The Treetops (2nd draft) Chapter 1

“Caius said no weapons right?”  Big D croaked as he lifted himself over the seats of the M train, pressing his hands and feet on the stabilizing rails.  He was watching Max balance a chef’s knife on his knee with the point down and the tip of the handle resting against his forehead.  The very tall, stick-thin gangster hoisted himself over Max, staring daggers down.  D’s question might have seemed like a threat, given their relative sizes and positions in the train car, but Max, the far smaller of the two, held all the power.

Max was annoyed,  “Yeah,” he began, taking the knife by its handle and casually tossing it from his right to his left hand and back again.  “I’m a stash it.”  He silenced Big D’s concern with a flick of the wrist.

Overpowered, Big D ignored the slight Max had given with his somewhat cavalier response.  He knew that he had no power, because he wasn’t even an official Treetop yet.

Both Big D and his brother Roly had joined the Treetops only two years previous.  Every member of the Treetops had to procure their own uniform, and Big D’s uniform wasn’t even finished.  D still had to find and steal shoes, but size 24’s were few and far between.

The Treetop’s uniform was cheap, that was its operative characteristic.  The Treetops came from the far Southeast suburbs, a place where incomes were very often subsidized by nickels earned recycling cans.  Their uniform was just a dark T shirt and jeans, often sheared at the knees with a knife or a broken bottle.  These uniforms were scavenged from fences and clotheslines, stolen from citizens and fished out of dumpsters, as they could not be paid for.

Big D had yet to find and steal shoes gigantic enough for his feet, so he’d had to buy them.  Since he wasn’t able to steal his shoes, he was technically a prospective Treetop, and on a lower social rung than the others.

Simon, one of the founders of the Treetops on the same train, saw that Big D needed to be reminded of his station.  “Fresh kicks, D, you rollin’ large, moneybags?” Simon purred with a sick grin on his face.  This was, for Big D, a joke he’d heard since he’d begun initiation proceedings, and he was growing tired of it.  His eyes flared and his lips spread apart showing his teeth.

Noticing the aggression growing, Max held a bare palm up above everyone, said “Not now,” and that was the end of it.  Max was the most senior members of The Treetops, and also quite smart, so he held a position of expertise and authority.  Max knew it was pointless to squabble, as the gang needed to stay calm.  He knew rash action could lead to disastrous consequences.  The Treetops’ destination was possibly now already drowned in bloodshed.  They were heading to a speech, the audience of which was to be made up of representative groups from gangs all over the city.  They all knew that this would create a tinder box of blades and egos.

It seemed that the impossible had happened.  It seemed that Caius really had brought everyone together.  It was rumored that he was very near to granting an immediate and retroactive amnesty to all on behalf of all.  As he put it in his weekly radio hour, which was broadcast on a low frequency unknown to the police, “All beef will be squashed and put to bed.”  It was fantasy, it was a fever dream.  Many including Max wanted to believe that Caius could usher in an era of peace, but considered it a virtual impossibility.

This speech was meant to be some sort of coronation, or state-of-the union, or list of commands.  If it was a coronation or a state of the union, many gangs would chaff under any kind of leadership.  The Nomads, for one, didn’t even have an official territory, they lived by their wits wherever they found themselves, and would surely refuse bearing allegiance to anyone.

If the speech became a list of commands, there was no telling how many would die.  Whatever happened, Caius would be killed, Max reasoned, very likely.

Max considered himself a student of human moves, of the way people at all times kept their eyes open for ways to gain personal advantage.  Just as it was in the straight world, in gangster society war was big business, and economics seemed to demand boodshed. Max knew that the peace Caius promised was a dream.  Beyond this pessimism Max reserved for the obsession with money, everyone knew the danger of the event they were nearing.

Bad blood ran too deep and too many gang leaders were agents of chaos to make a lasting peace feasible.  Threats had flown freely for many years, and gang backlogs were full of debts to collect and wrongs to revenge.

Despite all the bad blood, the speech was happening.  The morning of Caius’ speech, Max, Art, and Simon had all received messages in letters slid under their front doors inviting them to a “rebel summit.”  By that time, the grapevine had been alive with talk of Caius for months, and these invitations told everyone where and when they could see him; midnight, Norwood Park.

After much debate, the Treetops had decided to send a small running crew.  The running crew consisted of Max, Art and Simon, the most senior of the Treetops, as well as Roly and Big D, brothers who seemed like they were from a fairy tale.  Big D was tall and skinny, Roly was short and fat.  Big D was dumb and trusting, Roly was clever and spiteful.  Both of them could fight, and in defense of one another they were unstoppable.

The fact was that the Treetops’ crew was minuscule compared to some of the others.  Many of the other gangs certainly would come in force, and likely outnumber The Treetops by five or six times.  To reach Norwood Park, The Treetops needed to take the subway all the way from Evergreen, the southeastern suburb they called their ‘hood.  This meant that if they had a crew of twenty or thirty, they would very likely draw stares from the Pigs, so they kept the crew as small as they could.

Every gang and every gang member had the same mortal enemy, the Pigs.  They were all the same; liars and cheats, thieves and pushers, same as they said of the gangs.  The thing the gangs really hated about the Pigs was not the deception in their words or the evil in their deeds, it was their self-righteous swagger.  They walked their beats as if the neighborhoods belonged to them, but Caius had foretold of the day fast approaching when the Pigs would know what true power is and find themselves wanting.

Caius had risen to be a prominent figure in the world of the criminal underground through “The Bulletin,” his weekly radio show on 123.7 AM, a low-wattage independent radio station he ran out of his headquarters.  All the gangs including The Treetops were avid listeners, as Caius’s brash anti-authoritarian take on lifestyle and philosophy appealed to them.  “We must lay low on a day-to-day basis,” Caius said regularly, “but our time will come.”

Within each neighborhood, every gang had created a unique network of alleys, shortcuts, side streets and backdoors to avoid the Pigs.  Caius had told them, if every gang’s network were connected, the Pigs could never find them.  Caius sketched a plan with his words, that if a member of a gang had too much heat on him anywhere in the city, there could be a stash house on every block, and they would all be communal.  He encouraged all to imagine a future war, one where the gangs could unite, recognizing that they all had the same true enemy.

Caius called it paradise, utopia, and more than anyone else had before, he made people believe in it.  Caius, the revered one, he could make everything like it should be.

Roly sat across from Max and shrank his voice to a low growl.  His eyes were still and locked in to Max’s, holding them tight.  “So what do you think?  I’ve never met Caius, I don’t even know what he looks like, so why am I gonna listen to this guy?”  Roly’d heard the same rhetoric everyone had, and he knew that many were praying for the dawning of a new era, with some even counting on it.

“Everyone I’ve talked to who’s heard him speak in person says it’s like nothin’ else.”  Max rolled his eyes and opened his mouth wide, as if the top part of his head was falling away from his face.  “I don’t know, he might just be smooth, all I know is everybody’s gonna be there, and whatta you wanna be left behind?”  As he finished his question, Max closed his mouth and looked into Roly’s eyes.

“All I’m saying is we’re leaving our territory, that’s all.”  Roly’s face quivered.  He looked scared, which made Max nervous, as Roly wasn’t the type to be easily shook.

Simon giggled, “You scared?”

Roly’s eyes narrowed and and he tightened his lips, “No.”

Max interrupted, “Everybody listen up.  I know this isn’t ideal, we’re gonna be exposed.  But I think we can smash anyone, and if we can’t they’ll know us when we’re gone, and they’ll know where we come from.”  He looked over the Treetops as he spoke, and it gave him no confidence.

Simon blew contempt through his lips, “Yeah our names will be on official documents at the morgue.”

Max normally enjoyed Simon’s gallows humor, but he wasn’t in the mood.  “The morgue?”  Max stared at Simon, trying to show him rage, but it came across like terror.  At Simon’s jape, Art guffawed, but it was more in agreement than mirth.

Spurred on by the show of support, Simon continued.  “Yeah this is about to get blown up, man.  Caius said no weapons, but whatta they gonna do, check?  Fuckin’ forget it, this’ll be a free-for-all, I ain’t scared though.”

“So it’s agreed, we pack blades at least,” Max raised the point of his butcher knife to be parallel with his line of sight.  “Got mine,” Max grinned.

Big D seemed to be getting frustrated, but he wouldn’t dare try to tell Max anything, he’d learned his lesson.  He just tried to change the topic and shift focus from Max, “None of us have heard Caius in person, though.  So what—what if they’re right and he is the one?”D finished his statement with a trailing off voice, as if attempting to seem mystic, or like he knew some securet the others didn’t.  However, Simon was listening, and he couldn’t stand for what seemed like soupy-eyed optimism.

“What if who’s right?  The one!?”  Simon spoke quick and loud, loud enough so that everyone could hear his voice break.  “Caius’s head of the Eastside Forty-Niners, what if he wants everyone to be a Forty-Niner?  I’m not a fuckin Forty-Niner, I’m a Treetop.”  Simon hadn’t put his fear of the summit in such stark terms before, and he he put a colloquial capper on it for good measure: “I’m-a stay a Treetop, too.”

As Simon spoke, Max eyed him suspiciously.  His chin dropped, leaving him slack-jawed, portraying a knowing gloom.  “You holdin’ anything that shoots, Simon?”

Big D rushed Simon and held him by the collar, “I swear to god, if you fuck this up I’m gonna kill you.”

Simon laughed as he slid a snub-nosed .38 out of his pocket and threw it on the ground.  He sat back as far as he could and held his hands in the air.  “Fuck me man, fine, I’m not carryin’ anything.  I was gonna stash it before we got there, jesus.”

Roly looked at the gun for a few seconds considering, then pulled out his own and put it on the ground next to Simon’s.  “I believe in Caius, I think there’s too much money at stake for anyone to fuck this up.  So, we don’t wanna get caught with nuthin’.  Stash all pistols in the same place.”

“Money?”  Art said, his voice laced with a mocking suspicion, “There’s money?”  At the mention of money, Art’s ears picked up and his tail wagged.  Art had been standing on a seat near the door between train cars, but as he spoke he lowered himself to the floor and stood in front of the others.

Roly knew that Art’s blood ran green, “Well if Caius brings us together, the way everybody’s saying, we can make real money.”

Big D hated when gang members talked about money.  “This is fuck all all about money, this is about finding a way to live.”

Art rolled his eyes and stretched over a couple of seats on the train, laying still as he pretended to snore.  Max seemed to shrink in his seat, pulling his feet close to him and wrapping his arms around his knees.

They were all frightened, this was new, heading to a speech.  Workers and administrators and servants went to speeches; gangsters didn’t go to speeches.

The Treetops (2nd draft) Chapter 1

Poem: Box the Turtle

I am invincible,

at a starter pistol I tuck my head and hunker,

I’m scared of nothing,

I can’t even hear the footsteps of my enemies,

but they’re out there,

from here I can sense foolish and lame vitreous,

they can’t cut me,

I sense the fear behind their bulky sunglasses,

they’re just jealous,

from outside my walls they smell smoking meats,

they must be cold,

likely their fingers bleed clawing at bare brick,

I would let them in,

then they’d see blank journals and empty bottles,

and know the truth,

that behind the curtain there is nothing at all.

Poem: Box the Turtle

Review: In a Valley of Violence

In a Valley of Violence (2016)

Director: Ti West

Writer: Ti West

Actors: Ethan Hawke, John Travolta, Taissa Farmiga

 

In its own harsh, uncompromising manner, In a Valley of Violence scoffs in the face of well-wrought western tropes, and comes away with a delightfully intense bloodbath.  I can say unreservedly that I am a fan of westerns, from the meticulous Italian chaos of Sergio Corbucci’s Companñeros to the somber philosophy of Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country, I love the western genre.  As is obvious from the opening titles which closely imitate the opening credits of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, director Ti West (The House of the Devil) loves it too.  His love of  westerns is most obviously displayed by his eagerness to subvert the genre’s tropes, which he does here by injecting characters with weakness, stupidity, and more than a little comedy.  This comedy most often comes from the committed and somewhat silly performance of a masterful John Travolta (Swordfish, Battlefield Earth, Scientology), who portrays tobacco chewing bravado while his character becomes a strange alternate protagonist.

The story’s central hero is Paul, Ethan Hawkes’ mysterious drifter traveling alone with a dog.  Paul and his strangely intelligent companion, Addie, are linked via an almost supernatural connection.  These travel companions make an ill-fated pit stop in Denton, a town terrorized by the son of the local sheriff (James Ransome), who practices wanton cruelty with impunity.  This character, Deputy Gilly Martin is perturbed when newcomer Paul (Ethan Hawke), fails to respond quickly to his inquiries.  This simple perceived slight leads to a chain reaction of escalations, culminating in a climactic death that is both ludicrous and metaphorically perfect.  The unstoppable expansion and eruption of violence is so reasonless, yet so inevitable, that In a Valley of Violence could be said to make a permanently timely statement about the ease and cost of killing.

These are pretty heavy issues, however, and they might weigh down a movie as violent as this one, but it is saved by the aforementioned Mr. Travolta, playing the sweetest Marshal ever.  Travolta’s character is kind, reasonable, merciful, and hilarious.  Marshal Clyde Martin (Travolta) has one fatal flaw, however, his love for his son.  As terrible as Gilly had become, he was still the Marshal’s son, and family trumps everything.  I think that this, in many ways, is the central conceit of In the Valley of Violence.  That even the most positive emotional reflexes, like a father’s love for his son or a drifter’s love of his dog, can lead to copious bloodshed.

Westerns can be intense, savage, and unapologetically brutal, but they can also be funny, touching, and philosophical.  In the Valley of Violence can do all of these things, but it is one thing above all, a kick-ass western.  The music is dramatic and propulsive; shrieking with energetic violins that sound like stabbing.  The performances are all exemplary, particularly Taissa Farmiga, who brings a mad spirit to the role of Mary-Anne, charming with every nervous giggle.  This is a western of surprising depth and fantastic production, but what really leaves an impression is the sheer fun of it.

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Review: In a Valley of Violence

Poem: Dusty

I’ve never been real, I realized

too late, soul sucked, plastered flat,

surveying that this isn’t a game

anymore over and again, eyes on the horizon

thrust over, into and through, hear the birds

shriek of desperation, each call vital

audible survival, haunting hopelessness, for some

know doubt, starving in winter dusk

on a tree branch, desperate, looking without

seeing for hours, miles and ages.

 

Now to acquaint myself

with the truth, I will seize all the records

of those that came before, much may be

tattered bloody, waving lightly, wafting

breezy, whispering war

over candlelight, dim dusky deep dwellers,

loving the musk, drinking blood straight

from the source, of suffering springs a new

hope, so warrantless.

 

It seems, so anyway I am waking up

tomorrow again, next factorial stepladder

struggle of days, until it becomes life

which is death, always, we know this

don’t we?

Poem: Dusty

Poetry: Snaps

The Ticket and the Lecture were an experimental

dance-pop

poetry duo from Statin Island, and they twisted

around the made-up minds

of the tea-cup Uberclass, intellectualizing thought

itself while calling it illusion, and they fucked

everything up the trail painted gray, so to speak

jumbly non-rhymes aplenty flowed

like breath seeping, through the air-brush

daytime taverns called shit

like Twisty’s and Fidget’s, stupid nonsense

like most of it always is

in the country, except the fields

I guess but who cares?

 

Because ain’t shit

out there anyway, wandering aimless

dummies down a path to doom, whichever

direction they end

up heading, smashers hypostitize

from centuries abstract, crushing cream puff

pillowcase pieces of shit, in the city too

as all and sundry are hollow, saying and meaning

nothing at all at any time

anyway so shit, might as well

go to McMulligan’s China Bistro and Tavern

at the bottom of the sea, drink the day

away like a shot, just write your name

in the sand with a stream, cadmium downgraded

from the gin, plumb death infinite, because depth

is too hard to make flow, though a reality.

Poetry: Snaps

Poem: After the Bombs

On my back is a pack, a flavored rucksack

holding pictures of the past,

canned food and your signature, saying “I’ll see you

again someday,” but it doesn’t matter

much anymore, for the earth is fire,

poison and knives, not one of us is

safe even for a moment

anymore, but I promise you

and my descendants,

that after this is over, I will carry

your heart in mine again, for war cannot kill

the realities of the world, love in desolation

still shining like it’s colorized.

 

Sickly seeming serpents abroad, slivering, simply

viscous venomous virus, magnetlike a drop

of bloody sweat, among aphids

on a grave, jockeying for position

ahead the new world

order, we live in blood

raining like the sky, red sweeping down

Poem: After the Bombs

Poem: Public 1

A mortal cloud sits affront me, at the sides

as well is a crunching Armada, and passing is Pointless

Shadow on the right, Vacuum on the left

with taunting vulgarity, chit chat hyper fuse

apocalypse bringer, Task Force United, T.F.U.

screamin’ up capitol streets with odd numbers

in ‘em, strangely catatonic facially

reconstructed bubble-butt beasts, the future is bringing

a porn mag in the bathroom, lockin’ the door

not for shame but safety, which is first

then teamwork, keeping cautious eyes

on each other permanent, just in case

interruption is lurkin’, shame over shoulder

Setta Strike, leading team Point Chuckle

up the park to the tennis court, a bad place

to be masturbating in the day, but at night

the sensation is priceless, I’m sure.

Poem: Public 1