Black President by Rick Schmidt

Black PresidentWE MADE HISTORY!

What can I say in a BLOG for Nov. 5th 2008 . . .

but . . .

Barack Obama, an African-American, is the first Black President of the United States!!! 

OBAMA DID IT!!!  It’s a BRAND NEW WORLD today!

Can’t believe the excitement last night, as the news was delivered from TV that he had the Presidential victory in hand.  Impossible to keep back tears for me, my wife and kids, family members who were all solidly behind OBAMA.  I remember voting in the primary for Obama, months back against the challengers, and wondering just how far this could all go.  It seemed like an impossible dream . . . until the second it was announced last night that he had actually won. 

Now I can better understand the energy of something like the end of WWII, the dancing and kissing in the street.  That’s how it felt last night.  And all my family’s hopes that FINALLY people in other countries will understand that BUSH ISN’T US…far from it.  If McCain/Palin had won we would have been so . . . SO emotionally sunk!  The very idea of that was something unimaginable.  A Republican victory would have been horrible, and yet the daily TV reporting leading up to last night showed masses of McCain supporters.  A lot of people I know were actively considering the idea of moving out of these borders if he won.  BUT…BUT…WE WON!  Still pinching myself, fighting to really believe it!

Obama — first African-American President of the United States. Obama…on-message the entire time.  Seismic shift.  Acknowledgment of multicultural country. 

Race transcendant, but not post-racial country yet (said a black commentator on the Today show)!~

Maya Angelou talks about healing race relations in US:

CNN: What does it say about the country that Barack Obama is a candidate to be president?

Angelou: The country is growing up and confessing to something we’ve known all along. What prevented us from admitting that we knew that? And I was taken back to slavery.

If you will have a person enslaved, the first thing you must do is convince yourself that the person is subhuman. The second thing you have to do is convince your allies so you’ll have some help, and the third and probably unkindest cut of all, is to convince that person that he or she is subhuman and deserves it.

Well, such a job has been done on all of us that people found it very difficult to admit that human beings are more alike than we are unalike. We’ve known it. But to admit it, you have to stop saying because this guy speaks another language, because their eyes are shaped differently from mine, because they’re first-generation Americans from Eastern Europe, then they don’t count, I don’t have to consider them. With this, the country is finally able to see through complexion and see community.

(for full interview see: http://edition.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/10/31/maya.angelou/index.html?imw=Y&iref=mpstoryemail)

In Kenya they’re creating a new national holiday in honor of Barack Obama’s win.

In Beirut, Lebanon, the headline was, ‘Black Kennedy in White House.’

(Pardon me as I break into a smile – reading the press release of my Black President novel should explain this reaction :>)

Obama says:  ‘We won’t solve all of this even in first term.’  But if he runs the country half as well as he did the campaign . . .

President-Elect Obama’s national security briefings begin Thursday.  What national/international secrets will he learn?  What is going on secretly in the US and elsewhere that only the CIA knows?

In any case, there will be a Black President in the White House in 2009!  As my college-age son said in last night’s e-mail:

HIP! HIP!!  HOOORRRAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYY!!!! ! ! ! !     !          !

Note from Picnic Publishing:  For the record and with great pride, we publish below the lovely letter President-Elect Barack Obama sent Rick and all Obama donors/supporters prior to the President-Elect leaving for Grant Park.  The subject line was:  ‘How this happened’.  The email was sent to Rick by Obama campaign, <info@barackobama.com>.  We are delighted he has shared it with us. 
—–Original Message—–
From: Barack Obama <info@barackobama.com
 

>
To: Richard R Schmidt  (EMAIL ADDRESS DELETED BY PICNIC PUBLISHING)
Sent: Tue, 4 Nov 2008 9:18 pm
Subject: How this happened
Richard R –
I’m about to head to Grant Park to talk to everyone gathered there, but I wanted to write to you first.
We just made history.
And I don’t want you to forget how we did it.
You made history every single day during this campaign — every day you knocked on doors, made a
donation, or talked to your family, friends, and neighbors about why you believe it’s time for change.I want to thank all of you who gave your time, talent, and passion to this campaign.
We have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track, and I’ll be in touch soon about what comes next.
But I want to be very clear about one thing…

All of this happened because of you.

Thank you,

Barack

Black PresidentPaid for by Obama for America
This email was sent to: EMAIL ADDRESS DELETED BY PICNIC PUBLISHING
To unsubscribe, go to: http://my.barackobama.com/unsubscribe

 

Black President by Rick Schmidt

In view of momentous events in the USA, Iain Bailey who is currently blogging on ÉMIGRÉ LONDON, kindly asked to be stood down for a couple of days so the Picnic community could welcome back RICK SCHMIDT of whom we are so proud.  As you will know, he is the author of BLACK PRESIDENT.
 
Welcome, Rick . . .

11/4/08:  POLLING DAY, USA

 

 

Ten years after I started work on a fictional work about a Black man becoming President of the United States, I’m literally hours away from seeing that fantasy possibly become a reality.  The big day of selecting a Black President has finally arrived! 

 

It’s still dark outside my California coastal windows as my wife prepares to walk about a half mile to a local church where our neighborhood residents can cast their vote.  She’s trying to get there early enough that when the polls open at 7AM she’ll be near the front of the line. (I’ll hear later about details such as length of line and how the voting process went for her!)  I decided to take time yesterday to vote early in Downtown Oakland, at the courthouse where a friend had gone days before (he happily reported that the entire process took him only about fifteen minutes!).  Fortunately I had our car, so I drove the five or so miles and started looking for a parking place reasonably close to the location.  As I was circling the block I got lucky, being right behind a spot that was opening up.  When the woman driver saw my car hovering behind she jumped out and handed me her parking stub, saying, ‘It’s good until 10!’  Nice to have a little gift from a stranger who had just voted!  At any rate, this was a good sign that I was doing the correct thing by voting a day early to avoid some kind of last-minute clog in the works. 

 

It was already 9AM and I hoped I could get through by 10, to allow time for breakfast before work at noon.  I wasn’t sure I could hold up to a ten hour wait like some have had to endure. And I’d heard that in some states there were already ‘dirty tricks’ taking place.  It was reported that in some Southern states, fliers were distributed with what looked like an official state seal, announcing that the Republicans’ voting day was Tuesday, while Democrats day at the polls was WEDNESDAY ( a day AFTER the votes would be counted!).   What else was/is going on is anybody’s guess!

 

At any rate I parked, grabbed my umbrella and walked the two blocks in the rain, finding a fairly short 150-foot-long line extending out from the top of a ramp at the side of the courthouse.  The rain was fairly light, and the people in line were friendly.  I discovered that the people in line were a mixture of voters and people present for court appearances.  We all had to follow the line into the building for examination by metal detectors.  Within twenty minutes I was emptying my pockets and pulling off my belt with its metal buckle.  When my watch made the machine beep the policeman told me to hold my arm up chest-high.  Walking through again, the machine was silent.  Following a few small hand-written signs I found myself in the basement with a small and eager crowd of voters.  I printed out my name, address and signed a form, then handed my data in at an available window.  The young woman clerk said she’d be back in a minute and was, presenting me with the official ballot, my name and address clearly printed out on the envelope that accompanied it. (The computers seemed to be doing what they should do, finding a name in a database to create a valid document that could not be disputed later!)

 

I quickly connected the arrow next to Obama/Biden (filled in the center of an arrow that had a blank center), marked in various other propositions, measures and political offerings, exited the building past my fellow East Bay early-birds and drove home in twenty minutes. (Total voting excursion = 1 hour).

 

Watching TV today, I see the long lines at various poling locations around the States, and hope people can withstand the weather and physical strain to get the votes in!

 

In honor of the historic implications of today’s US VOTE, please allow me to add this picture from a book I bought at a rare bookstore, entitled ‘UNREASONABLE RHYMES, told by Anne Idyott’. (Get it?!) It was drawn and water-colored in the late 1890s, and, to my shock, was an ORIGINAL artwork: 

original watercolour - Black President post

 

(click on image to enlarge)

 looking closely you can see little pinholes in the corners, along with penciled corrections to the text.  The book, with 80 original plates like this one, had been bound and sold as just another published edition – and luckily it was affordable!  At any rate, the image and limericks reflect on the PAST problems of racism in America.  Hopefully it will remind us of just how far we’ve come TODAY, as the votes roll in!

 

best wishes

Rick 

 

Black President by Rick Schmidt

As BLACK PRESIDENT begins to be distributed in UK and other countries I’ve been wondering how the financial breakdown of US markets and elsewhere will affect young people and their efforts to live, work, save money (if they can!) for the FUTURE.  I have a son getting ready to enter the workforce after college graduation in December and have to wonder how he’ll afford anything in this inflationary economy.  In the good old days (say the 1990s) people could almost expect to find a job and cheap apartment somewhere, even grow their money, but now it’s more like a crap shoot.  And even when college grads band together to rent, they’re lucky to find something where each person’s portion is under $700/month in places like the San Francisco/Bay Area!

 

Feels like there will soon be a movement of some kind toward a new kind of communal living by students, college graduates or otherwise, where people group themselves together to survive the coming economic rollercoasters.  Since students form relationships when they co-habit in rentals/dorms during college, groups of 3-4 young men w/significant others, many may pool their resources after graduating.  That would mean they could (1) rent a house with multiple bedrooms, (2) buy food collectively, (3) have a couple communal vehicles.  Anyway, it looks like the beginning of a communal movement to me!

 

A while back I bought a lovely and fascinating painting from 1947 that was entitled ‘A Journey to New Harmony.’ 

 At first I thought that was just a beautiful & lyrical title of an interesting folk art piece.  But after researching the name on the internet I discovered that the images were some kind of rendering about a commune in an actual place called New Harmony, fantasiful images that represented the various building and practices of the original settlers.  The Harmony Society was a Christian group that came from Germany in 1803 and bought and built on 3000 acres (see <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harmony_Society>).  Being non-violent pacificists, they refused to engage in military service.  They moved to Indiana in 1814, and again in 1824, that time to Economy, Pennsylvania.

 

 Some might be interested in learning that the New Harmony commune represented in my painting (1) had about 1000 individuals, (2) built houses and a factory, (3) raised crops and livestock, (4) spun cotton and weaved cloth/made clothes/shoes, etc, (5) traded cloth and other products for income from surrounding communities, (6) built schools and taught their children, (7) had a source of fresh water, all in all, created a completely independent and self-sufficient entity for themselves.  Their small community supported its needs with these various operations:

 

Sawmill

Tannery

Vineyard

Distillery

oil company

Savings institution

Clothing factory

Schools. 

 

 

Aside from the more bizarre religious practices of the New Harmony commune (reliance on celibacy DURING marriage – population began to shrink and the new harmonists hiring outsiders for their factories…), some aspects of this living setup seems attractive.  It would be refreshing to not have to watch money leak out of the bank account each month for rent and incidentals, be in more of a BARTER system where adequate housing was a given, affordable food available (my turn in the garden…) even with an ever-inflating market. I like the logic of a close-knit group of artists and artisans living together (with separate studios of course, good space between houses), in a less hectic and less-costly environment.

 

With governments and other unstabile entities trying to run things – the value of money being so unpredictible now – I ask myself where is all this leading.  Any emergency, natural and otherwise, could cause food and gas shortages (the food we buy at supermarkets is often transported from many miles away…), and could also cut electricity and water supplies. Maybe a communal approach, a settlement with it’s own electrical system (solar and wind), food and fresh water supply, is the future ticket. (Is anyone else wondering about all this??).

 

 

 

 

 

Black President by Rick Schmidt

 

Hello again.  Happy to be back on BLOG as the US election gets uglier!  Now Georgia Representative John Lewis, a Black veteran of civil rights protests, says the tone of the Republican campaign reminds him of the hateful atmosphere that racist George Wallace (also a Presidential candidate) encouraged in Alabama in the 1960s.  WHITE McCain against BLACK Obama!

 

Many chapters in BLACK PRESIDENT focus on the US race question;  riots and bombings in the 60s to the difficulties of a Black family raising kids under economic hardship, the multi-problem family where at any one time some close Black relative or friend is experiencing deprivation of basic human needs (lack of food, housing, income, respect). In 2005 Congress declared an official APOLOGY to the Black community for having ‘lynching as part of a policy’ in America.  And earlier THIS year Congress again offered another official apology, this time for ‘slavery in America.’  Does it seem that these declarations are too little too late?  Actually lynchings aren’t so distant an

occurance — last ones happened in the 1960s!!  The important question NOW is, how active is racism in America and how will the memories and the facts of discrimination impact the ’08 Nov. election?  Can Obama get the votes he needs when the average American closes that black cloth behind him/her in a tiny voting booth and marks the ballot for President of the United States according to his/her subconscious imprinting?

 

In this final lap to the voting booths things are definitely heating up, especially as Republicans see victory slipping away.  Have you heard Palin or McCain calling themselves “mavericks?”  Well, the Texas relatives of a guy named Samuel Augustus Maverick, who lived in eaarly 1800s and got his name from deciding not to brand his cattle, are insensed.  Maverick’s great grandson, Maury Jr., a lawyer, who defended draft registers, atheists, etc, served in Texas Legislature during the McCarthy era, and wrote his final column in the San Antonio Express opposing the war in Iraq, is disgusted with McCain cosying up to his family name.  He says, “John McCain IS NOT A MAVERICK in any use of the word, “uppercase or lowercase.”  Another family member, Ms. Terrellita Maverick, 82, is a member emeritus of the board of the San Antonio ACLU and represents family that stands for progressive politics from the 1600s (an early Boston ancestor got into trouble with the law “over his agitation for the rights of indentured servants”).  She’s enraged that McCain, who has voted often for his party’s platforms, says he’s not part of the Republican herd  “He’s a Republican,” she says.  “He’s branded!”

 

So what’s at stake in this US election?  Some say the basic way of life in America is on the table.  Invading soverign nations?  Continue letting the richest 2% continue to rake in 20% of the profits while the rest of us live on credit cards because we don’t earn enough to cover all the rising costs of housing, gas, food, etc.?  What about a woman’s continuing right to choose?  And it’s frightening to live in a country where Homeland Security has tried to strip the basic rights of US citizens.  Here’s what a fellow filmmaker friend sent me a while back, warning me that even our overseas correspondence could be suspect and dangerous:

 

“WARNING: Due to presidential executive orders and signing statements, and provisions passed by the previous Republican-controlled Congress, the National Security Agency may have read this posting, as well as and any other private correspondence of mine, and may listen to my private phone conversations without warrant, warning, or notice, and certainly without probable cause. They may also arrest me without telling me of any charges against me, even transport me outside the United States, and hold me secretly and indefinitely in an undisclosed location without notifying my wife or relatives, and deny me access to an attorney. They may take my property under the executive order of July 17, 2007, never to be returned. They may torture me without fear of penalty or repercussions to them for their actions. They may do all these things to me, or to you, with little or no judicial or legislative oversight. This danger became ever more apparent, and ominous, on Sept. 19, 2007, when the U.S. Senate failed to reinstate habeas corpus as an inalienable right of American citizens.”

 

Enough food for thought?  Check out The New York Times article about blocked habeas corpus: <www.nytimes.com/2007/09/19/washington/19cnd-detain.html>. Here’s what salon.com says about the initial Act of 2006 (McCain voted FOR IT, Obama AGAINST IT!):

 

*     *     *

The Military Commissions Act of 2006 was — and remains — one of the great stains on our national political character. It was passed by a substantial majority in the Senate (65-34) with the support of every single Senate Republican (except Chafee) and 12 Senate Democrats. No filibuster was even attempted. It passed by a similar margin in the House, where 34 Democrats joined 219 Republicans to enact it. One of the most extraordinary quotes of the post-9/11 era came from GOP Sen. Arlen Specter, who said at the time that that the Military Commissions Act — because it explicitly barred federal courts from hearing habeas corpus petitions brought by Guantanamo detainees — “sets back basic rights by some 900 years” and was “patently unconstitutional on its face” — and Specter then proceeded to vote for it.

 

The greatest victim of the 9/11 attack has been our core, defining constitutional liberties. Of all the powers seized by this administration in the name of keeping us Safe, the power to imprison people indefinitely with no charges and no real process is the most pernicious.

 

Passage of the Military Commissions Act was spearheaded by John McCain, who was anointed by cowardly Senate Democrats to speak for them and negotiate with the White House. Once McCain blessed the Military Commissions Act, its passage was assured. Barack Obama voted against it, and once its passage appeared certain, Obama offered an amendment to limit it to five years. That amendment failed, rendering the MCA the law of the land without any time limits.

 

The Supreme Court today did what the Founders envisioned it should do: it protected our basic constitutional guarantees from erosion and assault by a corrupt majority within the political class. In so doing, the Court took a mild though important step in reversing some of the worst and most tyrannical excesses of the last seven years.”

*     *     *

 

See <www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/06/12/boumediene/> for that full article). On June 12, 2008, habeas corpus was finally reinstated by the Supreme Court, in a close 5 to 4 decision. 

 

So it’s pretty chilling to be an American in 2008 and beyond. Bush and his cronies (various secret intelligence agencies) have come close to destroying the basic fabric of this country, usually under the flag of ‘patriotism.’ What we have to worry about now is how the next President will impact the US Supreme Court, when justices step down and are replaced (one vote saved habeas corpus!). BLACK PRESIDENT gives a glimpse of American conspiracies, subterfuge and scandals over the last 50 years that have ushered us into this entangled mess.

 

Rick

Black President by Rick Schmidt

Black PresidentOn SYNCHRONICITY

In BLACK PRESIDENT there are some surprising simularities between my central character, President-Elect Jackson Little, and that of Democratic Nominee Barack Obama. Here are some synchronistic connections that fell into my story, as I developed it pre-9/11.

1.  Because I grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and felt comfortable with recreating the landscape there, I made my BLACK PRESIDENT character relocate to the South Side with his brother and mother.   And there he became an Alderman and Assemblyman on his way to a Senate seat.  Obama followed the same course, winning those seats and becoming nationally prominent a couple years after I finished the novel’s first draft.

2. I figured that by 2012 only Caroline Kennedy would have the political caché to be a viable Democratic candidate, so I had her running at the top of her party’s ticket.  Some thought this was extremely outlandish, since she had publically dispelled any interest in politics in past newspaper articles and interviews.  But in 2008 Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg jumped into helping Obama as the head of his V.P. search committee!  And Michael Moore thought she should run as his VP, should select HERSELF as Cheney had done when he was the head of Bush’s committee!   Anyway, these are a few of the coincidences that came my way, realities catching up with my fiction!

It always has seemed that synchronicity has been the gift that the universe offers up whenever I’ve launched into a creative project.  When I was beginning the scripting my 4th indie feature, MORGAN’S CAKE (shown at Sundance Film Festival, Berlin Intl., etc.), I knew the movie was about a young man about to turn 18 (I imagined the blowing out of candles on his cake). The lead role was set to be played by my son Morgan, who, in real life, had considered resisting the U.S. draft by not registering on his 18th birthday…So I was creating a movie around his real concerns, as a young person coming of age in 1988.  FYI: Morgan had been named after the Morgan character in the great Karel Reisz comedy ‘MORGAN- A suitable Case For Treatment’ (1966).   In any case, I felt my ‘Morgan’ story was missing some kind of plot point and I wasn’t going to shoot anything until I figured out what it was.  As my creative antenna was scanning the known horizons for answers I spotted a blurb in a local newspaper, which stated, ‘It is illegal to make a pastry in the shape of the White House.’  Suddenly I realized that Morgan could protest the war by baking a cake!   Embracing that concept, I was suddenly gifted with a strong ending, plus an original movie title.  I’m sure my fellow Picnic bloggers have experienced such revelatory synchronistic experiences while doing research on their novels, illustrating books, or creating other kinds of original artworks.

I will be blogging again soon.  Meantime, I handover to Gisela Hoyle and The White Kudu with very best wishes to her and the Picnic community.

Black President by Rick Schmidt

Black PresidentHooray!  It’s pubdate for BLACK PRESIDENT!  Hope I hear from some UK readers soon.

Of course THE UPCOMING US ELECTION is on my (everyone’s!) mind here.  In Black President I have a chapter on how the ‘hanging chad’ punched ballots of 2000 were designed to make it truly impossible to know who you were voting for.  Anyway, I’ve had trouble believing it was just serendipity that messed up the accuracy of that particular ballot.  And now, on to the next round of confusion/deception…

Supporting my concern about the upcoming 2008 Presidential election…just saw a show on TV on a recent local race for city councilman in Florida that had inaccurate counting.  The reporter stated that after the first tally of the local election it seemed the Republican had won by 9 votes.  But then a hand recount revealed that THE DEMOCRAT had actually won…by 130 votes!  And finally, it was discovered that 3500 ballots were missing!!  If we can send a man to the moon (we really did this, right?) then why can’t we get this election thing under control?

For the 2004 election, it was tabulated that 638 people or so voted in a small Ohio community, and yet G. W. Bush received over 4000 votes at that location!  Another fact:  80,000 uncounted votes in Georgia… Here are some of the complaints of Floridians after the 2000 and 2004 elections:

2+ to 15 hour waits (long lines)
Only ONE phone number for precincts (line always busy).
Missing machines.
Poles opening late.
People turned away.
Broken machines w/people turned away.
2 machines for 1300 people,
Faulty vote counting.
Missing ballots.
Inaccurate ‘Felons’ list.
Names removed from lists.
Pre-punched ballots
Cars towed.
And then there’s THE SPIN.  Of recent days, we have the “lipstick on a pig” debacle?  Yes, I know it’s last week’s news, but the point is that the Republican SPIN is up and running at full tilt.  They (Republican spin-masters) take ANY words Obama says, and use the meaning out of context, runing ads on TV that say he called potential Republican VP Sarah Palin a pig…with lipstick on.  McCain used the exact same phrase weeks earlier (‘a pig with lipstick on is still a pig’).  Of course millions of impressionable middle-Americans see ads repeated and believe it!  So the damage is done.  And other ads have supposedly made 1/3 of the population believe obama is a Muslim.  And it is infuriating to hear McCain continually say as fact that ‘Obama will raise your taxes.’  How many times does Obama have to re-explain that he’ll lower taxes on 90% and only raise them for people earning over $250,000?   Somewhere in the textbook on ‘winning an election’ it must say that ‘repetition can overcome any fact.’ 

So I’m a little uneasy about what’s coming, and how there will most probably be an entirely new election horror story we can bat around in November!   The latest economic meltdown seems to be gifting Obama with a raised percentage, putting him temporarily ahead in the polls as of late Sept,. but who’s to say it will hold.  I know it’s not healthy to hold one’s breath for a month, but…

Black President by Rick Schmidt

Black PresidentWell, hello again! The countdown to the Oct. 1 publication of Black President is just about here, with only a couple days before it’s out in the world, so please allow me to give Picnic Publishing a huge THANK YOU for believing in my book and getting it to this point!  Wow!   It’s a pleasure and an honor to be back in the blogging-seat, especially now that I’ve read all the other Picnic author’s blogs and realize what lovely company I’m keeping.  So congratulations to all of you for getting your books recognized and heading for print!   Just awaiting the box of my author’s copies to show up so I can gaze upon the final product (I’d better check my mailbox again…)

And now, on to the US meltdowns…
In Black President I’ve tried to connect the dots of how the elite class of big landowners and richest one-percent of America was formed out of the old-boy network, leading right up to, and socially connected with, the US PRESIDENCY.  And suddenly we have these huge ‘corrections’ going on again in the financial markets.  Loans were available to almost anyone who wanted to take on a mortgage a few years ago, and it’s hit the wall with millions of forclosures (question: who makes all the money, whether the market goes up…or down?). Capitalism can’t seem to help breeding this mindset.  At the same time, most of us can’t save enough in this inflationary environment to save or invest in anything! 

Regarding this current meltdowns of US financial markets, the greed-factor seems to be massively at fault.   On this subject, I’d like to run a short piece I wrote as part of my memoir (‘Twelve Dead Frogs and Other Stories’) that may be of interest.  In the late 1960′s my life intersected with an old Italian grocer named Joe, who altered my concept of ‘money.’  Please enjoy this short flashback.

*          *          *

JOE’S SANDWICHES
During the summer of 1969, dazed and confused after the breakup of my first marriage, I aimlessly walked the Bay Area streets, hoping to let the poison seep out. Since I didn’t have any destination, no goal of any kind, I was suddenly living in the present more than I ever had before.  When I wandered into any place of business I took my time, looked around at the people and things, even consciously smelled the air instead of just rushing in then out with a purchase, like I do now. 

One day I ducked into a corner grocery on Claremont Boulevard, a block off Telegraph Avenue near 51st Street in Oakland.  As was my new custom, I gazed around me and slowly took it all in.   The small space was poorly lit, the aisles so narrow I almost had to walk sideways.  Wide wooden shelves were stocked with a mix of Italian and American foodstuffs, with dried salamis, cheeses and peppers, brooms and other sundries hanging overhead.  At the end of an aisle there was a free-standing rack of greeting cards from the 1930s, their quaint phrases adding to the ambiance. “Come out of your doghouse and play,”  one said, showing a lovelorn man looking out from the entrance of a doghouse, red hearts floating above his head.  Before the end of that first visit I learned the store was run by an old Italian guy named Joe, who seemed to spend most of his time sitting behind the counter on a short stool.

Over the next few weeks I found myself returning to dawdle awhile, exploring the place like I might a museum.   When I saw a small group of secretaries and businessmen form a line at lunchtime to buy Joe’s homemade sandwiches, I joined in.  His ‘poor boy’ included three kinds of meat, three kinds of cheese on a French roll, and cost only 25-cents.  A quarter!   Even in the late 1960s that had to be considered ridiculously cheap.  An empty French roll cost that much anywhere else.  Didn’t Joe realize a roll with meat and cheese should run at least a dollar?  Was he stupid?  Senile?   What ever he was, I hoped he’d never change.

At some point Joe decided to reduce his quota of sandwich clients to just fifteen, informing me I was still on the list.  He mentioned he’d had the store for twenty-five years.  Pretty long, I thought.  Then he told me his first grocery had been at the insurance storefront right next door, and that he’d been there for thirty-nine years.  Far out!  Joe’s two stores had occupied that same Oakland corner for 64 years, about triple my lifetime at that point.

Joe barely had two words for most of the customers, even for the old Italians who arrived daily to pick up bags of food and sign an old ledger.  No money ever changed hands.  These elderly women (I only saw women) all seemed to wear the same kind of long black coats, and none was ever kept waiting.  He would interrupt his sandwich-making or dealings with customers the second one was spotted at the doorway.  Once, when the ledger was open, I caught a glimpse of what looked like hundreds of tiny scrawled signatures, a sum beside each one.

In late August, when I got hired to set tile on a patio at my College (CCA) I went several weeks without Joe’s lunches.  But one day I got the urge to show off my discovery.   I impulsively invited two student co-workers to join me for ‘the cheapest sandwich in town.’  We drove the quick mile to the grocery, got in line, and I gave Joe our order – three poor boys.  As he went to work cutting rolls, adding meat, cheese, spreading mustard, I began to bask in my upcoming glory.  25-cent sandwiches!  Was I cool, or what? 

After Joe wrapped and bagged the food he suddenly called out in a loud, angry voice, “Rick!  Come over here!”  What was wrong?  I was embarrassed to be so abruptly addressed, could feel a blush rising to my cheeks as the lunchtime crowd and my buddies looked on.  When I reached the counter Joe really let me have it.

“Don’t ever bring anyone in here again!”  he exclaimed, making more eye contact than I was used to.  Before I could think straight, recover from my humiliation, the agitated old man lowered the boom.  “Don’t you know it costs me more than twenty-five cents to make these sandwiches?!” 

Oh my God!  He’d known all along!  No one had ever gotten away with anything!  I started to say something, but nothing came out.  Finally the word ‘Why?’ escaped my lips.   Joe’s expression suddenly changed from anger to a mix of something between pity and disgust.  Still speaking gruffly, but with a kind of resigned energy, the old Italian declared, “Somebody’s gotta do something for this country.”

*         *          *

So here was an old Italian immigrant thinking he could help America by selling his hand-made sandwiches at a loss while giving free bags of food away to the local community!  Not quite the typical capitalistic modes operandi!  I’d like to think that Joe’s shockwave had something to do with the creation of my how-to book, FEATURE FILMMAKING AT USED-CAR PRICES, written 17 years after the 25-cent sandwiches.   Since people regard the cost of a feature film to be millions of dollars, not thousands from the sale of a used-car, my book helped some artists rethink the possibilities.  So maybe I unconsiously carried Joe’s example forward.

What still captures my imagination is wondering how Joe decided on that course of action.  What experiences did he have growing up that drove him to do it? (I’m currently doing some research in the Italian community, to see if anyone remembers him and can supply some facts about his life)  At any rate, he is a hero of mine and I feel  responsibility for helping his story live on (thanks blog!).

Black President: Answers to Comments

black president coverThanks Mr. Landers, for your comment, and getting me thinking about ‘crazy  person’ verses ‘planned assassin’ in the political killings I cover in Black President.  I agree that there hasn’t been a smoking gun proof that these were other than maniacs working independently, but when I wrote my book I was following the stories of JFK, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy from the inside of the minds of the planners.  So a certain logic began developing. Through all the static of conspiracy theories came Oswald’s phrase, I’m just a patsy’ or whatever he exactly said as he was being hauled  away.  All the reading I did on the subject (and movies…) urged me to  notate just how a patsy is used — setting up a person to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, to take the blame for something they were only  indirectly involved in (or lured into for $).  After covering JFK’s assassination, and later in Black President giving myself the task of re-thinking/re-writing the horror of MLK Jr. and Bobby Kennedy’s possible scenerios, I let myself build further on the ‘patsy’ approach, with similar perpetrators (or fellow perpetrators) in the mix.  They could laugh to themselves about just how effectively a patsy-in-place had worked previously, and how THEIR patsy, James Earl Ray, WOULD work.  Following the logic, living the experience from the inside (Ray touches the rifle for fingerprints, a second white Mustang found to be identified at appropriate places, fireman relieved of duty at the station across the street from the fateful motel, etc.), it seemed like a workable plan for assassins. Sirhan Sirhan seemed like another ‘patsy’ personality.  Once a second shooter was dropped into thejob it made sense (please let me know what you think when you read BP!)
The arguement could be, amateurs with dumb luck verses professional trained, sharpshooting assassins.  I’ve seen TV documentaries on ‘US sniper schools’ (surely other countries have these…) which I think I heard turn out 5000 trained shooters a year.  Equipped with the latest rifles, loads and scopes (maybe these adjust automatically/digitally for wind conditions and  atmospheric conditions), these trained assassins are a scary proposition for  the future.  I’ll most likely include this horrid trend in my follow up novel to Black President, entitled Black House, which begins after the US election of 2012!  At any rate, I’ll look forward to reading your Empire Apart and Mr. Ramsay’s Politics & Paranoia!
 

Black President – answer to comments

Black President coverMr. Ramsay’s comment about the MILITARY INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX brings up questions about the unseen power of economic interests in US and elsewhere. Since JFK may have been assassinated when he tried to derail the beginning of the Vietnam war, it makes me wonder (and worry) about how Barack, if elected, could personally survive his promise to end the war. We in America may think we’re voting for change, but how naïve is that? Can ANYONE stand up to the MIC? They must be earning billions each month with the current US ‘actions.’ The biggest questions are; Who are they, To what extent do they control the destinies of countries around the world, and, How do we wrestle back control of our lives? They must figure we’ll buy the latest logic: IRAQ WAR + FIGHTING TERRORISM = WE CAN RAISE GAS PRICES THROUGH THE ROOF. And now Bush will probably get oil drilling passed for off the California coast and Alaskan wilderness (they’ve been trying to get this through for years…). Now OUR pain at the pumps, which THEY created, is used against us! Not a pretty picture.

On another note, thinking about Mr. Ramsay’s comment, that he could imagine JFK fathering a large number of illegitimate kids, focused me on Marilyn Monroe and her supposed affairs with both the President and his brother Bobby. There’s a slew of current websites discussing various scenerios regarding her involvement, especially with Bobby around the time of her death. Black President has a particularly vivid chapter that places them together on her last night. I have to wonder how our complacent 1960′s world would have been shattered if she had admitted to a Kennedy pregnancy at a press conference (she had supposedly threatened to go public on TV). And what affect would proof of their relationship(s) have on the US political scene /now/? In my book, I describe a variety of agencies and mobsters, almost falling over eachother to terminate the sex goddess before she toppled the government. Certainly, FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover wouldn’t have been happy to lose his stranglehold on the Kennedy’s – her public confession would have rendered his secret cache of Kennedy sex tapes and private files worthless. Lately we’ve heard of an unknown Monroe sex film selling for 1.5 million. What next!

BLACK PRESIDENT

Rick Schmidt — Hi there. I am tapping this out in California. My novel ‘Black President’ will be published in Britain later in the year. I am an independent movie producer and when not filming or editing usually write non-fiction between teaching gigs. Sorry to sound like the stereotypical boastful yank that I hope I am not, but I wrote a movie-making book, ‘Feature Filmmaking at Used-Car Prices’, some years ago and it is still selling here and there. It helped Kevin Smith create his ‘Clerks’ and he was nice enough to give me a blurb for the cover (Thanks Kev!). So for awhile I actually got royalties :>). Oh yeah, and my Extreme DV came out in 2004, about making digital video features (the $ way to go — what I use now!)

So, why, a novel?

I was between writing my how-to books and wondered if I could possibly write some fiction. After all, I did make up my own movies! Around 1997 or 1998 I got a concept of following the lives of a black family where one child, secretly an illegitimate son of JFK, grows up in America. I figured there must have been at least one woman JFK seduced who decided to keep her child. At some point in the writing it became obvious that the child should rise to be a candidate for the Presidency. And as I wrote out his childhood experiences I decided to also include the US political climate and timelines, re-write all those poisonous historical moments from the 1960′s on that had clogged my consciousness, the assassinations and secret Ops, presidential plottings, imagining it all from the point of view of the perpetrators. Basically, ‘Black President’ is a distillation of my research of forty years of US history, politics and subterfuge right up to the present. ‘Black President’ concludes in the White House 2012.

There have been so many questionable events in American history over my lifetime, including the assassinations -JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr., and then Bobby Kennedy -which was the last straw for those of us who tried to maintain hope through the 1960′s. I remember walking into my kitchen in Berkeley and hearing the announcement about Bobby’s assassination on the radio. I got a gut ache. That was especially hurtful because he seemed to be representing the needed governmental changes.

As the writing went along I enjoyed creating a new logic that didn’t seem so haywire. How many times do we have to see a diagram of the Kennedy bullet that went sideways, or been told that Oswald fired all those bullets by himself? It felt good to re-write Bobby’s assassination and numerous other dark events, right through to a chapter about the stolen 2000 election and questionable collapse of Building #7. Suddenly I started to sort of own those disturbing moments in history instead of being victimized by them, which is how it had felt.

Around the time I was wrapping up a first draft of what became ‘Black President’, a guy named Barack Obama, who nobody outside of Illinois had ever heard of, was losing a 2000 Democratic run for the U.S. House of Representatives, to four-term incumbent, Bobby Rush, by a two-to-one margin.

He was re-elected to the Illinois Senate again in 2002 and started his historic climb toward the Democratic nomination for the Presidency. So I’m pretty shocked that I somehow imagined all this coming…all pretty mind-boggling from my perspective. Hopefully there will be a new era after Barack gets elected(!). This country has under-performed for so long that we’re all a little dazed, I’m afraid. But we’re now getting hopeful again, that we can come back from the ruin of the last 8 years.