Concerned Citizen, Episode 5, Night School


[Opens with standard montage of cars effortlessly zooming over concrete cloverleaves, of clean people conversing animatedly in bistros with virgin white tablecloths and deferential brown waitpeople. The opening theme, the jazz-fusion “Horehound’s Groove”, chikka-chikkaing mid-tempo and mid-range as the familiar deadpan voice of TV’s Brock Horehound [played by Hollywood warhorse Grant Cameron, who had outlived six marriages, five ex-wives, and a three pack a day habit by 1974] intones gravelly, secure in his poses as omniscient oracular figure, director, and producer of the series.]

Horehound: I was on the force once. But things have changed. The law has changed, and left common people –good people –in the lurch. And yeah, I work within the law… sometimes. But sometimes I’ve got to go around the law, to protect the interests of the law itself –and the people it protects.

[And there the intro ends. As Horehound’s car pulls into the familiar blacktop behind his office, he begins to speak again. This is expected.]

Horehound: Tuesday, January 14th. The air is cool in Los Angeles and I’ve got no work, so I’ve been making some noise about getting back in a Black and White. But the Force has changed now, they say. To be considered you gotta have a college degree. So I’ve started Night School, and tried to cut down on the drinking.

[Exterior shot of high school, just an impassive structure without a living soul evident within its frame, as strings sound hopeful progressions in the background.]

Horehound: I knew to make it through I had to pace myself, to start slow. One class a week. Tuesday night, at a local high school. A class entitled “Free to Be You and Me”. Some facilitative communications jazz. I missed the first couple of weeks, because things came up. But the professor said he didn’t mind me coming in and going at my own pace. He said that’s what the class was about.

[A battleship-gray classroom. Eleven desks arranged in a semi-circle, more or less, with Horehound in the center left region, clad in a coral cardigan, a power-blue oxford, and khakis. His feet are crossed underneath the desk in which his body is more at home than one might expect. The bumper chikka-chikka fades out, and a voice –nasal, ridden with “knowledge” becomes audible. We get a shot at this teacher –spectral in tweed, glasses lingering on the bridge of the thin pedagogue’s nose –holding forth. There are hand-gestures, reminiscent of a small-time county commissioner working the marks to push some land grab through. Finally, we can make out words as the camera pans again on Horehound’s impassive moonface.]

Professor Riley: One of the things we keep coming back to in this class is the idea of freedom. The freedom to do what you want, to be who you want to be.

[And here the camera pans: a Hindi dapper in an indigo suit; an older white man, a deadringer for Barry Goldwater, in a black suit and hornrims; a black woman, comely in the way of matrons, in a pressed white nurse’s get up. All given a spot of time, a few frames, just enough for us to see that these are people of quality. Good people. But there are only so many good people in the world of Horehound. There are bad people as well. And one of them is seated right in the line of sight of our estimable title character. He is white, as we’ve come to expect. Unruly, curly hair, caramel-hued, the sort of hair mothers once called a mop, back when mothers cared what their sons’ hair looked like. Round, thick black frames, too big for his face, with glass tinted distinctly maize, but with a bit of a sunset’s tinge. He wears a light brown leather vest with tassels, a loud shirt underneath; paisleys on a green background. Blue corduroys, the flares of which skirt the floor underneath him, a dismal sort of tile all too familiar to those who have labored in the drab edutainment institutions foisted upon us by the state. And he speaks.]

Jerry: Yeah, but how can we be what we want to be, when the man’s trying to bring us down. His lies. His corruption, his outdated laws.

[We hear murmurs throughout the classroom, voices indistinct in both pronunciation and conviction, like many voices, most voices, perhaps your own voice. A shot of Horehound rolling his eyes in boredom, then a shot of yet another man in a blue suit. A white guy, thirty-ish, with hair plastered close to his scalp and a security guard’s mustache. He is well-groomed and as bereft of fashion sense as toilet paper. He speaks.]

Mr. Mathews: Now hold on a minute. The laws aren’t outdated. They’re here to protect us, and perhaps to protect us from people like you.

[Mathews –we never get his first name –glowers in Jerry’s direction. Jerry matches his intensity and holds forth once more.]

Jerry: Protect us from people like you, he says. Sure, make it us against them. Spell it out so anyone can read it –if you dress a little different, or want to see love rule, you’re all of a sudden a threat to our national security.

[Jerry here bangs the desk in frustration. I remember once, as a teacher, a similar incident. There was a student who made a similar argument, claiming that I was infringing on his right to do what he wanted to do.]

Mathews: I’m not talking about national security here. I’m talking about my security! And the fact is your kind causes a lot of problems.

[Mathews here is sweating profusely, as if rained on. I can understand his frustration here, really. This student of mine felt it was his “right” to wear a Coed Naked Volleyball shirt –in my classroom! I’m sure not every student wanted to be presented with the idea of playing volleyball naked, for one thing. And for another, I myself didn’t want to imagine those flabby student bodies cavorting on sunbleached sand or in a sultry, stench-ridden gymnasium, their bodies flailing and crashing like those of would-be heavyweight contenders made into pretenders by their inability to commit toward achieving the big score. There were a lot of underachievers at my university, I’ll tell you that.]

Jerry: What problems am I causing anyone, huh? I take care of myself! I don’t ask anything of you, except to leave me alone.

[A shot of the hippie’s petulant visage, then a shot of Horehound, whose eyes show nothing but whose nostrils begin to flare. His hand here is trembling, hearkening back to shakedowns from previous shows, from previous roles, and you know that if this wasn’t a television classroom in 1971, he might have been smoking, and he might have jabbed that flaming Chesterfield in the face of that self-styled dissident.]

Horehound: You don’t ask anything of him, huh? Well, what if he’s driving behind you on the road, right after you’ve decided to turn on. Studies show that marijuana use contributes to car accidents year after year.

[Jerry runs his hand over his face in exasperation, and looks around at the rest of the class. The members shown –the Hindi and the Goldwaterite –don’t return his gaze. This is the way of most people though; when I started making light of the COED NAKED VOLLEYBALL shirt, in what I’d personally adjudged to be a valiant defusing of a would-be powderkeg, those I was trying to protect –little blonde girls in clothes from the mall –looked at me with disgust. And never had I felt so old.]

Jerry: I don’t think that’s your business… hey, wait a minute? Are you a cop?

[Here Jerry smiles, mockingly. I remember too well what it was like to receive one of those smiles. The kid with the offensive T–shirt, smirking every time I turned around to write a few words on the chalkboard. I took a stand, and I too was mocked for having gumption. The camera closes in on Horehound’s face, as the bumper music takes us into break. The almost inadvertent shadows under his eyes render him hollow, betraying him for icons who are younger, less weighed-down with baggage.

The bumper music –the slower version, with guitar omitted –sounds and we get gratuitous shots that are intended to suggest Los Angeles, as is customary with this program: the Hollywood Bowl, at night; the Rose Bowl, teeming with a capacity crowd; Venice Beach, lined with sunbathers. Horehound intones as the camera pans across a line of oil-soaked nubiles, toasting on white towels; a legion of Gidgets and Barbies, so average that they’re completely unattainable.]

Horehound: After the class had ended, I got the names of both Ralph Matthews and Jerry Rabinovich from the instructor. He was happy to oblige, though I asked him under the guise of forming a study group. After I got the names, I called an old pal on the force and told him he might want to run checks. He took that under advisement.

[The beachtowels and the bathing beauties fade, and we get a shot of Horehound and his former LAPD partner, Detective Ray Linger. Though Linger was the junior officer of the pair, Horehound’s dismissal from the force altered the distribution of power between the two (cf. unfilmed scripts of Episodes 8 and 10, for further examples). They both have beer mugs in front of them in a dark, old-style bar. A soap opera plays on the television; it is clear that it is a weekday afternoon.]

Linger: You ever watch these stories, Brock?

[Horehound ashes his Chesterfield, and genially smiles at his old partner.]

Horehound: Never had much of a chance to get involved in them.

Linger: Well, sometime you should check them out. You might like them –they help pass the time. [Here Linger smiles, and damned if that doesn’t look like contempt in his eyes, as he scoops a handful of salted peanuts from a convenient bowl.]

Horehound: Why would I need to ‘pass the time’? You think I’m not busy enough, is that it?

Linger: That’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m just saying that Madge likes them, and since you have more time on your hands than you used to….

[Linger here trails off, letting the exhaust from his newly-lit cigarette serve as ellipsis. The embers of the twin smokes carry an unnamable psychic weight in the bar scene, signaling the failing of bodies, the loss of faculties, the dissolution and the hopelessness of dreams. And I cannot help but know the failing of bodies and the myriad losses that come as time passes, intimately, like unexpected bitter smells from a lover who has overstayed her welcome. I know what it is to be failed by biology, to be superceded by people with all their hair, clad in the fashions of the day. I’m not one of those people, but I’m a person of dignity. People nowadays, they don’t even know what dignity means. That said, there’s no way that the t-shirt incident, debasing to my professional dignity as it was, would affect my employment. There were other factors, sadly.]

Horehound: So I see how it is. I have a falling-out with the department, an honest disagreement. How long had I been with them? 25 years. One slip-up, and I’m done, despite all the work I’ve done.

Linger: Brock, come on now….

Horehound: No, Linger, now you listen to me. You know my work. When I was walking a beat, back when the department was ridden with corruption, and often two cops had to deal with 20 criminals single-handed. I dealt with the slurs –I was the fuzz, the heat, John Q Law.

Linger: This sounds familiar, somehow.

[Linger here rolls his eyes. We get a shot of the bartender raising his eyebrows in the direction of Horehound and Linger. Tall, with a high forehead, with dirty blonde hair that mats to gray near the temples. An innocuous, almost distinguished countenance. But his eyes are icy and blue and impassive.]

Bartender: Would you two lovebirds like another drink? Or do you want to keep calling to each other in the breeze?

[A touch of malice in his voice, a gutterality at odds with any other uniformed character toward Horehound, a throatiness that belies his blue jacket, his white shirt, his straight–arrow bow tie. The bar has become unfriendly to Horehound and Linger; the officers cast puzzled glances in the direction of the barkeep. I came to know establishments that were likewise unfriendly. During the media investigation, supermarket checkout girls who caused me to blush with their boom time coy smiles no longer smiled at me. Their faces were hard and impassive as they ran foodstuffs over scanners, as they put my overstretched Visa through its paces.]

Horehound: Now hold on there, boy –

Bartender: Boy? Who are you to call me boy?

[The bartender’s voice is “raised”, as they say. Horehound’s nostrils are flaring, as is so often the case. His fists are clenched and he looks like an abusive father ready to silence his noisy, noisome demon spawn. Linger, meanwhile, works the ancillary second–banana angle, casting his eyes heavenward, keeping a hand lightly on the shoulder of his former partner. Linger has seen this action before.]

Horehound: You pipe down, mister! I was just in here having a drink –a nice conversation with an old friend. What’s the big idea?

[The bartender smirks, then pantomimes a reefer inhalation, bugging his eyes out to signify that he took the mother of all hits. Linger is off-camera; the dynamic now centers exclusively on the Bartender and the star of the show.]

Bartender: You don’t remember me at all, do you?

[Here we get a longshot of a ceiling fan. A shot reminiscent of the conversation I had with my boss when I was being terminated. As he shuffled through the angry stack of e–mailed student complaints, I couldn’t watch that motion as he summarized the major points of these missives, minor in the eyes of people who know better yet enough to see me jettisoned. I too remember staring up and watching the ceiling fan, and feeling it dry what moisture had beaded in my eyes. But there are no tears from Horehound.]

Horehound: So many faces, so many names, there’s no way to expect me to remember them all. Especially now, when I’m off the force, when I’ve been “excused” from the payroll. So whatever you’re trying to tell me, son, you better make it good.

[The bartender smiled and reached out his hand to shake Horehound’s, then retracted that offer just as Horehound’s face softened. Somehow I am reminded of a visit to a local strip club that I made just after I had been awarded a plaque recognizing my professional achievement [for the purposes of brevity, the awarding agency needn’t be discussed here, but let’s just say it was prestigious]. After Marriott’s attempt at Thai food had been consumed and after the ceremony had concluded, I found myself in my car, alone, driving through areas of town that had seen better days. Where the malls had closed, and where adult entertainment complexes provided the only source of entertainment. A light rain had started to fall, but the promise of more was imminent. I pulled into the first parking lot I saw, as I didn’t feel comfortable driving in the rain, and I felt like I earned a little something after the words that had been said behind my back at the ceremony. It was a moment of weakness, to be sure. But I had been weak before. The only difference was that this time, the lapdancer was a student from the previous semester. She worked me; hey, Professor, she asked, why don’t you give me a spin? I was spent before the second verse of the song was over. She looked down at me, smiled, and then called for her manager. She claimed that I had put my hands on her, which was against house rules. The staff loosened my teeth and gave my face some character by way of payback, and my explanations the next few days at school were forced, at best.]

Bartender: Man, you’re way off! Three years ago you sent me up –I was holding two joints, not even anything loose. 3 years for 3 grams, and now you want to come in here and act like everything’s casual.

Horehound: You do the crime, you do the time, right, Linger? Maybe you should search this hype right now.

[Linger stares on impassively.]

Bartender: ‘Hype’? It was grass, pig, not heroin. Don’t you think I know the difference?

[Horehound makes a move to reach inside his jacket, but Linger whispers something inaudible in his ear, and Horehound is reduced to shaking his head at the man he had once arrested for possession with intent to distribute, as the two men find their way out of the deserted bar into the sunset glare of the incongruously deserted thoroughfare.]

Horehound: Thanks for stopping me, partner. I was about to kick his teeth in and would’ve, if you hadn’t been there.

Linger: Right. I know your temper.

[Linger here stares at the sidewalk. Horehound lights a cigarette and the camera, or my mind, focuses on the flame meeting paper, the flash and the exhaustion that follows.]

Horehound: Say, I have an idea! Why don’t you and your better half have me over for some steaks off the grill? We could make a night of it.

[Horehound’s face pleads even as his erstwhile junior partner turns and walks away. There will be no Porterhouse, no Del Monico, no Filet Mignon or New York Strip. There will be no illusion of collegiality: no quiet laughs, with the bases of wine glasses standing on a fresh, clean tabletop, reflecting a material prosperity that is superficially Continental but intrinsically American. American in that the price paid for luxury is implicit, and in that everyone knows the price is no one-time thing. You keep paying the price, and if you can’t, if you slip up even momentarily, all that privilege is stripped from you. As is your name, as is your rank, as is your corner office with the antique Victrola and the commendation letters from former students, former department chairs. Someone else fills your spot. Your business cards are trashed. Your labelgunned name on the departmental mailbox is peeled off, replaced with that of some up-and-comer, some bright young kid who believes that the life –the academic life –itself offers rewards. The rewards are not intrinsic.]

[Commercial break, then we get some low-key brush-and-string arrangement over shots of suburban men mowing lawns, of Hispanic boys playing touch football, of the Hollywood sign. The scene changes to inside Horehound doing push-ups in the living room of his apartment. As the music fades, Horehound’s voice begins to intone.]

Horehound: Fifty push-ups, fifty sit-ups. In my view, the key to a healthy mind is a healthy body. After completing my routine, I showered and shaved, and then called an old friend on the force, to make sure that the bar I’d been to that day had no code or licensure violations. I told this friend, who would prefer not to be named in this record, that the bartender had seemed hinky. I was reading in my living room when I heard the doorbell. It was 9:15 PM.

[Horehound, dressed in a white oxford shirt, gray slacks, and black socks, rises from his sofa to answer the door. The woman on the other side is tall, thin, 25-30 years if age. A blonde with a pageboy haircut and a mole on her cheek, in a black blouse and knee-length skirt. We hear strings as Horehound begins to speak.]

Horehound: Carolyn –what brings you by?

Carolyn: You know very well what brings me by –you just called me, silly. About my notebook.

[Horehound smiles coyly, and Carolyn soon follows suit. This is a game they’ve never engaged each other in, yet it’s understood that both parties know the protocols, passed down from oracular television set designers and gangland kingpins turned celebrities. Luck be a lady tonight. The Rat Pack ethos is here implicit in Horehound’s wrinkly eyes, in the Julie Londonesque smoldering sexuality the female lead. Both parties know what they want. And for those who asked, I have had women, even students, knock on my doors at the latest and earliest of hours. And, yes, I have opened those doors, with acceptance in my heart trumping what fluke libido perked and pulsed through my veins.]

Horehound: Well, come in and take a load off.

[1994. I was teaching at a major university in a Northeastern population center. Or should I say I was pioneering in the field of American Cultural Studies. Some scholars felt that the study of culture would vitiate the groundsoil of their precious literature departments, but my endeavors in the area did not go unnoticed by many observers of academia, and they speak to the vitality and the “good sense” of the study of popular culture. But that story is for another time. My class [ University Name Withheld, 23.112.94; “Many Cultures, Many Selves”], which had gotten rave reviews by students, faculty, and outside observers alike, sought to synthesize hard-shell Deconstructionism with the take-no-prisoners gusto of cultural anthropology. One of the requirements of the class was a willingness to take a number of field trips and observe various subcultures, in their natural habitats. I hasten to add that the course was approved by the University. Tacitly or openly, whatever. It was approved.]

Carolyn: I can only stay a second, but that’d be lovely, Brock.

[The field trips were, on the whole, as well-received as my other offerings and initiatives in and to the class. It had been decided that the class would go to a local reggae club and observe people reacting to the vibrant Caribbean music. I myself have had more than a casual acquaintance with Jamaicans, and I was looking forward to spending some time relaxing with and getting to know my students. Brock and Carolyn make their way to the couch, and winsome, string-ridden music courses through the air vents, or something. Horehound made not even a motion toward the stereo, which renders the verisimilitude of the scene suspect, to say the least.]

Horehound: Say, while I have you here, I want to ask you something.

[Horehound turns to face Carolyn, in the way that any red-blooded American male would turn and face a young lovely on his couch, if that male were imagining how her body would tremble from his touch, how her nipples would linger on his taste buds like the aftertaste of home-churned ice cream. How her hips longed to be pressed flesh against his hips, as thrust and pull turns a chance meeting into a consecration of something beyond words. I too have known the feeling of using sex to render the quotidian memorable. In the 1994 class in question, I in particular just then knew that feeling.]

Carolyn: What is it, Brock?

[On the evening of the field trip, an evening that would eventually occasion unfounded, scurrilous allegations and messy legal complications that could’ve been avoided, the entire city was hot and pressed close, millions of nubiles and physically stalwart forms pressed flesh on flesh in the dark sanctum of subway cars. The reggae club was the city, but with ganja for all and love for most, except for those who approached everything I tried to do for my students with guardedness, even antagonism. Those sullen, disconsolate ones were appalled by the public flouting of our nation’s drug laws, or so they said. They said they felt the exercise, like the class itself, had been a waste of their time. They termed me a pompous ass, an overbearing fool. They slandered me. But as we know, jobs and reputations don’t hinge on discussions of pedagogical methods.]

Horehound: I want to ask you what you think of the class so far. Is it meeting your needs? Do you feel like you’re getting a lot out of this experience?

[This question, as students of the Horehound series and of any work with the Grant Cameron imprint, is typical of people discussing the machinations under which power is marshaled and exercised. The party inquiring typically holds authority over the party being asked. Sometimes the means of said authority is overtly stated, sometimes simply implied.]

Carolyn: What do you mean, Brock?

[Here she bristles and for the first time in the scene, we get the idea that Carolyn might not be as accommodating as Horehound hoped. Many women work similar angles in real-life classrooms. Many times in my career, I encountered temptresses of many different permutations. Athletes, dancers, gymnasts, actresses, and flutists with lustrous shampoo-ad hair; blonde and brunette, to be sure, but on occasion tinged with the indelible hues of peach flesh. On the date in question in 1994, that hair was still lovelier in the strobing, hazy airspace of the reggae club, where arms and legs couldn’t help but graze against each other, where fingers couldn’t help but become entwined in the pulsespiking thrall of the taboo.]

Horehound: I want to be perfectly frank with you here. I’m curious as to what you feel the true intentions of the class we’re taking are.

[At the reggae club, there was a student who moved her hips metronomically, as if trying to lock my eyes in and hypnotize me with her erotic undulations. I had been seduced before, or more correctly, seduction had been attempted. I felt her hand press against the small of my back, moving up and down my spine, pausing almost reverentially on the muscles of my lower back as if to say here is the body of a man. A virile, vital man.]

Carolyn: I can’t say as if I’m following you here. What exactly are you talking about?

[Oh, yes. Here she plays dumb. Here she pretends to have no clue what is going on. No concept of her body language. No idea of what patchouli as consecration itself wafting into my nostrils does to a man in my position. She claimed that she was “reluctant” to dance with me but did so because she was “conscious of a correlation between dancing and attaining the grade she had earned in the class”.]

Horehound: What I’m talking about, Carolyn, are elements in the class that federal, state and local authorities would term subversive. Are you aware of what subversion is?

[Horehound’s eyes here, like my own in that reggae club. Certainly beseeching, but with an air of affection, even love. Not the tawdry love of Spelling productions and chocolate bar commercials, but a stoic love. The same quiet love that drove me to guide the student in question, the name of which legal stipulations forbid me to use, onto the dancefloor.]

Carolyn: I’m not stupid, Brock. I’ve seen all those Cold War filmstrips.

[Her eyes are ridged with a hardness bordering on contempt. I grew to know that hardness on the dancefloor, which emptied as she and I –the teacher and the student –boogied on, reggae style. The music sped up, the reggae turned into polka, and the chant loosed forth from the toaster (bandleader) and the audience themselves. Go white boy, go white boy, go. Go white boy, go white boy, go. Go white boy, go white boy, go. Horehound’s nostrils are flaring, as was their wont.]

Horehound: Feel free to trivialize the concerns of the nation at large if you wish. Sure, that’ll make you feel good, for a while. Peace and love, and no personal responsibility, and everything’s groovy, huh?

[While Horehound pauses for dramatic effect, we get a shot of Carolyn staring at the floor, just as the student discussed above stared at the floor, as if in embarrassment, as I pulled her close to me.]

Horehound: Well, let me tell you something. I was on the Force, and not too long ago either. I’ve seen children born with hideous birth defects. I’ve picked up girls barely in training bras. Girls with reefer and sugarcubes on them, who smell of vice and the underworld as you might have smelled of your girlhood perfume.

[Carolyn shakes her head, but otherwise maintains her own counsel. There is no talking to these women sometimes. It’s as if they thirst for spectacle, as if they find sport in people standing up for what is right. Go white boy, go white boy, go.]

Horehound: So when I speak to you about this issue, I do so with the understanding that you too are committed to nipping the spread of illegal drugs in the bud. You too understand the horrors these pharmaceutical and agricultural demons are, what they represent to decent people, trying to live decent lives. Are you with me, here?

Carolyn: Sure, but I’m only one person. What can I do?

[The student discussed above stormed out of the club, tears coming to her eyes. I followed her, wanting nothing more than to stand by her. To let her know things were going to be all right. To apologize for any actions of mine which could be misconstrued as untoward. I caught up to her just after she passed the doorman and a queue of gawkers. I placed my hands on her shoulders, and even under her blouse I could feel the heat of her skin. I could smell her scent of desire, and I knew there were things we could share. We had a bond.]

Horehound: Get involved. Talk to those you know about drugs. Ask them if they know anyone who uses. Let them know drugs are a sickness. And one more thing.

[Then she turned around and slapped the taste out of my mouth. Her leg brushed against mine in the heart of her follow-through, and I knew this woman had passion for me that she couldn’t dare speak. Her parents wouldn’t understand. The other students would claim I was playing favorites. But how could anyone deny me the soft, yielding curves of her pelvis and waist? How could anyone tell me I couldn’t stand behind her as she chopped vegetables for a healthy dinner in our cozy apartment, pulling her back into my front, my manhood protruding into the soft, beautiful cleave of her backside? I am a man of distinction and degrees, a man who has accomplished things most feeble minds can’t even contemplate. I am not a man to be denied simple sensate pleasure. I am not a man to be denied happiness.]

Carolyn: What’s that?

[The expression on her face is as neutral as Sherwin-Williams “Caffe Tan” paint.]

Horehound: Tell me something honestly, here. Has anyone in class approached you about using or buying drugs?

[It’s hard to expect honesty in the classroom environment, or even in an environment where the classroom is being discussed. Too many politics. Too many people interested in privileging their own viewpoints over those of others.]

Carolyn: What is this? Are you a cop?

[He might as well have slid his hand up her skirt. Carolyn here closed her legs and placed her handbag over the moving-day box her lap –her womanhood –has all too abruptly become. What minor suggestion of levity that might have found its way onto Horehound’s visage under more felicitous circumstances has vanished, in the same manner the student discussed above vanished after she struck me. I was left there, to wilt under the derisive glares of those waiting to get into the club and enjoy the reggae beat. I couldn’t tell them they had but a small part of the story. That I was much more than a pathetic, graying man who just got his jaw jacked by a woman with half his years and twice his desirability. That she had smiled at me in class, and had selected a desk right under the lectern so that I could trace the bountiful curves of her bosom with my eyes in preparation for tasting them with my tongue. Scoopneck shirts. Blouses with the top three buttons undone. She knew her tricks, and soon enough I knew her tricks, and soon thereafter I couldn’t help but inventory those tricks in every spare moment, deconstructing the brutal symbolism of young flesh exposed to old eyes.]

Horehound: This isn’t police business. I’m no longer on the force. I’m just a concerned citizen, and I don’t want to see you get hurt. If you can stem a destructive tide, why not do so? I’m just looking for some information –what do you know about Jerry Rabinovich?

[Even before Horehound finishes his question, Carolyn is at the door, opening it, closing it, departing without words or even a glance. It’s hard to sympathize with her, really, as we all know how many misunderstandings could be cleared up with a frank exchange of viewpoints. I called the student discussed above many times as the wee hours of the evening marched forth into a lurid, obscene sunrise. 2:30. 2:45. 2:57. 3:01. 3:35. 4:16. 4:17. 4:18. 5:30. 5:33. Those were the times mentioned in the written complaint, and I see no reason to dispute them. I finally found distracted sleep, even with the sun’s glare coursing through my bedroom window. The window has morning sun, and while in good times that’s a selling point, I should confess that there are times when all I want is darkness. To be left alone, trying to figure out what’s gone wrong.

Commercial break. Then we get shots of emergency vehicles –firetrucks, cop cars, ambulances –hurtling down suburban streets. A loud siren at the beginning of the scene, the volume of which dips below conversational levels just as Horehound starts talking.]

Horehound: Often, people are careless about pulling to the side of the road and yielding to emergency vehicles that need to pass –to save lives. I had intended to get to class early on the evening of Tuesday, January 21, but I noticed a motorist who refused to yield to an ambulance on a call. It was my police reflexes, I suppose, that triggered the following chain of events.

[Martial music here. No strings, just horns and bombast, like John Philip Sousa on HGH. Horehound’s sedan plays doppelganger to the one he’s trailing; each is an identical washed-out metallic blue. As the song proceeds from bar to bar, the cars speed up, even as Horehound maintains a distance appropriate for the weather (sunny) and the rate of travel. One car length every ten MPH. That is his way.]

Horehound: After following the motorist closely for a number of minutes, I was able to persuade him to pull over, at which time I exited my car and directed the motorist to roll down his window.

[The scene proceeds as Horehound describes it. The motorist is a dark-skinned, diminutive black man, a well-preserved sixty year old. He rolls down the window with alacrity. This is as good a time as any to talk about the aftermath.]

Motorist: Yes, can I help you?

[By aftermath, I’m referring to the day after the phone calls the student above accused me of making. There are other aftermaths, to be sure, but for the sake of chronology and accuracy of what stands as a public record of the whole sorry affair, I’ll bastardize the word for my own purposes.]

Horehound: I don’t want to step in where I don’t belong, but I noticed a shortcoming in your driving technique.

[As mentioned above, I slept fitfully, never truly finding comfort. I got out of bed shortly before 10AM, and staggered to the bathroom to wet and comb my hair. When immersed in the ritual of grooming, it occurred to me that perhaps I should visit the student in question. Sometimes a visit to someone’s home to try to clear up a misunderstanding in person is just the thing to smooth over rough patches. For the record, just for those who are reading this document with an eye toward digging for more material with which to assemble the text of my vilification, it was and is Departmental policy to collect index cards with each student’s “contact information”. Contact information could be many things –email, phone numbers, and, yes, addresses –and is intended for usage primarily when a student is unable to fulfill the requirements of the class, or when a student has missed some classes and needs assignment information or other information pertinent to the course itself. It was up to me to interpret Departmental policy as I saw fit. If I had it to do again, I might have done a number of things differently.]

Motorist: My driving technique? Sir, is this some kind of joke?

[The face of the motorist is wrinkled, in the manner of “sour” expressions the world over. The visages of people whose coffee is too bitter, whose breakfast omelet is served tepid and clammy, as mine was on the day after the night of the close dancing and the phone calls I’ve regretted since.]

Horehound: A joke? Sure, if you think that not following the rules of the road is a joke.

[Horehound here smiles in the superficially warm manner of a 50s sitcom dad.]

Motorist: Apparently, sir, your English isn’t so good. I’m asking you to tell me what you’re talking about, because I certainly have no clue.

[I choked down a breakfast at a local independent diner. A two-egg “Spanish Omelet” that was about as Spanish as Stanley Fish tangoing. Bacon, not crisp as has always been my preference, but soggy and grease-logged, like the hair of the waitress who brought me these would be delicacies. The toast was rank with unrequested butter, and even though there was no great pleasure from the consumption of the meal, I ate every bite nonetheless.]

Horehound: Let me tell you what you did, sir, and then let’s see if you find it suitable for lampooning. An emergency vehicle came down the street, behind you. Only you could control whether or not you pulled to the side to let the vehicle pass.

[Even though I knew digestive discomfort was imminent, I tipped between fifteen and twenty percent. The gratuity stood as an acknowledgement of the work that has historically gone into food service and preparation, more so certainly than the sorry examples of those twained trades offered forth to me on that day.]

Motorist: Are you talking about that ambulance? That thing turned right when it was still a block behind me!

[Horehound smiles a no-sell at the motorist, suggesting that he’s not listening to a damned thing coming from his mouth.]

Horehound: Rather than pull over, you opted to proceed, as if betting on the emergency vehicle to proceed in a different direction. You risked lives!

[Horehound speaks these words like a gunshot rendered in slow motion. He is implacable and convinced of his essential correctness in this matter. I felt the same sense of essential correctness as I idled outside the group house in which she lived, smoking cigarettes and listening to the endless loop of headline news on the radio. Try as I might, I could forge no pretext to ring her doorbell. I tried to conjure what might be going on in that house, in the living room, in her bedroom. Especially her bedroom.]

Motorist: You are a jive talking fool, you know that? What you trying to hustle me for?

[The scriptwriting here as elsewhere in the series, as elsewhere in the grand body of work that is American television, relies on stereotypes. The spiky, pornographic thrill of convenient representations. Bleach for white skin, white teeth, white lies. Darkness magnified, caricaturized; blacks Maumaued into jungle bunny poses, cloned, blurred faced dark chocolate Easter bunnies. Stereotypes; the castor-oil of the Silent Majority, sour but a failsafe panacea all the same.]

Horehound: Hustle? Now you listen to me. I was just trying to help you out. To tell you that maybe there’s a better way to drive, a better way to live, than what you might be familiar with in your community. Maybe you can show some hope, and some faith in laws and what they’re intended to do….

[During those sentences, the motorist rolls up his window and is driving away by the time Horehound exhorts him to “show some hope.” After squinting in the direction of the departing domestic sedan, Horehound reaches into his blazer pocket, pulls out a memo pad and pen, and jots what can only be a tag number. Hope may sound corny to some, especially those of my former colleagues who seemed to teach only for the paycheck and the rank. But I knew very personally the hope that comes when a student learns to think through problems in a different way than before he met you. I know what it’s like to elevate people from a base level of ignorance brought on by social conditioning, as letters written on my behalf in better times indicate. I also know other hopes, and I know these as sinister and depraved. A balled–up pair of faded, size 7 jeans on the hardwood floor of a student flat, smelling of nightclub smoke. Panties, white with a pattern of faded pastel flowers, smelling of All–Temperature Cheer and birth, renewal, hope –all those tropes, all those words I wrote on blackboards in chalk or whiteboards in dry-erase marker. Words I scrawled, really, thinking the whole time as I wrote them how much I would like to run my tongue inside slits and forge goosebumps dynamic and eternal like relief map mountains or phonebooth Braille. Hopes to wake up next to women, any women, all women, women I’ve taught, women who smile at me because they recognize quality. But those hopes were snuffed like the ass-end of one of Horehound’s smokes, and as these missed opportunities filed out, term after term, after closing their bluebooks and leaving them on the table at which I sat, “proctoring”, they always smiled flirtatiously and left in their wake a bouquet of cosmetic-counter scents. I was weak, but not evil. I was bound by desires no one could reasonably expect to fill. In another time, in another place, in an alternate realm where I had all my hair and I was more than a mere Visiting Lecturer, the desires and the outcomes might have been different.

The reliable traffic cloverleaf, for spacing, then the exterior facade of the Night School, same as before, same as it ever was. Walking in the door, we follow the backview of Horehound as he walks down a deserted corridor, getting smaller by the second. He opens the classroom door, and a din of angry voices cuts out all at once. There is silence, heavy as sausage gravy on a summer day. Then there is a cymbal crash, and there are voices again, still angry, but newly individual.]

Goldwater: The nerve of you!

[Here the man shakes his fist at Horehound, and we get a brief look at a sadness in the eyes of our male lead. Clearly, this scene is intended to symbolize the breach of faith series auteur Grant Cameron believes exists between the police and the citizenry. To understand that breach is akin to understanding original sin, one might argue, or even akin to understanding what happened to me. Why I was jettisoned. Why I was not given a chance to explain myself. To explain the loneliness, the desperation, that drove me to despicable acts. For they were despicable. And for them I’m as sorry as I am alive.]

Black Nurse: How are we supposed to trust you? What do you hope to accomplish in our class?

[The camera pans to show a mutinous horde, a night school class gone ugly as they so often do.]

Jerry: I knew it about you. I knew it from the start. Narc.

[In the course of those few lines, Horehound’s expression ranges from flummoxed to enraged. He turns around when he notices a manicured, explicitly feminine hand on his shoulder. The music changes from confrontation to almost a lilting holding pattern, for just a moment, for a bar or three. Horehound wants to lean into her torso, to be encompassed by her singularly Nordic sensuality. But then she steps back.]

Carolyn: Riley wants to see you. In his office. Right now.

[Her face went cold, fossilized, like that of Ayn Rand after sex that didn’t quite work out. Horehound’s shoulders slumped as he trudged out the door, as he steeled himself for another walk down that holocaustic corridor.]

Horehound: I had an idea what had happened, but I didn’t even want to voice my concerns at that point. I was caught in the crossfire, yet again. Not a crossfire of bullets, so much as a crossfire of ideas.

[Here Horehound stops in the hallway and lights one of his familiar Chesterfields, almost as if gearing up for an extended soliloquy. I wonder what the chances are of that happening….]

Horehound: To be a Los Angeles Police Officer, one undergoes a lot of training and testing. Psychological, physical, emotional, sure, but above all testing of character. The candidate is asked and learns to ask himself if he has what it takes to serve on the nation’s preeminent local police force. Often, the answer is no. Less than five percent of all candidates who apply end up wearing a uniform and patrolling a beat.

[Here he takes another drag. I think of the post-firing jobs I’ve applied for. The ridiculous tests I’ve undergone. In spite of myself, I feel a connection to this two–dimensional TV cop. Then again, I’ve found myself crying at long distance commercials and reaching orgasm watching women’s softball. My mind isn’t right these days. Not all the time, anyway.]

Horehound: So why does someone become a cop? Not for the fat paychecks. Sure, if you salt away a dollar here and there, you might be able to go on vacation. Just don’t be dreaming of Paris. You might be able to buy a house, though it won’t be a mansion or anything even close to that.

[A drag, then an ash. There are no windows in the hall, and there is scant light. Just Horehound with his scents: his sharp cologne, his smoke, the aftertaste of black coffee on his breath. He walks until he reaches an office door, wood with frosted glass, with the name Riley over the glass in imperturbable black lettering.]

Horehound: So why become a cop? There’s the pleasure of a job well done. Sometimes. There’s the feeling that you’re helping people, that you’re making a difference. But sometimes that too is fleeting. Sometimes you can only give so much, until you start feeling taken.

[As Horehound takes another drag, the office door opens, and Riley stands in the doorway, schoolmarmish, hands on hips.]

Riley: Mister Horehound –or should I call you Officer, or even Sergeant. Come in for a second. We have some business to discuss.

[Riley’s tone is what a hack journalist would describe as “hectoring”. Horehound takes a final drag, then throws his cigarette to the tile and stomps it underfoot.]

Horehound: I don’t think so, Teach. Not today. Not today.

[Horehound turns and walks down that schoolhouse hall for the last time as the strains of “Theme From Concerned Citizen” blare from fifty million small screens in sitting rooms. He shrinks as he approaches the light and as names of tech people and supporting characters roll over his back].




ANTHONY GANCARSKI is a regular CounterPunch columnist. He can be reached at