Chandler & Chandler and The Mystery Train

Obligatory note: Written exclusively, this unedited first draft, rushed up the kazoo, for my darlings… Cynthia, Nora, Amanda, Courtney et alia at JUSTICE NOW… knowing I won’t lose them prematurely by asking them to look at their activism from an entirely new angle… for the purpose of coming up in solidarity with a “supplement” to what they’re already doing.

Chandler & Chandler and The Mystery Train
by Your Oxman

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant,/Success in circuit lies,” — from Emily Dickinson’s

I remember the first time I heard (’55*). It was a far cry from Patti Page’s “How Much Is That Doggie in The Window?,” that’s for sure… the type of Hit Parade music that had dominated my earlier formative years (’53). And all that Elvis had shook up (shaken up?, taken up?) resonated once again when Jim Jarmusch (’89) spotlighted the Junior Parker classic at the tail end of those Reagan era abominations.

*Around the same time as

What seeds Colonel Parker planted with Elvis, Scotty Moore, Bill Black and Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis were massaged by Jimbo & Co.* for me… to help me get through the horror I had been fighting, courtesy of Reagan’s Central American horror show. The rhythms and resonating vibes stayed with me through the tough times. Helped me remember Beckett’s “Fail. Fail again. Fail again better.”

*That’s a lot of shoulders I was able to stand on to stand it all. And that fact reminded me of something I came across the other day in researching lovely Cynthia Chandler, a gem of an activist if there ever was one. One soul, for sure, put here on this earth to inspire and help others deal with the inevitable failure which comes with fighting the good fight.

From chandler:

“Thinking about how I’ve sustained myself in doing this kind of work over the years, I would tell these women that you can do progressive, social change work in lots of different ways and arenas—but it takes lots of people to do different kinds of things all at once to make a change happen.

I would say be kind to one self and have a level of amnesty for oneself in terms of how you pick and choose to do this work. That might sound small but we are such a result-oriented society that people often psyche themselves out of trying to do social change work because they think they can’t accomplish big things at once.

The other thing I tell folks is to be willing, no matter how painful it is or how much pressure they get, to take time to reflect on whether or not what they are doing is really making a change or not. Within our capitalist world, there is never really an incentive to admit that we did something that failed. And yet, if we don’t admit this, then we can’t assess if we are making a change. There have been very few people in generations preceding me that have been willing to talk about what things went wrong if they didn’t achieve their desired results. I think that systems move in a way where they maintain themselves and if you are not constantly diligent in asking yourself whether you’re making a change, you will probably become cog in a wheel.”

Too bad Elvis didn’t get to meet Ms. Chandler. Maybe then he wouldn’t have died prematurely holding onto those drugs so tightly on that lonely hotel toilet. [Where on earth do I get this language, these potentially off-putting thoughts?] Seriously, though, I see Cynthia as an asset for one and all, and I’m totally focused on helping her to see how she can be an emotional “Mystery Train” breakthrough for the citizens of California, beginning this year.

That’s language that’s never employed among activists. Goodness, they’re all so grounded as they go about doing their (granted, necessary) work on the mundane ground… feeding, releasing, sheltering and so on. But to fly… which is what we’re all going to have to do… to put the fly in the ointment of our oligarchy*… we’re going to have to — at least a core group of us, for starters — to embrace slightly different language and points of view. Plumb The Mystery in solidarity.

*“the politics of wealth defense by materially endowed actors.”

Fancy, schmanzy, maybe, but in short order The Mystery Train schtick will stick in the souls of the most immiserated among us, within the cells of the incarcerated in and outside of prisons from San Diego to Crescent City and Pelican Bay… and take one and all above and beyond — way above and beyond — hunger strikes, petitions, marching in circles with placards, appealing on bended knee before disingenuous career politicians, writing letters to editors and so on. For the whole shebang I’m going to propose to my dearest dear Cynthia has zero to do with being able to or interested in talking intellectual blah blah. It draws on very visceral with-it-today appeals*… but to spell it all out… I’m going to need Cynthia to extend quite a bit of trust in me… and give over a few more precious heartbeats of time… so that I can DO JUSTICE TO THE PLAN OF ACTION WHICH HOWARD ZINN GAVE HIS THUMBS UP TO… so that I’m not forced to sound bite it into oblivion as she rushes off to her next appointment, or listens with only one ear, her concentration fragmented by the 1001 other matters which she must tend to. [Pause.] I tend to think she’ll board The Mystery Train.

*I won’t be asking the general public to respond to academic rationality or scratchy, unpalatable versions of the railroading we’re going to have to take part in. [Elaboration upon request, of course.] It might be necessary down the tracks to blend in cartoons and God knows what more to move one and all out of their apathy, resignation, ignorance, cynicism and atomization… but we will come up with the necessary supplements.

In his introduction to his pre-Patti Page Trouble Is My Business (’50), a collection of twelve of his short stories, the incomparable Raymond Chandler provided insight on the formula for the detective story and how the pulp magazines differed from previous detective stories:

“The emotional basis of the standard detective story was and had always been that murder will out and justice will be done. Its technical basis was the relative insignificance of everything except the final denouement. What led up to that was more or less passage work. The denouement would justify everything. The technical basis of the Black Mask type of story on the other hand was that the scene outranked the plot, in the sense that a good plot was one which made good scenes. The ideal mystery was one you would read if the end was missing. We who tried to write it had the same point of view as the film makers. When I first went to Hollywood a very intelligent producer told me that you couldn’t make a successful motion picture from a mystery story, because the whole point was a disclosure that took a few seconds of screen time while the audience was reaching for its hat. He was wrong, but only because he was thinking of the wrong kind of mystery.”

I have a different kind of mystery for the kind consideration of Cynthia & Co. A singular train of thought to implement in the real world… which will shortly become not worth living in… EVEN IF ALL OUR INCARCERATED ARE FREED. For as all activists work feverishly and admirably in their little corners fighting the good fight, they are losing sight (or giving up at the fright of it all)… of the need to move in solidarity along fresh lines on a macroscopic plane.

When I talked last night to some gal from Oakland’s Critical Resistance — mentioning my bit about needing to move in solidarity and noting my contact with Justice Now, her neighbor — she interrupted me, claiming that they were already doing things in solidarity with one another. But when I questioned her concerning exactly what that meant, asking about the form the solidarity took… she wouldn’t answer. She suddenly seemed to resent my questioning… not being open to what I was saying about solidarity to date — nationwide — following obsolete* paradigms of action.

*What I mean by “obsolete” can be gleaned by glancing at something from my

“On my birthday, almost two years ago, THEY put Troy to death, executed him… courtesy of the powers that be in the Peach State, Georgia. Long before that, though, a petition was passed around, circulated with high tech gadgetry in gear, securing before all was done… A MILLION SIGNATURES, which included the imprimaturs of The Pope, Angela Davis, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, a number of conservative Georgia politicians (including one in office at the time), Cynthia McKinney et alia. I signed too. BUT… the difference between my signature and most of the million John Hancocks was that when I signed I never intended my signature to be the primary or exclusive means for my saving Troy’s life. I had “supplements” to that signature I was working on.

I failed to save Troy’s life. [Pause.] But there’s a point here which my brothers and sisters at NULeadership must not miss. That is, that it is long past the time when ALL forms of obsolete protest and approaches for bringing about change must be supplemented with a new model for action in solidarity. The new paradigm should respect the value of things like petitions, marching in circles with placards, contacting political reps one-on-one, raising funds for this and that, confronting law enforcement at the barricades, boycotting, hunger striking, sending in letters to editors, voting, attending conferences, discussing ad infinitum and the like. BUT… none of those should be one’s primary or exclusive means for bringing about change respecting life and death issues.”

What’s ahead… down the tracks… past the tracks on the arms of addicts… beyond the daily increasing tracking of us all by the powers that be? I have a legal and nonviolent way to deal with our unacceptable momentum and — simultaneously — all of my past failure with activists.

It requires no money, no signatures, no General Assemblies ad infinitum, no nothing that’s ever been thought of as necessary in the past.

It only demands the undivided attention of Cynthia and her trustworthy colleagues… for starters. At a station where discussion can take place in confidence, where station is not important. Where there is trust, belief in The Mystery Train. A new train of thought. A fresh strain of music featuring women… something utterly unlike smothering snow:


In no special order, I’m wondering (Friday, almost 10pm)

a) What was behind the decision to not put up photos of core people on the JNOW site?
b) “We promote alternatives to policing and prisons and challenge the prison industrial complex in all its forms.” Can someone elaborate on all this for me? For instance, details about alternatives.
c) What is the Voice Project all about? Why isn’t that spelled out on the site?
d) Why isn’t the JNow office operating 24×7? (”How many of us will pay with our lives while we wait for relief?” is part of what I’m thinking about, of course.)
e) Regarding “check back soon, is currently being redesigned to feature more of our work”, when do you expect that might be done?
f) Respecting “Learn more about our testimony regarding, overcrowding, illegal sterilizations and other gender responsive abuses in women’s prisons.”, who do you think reads the entries?
g) Concerning “We inside cannot vote. We cannot lobby Sacramento.”, what would you say if I told you that I have a plan whereby Justice Now people could secure significant reins of power in Sacramento very soon?
h) Is there a reason why the announcement “Justice Now submits legislative testimony on March 15, 2012″ is highlighted?
i) Can someone review the history of success Justice Now has had with petitions?
j) As a former Professor of Dramatic Art, I am particularly interested in how you use theater “to create a vision of a world without prisons and develop the tools to make it a reality now.” Might you be interested in my ideas with regard to that realm?
k) Does anyone ever talk about the downsides of Facebook and/or high tech gadgetry at the office?
l) Would it be practical, all else being equal, to talk about me waging a hunger strike outside of Chowchilla to call attention to the water rationing and other horrors? [My background/credentials/family info is under the 'About Us' banner above.]

That’s a dozen. Enough for now, I guess. I can’t wait for Monday… when, apparently, Cynthia plans to give me feedback; it was a thrill to talk to her today. Just as it was to hear that Nora would be talking to colleagues about my blah blah. I trust that everyone reading the above understands that I do not mean to be critical, or that I do not understand that Justice Now staff have legit reasons for their whole shebang as things stand, and may not want my input (especially the way I’m going about it at the moment). That said, I do hope it’s obvious that I’m looking forward to being a team player as current Justice Now people see fit, serving as an asset for present purposes. Contact The Ox at if you’ve read this, please.

“The only interesting action in life is a miracle or the failure to perform a miracle; and miracles are the only subject of profound interest left for art.” — Susan Sontag, in the introduction to her screenplay for Brother Carl. [One could say the same for "action in activism" now, yes?]