Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Exiles On The Main Drag

“How’d you get here? Little Aleppo, I’m talking about, not some general ‘here.’ The neighborhood. You and I both know that KHAY–Hey!–don’t reach no place else, so if you’re tuning in, then I’m talking to a Little Aleppian. Maybe temporary, but temporary has a way of hanging around on the Main Drag.

“How’d you get here?

“Harper College got an archeology department, cats and kittens. You know Doctor Campe. He lets me call him Ezekiel cuz we’re friends. He comes on the Frankie Nickels Show now and then, and he tells us all about what he’s dug up. For a long time, we didn’t know exactly where the Pulaski live, but Ezekiel found it. I’m sure you’ve seen the memorial. It’s nice-looking. Very tasteful.

“Well, now, Ezekiel says that there were folks here before the Pulaski. Remember when the comic book store exploded? Left a crater, and turns out it was full of pottery and bones. Ezekiel Campe and his team, they took that pottery and they took those bones back to their labs, and they ran all sorts of tests on ’em.

“Zapped with all sorts of rays. Carbon dated and whatnot.  Couple hundred years before the Pulaski moved in, he figures. People been living in this valley a long damn time.

“And why not? Weather’s nice, ‘cept when it isn’t.

“But they weren’t from here. No one’s from anywhere ‘cept those that live in the damn Olduvai Gorge. Everyone who ain’t a Kenyan is a damnable interloper, ha ha ha.

“So where’d those first suckers come from? Maybe they came from the north, tired of the rain. Maybe they used to live in the Low Desert and got thirsty. Maybe they came from someplace where there’s winter.

“And where’d they go?

“Doc Ezekial got a theory. He says the Chinese made it here roundabouts the 15th century. He found a silver coin matches what they were making in China at the time. Foreigners bring disease, I’ve been told.

“But that’s just a theory. No evidence but one silver coin. 29 more and you can buy yourself something special, but there ain’t too many hats you can hang on one coin.

“Then came the Pulaski and we know what happened to them. Even though we don’t like to talk about it.

“Spaniards never made it here. No mission to burn down in Little Aleppo, cats and kittens. They named the hills, but didn’t much like crossing them. used to be some real scary things up in the Segovian Hills. Spaniards became the Californios, and they didn’t bother with the valley, either. First White in the area that we know of is a little fellow named Busybody Tyndale. He was a preacher, and a bit crazy. This set a precedent, ha ha ha.

“Used to be a lake where the zoo is now, and it was fed by three streams that ran down from the hills. There were gold nuggets in the stream, and the Pulaski used to trade ’em for rifles and ammo and saddles. Just dinky little nuggets, but that preacher found himself a seam. Pulled a fist-sized chunk of gold off it.

“You ever read Busybody Tyndale’s journals, cats and kittens? They printed ’em up nice and fancy a few years back. Reverend Tyndale? He’d been all over America, north south east and west, and he still believed in that man was good.

“What a maroon.

“He was gonna help the Pulaski. They’d taken him in, right? And now he was gonna help ’em. Reverend took that gold into C—–a City. Gonna buy the Pulaski medicine, pants, Bibles. Bring to them all the benefits of civilized society.

“He sure did! You’ve seen the memorial! Tasteful as hell.

“So: from the east you got Whites walking and riding the overland route. Wagon trains and oxen. But you got folks coming in from the west, too.

“Via the harbor.

“Chinese first. No theory this time, we got proof. 1851. That’s when the Chinese started coming on over. 1840’s were rough for China. Opium wars and drought and famine. Emperor was corrupt, and rebellions were started. By rebels, mostly, I guess. You might say China was being tossed by tempest, if you was some kind of poetical sort.

“1851. First Chinese in Little Aleppo was a fellow you heard of. Probably eaten his egg rolls. Yung Man.

“Yung Man come to work the mines. Gold in these here hills. The Turnaway Lode needed bodies. All the easy gold been dug out of the streams and plucked from the estuary in the lake. Now there was digging to be done. Hard work. Dangerous work. Cave-ins, gas pockets, all sorts of killer nonsense. A White wouldn’t do the job for the wages the mine’s owners wanted to pay. Chinese would.

“Month on the boat. Steerage. Share a room with ten other men, down in the bowels of the ship. You already walked from your hometown to Hong Kong, and now you’re on a boat for a month. There’s rats and vomit and the stink of strangers. Thieves, too. Sharpies waiting to take you for your bankroll in Mah Jongg.

“Yung Man was the first, but not the last. Course, the Chinese weren’t allowed to live with the Whites and that’s why we got Chinatown.

“Gold ran out soon enough, and there weren’t no more miners. Yung Man opened a restaurant on the Downside. Still open. I ate there last week. He brought in his brothers and cousins from back home, at least he did ’til 1882. Ever hear of the Chinese Exclusion Act? It was an act, you see, that excluded the Chinese. Truth in advertising. Does what it says on the label, ha ha ha.

“Periodically, the Whites would get twitchy and go rampaging through Chinatown with knives and erections. Other times, they would pass laws. They would always go back to Yung Man’s place, though. Neighborhood always did love its Chinese food. Used to be a joke: ‘What’s the only problem with Chinese food? The Chinaman it takes to make it.’ Funny stuff, cats and kittens.

“1882. No more Chinese. Japanese were on their way. In the 1840’s, life was chaotic in China, but in the 1860’s and 70’s, Japan was a mess. Little something called the Meiji Restoration. It’s a long story. The Whites needed cheap labor, and the Japanese needed work. The first generation was called the Issei, and they flowed in through the harbor.

“First steps they took on American soil were in Little Aleppo, how about that?

“A few stayed in the neighborhood. They weren’t allowed to buy land, but they could lease it and farm. Their children, the ones born here, they were called the Nisei and they went to their own schools alongside the Chinese children.

“You remember that Chinese Exclusion Act I told you about? Well, in 1924 there was one for the Japanese. Plugged up the spigot. Japanese in the neighborhood lived peaceably. Didn’t bother no one until December of 1941, when everybody got all bothered and by March of ’42 there weren’t no more Japanese in Little Aleppo.

“People do funny things in a war, ha ha ha.

“After we dropped the bomb, we let the Japanese out of their cages. Couldn’t go back to their homes cuz they’d been sold, but freedom was freedom. Laws started changing, too. No more excluding anyone. Chinese could come back and so could the Japanese.

“After the next war, a wave of Koreans hit.

“Vietnamese, the war after that.

“Escaping wherever they was, cats and kittens. Too many bombs and not enough food. They’d been told about somewhere sea-washed. Heard a story about a golden gate. They’d been made a promise, you see. There was a place that was calm and fair. Well-lit and lawful. There was a land, they’d been assured, where work had a direct relationship to wealth. Get up early, work all day, and don’t spend your money at night; maybe you’ll make something of yourself.

“Only thing in your way was an ocean.

“How’d you get here? You ain’t from here cuz no one’s from here, so you got here somehow. You walk 2,000 miles in clunky shoes? Watch your homeland disappear off the stern of a sailing ship? Ride the rails on the Santa Fe or the Chief out from Chicago? Hell, could be you drove your dumb ass here in a Volkswagen Beetle. Maybe you were even warned ahead of time.

“Here now. Maybe you got options or maybe you’re stuck, but you’re here now. Pleased to meet you, one of us.

“Question that remains is this: you came through a door, so whatcha gonna do with it? Leave it open or slam it shut? Hire a surly bouncer and give him a list?

“Who invited you, anyway?

“You up for some rock and roll music? You know Frankie Nickels is always up for some rock and roll music. I’m gonna play you a song about America.

“I bet you know it by heart.”

1 Comment

  1. “What we do is as American as lynch mobs. America has always been a complex place.” JG

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