. The bar was also where the hostesses were. As you walked in, you got a good look at all of the bar girls. For anyone who didn't know that they were bar girls, it looked like every other fern bar where girls were sitting around, smoking cigarettes, striking poses, and waiting for guys to hit on them.

Then Mama San comes over, and she gets her red envelopes, before she seats them at a table. If they would like hostess service, Mama San gets more red envelopes before she brings the girls to their table. The girls get red envelopes before they sit at the table. They're only seated for about 20 minutes. Chat with the customers, pour a couple of rounds of drinks from the bottles at the table. Then that's it. The girls get up, go back to the bar area, or Mama San is already taking them to the next table.

"The girls. They're not hookers. That doesn't happen here. It's not good for business. No hard drugs, either. Maybe a joint or a couple of Quaaludes in the back alley. But that's it. No lines of Coke on the bar." And when they go into the back alley to smoke a joint or drop pills, they give red envelopes to the Patrol Special cop.

Different people would also give Mama San red envelopes if they were interested in making someone else's acquaintance. You tip Mama San, and she leads you to the other table and makes the introductions. There was every level of elected official. Nobody school board members who may have influence over supply contracts. Senators who may have much more influence. County Coroners. Judges. Tax Collectors. Dignitaries from other countries. They ordered the most expensive food and booze. Every one of them collecting red envelopes. While "businessmen" fought over picking up their tabs.

People would go to the bar, give Mei Mei's Daddy red envelopes, to have a round of drinks with him. Customers would give red envelopes to the hostesses hanging around the bar, to buy them a drink before they got sent to the next table. The waitresses and busboys all got red envelopes.

Then they turned off all the lights in the front of the building, and locked the front door. Bars are suppose to close by 2 AM. So they closed. And it became an after hours club. Everyone came and went through the back door. The Patrol Special was getting red envelopes from everyone coming and going through the back door. And all night long, police cars, fire trucks, ambulances..... they all pulled into the back alley for their meal breaks. The kitchen fed them all.

Cash came in off the street. Street money. It went on the books as private parties, receptions, corporate event catering, or fundraising dinners. Checks were written out for renting out trucks and vans for the mobile catering, to staffing companies for extra servers, party rental companies for extra chairs and tables, entertainment groups for DJ & live music, linen companies for extra tablecloths & napkins, specialty food vendors for exotic goods, et cetera. The best part was that Mei Mei's Dad was claiming all sorts of expenses and writing off losses. Except these parties and events never existed. This was how the money made it's way up the food chain.

And also how the money made it's way back down the food chain. I started getting a paycheck from a company I had never heard of. Suddenly, I had health insurance, a retirement account, full benefits, a union card. I was reporting legitimate income, filing taxes, and even getting a tax refund. I didn't really care though. I was living off red envelopes. Billy Jean had me sign a bunch of paperwork I didn't understand. The Cowboy POTUS signed something called the Economic Recovery Tax Act. I was told that as much pre-tax money as possible would go into a retirement account, some would go into no-load mutual funds, and that I was buying into shares of a privately held real estate investment trust - exempt from Securities Exchange Commission registration and filings.

My head was spinning. Jessica, who finally moved off my lap and was now sitting next to me, had her hands in my lap. Where her hands were giving me bad-touch. "Eat up. You'll need the energy for later." It was surreal. A girl that I just met, was molesting me under the table. The whole room suddenly began clapping. People were standing and applauding. A standing ovation. The DJ switched the music to some Chinese song I didn't know.

Decades later, I would wince whenever Kenny G or Jon Bon Jovi performed that song.

She came in through the back door. The lady was not glamorous in the least. She looked just like every other girl of that era. Poofy hair and clothes that were caught between the death of disco, and Reaganomics extravagance yet to be defined. "It's her. That lady. She's the one who sings this song. She's Jackie Chan's ex."

Jessica is Samoan. How does she know this? How does she know Jackie Chan, or anything about who he was sleeping with? And the teasing touching under the table, had turned into a full on happy ending style, rub and tug. She had worked off all of the buttons on my Levi's 501 button fly.

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One Too Many
The Barbary Coast
The Lawyer called me into her office. There were forms for me to sign. She was there, along with The Assemblyman. As crooked as they come. Back then, there were no term limits. This guy held his State Assembly seat at The State Capitol for decades and ran for re-elections with no opponent. He couldn't lose. That's how things were back then. That's how Sheriff's could control the jail for 30 years - collecting bribes and kickbacks for supply contracts, vendor agreements - there was a penny to be made off every drop of soap coming out of a dispenser. If 24 oz of pink liquid soap was good for 100 hand washes, somebody got $1 to approve the purchase order.

There's a cooler full of ice and Tsing Tao beers. They did that for me.

The Assemblyman tells me that under his direction, Billy Jean's firm represents the interest of a group of islands in the Pacific. People on those islands are currently governing themselves under martial law. Some countries recognize the government, some tolerate it, and other countries view them as an illegitimate occupation. They were actually expelled from The United Nations. The current regime was the direct result of the US foreign policy of meddling with the internal affairs of another nation. With the US aided insurgents plotting, planning, and scheming, from the safety of Chinatown. My paycheck will be issued from the company incorporated to manage the nation's compliance with US tax code, payroll, real property titles, etc.

"Officially, you work as an agent of that government, and you represent them and their interests on US soil. You're a diplomat. With diplomatic credentials. You will have diplomatic immunity when and where applicable. The police won't be able to hassle you on personal grievances, minor infractions, and petty misdemeanors. The guy walking the beat can't slap you around because he doesn't like the way you look, then break the tail light on your car, and write you a citation for having a broken tail light. If a cop stops you and wants to know where you're going or what you're doing, you only have to answer that you are on a diplomatic assignment which is classified in nature."

Sure. Even a cook or a nanny at a consulate can answer that way when they're going to Safeway. It's top secret what the consulate general wants for dinner. It's a secret recipe.

Okay. I kind of recognize the places where you say my money is being held. Dean Witter, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns. And I'm supposedly buying shares of some sort of real estate?

"It's an investment trust. The company doesn't pay any taxes if the profit made is passed onto shareholders. Your liability on dividend income is negligible... we'll take care of that. Filing your returns, claiming all of your write-offs, and keeping your financial portfolio in compliance. "

Tell me more about this trust. What am I buying into? What does it own?

"Real Estate Investment Trust. Privately held. Not publicly traded. Exempt from Securities Exchange Commission regulation and filings. It only owns 1 building. Your Uncle's restaurant. It collects percentage rent, which is common in the food and beverage industry. Instead of a fixed amount of rent, it takes a percentage of the sales. It is externally managed. The building is mortgaged, with a very high interest loan. Most of the money goes to service the credit line. After all of the expenses of owning the property, the building makes a little bit of money, and it's paid to the shareholders as a dividend. "

So that's how this worked. The money comes from the streets. The restaurant books it as special event revenue. Then immediately spends most of that money on subcontracting and supplies for the special event. The balance makes its way to the landlord as rent. The landlord pays a management company. Then finally, the shareholders, who actually own the building, get their return on investment.

If I'm buying shares of the building, who is selling me these shares? Who else owns this building?

"I thought that you knew. Mei Mei's Dad. He's selling you his shares. You're putting the squeeze on him. The dividend payout is very low. So low that it waters down and dilutes the value per share. You buy the stock based on valuation from the miniscule dividend payment, and the fact that the corporation only has one building which is mortgaged to the gills. It's a sh!t company. Eventually, you're going to dump all of your shares for less than you paid."

What? Who am I going to sell to? It's not publicly traded. I'd have to find a private buyer to swindle? And what is the deal with the credit? Why is the building mortgaged? What is that all about?

"You're asking too many questions, kid. Let's say a building owner, any building owner, takes out a loan secured by the equity - it's nobody's business what he does. No laws regulating what you do with the money. He doesn't have to report it to anybody. He doesn't have to get a conventional loan from a big bank. There are smaller lending institutions. There are different private equity groups who can lend the money. He could borrow money from an offshore lender. Maybe that company that you pay for external management, is the same group that made the loan. No laws say that you have to borrow from Wells Fargo only. Now that the building is in debt, the rental income is used to service the loan. Mortgage interest is tax deductible. A property owner could get the money out of his building today, without selling it, and his tenants will pay for that tomorrow. And nobody knows what he does with that money, or where it goes. After the loan is paid off, he does it all over again, because the property value has gone up and he has more equity to withdraw."

I finish my 2nd beer and open a 3rd.

"it's how generational wealth is passed on. Money comes off the street. It's paying the rent. The rent money is paid to a management company. The management company lends the money back to Mei Mei's Daddy. Now let's assume a commercial property is worth $2 million, and he got that much. What does he do with $2 million? Nobody knows. Maybe he simply gave it to his daughter Mei Mei. On the books, he is making payments and even writing off the mortgage interest, with money that came in off the streets. That management company is from The Isle of Mann, and surprise surprise, your Uncle Gandhi signs on the accounts. Now you have a building which owes $2 million and pays pennies a share in dividends, the stock is worth jack s!ht. He sells it to you. It doesn't matter, because you're buying shares of sh!~t stock from him, with money that you got by shaking him down. You finally come to your senses, and decide to cut your losses short. So you dump the stock for less than you paid for it. Your old pal Mei Mei feels sorry for you, so she buys the shares back for half of what you paid, so that you don't completely lose your A55. "

Billy Jean, is not my lover. She is just my solicitor. One that I never asked for. And I don't think she ever wanted me as a client. She gets me my 4th beer, and settles comfortably in my lap. "Any more questions before The Assemblyman goes back upstate?"

Yeah. How did I get into this?


One Too Many
The Barbary Coast
11th & Washington. Oakland. Across the bridge & tunnel. The Chinatown that the tourists don't go to. I had people over here as well. This was where the National Dollar Store stood. This block of Washington Street doesn't really exist anymore. At the other end of the block, there was "Money Back Smith". The only store in those days to offer refunds.


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They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot. Well, no. They paved a bunch of run down buildings which were no longer up to code. And they installed underground parking. As very few people have business in Oakland, and nobody is going to The Oakland Convention Center........ the only people parking in that garage are people who come to Oakland to protest, loot, set fires, and otherwise destroy the city for social justice.

I just left The Federal Building. And I just remembered that there was a 6 pack of Pabst in my saddle bags. So this was a good enough place to pull over, and have a few beers. Every time I leave court, I want a beer. Old habit. I can also pee behind the tree after drinking the beers.

I used to sit at this very same spot, drinking cans of beer, waiting for one of the shop girls to get off work. A much more innocent time. A much more innocent me. Before they had cameras on phones, or even had phones. I had to collect Polaroids. In those days, no girlfriends or wives could call or text you every 20 minutes. When I left the house, that was it. And for guys like me who were never home......... I could see 3 or 5 girls at a time. I just learned a girl's schedule of where she was suppose to be, and I just started showing up. It was foolproof. And everywhere I went, I figured out where I could pee behind a tree.


One Too Many
The Barbary Coast
Twenty years later, she looked exactly like her mug shot from when she was 20. They say that Asian women age well. Or maybe she just did a really good job with hair and make-up. She was wearing what I thought of as a costume. Nobody dressed like that anymore. Mandarin gowns were what the tourists bought for souvenirs. That dress hugged every curve and revealed a Coke bottle figure. It was what women wore in the 1920's, in China. Not what you wear day to day on the streets of 1970's Chinatown.

As a kid of 20, this was my first time with a woman twice my age. As she straddled me, I noticed trace amounts of white powder in one of her nostrils.

***** ****** ****** ***

Rewind to the day before......

I got the call on the payphone at The Bar. People did that back then. Public phones had phone numbers, and you could call them. People mistakenly believed that the cops couldn't tap a pay phone. They could. The police can conduct surveillance on a pay phone. It was the same technology as listening to any other phone.

"Pier 26. Now." I look down at my Pulsar calculator watch. It wasn't even lunch time yet. Actually, the bar wasn't even open yet. How did they know that I was here having a beer for breakfast?

The Pier was directly under The Bridge. Typical Port Authority warehouse. Forklifts moving pallets. Trucks being loaded. Nobody greeted me. Workers kept busy as if nobody even noticed or cared that someone just drove a motorcycle onto their dock. I went up a set of stairs to a loft space usually used for offices. There was a conference room which looked out over The Bay.


There were people in the room whom I wasn't introduced to. I suppose that it wasn't important for me to know who they were. But they were there nonetheless. On a need to know basis, I didn't need to know.

Billie Jean, is not my lover. She is my lawyer. She motioned me over to the empty chair next to her. I noticed that there were carafes of coffee, water, tea........ and food. Antipasto, bread & butter, large bowls of salad and spaghetti, and huge platters of pork chops. People were engaged in their own socializing. Nobody even noticed or cared that I came in, sat down, and started eating their food. My lawyer reached into a shopping bag by her feet, and set a 6 pack of beer in front of me.

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The guy on the other side of me was was older, and had effeminate mannerisms. His hair looked permed and wavy, he was wearing make-up, and smelled like girl's perfume. No introductions were made. He never turned to look at me, or speak to me. He carried on with the meal, engaging other people at the table, and acted as if I wasn't even there. I remained silent. I ate. I drank. Billie Jean had a hand under the table. It was in my lap.

Four beers and three pork chops into the meal, the guy next to me starts speaking. Everyone else stopped to listen.

"She had a couple of hit songs, and was pretty well known back in 廣州 . Toured all of the regional nightclubs. When she figured out that her 'career' was never going to be global, she gathered up her pennies and left her province. She opened up that little theater, and did alright for awhile. She runs that place by herself. Hires a couple of high school kids to help out, but it's her show. Several times a year, the cultural arts association uses the performance space, which she generously donates, because they let her perform her hit songs from back when she was a Shanghai bar girl."

A photo was passed around the table, so that everyone could follow along. I've been there. They served beer & wine. They showed old movies, kung fu movies, and sometimes had live performances of traditional Chinese instruments and folk songs. After-hours on Friday night & Saturday night, & on Sunday mornings when decent people went to church; there was porn.

Screenshot 2023-07-05 20.13.03.png

The lights dimmed. A projector started playing video clips on the wall.

"All cash operation. She's been under-reporting the income and skimming on taxes. She has a beer & wine license. Chickenhawks cruise the place like it's a highway rest area and she sells them poppers. Hippies hang out there, cannabis, amphetamine, and LSD: and she's getting a cut. We want our cut.

We bought the place. Or rather, we bought the building. A sale & leaseback. A triple net lease. She will have to pay the property taxes, insure the building, and maintain it. She still owns the business. But now, it'll be externally managed. That's how we're getting our cut.

She's going to have to order her supplies, all of her supplies - from popcorn to toilet paper - from us. She's now going to get her film from our distributor. Those high school kids she hires to sell tickets and make popcorn are now going to be on payroll with one of our catering outfits, and she will have to pay for catering staffing. Our contractors are going in to clean the place, paint, and do whatever it takes to bring the building up to code. She has to pay for that. We're sending b-girls in there, like it's a hostess bar, to run up the beer and wine sales."

I remain silent, as the lights are still dim, and the hand in my lap is fondling me.

"She won't like it. New accounts under her name will be set up. Our money on the street is going to go through those accounts. To make sure she doesn't steal, and to put the squeeze on her, 5150 is going in there as the 'external manager'.

The lights turn on. Everyone at the table starts to clap, and they all stand. I get up nervously as well, knowing that there's a bulge in my pants.

"A toast, to our new property manager, 5150!"

And there it was. My new job.
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One Too Many
The Barbary Coast
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Prejudice. We prejudge people. We all do. It's human nature. We judge each other based on the way we look. We prejudge based on appearances. It's just the way that the world is. Some of us consciously present an image of ourselves, so that the world can see us the way that we want to be seen. We present ourselves by the way we style our hair, the clothes that we wear, posture, body language, speech, mannerisms, and for some, makeup.

I do my best to not stand out. I don't want to be noticed. I try extremely hard to look non-threatening. I could easily pass for your average bookkeeper, who looks like he's waiting for someone to mug him.



It was still early in the day. Early enough in the day, that people question if it's too early for a drink. The shops were just opening up, and waiting for the Financial District office workers to come down on their breaks. The tourists never came around until after lunch. I was trying to clear my head from all of the drinking that I did the night before. Walking aimlessly through the neighborhood. Eating a huge slice of pizza and drinking a can of beer, hoping that the grease would do something for my hangover. Garlic & clam. A local, neighborhood thing.

"That looks good. Where did you get that?"

She was a "shop girl". She was standing in front of one of the stores, like a barkers in front of a strip club. That's what some stores do. When there aren't any customers, they tell the clerks to stand by the door and try to lure people into the shoppe. She was standing in front of one of those overpriced Chinatown boutiques.

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She was wearing a very conservative turtleneck to hide her tattoos. Her butt was big. The "chola" makeup gave it away. She was a homegirl.

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I looked at her. Fully aware that I was chewing with my mouth open, and that there were bits of food and grease around the corners of my mouth. I wordlessly offered the piece of pizza by holding out in her direction. To my surprise, she leaned in, closed her eyes, and deeply inhaled the irresistible aroma. An involuntary smile appeared, as she sort of made a "mmmm" noise as she exhaled. Then even more shocking, she bit into my food. What kind of person bites into a stranger's pizza? I guess I wasn't surprised by her next move. She also took a sip of my beer.

She has moved on with her life. For better or worse? I don't know. But she did leave me with a pair of shoes. Shoes from the store she worked at. She knew that I had my eye on them, but couldn't afford to buy them. I knew then, as I know now, that she couldn't afford them either. I never asked. I just assumed that she stole them. She brought them over in a brown grocery bag, no shoe box, shoe bag, or tags. I wouldn't put it past a retail shoe store clerk to steal shoes from work.

I don't know if it's weird that I've been to bed with more than one shoe sales girl. Or if it's weird that more than one girl has given me shoes that she took from her job. I wonder if that's like a bartender giving me a free drink.

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One Too Many
The Barbary Coast
"What are you doing?"

Oil. Mink oil. I put it on my shoes. You've never seen that before?

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"No. Not the shoes. The bread. From out of nowhere, you just decide to make bread? I've never seen you make bread. What is that all about? How do you know how to bake bread? What else are you hiding?"


I wanted a peanut butter and jelly. We didn't have any bread. So I made some.



"Those are the expensive shoes that you got from those shoe store girls? You know what that makes you, right? You're a shoe whore."

I don't like that kind of language. I wasn't raised that way. I only tolerate it because she has me at a disadvantage. In every relationship, nothing is ever perfect, and there is always an imbalance. It usually starts with one person liking the person more. She just does not like me all that much. She holds the upper hand. She knows, that she can cut me off at any time. Then that's it. No more nice meals, nice things...... the lifestyle to which I've become accustomed.

It's not completely one sided. There's a two way street. She keeps me around, and she benefits. I have a dinner jacket, and I know which fork to use. Because she's hanging off my arm in public, it keeps up appearances. I satisfy her prurient demands, and I am discreet. I also put up with her nagging.

I know what's good for me. I keep my mouth shut, and go back to oiling my shoes.




One Too Many
The Barbary Coast
Thursday nights. As expected, I was sitting at the end of the bar. One ear listening to the gossip. The other ear on the jukebox. Disco was dead. Except in Italy. Who knew at the time, that those songs, and the singers, would live on for another 40 years?

From my perch at the end of The Bar, I was able to keep one eye on the street, and the other eye on the television in the corner. Thursday night. The Cosby Show. Cheers. Family Ties. Night Court.

I got "the call" on my beeper. Actually, more than one call. It kept going off every minute. "317537" If you flip the beeper screen upside down, it reads "LESLIE". That was her code. So I ignored it, and set the beeper back on the bar top, next to my beer and pack of smokes.

The bartender comes over to empty the ashtray, and casually picks up the beeper to look at it. "She keeps calling. Maybe you should answer." Nah. She just wants attention. She knows I'm down here watching Must See TV. Then she pulls a sneaker out from under the bar, talks into it, and hands it to me. "Here, it's for you."


Who would call me at The Bar on a Thursday night? Everyone knew better than to interrupt me when I was indulging in American culture; by sitting in a bar to watch a TV show about people sitting in a bar.

Leslie. She's frantic. "Some gangster just came in through the back door of my apartment, and dropped off a dead fish. He said it was for you. Then he took a can of beer from the fridge, and left. What 'fa duck is going on here?"


Calm down. Relax. What do you mean by gangster? How did you know he was in a gang? Did he tell you he was in a gang? Did he say which gang?

"I'm a homegirl. This is my barrio, remember? Dude had a shaved head, was covered in tattoos, and he had a knife! How did he even know to come to my house, looking for you?"

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Take it easy. Relax. I'll take care of the fish when I come over later. That was my brother-in-law. He caught a striped bass. He's a fisherman. That's his fishing knife. Those tattoos are cultural. Asian people have cultural tattoos. Not gang tattoos.


"What? Why did he bring it here?"

Because I told him to. I also told him where to find the spare key and get in through the back. I thought that you would like fish for dinner.

"What are you talking about? You won't be back home from that bar until way after midnight. You're going stay up all night cooking fish?"

Well, yes. That's what I was planning to do. The fish bones will make fish stock. All of the trim pieces will make ground fish. How do you like the head?



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One Too Many
The Barbary Coast
I'm with my Lawyer. Billy Jean. In the staff chow hall of a "super max" prison. She's mentally abusing the warden. Blowing cigarette smoke in his face as he's fumbling for an asthma inhaler. Coyly reminding him that he is a bought and paid for lackey. Rubbing it in that he is a puppet. Someone else is pulling the strings, and there's a hand up his butt.

An inmate strolls in. Casually. As if it were normal for an inmate to walk into the staff dining room. He casually strolls over, and sits down across from us, right next to The Warden. The Warden looks like he's turning bright red, and breaking out into a sweat.

Nobody made introductions. As if I was supposed to know this convict by sight. He began speaking in a casual tone. For whose benefit, I don't know. He begins explaining how The Department of Corrections segregates and assigns housing.

A Corrections Officer wearing cafeteria gloves pushes over a stainless steel service cart. He places prison cafeteria trays in front of The Convict, Billy Jean, and myself. The Warden didn't get served. The trays had fresh sea urchin. And is if it were perfectly normal, The CO placed a couple of 6 packs from Mendocino on the table.


"Not so much different than back home, eh? We stay in The Mish, and the Nortenos war with Surenos. The blacks all fight each other by neighborhood. The Whites just try not to get killed by anyone else."

Several more inmates have strolled into the dining room. They joined our table, which explained why there were so many beers. As 2 white guys, 3 black guys, 2 latinos, a Cambodian, and a polynesian were now having beers with us.

The Warden is now breaking out into hives, and popping some sort prescription pills like they were Tic Tacs.

I quickly figured it out. These guys were the shot callers from each of the different segregated groups.

The first inmate continued to narrate as the other inmates remained silent. Occasionally nodding their heads. But this was his presentation.

"All of those yuppies in those office buildings want a taste. It makes more sense to set up downtown and bring it to them. We could send it right into the boardrooms with catering. My little cousin Leslie is the assistant manager at one of those little boutiques. She is going to be The Distributor. Everyone at this table is going to get a piece of the pie. You don't need all of those details. You just need to know that everything is good from up here, so there won't be any problems spilling over into Chinatown."

I say nothing. I don't know what to think. I don't belong here in this meeting. I don't know any of these people. We don't deal with their "product" in Chinatown. Nobody that I know is in that "business".

"We are going to be in your backyard. Your front yard. But it won't be like that. There won't be a bunch of vatos flying red rags and blue rags. It's going to be a clean operation. We've already got people in all of the buildings through the mail rooms, janitors, building engineers, and all of the coffee shops. Nobody is going to fight over turf. It's your turf."

I finally ask him, what he needs from me. Since they've already got their operation set up....... they clearly don't need deliveries of chop suey from Chinatown.

"We need you to collect the tax. The street tax. Make sure every one of the uncles in Chinatown gets a cut. Make sure that everyone at Central Station gets a cut. Hire a couple of those Police Patrol Special guys to sit around, so that a stickup crew doesn't accidentally try to rob one of our distribution points. We want a smooth operation. No problems."

Finally, The Uso inmate speaks up. He's with The Cambodian. They ride in "The Other Car". "What we need, is for you, to shake us down. You will collect from Leslie at that Alden Boutique. You make sure that her red envelope makes it's way to the consolidated benevolent societies, and that the other 'powers that be' are aware that we're playing by the rules. Make sure that when Chef Mei Mei talks to the Senator's wife, The Auntie knows that we are sponsoring her fried chicken parties."

So this was it. This was "the council". These were the top leaders of the prison gangs, who control the street gangs. And they want to throw their hats in the ring. They want to start making campaign contributions. This was what I was really doing here. I've just been asked nicely, to be the bag man. I'll be picking up their ill gotten gains, and liberally sprinkling it around City Hall, The Police Station, and sending a good amount of it across the nation to Capitol Hill.

Everyone is silent. They are looking at Billy Jean and I. Waiting for me to acknowledge their proposal.

From across the table, there was loud flatulence. The Warden. I almost forgot that he was sitting at the table. Everyone starts laughing like kids in the 3rd grade when someone farts.
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One Too Many
The Barbary Coast
Pale Amy. She works the night shift at the Medical Examiner's. Everyone is creeped out by a girl who never sees the sun, touches dead bodies, and smells like she uses embalming fluid for shampoo. Her uncle is "The High Priest" Literally and figuratively. He serves as The Priest at their place of worship. His surname also translates to "priest".

The Priest is piling food onto the plate in front of him. "Back East, the Chinese places actually advertise as Kosher. It's all BS. I don't know which Rabbi blessed the sweet & sour pork, shrimp fried rice, or lobster lo mein. " He sure wasn't keeping kosher with the abalone. "Back in the early 1900's, people walked a lot more. Several miles a day, easily. Do you think they would have sold as many boots, if they called them 'couple of years' boots?"




"That Warden, he's a little mashugana. He doesn't know what's going on half the time. I can see how you guys push his buttons, and lead him around like an animal of bondage. You could put a gag ball in his mouth, and take him to a leather bar on Folsom Street."

I don't say a thing. There's a bottle of Manischewitz on the table.

"It's quite the plan that those inmates cooked up. Selling their product on The Pacific Stock Exchange. Spreading the wealth amongst The Council, so that nobody has to fight over it. Moving The Northerners' product. Having The Southerners muling it. The Whites taking the buy orders. Then letting The Blacks think that they don't have to do anything; all the while, they're funding it and taking all the risks if The Feds bust the operation."

He's drinking that Kosher wine like it's water. He needed it to wash down all of that food, that he's been shoveling down his gullet. I don't blame him. It's The High Holidays for him. He's breaking the fast. The kitchen sends out a plate of spare ribs, and a platter of raw oysters and clams from Tomales Bay.

"The Uso did the right thing with cutting you in, to collect the street tax for Chinatown. It would have been disrespectful, otherwise. When you go shake down that shoe store girl, can you pick up my cut too?"

What? What cut? Your cut? How did The People of The Book get into this?

"Okay, so, you know how 'The Others' have the craziest part of the whole deal? 'The Other Car' dreamed up the operation, and they are calling all of the shots. They are essentially doing a buy & leaseback of The Product, right? They buy the entire shipment, with money borrowed from The Blacks, then rent it back to The Northerners to traffic. Only The Northerners never touch the product. The Whites write all of the orders. The Southerners have to mule it. If anyone gets busted, with the money or the product, they throw The Blacks under the bus. The Blacks take the financial hit. It was their money out on the line. Nobody pays them back."

"Now, we're in. Everyone is greedy. They all want to get paid. I'm doing that. I'm paying them out. I'm factoring their invoices. The way it usually works, the customer puts in an order. Then the product is invoiced. Standard terms. That's where we come in. We pay off the seller, minus our cut, as the orders are written. When the buyer pays, we get paid. Nothing outrageous. A few points. Same as they pay you for extorting them. It's nothing. If you can pick it up for me, I'll owe you one. I'll call the shoe girl. I'll tell her to give you a pair of shoes while you're down there doing the pickup for me. I insist."

That's how this was really going to work. I get it now. Nobody wants to wait until payday. They get their money right away, minus a few negligible points. Those points add up.

"That shoe girl, the convict's little cousin, she's one of us. She's one of the tribe. Born from the womb. You'll know from her tattoos. That's why she's running the bank. All of the buy money goes back to that little shop. She does the count. Then she makes sure that everyone gets their cut. That's why you are collecting the protection money for The Operation. So nobody gets the idea that they can rob her steal the week's invoices."


Leslie's tattoo. I found out that it's only visible if she's bending over in front of you.
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One Too Many
The Barbary Coast
Her eyes dart left to right without moving her head. She doesn't see anything out of place, so the coast is clear.

She grabs the tail of my Izod shirt and leads me into the store. She smelled like the strippers at The Lusty Lady. Jean Nate happens to be what they all use. It covers up the scent of the last guy, she was in the lap dance booth with. I support labor unions.

"You know those shoes never last more than a few years. You walk to your car, you run for the bus, you walk around the neighborhood; it's at least a mile a day. 3 years or less, and you're past 1,000 miles. Have a seat. "


She pulls out one of those foot measurement things, then sits on one of those weird shoe store stools. She took my shoes and socks off, and proceeded to rub my feet with lotion. "We just want to relax your foot, so that we can get a good size measurement."

I've never seen this girl before. She eats a bite of my pizza, takes a sip of my beer, and now my foot is her lap and she's giving me a massage. She's curvy. I like that.

She's telling me about some shoe model that they sell.

I wasn't there to buy shoes. I was there to pick up my cut. And the Rabbi's cut. Then get on with the day by passing the chump change up the line. Is this some sort of game? Or an act that we are supposed to follow? Act like we don't know each other, and pretend that I'm a shoe customer?

Just as I was enjoying the foot rub, she says, "I'll be right back." She returns from the back room carrying some shoes. I noticed that her eyes were still darting around, as she surveilled the activity on the street . All the while, she laced me into a pair of those extremely expensive shoes.

She walks me over to the full length mirror. The she kneels down and rolls up the cuff of my pants. "What do you think? Do you like them?" I look down at her. She is looking back up at me. Smiling. She absentmindedly placed a hand on my thigh. In the mirror image, it looks like porn as her face is the same level as my wallet.

I can't afford these shoes.

"I didn't ask you that. I just asked if you like them."

Two latina women came in with a service cart. They were wearing sun visors and polo shirts with the logo of a local coffee cart service. The carts you see on street corners, with coffee, pastries, and newspapers. They went about setting up the same thing. Carafes of coffee. A tray of pastries. Several daily papers including: The SF Chronicle, The NY Times, The Wall Street Journal.

The shoe girl was now standing next to me. Close. Close enough that her ample bosom was rubbing against my arm, as she took my hand and held it. It felt like she leaned in even closer. Leaning against my arm. I was certain now that she was holding my hand against the apex of her thighs. "At least have a croissant. Since I ate your pizza and drank your beer."

I sat down. The shoe girl starts changing my shoes for me. This is nice. As they were pushing the service cart out the door, one of the catering employees handed me a little pastry bag and a paper coffee cup, with a smile. Maybe I should find out which corner her cart is on.

I rolled up a newspaper and tucked it under my arm, as I walked out the door with my little pastry bag and paper cup full of black coffee. I head around the corner and through the Chinatown gates to the only Kosher restaurant in Chinatown. The food is terrible. A few dozen Israelis a day get dropped off there by a tour bus company. I like Mediterranean food enough to know that this place had bad food.

The place wasn't open yet. The High Priest was sitting at a table by the window. I guess he's not worried about being under surveillance, or getting shot by a sniper. A Latina came over with a cup of coffee as I seated myself across from The Priest. "Did you see my niece?"

I nod and opened the newspaper. In case anyone was watching, the open newspaper would obstruct the view of The High Priest casually sliding the pastry bag over to his side of the table, and stuffing the entire croissant into his mouth with 3 bites.. "Thanks for picking up my cut. The Usos feel better about the whole deal with you watching over things." That mouth full of food should fool the lip readers with binoculars.

The latina brings a huge platter of smoked salmon, eggs, bagels..... shrimp cocktails, lobster tails, and raw oysters. Now I know that this isn't on the menu here. Not even if they had a secret menu, which they don't. This is food that was sent over from other restaurants on the block. You know that the restaurant is bad, when the owner is eating food brought in from other restaurants.

To anyone with a telephoto lens, it just looked like a rabbi and his accountant having a breakfast meeting. One Hundred, $100 bills. Crisp. New. Wrapped in bank bands. I got 2 bundles from the shoe store. I hand one of them over to him. That was his cut.


One Too Many
The Barbary Coast

Poor people. We're not that much different. We get weird parts of the animal. Usually the least expensive cuts. The cooking technique is the same. Cast iron skillet, open flame, a wok...... high heat, quick sear. Sauces, flavors........ with whatever vegetable happens to be convenient.

"You only eat that because Bruce Lee ate it. If Bruce Lee ate peanut butter and jelly, you would eat it too."

Funny she should say that. As she now knows, I will bake my own bread, to eat peanut butter and jelly.

This is Chinatown. While everything we do is rooted in tradition, nothing is as it appears. We are fluid. We adapt. Like water. Water flows. It can take any shape or any form. And it doesn't matter that it's not our tradition. We adapt. We adopt. We borrow. We reinvent. We improvise.

Pale Amy just got off her graveyard shift. Like everyone else, a good meal and a drink are customary and ordinary at the end of a long work day. Even if that means while everyone else is just starting their day by breaking their fast; you're eating a full meal and having alcohol before noon.

She conveniently shows up after her cousin leaves to go to work at the shoe store. I don't ask how her night went. I don't want to know. Nobody wants to hear about what the medical examiner did overnight.

"My Uncle, The Rabbi, told me about what you guys are up to. It's quite the scheme. Did Bruce Lee wrap his Oyster Sauce Beef in tortillas, and eat it like a street taco? Why did you make salsa?"

Well, no. It's not what you think. There's avocado, tomato, onion, and cilantro. But we're wrapping it in lettuce. Vietnamese style. With aioli.



"So the weirdest part of the whole scheme, is that there are actual traders from the trading floor, who are trading the action like it's any other commodity. Like a fetish to quench boredom, extremely wealthy people are willing to trade kilo futures. They never actually see or touch The Product, but they do have the ability to fund accounts, and transfer funds between accounts. However they price the futures contracts on 8-balls, you and my uncle get paid in clean dollars from the trading floor."

I'm listening. But I'm not. She's not telling me anything that I don't already know. She's just talking. Her shoe seller cousin takes in the cash off the street. Her uncle is redistributing clean money from a myriad of brokerage accounts to different accounts, minus his cut and my cut. The Other Car, meaning the Usos, and others, now have legitimate funds, which are not subject to seizure as ill gotten gains.

I use a cast iron wok. Today, I have skirt steak. The beef goes in with garlic. It gets browned. Just enough so that it's still tender. Not overcooked and tough. I add oyster sauce. I'll wrap it with lettuce. Why? Because I have lettuce. I wonder if Pale Amy knows that her cousin Leslie has been sleeping over here, while she's at work on the night shift.




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