27) Friday, the 19th (Dusk) – “Pirates of the District”
Nakonset Park… four square, treeless blocks of dirt, rocks, scrub, rats n’snakes (probably at least some of the poisonous variety) as well as buckets of broken glass and busted hypodermic needles… was almost equidistant from the Soames and Eppert households. Although officially part of Maryland, hence, suburbia, this corner of Dempstertown was hardcore… nastier, even, than Grape Street, being as it lay on the frontier between the D. T. Nation, a posse of black heroin dealers massed around the southern entrance, and their mortal enemies, the Lost Gangster Tribe, an uneasy mix of white trash and Spanish crankheads, prowling the northern approach. As the Epperts entered the park, Tom’s right fist squarely on his Junior’s shoulder, a vulpine kid in a long, soiled, gray overcoat and white watchcap, hissed at them, and muttered…
“Blunts, whites, baby blues, got V, V-square… OC, kat too…”
Tom pulled his son closer to him, giving the kid a middle finger. “You know that loser?”
“Seen him aroun’ school…” Junior said.
“See him on our block and I see to it the Outfit wipes his ass with his tongue…”
Tom guided his son into a clearing where perhaps two hundred people milled around an improvised stage, strategically situated so that the speaker faced west into the setting sun, a gang-neutral direction. The crowd was mostly, but not all, black… and uniformly cold, stomping in place, blowing into cupped hands, smiling for a few roaming camera crews from local stations.
“What are we doin’ here anyway?” Junior protested.
“I’m lookin’ for a guy…” his father replied, massaging the gun stuck in his belt under his camo jacket.
Junior pointed. “So who’s that?”
“Some preacher…” Tom snorted, biting off the n-word that he’d been about to utter by reminding himself of the wisdom of America’s President… impeached, rejected by the voters and the fake news, but still hanging in tough. Some of them had to be good people, even General Westmoreland Soames, who was probably not responsible for his cousin’s duplicity. But he had introduced him to Raoul and then absconded from FREECOCK last night like a jailbird on the run, and so would pay the price, one way or another.
Onstage, the Reverend Ellsworth Godwin lowered his microphone, adjusted the volume upwards, then raised it to his lips, thinking if only it weren’t so goddam cold!
“We’ve been lied to!” he began “We’ve been disrespected! We’ve seen hope extended, false hope, then jerked away, soon as election day came and went. Men down there…” and he extended a gloved finger south, past the Nation and their turf, all the way towards the heart of Official Washington, “and in those new FCC offices up there…” he turned, and pointed north, past the slithering Tribe, towards College Park, “cut deals to make themselves more money at our expense, same as they always do… can I hear an ‘Amen’?”
The crowd roared back ‘Amen!’ (more, as it seemed, as an excuse to move around and get warm). At the southern fringe of the crowd a few bolder Nation thugz scanned contingents of third and fourth-graders… monitored by teachers, out for a night of democracy in action… evaluating potential recruits, or victims. General Westmoreland Soames was huddled with Eric Hopper, from Feargal’s, when a couple guys from the ‘hood, Slim and Easy, braced them…
“Whassup?” Westy nodded, trying not show any nerve, although he knew exactly what these guys were about. Raoul’s loose lips could sink the U.S.S. Titanic.
“Dunno. People might be lookin’ for your cousin,” Slim ventured, “…think you might know where he been hidin’ his evil ass at…”
Westy grinned, perhaps overmuch. “Said he was goin’ to Norfolk, hook up with that big-time associate supplyin’ him with his material…”
Easy had on an old Arizona Cardinals hoodie beneath his Members Only, cloaking his face while he kept his hands in the pouch across his ample stomach, bouncing them as if there was something in there he wanted the world to know about. “His crap! People wantin’ to talk to him…”
“He’s family,” Westy admitted, “but he’s not stupid…”
And then Eric… the real idiot… blurted out, “Well, you did tell me that he got over on Miz Lottie…”
Slim whistled. “He sol’ one of them crap converter boxes to Miz Lottie?” All Westy could do was shrug, cursing Eric for sucking up to these lowlifes. “Crazy nigger!”
“Guess he won’t be comin’ round for awhile, then…” Easy suggested, his hands still bouncing in the Arizona sweatshirt.
“Maybe he is stupid,” Westy replied, “but not stupid stupid…”
And Slim smiled. He’d gotten his teeth filed into points at Jessup… the Dracula look was a jailhouse fashion of the moment, like ink tattoos and baggy pants had been, meaning it would hit the streets soon, too. “Lot of that goin’ round, bro’.”
Westy wondered if the pair would make a move with so many civilians around, but they’d also turned to listen to Godwin… although Easy’s ears flickered, almost as if he were hoping their prey would break for the bushes.
“Someone who’s not on the program,” the Reverend teased, “because, well, some would say he and his type do not exist… I, of course, having no personal information on the so-called Capitol Free Broadcasting, cannot affirm or deny any of his remarks, I only note that quite a few of you came out this way due to messages broadcast over a temporarily vacant frequency, channel 53. I am given to understand that he is a man without a name and… as you can see… he is also a man without a face…”
Eric pointed to someone emerging from the underbrush behind Godwin.
“That a Klansman?” some wag shouted out.
“He is not from the Ku Klux Klan,” the Reverend anticipated his audience, “because, well, in the first place, his hoodie is black, not white and that mask of the white guy with the mustache… that’s from this movie. Don’t know which. I really don’t know who he is, but he comes highly recommended, and since this is a community gathering, we have to be open to all who have information on this vital development… since I do know we’re going to have some rather unusual speakers upcoming, let’s hear this fellow out and, should someone in law enforcement subsequently ask, you might wish to say that you didn’t see or hear this speaker either…”
And the man under the hood took Godwin’s microphone…
“I’m not going to say much,” the masked and hooded man began… and it occurred to Tom Eppert that he was trying to disguise his voice… “not only because it’s cold, but because a gathering of this nature may be considered off-limits to community broadcasters by the powers that be. Suffice it to say that I may have knowledge of these so-called pirate broadcasts that have taken place from time to time over the last few months… some of you may even have tuned in to our signal earlier this evening. There will be further details upcoming tomorrow morning at ten or thereabouts… since our signal is mobile, some of you will be able to access it somewhat before, others somewhat after. It is unfortunate when the truth has to wear a disguise, but such is the nature of the society that has usurped the America some of us used to know.”
“Still looks like the Klan,” Easy opined, still keeping both hands in the pouch of his Arizona Cardinals sweatshirt, as if holding an enforcer in case Westy Soames continued to claim a lack of accountability for his no-good cousin…
“The often-illegal use of low-powered broadcasting in so-called pariah communities… that would be racial, sexual and cultural minorities, immigrants, young people,” the man in the black hood tolled off, “even adults, ordinary people careless enough to express dissatisfaction with corporate-managed radio’s automated playlists or the persistence of cheap, cruel reality contests even after the end of the actors’ boycotts and television and movie writers’ strike, last year… is long and honorable.”
“That hood’s like those ones they put on those terrorists in Iraq, in that prison, you know?” Junior Eppert tried to impress his dad.
“Figures that Mt. Zion would start up a protest in the park and bring some fuckin’ Arab to bad mouth America,” Tom said, looking around again. “That Godwin’s father was the same sort of hell-raiser, back in the day.”
He’d been certain Soames would show up, and he wouldn’t leave without his money or a lot of blood on the ground…
“It’s doubtful that there ever would’ve been a so-called rock and roll revolt, let alone promotion of genres like country music or rhythm and blues without Mexican radio stations whose strong signals, illegal in the United States, reached millions of young Americans during that time of the Cold War. By the 1960s and 70’s… a time of turmoil with the Vietnam War and civil rights struggle… the British state communications monopoly was challenged by so-called “pirate” broadcasters, operating from ships lying just off the English coast. A few years later, the revolution had spread to America in the person of Mbanna Kantako, a young, blind African-American living in a public housing project in East Springfield, Illinois who, with a one-watt transmitter obtained through an electronics catalog, was repeatedly raided, even fined by FCC agents, but remained on the air… eventually joined by micropower broadcasters from Detroit to California to right here in Washington, where a group of community broadcasters launched Radio Libre Mount Pleasant, serving that neighborhood.”
“Heard about them,” Slim turned to his hostages. “Talk, talk an’ talk… buncha damn trash-talkin’ Commonists…”
“But, during the Clinton, the second Bush, Obama and now the Trump administrations,” the hooded man continued, “a counterattack by government agents, surrogates for corporate broadcasting as it lumbers down the road of cultural concentration and homogenization, has driven the microbroadcasting community further underground. New York’s pirate enterprise called “Steal this Radio” was shut down by federal district court Judge Michael Mukasey who ruled that the broadcast spectrum is not a public forum and the FCC's regulations were constitutional because they restrict speech based on wealth, not content or viewpoint. It was appealed to the Supreme Court, but you can guess what happened there!
“The government also suppressed Radio Free Berkeley years ago, so its founders turned to providing technical instruction and the raw materials to interested parties, some of whom emerged during the brief period of tolerance for a few, mostly rural microbroadcasters around the turn of the century. With the advent of the Bush Administration and installation of Michael Powell… yep, Colin’s boy… pressure from the National Association of Broadcasters prompted passage of the Radio Broadcast Protection Act which, by 2003, re-criminalized most low-power enterprises. A few licenses were doled out to speculators, who have since resold those in economically viable areas back to NAB corporate interests, while sitting on less-profitable frequencies.
“Two decades ago, Stephen Dunifer, a founder of RFB and author of technical primers like ‘Seizing the Airwaves’ and ‘Micropower Broadcasting’ noted that reserving only six megahertz of over a hundred reclaimed by the government and sold at auction to the mobile phone industry last year would ensure the availability of low-power radio and TV to most of America, including both urban niche populations and the criminally neglected rural communities, saying: “If you can't communicate, you can't organize. If you can't organize, you can't fight back. And if you can't fight back, you have no hope of winning.” So, if you want to learn more about how the government and corporations have been doing it to Americans in the name of national security, please inform your neighbors, relatives, co-workers… anybody… tune in tomorrow morning, at ten, to what used to be channel 53. Might have used to be. Let’s stand with the Reverend here, stand up and tell those people that we are not going to be pushed to the margins. It’s not about ‘Entertainment Tonight’ or ‘The Amber Dupree Show’ or even the news, it’s about the politics of inclusion, a reversion to a communicative, modulated defiance of Jim Crow or a commitment that the airwaves belong to all of the people…”
Three uniformed Maryland policemen strolled in from the north, passing the Epperts and inducing Tom to grip his son’s arm.
“Be seein’ ya,” the hooded figure abruptly waved, then slipped away behind a knot of Mt. Zion parishoners, affording the Reverend a chance to step up, again and ask for the “Amens” that seemed to sustain him, like money in the basket or strong drink.
But, after garnering his “Amens”, Godwin proceeded to bore the police and his audience alike in a haze of bandwidth spectra, Megapixels, gigaherz and modulated frequencies… in fact, a local wit with strong lungs shouted out…
“What is the frequency, Reverend?”
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