"The man with a toothache thinks everyone happy whose teeth are
sound. The poverty-stricken man makes the same mistake about the
George Bernard Shaw
by P.J. Jason
Smoke trailed from door jambs and rooftops, blotting out the
sun; and the brightest thing on the street was a paramedic in
white overalls with a red cross on his back like a bull's eye.
He wrapped a bandage around the head of an old black woman,
weeping on the curb as a stretcher was slid into the back of a
Rumors spread through the hood. "They cracked that boy's head
wide open. Them white cops." The cops said the victim took out a
knife and lunged at the police woman. "L.A.P.D., cops, all of em,
in bed with that Mark Fuhrman."
Three days of looting and violence passed quickly.
Mr. and Mrs. Lucce held hands and slowly dragged a squeaky
shopping cart over the blood stained street. Now Mr. Lucce's
greatest fear was that one of them would slip, break a hip and
end up in the hospital for the holidays. But when Mrs. Lucce saw
Mr. Jenkins and his son outside their grocery store, she smiled
at her husband as she always did. The Jenkins were sunk low in
their lawn chairs, shotguns balanced on their kneecaps.
"Now what you folks doin' out in this mess?" said Mr. Jenkins.
"Ya want, I could run up some bread," said Jenkins junior,
offering Mr. Lucce a chair.
"No thanks," said Mr. Lucce. "Better you hold down the fort."
"Helluva night," said Mr. Jenkins, shaking his head as if it all
were his terrible burden. "But people in Los Angeles sick of
"But people gotta eat, don't they?" said Mrs. Lucce. "And all
the stores burned and closed out."
"Yes, we gotta eat," added the husband.
He swore he could still smell the proscuitto and provolone in
the rotten floor boards of Jenkins' store. Only now the floor was
tiled. And he was warned by Mrs. Lucce:"Don't mention it." These
people overcame their circumstances. They might take it the wrong
way. It's just that Mr. Lucce lived on the Boulevard so long, he
remembered when Jenkins' Deli was Fiori's Bakery. And why
shouldn't he remember? Even with his eyesight failing, he could
still see the faded signs along this, his boyhood street:
Dante's Cafe, Laccio's Drugs, Alonzo's Paper Company - all the
Italians that once lived in South Central.
"Yup, that's the truth. People gotta eat." said Jenkins junior,
pulling Mr. Lucce's shopping cart into the store just as a fire
engine clanged around the corner.
"But I don't get it," Mr. Jenkins said. "The burning and
looting. They even hit on the brothers last night. Now me and my
boy are standing guard. They're haters out there."
"They hate our skin, you mean," said Mr. Lucce.
Mr. Jenkins seemed busy sweeping glass away from his broken
"So, why don't you let my boy run up something?" said Mr.
Jenkins. "Really, you people shouldn't be out on a day like
"You know my husband," said Mrs. Lucce, winking. "It's
something to do with floor boards and provolone."
"You mean he's still smelling my place?" said Mr. Jenkins. "But
them folks are long gone. Mr. Lucce, please, please... don't go
sniffing around here like you did the other day. Gives people the
"And people gotta eat," said Mrs. Lucce, her voice bubbly.
Just then, Mr. Hurley came into the store, his thumbs covered
with soot. Mrs. Lucce was laughing as she helped Jenkins junior
fill a sack with flour.
"Good mornin', y'all."
"Good mornin' yourself," said Mr. Jenkins. "When is all this
nonsense gonna end? It's ruinin' business."
"And good morning to you," said Mr. Lucce. "I guess it's good we
live in the same building? Don't you think, Mr. Hurley? They're
burning out the others."
"I suppose," said Mr. Hurley. "But I didn't expect to see you
people. But yeah, long as I'm super - "
"But some people are burning out their own," said Mr. Jenkins.
"Well, not me anyway. Not yet," said Mr. Hurley. "Boiler's gonna
need some fixin' though... Could be cold tonight."
"That's what you said last time," said Jenkins junior. "These
poor folks came in here lookin' for canned food."
"Yeah," said Mr. Lucce. He was standing next to the son who was
hacking away at a frozen chicken. "Lots of old people in the
building nearly went solid in the cold. Why don't you just get a
Mrs. Lucce gave her husband a sideways look. He should've known
better, pressuring people like Mr. Hurley whose difficulties
probably began on some plantation - ages ago.
"How about a new boiler?" said Mr. Jenkins.
Mr. Hurley picked up his grocery bag. "A new boiler?"
Smoke filled the little store as the front door slammed shut.
Mr. Hurley didn't wave good-bye.
"Such a nice man," said Mrs. Lucce.
"Will that be all?" said Jenkins junior dragging the shopping
cart to the cash register.
"Maybe you folks better stock up. With this mess, you never
know," said Mr. Jenkins adding up the items. "Put it on the bill,
"You're too kind," said Mrs. Lucce, opening her purse. "But
we've imposed on you people for too long." She handed over the
last few dollars of the week.
"Besides," said Mr. Lucce. "It's the first of the month. The
check should be
in the mail."
"Hell, if you need anything...just let us know," said Junior.
On the way home, Mrs. Lucce chattered. "The Jenkins are nice
people." Mr. Lucce nodded mechanically. He held open the graffiti
splattered door for the mailman, Mr. Dupee. But before Mrs. Lucce
could drag the cart into the lobby, Mr. Dupee gave her a helping
"First of the month," said Mr. Lucce, anxiously.
Mr. Dupee dug in his bag. "Actually," he said. "With all the
craziness, there's been a delay."
"It's that bad?" asked Mrs. Lucce.
Mr. Dupee locked the boxes and looked at the old creatures.
"It's getting worse," he said. "It's going to snow."
"Snow!? In Los Angeles," said Mr. Lucce. Everyone seemed shocked
as a lone snowflake blew against the lobby door, scorched
charcoal black. "Maybe I'll take the dogs to the park."
"We don't have a dog," said Mrs. Lucce.
It howled all night; and snow drifts banked over the hoods of
cars. clouds of steam rose from the hot ash smoldering under the
ice covered streets. Mrs. Lucce stuffed newspaper and towels into
the cracks of her windowsills; an icicle hung from the ceiling
pipes. Mr. Lucce fell asleep in an arm chair, his feet propped on
a pillow in front of the kitchen stove.
This was totally nuts. Snow in California. Mrs. Lucce kept
dialing the weather channel. But the line was always busy.
Then the snow stopped and the sun was well above the smoky
rooftops, the mercury pinned to its bulb. Mrs. Lucce woke, fell
asleep, shivered and woke again. She was on the floor under a
woolen blanket. Mr. Lucce's head was thrown back, his mouth wide
open, eyes closed.
The oven went out during the night and Mr. Lucce's blanket
slipped off. Mrs. Lucce rubbed her husband's face until the pink
"Damn boiler again!" he said.
"No lights, and no gas," Mrs. Lucce added. "Maybe the whole city
"No, it's them, I tell you. The gangstas."
"What are you trying to say"
"Oh, right. I forgot. Their circumstances, of course." "It's
because of our skin... you're saying?"
Mr. Lucce opened the refrigerator. The light was out. The milk
was bad and the eggs had burst. "People gotta eat?" His false
teeth clacked. "My denture glue? I can't even boil water."
"Danny, stop thinking about your stomach. You can't shut me out.
It's because of our skin, you think."
"No, everyone and everybody, they're just wonderful. And
delightful. Delightful and wonderful."
"Don't be stupid, you, I'll show you."
She picked up the telephone:
"Mr. Jenkins. Thank God. Our boiler, our oven, everything's out.
Could you have your son bring some hot coffee, and fresh bread?"
There was static at the other end.
"I'm sorry. It's crazy, busy down here."
There was more static.
"Excuse me? Hello? Are you there?"
"Sorry - "
"Hello? Hello? Anyone there?"
"Hello, Mrs. Lucce. I'm sorry. Dad's busy, but if you can wait,
I'll run up as soon as I can."
"Oh, you will? How wonderful."
"What now?" asked Mr. Lucce.
"They're busy, but Junior will come up as soon as he can."
Mr. Lucce looked out the window and saw a policeman turn the
corner by Jenkins' store. His footprints were the first and only
ones in the freshly fallen snow. "Busy, huh. Funny how snow
"What's the snow got to do with it?"
"If they're so damn busy, why aren't there more footprints
outside the store? Look out the window...."
"No, I won't. I won't look. I'm sick of your suspicions. You've
ruined my life."
"My suspicions. Maria, what do you think the looting and burning
are all about - you?"
"That has nothing to do with it."
"Right, I never heard you people this and that in Jenkins' store
today. I imagined it, like a lot of things."
"Oh you're just trying to get even because Jenkins won't let you
sniff around the place..."
"Right, that's another thing. Whose side are you on anyway? You
just want them to think I'm a good for nothing."
"Now you don't trust me either."
"No, it's them."
"Know what I think. We're going to end up in an early grave if
we don't do something."
"Remember my sister?"
"She got involved with that crazy Russian, didn't she?"
"Right, she and her husband hired that writer to live with them
for a few months. He wrote a story about them. Remember? So they
could see themselves, they could see what was killing them."
"So, what are you saying. You want a Chekhov to come to South
"No, I don't think he's right for us. But what if we could get
one of those black writers, you know, someone who knows his way
around, we could know, once and for all, how they see us..."
"Look, you know what? At this point, I don't care what you do.
I'm hungry, it's cold and I have to eat...It's not funny anymore.
Mr. Lucce looked back to the window in despair, but his wife got
the yellow pages...She remembered a book she saw in the library.
The Ways of White Folks or something like that. Surely whoever
wrote that would know a few things...and she was surprised to
find his number listed along with a Chekhov's and a few other
writers who had taken out a full page ad. And she was even more
surprised when he agreed to do it, gladly, promptly.
"It's done." Mrs. Lucce primped the pillows of her arm chair.
She put on a wool house dress and bright lipstick; and she
insisted her husband wear a heavy sweater, like a hair shirt,
under his suit.
"But didn't you overlook a small detail," said Mr. Lucce. "How
much is this gonna cost? We don't have a pot to piss in."
"It'll work out," said Mrs. Lucce. "Don't worry. Just get ready.
He'll be here...now hurry."
When someone knocked on the door, Mr. Lucce hoped to find Junior
and food. Instead, it was the writer fellow, a hat pulled over
one corner of his eye, a cigarette dangling from his lips. He
looked more like a detective than a writer...and he smoked
throughout his visit. Mrs. Lucce remembered that her sister's
writer actually spit blood into a handkerchief.
"You shouldn't smoke so much," she said to her writer. "It'll
tear your insides."
"I'm sorry," he said, squashing his cigarette into the ash tray.
"This is Southern California. How can it be so cold?" He put his
hat back on his head.
"Lately, everything is upside down," said Mrs. Lucce.
"Actually," said Mr. Lucce. "My wife lives in a fantasy world.
That's why you're here. All this has nothing to do with our skin.
Isn't that right, dear?"
"She explained it all...on the phone," said their black writer,
opening his notebook. "Are others in the building without heat?"
"Well, we don't really know our neighbors. I mean, in the hall,
we're friendly, it's not that we have differences. And Mr.
Hurley, the super, is delightful."
"Right, the boiler's broken, there's no gas. Delightful and
"The gas is out?" said the writer. "That's odd. I was only a few
blocks from here, and - "
"Case closed," said Mr. Lucce.
"Now one second," said the writer. "I made it clear to your
wife. There are two types of stories. The commercial one which
contains the traditional hero. And then there's the other one,
which abandons the hero and villain in favor of the social
problem. Without making the characters social types, of course.
And did you explain the agreement to your husband?"
It was clear enough, Mrs. Lucce thought. Given they couldn't pay
this writer, he only wanted exclusive rights to their story.
There might be a movie in the old people, given they were the
last white family in South Central. Something like the last of
the Mohicans. It had a romantic ring to it. And one other thing:
The writer insisted on complete access to every facet, every
detail, of the Lucce household - no matter how personal.
He read old love letters sent to Mrs. Lucce from Sicily during
World War 11. He examined old IRS forms, and some 8th grade
report cards. ("Mr. Lucce," one teacher wrote, "comes to school
as often as Santa Claus.")
The writer even asked questions about their sex life, and showed
them ink blots. Then he found a rotten potato on a black ribbon
hanging in a closet. Mr. and Mrs. Lucce looked at one another
conspiratorially. It was something Danny's mother brought from
the old country. The idea was: Spit on the potato, put it in your
closet; when it dried, so did someone's soul, your enemy. The
writer had a hunch that the black ribbon might be a telling
But he was too exhausted (and frozen) to pressure the old folks.
He left, promising to get the story to them by the day's end. But
first, he'd interview neighbors; and he promised to deliver their
message to Jenkins: Send food!
"What now?" asked Mr. Lucce, closing the door. Mrs. Lucce
looked out of the window as their writer turned the corner by
Jenkins' store. There was still hardly a footprint in the
"I better go down myself," she said, "even if I slip and break
a hip." The husband agreed to watch her from the window.
Mrs. Lucce dragged her shopping cart down the long hallway.
Funny, she thought, the lights were on. Still she hurried, afraid
the Jenkins might close for the day; so she left her cart at the
top of the stairs, too heavy to carry down in a rush.
"Am I glad to see you."
Surprised, Mr. Dupee looked up the stairwell at the cart. Then
he turned back to the mail boxes filled with green checks, checks
which he stuffed into his mail bag.
"You're surprised?" said the mailman. "But I thought you people
would be under the covers, staying warm?"
"We will, but first we need a little money. We gotta eat, but
the gas is out and the heat is off."
"That's what you people think about?"
"That's a funny way to put it, isn't it?" said Mrs. Lucce. "You
sure crack me up."
Mr. Dupee locked the boxes and was knee deep in snow when Mrs.
Lucce realized: The check! "You forgot the check!"
"There's a delay," he said, without turning around.
Mrs. Lucce climbed back up the steps. Then she got a whiff of
cooking fat and she heard what was bacon crackling in a frying
pan, and a steam pipe hissed behind a neighbor's door.
"Danny?" She found her husband hacking away at some frozen milk,
sucking on the ice chips.
"Where's the shopping cart," he blurted. "The food?"
"The cart? Jesus, I left it by the steps, but when I came back,
it was gone."
"Gone? You mean stolen?"
"I don't get it. I heard someone cooking, I swear, and the hall
lights are on and I think there's steam in this building and
checks for everyone but us."
"What am I, an idiot?" Mr. Lucce grabbed the phone. "This time,
I'm catching them." He put down the phone.
"It's dead," he said "They cut the line. What are they doing to
Mr. Lucce looked under the kitchen sink.
"What are you doing?" said Mrs. Lucce, pulling a brown envelope
from her coat pocket.
"No, what are you doing?" said Mr. Lucce pulling out a tool box.
"It's something our writer sent with the mailman."
"I see. He got our number pretty damn fast, huh?"
Mr. Lucce grabbed a crowbar and got on a ladder. Then he banged
on the pipes, knocking the icicles from the ceiling. Mrs. Lucce
took out a short, but neatly typed manuscript.
"Shhhh, would you stop. I'm trying to read"
Mr. Lucce kept banging - clang, clang, clang.
"Listen, would you listen to this!?"
"Why should I? The bastards." He hit the pipes again. "People
have to eat," he cried. "Don't they know?" He swung his crowbar
with all his strength. Then his ladder slipped. He fell and his
teeth were knocked loose and into a corner of the room, with a
hard slap, like a hockey puck.
Mrs. Lucce was busy reading:
They were the types who went in for black people - Danny and
Maria - the Lucces. Maybe they tried too hard to make friends,
dark friends, and they suspected...
Contributor's Note: P.J. Jason's stories have appeared in
African Voices, Fiction International, ACM (Another Chicago
Magazine) , River Styx, Black River Review, Wascana Review, Blue
Penny Qaurterly, and Private Arts.
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.