"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 17 August 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
The New You!


[mmm huh:

Cynthia Beckwith was the

embodiment of the Suck

demographic long before there

was ever a Suck. She is, for

example, a high school dropout

who struggled through many of

her 38 years with no job skills

to speak of. Better yet, though,

she's also an old friend of the

dummy pipe, caught and convicted

on a possession-of-crack felony.

But Cynthia's luck has turned,

and all of that is changing. The

good news? A long prison term.


Not that a ticket to hard stir

is always a hugely positive

development, of course, but

we're not talking about any

ordinary state pen; Beckwith,

along with 29 of her fellow

female felons, had the great

good fortune to land on a cell

block run by folks who

understand her special needs -

"rooms trimmed in teal-green

paint," for instance, and "Avon

cosmetics for sale." The story

of this special place was told

on 5 August in the pages of a

Denver newspaper, the Rocky

Mountain News, under the Joe Bob

Briggsian headline: "Prison

designed with women in mind."

The state-run Denver Women's

Correctional Facility is only

partly completed, and will

eventually hold 900 lucky

ladies; like Beckwith, all will

find that a kinder, gentler

incarceratory experience awaits

them, complete with drug rehab

and a GED program. Best yet, a

comprehensive job-training

program is available to help

them change their lives for the

better. "Beckwith works in the

maintenance department," the

News explains. "Even before the

new prison opened, she came over

from the diagnostic center to

help clean and polish floors -

exactly the kind of job she

wants on the outside."


Gal-con, take me away!


If scrubbing floors doesn't

really seem like a good-news

capper to a life of pain and

desperation, there aren't

necessarily many other choices.

"Felons can't get jobs in health

care or transportation," the

newspaper adds, and so are

limited to such lower-end

options as "janitorial and

computer jobs." Puts a whole new

spin on this New Media thing,

doesn't it?


[house of yes: 'but why would he lie to me about being a virgin?' 'to get laid.'

Another group of people who are

very much like prison inmates

also made the news the very next

day, 6 August, and their

problems were unsurprisingly

similar: limited job skills,

lack of direction, a history of

drug use, a limited amount of

time spent outdoors, little

exercise, and the day-in,

day-out wearing of a uniform.

Except that this other group

doesn't live in an actual

prison; rather, they live in

Seattle. They're what The Wall Street

Journal is still calling

"slackers," with the pejorative

modifier "aging." The newspaper

claims to have discovered an

aging slacker trend; the

deliberately jobless are, the

story goes, flocking to the far

corner of the Pacific Northwest

like pilgrims to the New World,

"as if circling the grunge

wagons." And the Journal,

believe it or not, doesn't

approve. Among other targets,

the newspaper rather

aggressively harshes the mellow

of one D. J. Thompson - his

actual name, apparently, and not

a rap handle - a 29-year-old

exposed on the front page (and

again on the jump page, really

dwelling on the issue) as a

known veggie-burrito-moocher

with a history of exploiting his

careerist girlfriend for meals.


But at least he's clean. "Just

as grown-up flower children made

a few concessions to age -

buying bras, trimming their hair

- aging slackers now, generally,

shower regularly and only wear

flannel when it's actually

cold," the Journal allows.

"Faced with the depressing news

that things aren't as depressing

anymore, some are shamed into

shedding their angst, creating a

sort of slacker-lite."


Things aren't as depressing

anymore, in this particular

narrative, because the stock

market is booming and

unemployment is low. This is the

approximate area in which the

newspaper just very slightly

doesn't seem to get the culture

it's surveying; one slacker, the

story notes, has been working as

a cook in a restaurant - a

vegetarian restaurant, no less,

and we all understand the sorry

implications of that choice -

for five years, and still

refuses to look for a job.

"Restaurant cook" isn't a job,

you wonder? Maybe to the Times,

pal, but this is a business


Ex-slackers, meantime, have a
message for their
stuck-in-time peers: Lose the
attitude. At the upscale Axis
bar downtown, seven young
, wearing sleek tank
dresses and lipstick, sip
gin-and-tonics after work at a
firm that does event planning
for Microsoft. They're cooing
about the economy. "Totally
unbelievable," says Leesa
Stevens, 28.

Wanting to stare
an old addiction in the eye,
ex-slacker Joanne Hernon, 29,
marches up to Linda's Tavern -
allegedly the last place
grunge-master Kurt Cobain was
seen alive in 1994 before he
killed himself. Five years
ago, as a secretary trying to
pay rent, she would "totally
rat out" (get grungy) and hang
out here all the time.

Now, a
computer consultant for law
firms, Ms. Hernon says she
parted the flannel and saw the
light. "These guys say, 'Eww.
It sucks,'" she says, waving
her arms like a preacher to
the tables of slackers
surrounding her. "They feel
the need to be on the
outskirts. Keep themselves in
a poor position. Blame
everyone but themselves."

"It's easy to make money these
days," Ms. Hernon calls out


Which pretty much makes us want

to move to Seattle and fly a

little of the flannel ourselves,

despite our notoriously

superior fashion sense, for the

solitary purpose of standing in

solidarity against women named

Leesa who stand around drinking

G&Ts in sleek tank dresses at

upscale bars and cooing about

the fucking economy. The

suggestion that the economy is

so good, any idiot can make

money in it stands as an

excellent argument for not being

an idiot. When we sell out - for

real this time, and any day now,

we're not kidding! - it won't be

for a chance to wear lipstick

(right out there in public, just

like real sophisticates!), work

PR for a company that makes

balky software, and screech

propaganda at harmless

strangers. Although we might be

willing to drink some of the



[finding a matching BERN '60's scale, with accurate callibration, on the street

As a cautionary tale,

30-year-old Seattle

latte-slingers can look to a

much-maligned and purportedly

almost-useless profession that

has lately marched toward

something viewed as cultural

relevance. Anthropology,

explains U.S. News and World

Report, has been rendered

ineffectual in recent years by

the familiar intellectual cancer

of "post-modernism," a

hyphenated description currently

serving duty as a catch-all for

anything viewed by the describer

as weird or perplexing.

"Fortunately, such insular

discourse is on the wane," the

magazine offers, "and a growing

legion of anthropologists is

battling to prove their

relevance to contemporary

society." And the best way to

prove your relevance to

contemporary society?


Of the 2,000-plus
anthropologists in the United
States practicing outside
academia, more than 40 percent
work as consultants to the
business world. Last week, Ken
Erickson of the University of
Missouri Kansas City spoke of
his work in a Garden City,
Kansas, slaughterhouse,
investigating the relationship
between immigrant meatpackers
and their supervisors after a
wildcat strike. Management had
thought the walkout was due to
language barriers. By spending
months on the shop floor
slicing loins and playing
Mexican poker after hours,
Erickson learned that the
workers understood their
supervisors but resented being
treated as unskilled labor,
compelled to wear bulky armor
as if they were too
incompetent to avoid injuring
themselves. Erickson
discovered that the employees
possessed valuable skills not
taught in training: the trick
to boning an unusual cut of
meat, or tips for keeping
one's leg from being nicked.
The strike was prompted not by
language problems, Erickson
concluded, but because
management didn't respect the
value of workers' knowledge.
As a result, the plant
incorporated that knowledge
into training programs.


Helping management understand

how to keep immigrant

slaughterhouse labor from

striking against working

conditions that they don't like

- hey, that is relevant to

contemporary society! And we're

pretty sure it's not

postmodern at all! "Straying

from the purely academic," U.S.

News concludes, "is exactly

what's needed to get

anthropology to stop treading



[ lemondrops at Slow Club, SF]

Participate in this race toward

relevance and fulfillment if you

must - somebody, after all,

has to clean the floors, sell

Windows 98, and gather

industrial intelligence on those

damn foreign types - but you

won't find us at your side.

Until further notice, you'll

find us "totally ratting out"

(getting grungy), heating an

especially lovely 10-rock to the

vapor point, and running for the

bathroom when we see the waiter

coming with the check.


The computer jobs, conveniently

enough, we already have.

courtesy of Ambrose Beers