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(May 11, 2005)

         “When gangbangers die, there are no comets seen. . .”---with apologies to Shakespeare.

          Lodged deep in the clogged intestines of an L.A. Times article about Laura Bush’s recent visit to the remains of this city was a brief account of her stop at Homeboy Industries.
          For those unfamiliar with Homeboy, let’s just say that it is enough to make one believe in the possibilities of love, peace, human cooperation, sanity, kindness, capitalism, and possibly magic. Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest, built a company which employs ex-gang members who are looking to get out of the so-called lifestyle. Deathstyle, is more like it. The motto, “nothing stops a bullet like a job.”
          Where councilpersons and mayors throw money and cops and rhetoric at chronic gang savagery, Boyle threw compassion, time and his own money. And how it has worked. Homeboy, with headquarters in the decaying remnants of 1st Street in Boyle Heights, is a fabulous success, and has been for many years.
          The May 7 Times article which mentioned Mrs. Bush’s visit to Homeboy was a catch-all, catch-up feature appearing several days after the fact. This was a soft, Ladies Home Journal-esque “the new Laura Bush in her quest for a legacy” piece (as the headline partially read), dumped in the lowly Saturday paper, which is sort of like sending a juror to a Food Court.
          In the real world, the fact the First Lady stopped in at Homeboy would have been the lead story on the lips of all TeeVee newsmannequins, and close to the lead story on page one of the Times. Mrs. Dubya meets Sleepy, Sad Girl, and Joker.
          But this isn’t the real world, this is L.A.. And this isn’t a real newspaper, it’s the L.A. Times. (Apologies to Al Martinez, Steve Lopez, T.J. Simers, and the occasional fine reporter and editor there.)
          The article dutifully informed that Mrs. Bush’s new “quest for a legacy” (it was literacy during the first term, and I guess that worked out well) consists of the “Helping America’s Youth” initiative. This is also known as the Anti-Gang Initiative, in which about $150 million* will be allegedly given to “faith-based” organizations that attempt to help troubled young people---chiefly to renounce gangs.
          (And embrace Hay-zoos.)
          Like some bad parody of an armchair bleeding heart liberal, the First Lady seems to have gotten the idea by reading a newspaper.
          “I'd gotten this---read this article in the New York Times Magazine and then just started investigating the statistics about boys,” she told PBS’s Jim Lehrer. “And, you know, I would just come across one in the newspaper and another and another---something that I read---and the statistics are pretty alarming. . .About 90 percent of the members of gangs are boys; boys are the ones who drop out of school, who end up in jail.”
          Imagine! Boys in gangs! Next thing you know, young people might start using illegal drugs, and cars will be advertised on television! The only thing more shocking is that she read the New York Times. Well, at least once.

BUSH FAMILY SECRET? Was First Lady Laura Bush actually created by Paul Winchell? Winchell, famed for inventing comedy partner Jerry Mahoney (right), once patented an artificial heart.

          During her stop at Homeboy’s silk-screen plant downtown, the Times reported, Mrs. Dubya was introduced to one Alex Zamudio, a 31-year-old father of three who lost an eye at age 13, after being shot in the face in a gang fight. Thanks to Homeboy, he is learning to become a baker, with the aim of obtaining a certificate at L.A. Trade Tech.
          Give the man a medal.
          Yet here is the question asked of Zamudio by our Laurita, little kid syntax and all:
          “When you were a child and you went and chose the path to go to a gang, do you think there was anything you could have done at that point in your life that would have directed you another way? Do you think you were just hellbent to go and do that before you could turn your life around?”
          If this reads like the thinking of a person entirely divorced from hardship, cushioned by a lifetime of privilege, family, money; a prisoner of naivete and nicety, there is a reason. It is!
          I mean, come on--- “you went and chose the path to go to a gang?” Aside from grammar fit for a, well, Texan, what the cabron does this woman think? That a 13-year-old kid raised in primo barrio gang turf, with whistling bullets instead of chirping birds, chooses a path? That the kid sits down and says to himself, “Well, Homes, you got a choice, Ese. Orale, you can be a ‘banger, or you can choose to be a studious young man with a head full of sense and ambition, and major in pharmacology at UCLA.”
          Hijo de la chingada!
          And then there is this little sentiment: do you think you were just hellbent. . .
          Get down, First Lady, use that earthy lingo that tough kids can understand. Yes, you can identify and empathize with being “hellbent,” right? Laura must have felt pretty darn “hellbent” when she toked up with her sorority sisters in college. Yes, she has walked on the wild side, just like the Venice 13 and the Sawtelo Boys. Chingao! First Lady? First Huiza!
          Wait, there’s more: before you could turn your life around? This must have been young Zamudio’s plan, all right. “Lessee, first I’ll go hellbent and join a gang, and that’ll be properrrr. . .then later, after I get my eye shot out, I’ll turn my life around!”
          Zamudio is to be commended for answering the First Lady with hard truth, no easy thing to do in the presence of a powerful woman with the clout to help Homeboy Industries. I wasn’t there, but his response seems to have a ring of incredulity:
          “Everywhere we grew up was gang-infested,” he explained. “You grow up into that---either family members or people you go to school with. Everybody you are involved with is in gangs, so you end up being a gang member.”
          Right. Kind of like growing up among rich Texas oil crooks.

SMILE! Could Conrad Veidt, star of  the 1928 adaptation of the Victor Hugo classic, "The Man Who Laughs," be an ancestor of Laura Bush?

          One pictures Mrs. Bush with her Romper Room voice and Red Skelton clown painting smile, asking these questions of one-eyed aspiring baker Zamudio, and it is one of the weirdest and more disturbing encounters since her husband strolled hand-in-hand with the Saudi prince down in Crawford.
          Please understand, I’d like to tell Laura I love her. I’d like to forgive her blow-dried Beatles wig, and the terrifying Jerry Mahoney choppers, and the Barbie eyes, and that fact that she isn't Jackie (or even Nancy) and chalk this up to good intentions and out-of-context quotes. But I can’t. Here’s the clincher:
          Mrs. Bush also went on the “Tonight” show during her L.A. legacy quest, and talked to Jay Leno about using Shakespeare to inspire kids to pick up libros instead of Lugars.
          "They actually love it,” she said. “Think about Shakespeare. It's bloody. All those things that boys might like."
          Yes, when you think of Shakespeare, you think of mayhem, don’t you, kids? He was the Jerry Bruckheimer of his day. You know the way Hamlet stabs Polonius behind the arrass? Way cool. Bloody plus boys equals. . .no more barrio!
          You can follow Mrs. Bush’s logic, if you must, but it’s a pitiful journey. Boys like “bloody” stuff---which presumably entails shooting, stabbing, fighting, not brain surgery. Therefore, boys like. . .Shakespeare! Therefore, boys won’t join gangs, because they can read about blood and gore instead of experiencing it live!
          A tragedy of Shakespearian proportion? No, Shakespeare couldn’t have imagined this. A society so far gone that children can’t be attracted to. . .a story? To concepts such as loyalty, family conflict, irony, love in its various permutations, comedy? Isn’t the play the thing? Evidently, not.
          O, happy dagger!
          Mental frailty, thy name is First Lady.

*The war in Iraq has so far cost the U.S. $168 billion, with no end in sight. In the real world, this money would be spent on making the United States a nicer country. But this isn’t the real world, this is Bushcheneyland, in which the problems of Iraq are far more important than the problems of the United States.

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