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This autobiography is the memoir of a native Angeleno that utilizes a keenly observant detachment to illustrate the life of a utility worker in Los Angeles. Bridges is able to evoke the vagaries and observe the social stratification of life in the City of Angels from the unique perspective of the barely visible but ubiquitous "phoneman."
As a light-skinned black in a diverse major metropolis, Bridges has been mistaken for Mexican, Puerto Rican, Portuguese, Samoan, Turkish and in one semi-comic episode, Arabic. This has placed him in the throes of some very interesting situations. What has also posed problems with his black brethren is his embracing all things Californian, including rock and roll, surfing, and an eclectic group of friends. This has earned him the label of "oreo", or when met by black approval, "almost black." His nontraditional behavior has alienated those who don't understand him, but his outsider status has given him a unique perspective from which to observe life and society. Bridges' style is that of a literary documentor, evoking scenes from various strata of lives, all connected by their need for telephone service.
This book is more than a memoir, encompassing the totality of the human spirit of the City of Angeles. The elements of dark humor, a tragic love affair, class consciousness, sexual tension, fear, hostility and hope which wind through Bridges' episodic tales are evidence of the commonality of the experience of urban living. The author's paranoia, engendered by corporate mandate, had caused an initial distance between himself and the customers or "subs" whose phone service he provides. Over time, however, he saw each encounter as a unique opportunity to hear and understand the voice of others and the cities shifting demographics. In the 18 years that he has worked for the telephone company, he can claim to know Los Angeles and its people as well.
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Bill Bridges is a Los Angeles based writer.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
I walked the distance of the long building as my eyes scanned for the telephone box. I saw a tangle of wires leading behind a large bush against the wall. I bent down to look and just what I needed, the terminal was behind the scrub. I stooped down, duck walked my way to the closure and opened it. Just then I heard people talking. I watched two pair of feet walk up and stop just on the other side of the bush. One of the voices said, "When he show us the rock, smoke him." I realized that they were conspiring to rob a crack dealer. My life was hanging on the thin thread of my stealth. My heart began hammering at my chest so loud that I was afraid that they would hear its frantic beating. I saw a third set of feet approach and a conversation about drugs ensued. Suddenly an argument broke out. The feet scuffled and there was an explosion of gunfire. I saw a body hit the ground and the first two sets of feet run away.
I walked up to an old nineteen-thirties style home. It had a huge, arched, wooden door with a bell that reminded me of The Adams Family. The entrance was opened by a woman who looked like Betty Page. She wore black spandex, stiletto heels and a wicked grin. After asking my name she introduced herself as "Mistress." She told me that she knew where the telephone box was located and I followed her. She led me to a hall closet and opened the door. There she turned on a light and pulled a chain that opened a trapdoor on the floor. She stepped down into the opening and turned on a second light. I followed along the dimly lit stairs behind the woman. The steps spiraled down into the cold basement and it had walls of rock and mortar. We finally reached the floor and I could barely see the woman as she turned on yet another light. The large, flame-like bulb reveals a dungeon. There was a rack on the wall along with chains, leather restraints; an assortment of whips and handcuffs; and a large, wooden, refrigerator-sized cubicle that I have yet to determine the function of. Mistress pointed towards the corner to the telephone box asking, "Is there any other box that you'd like to see?"
It was late morning and I was working at a phone terminal facing Rosecrans Avenue. I was just about to leave when I received a page. I knew from the number that it was Miko who for some strange reason called me, "Jew". I answered the page and waited for her to say hello first. This was a rule that we had established to keep her abusive husband from finding us out. The phone was immediately picked up but she hesitated. I knew that something was wrong and finally I heard her whimper, "Jew." "What's wrong!?" I heard her break into a sob. When she finally calmed down enough to talk she told me what had happened. Her husband John had beaten and raped her again. You see John met Miko when he was stationed in the Philippines and consequently married her and brought her back to America. She had been here three years during which he had only taken her out twice. Aside from those two nights her life here had been relegated to being a house servant. Not only John's but anyone of his friends or family who needed a place to stay. His brother when he was mad at his wife. His teenage sister when she was having trouble with her parents. His friend when he got evicted from his apartment. And Miko was expected to cook and clean and do laundry for them all. John also made her work a job, pay the utilities and buy groceries. Then he would leave her at home while he went out with his friends, come home stinking drunk and rape her. If she resisted, he would beat and rape her. His brother was also making passes at her. She told John and his response was laughter. She essentially was a slave. I was standing there staring blankly at the street. I could only listen to her as she cried, "Jew! What are we going to do Jew!" There was nothing that I could do. She was married, with a child and had been raped that morning on the very bed in which we had made love just two afternoons ago. I felt her pain and tears crushed down my cheeks. I tried to remember the last time that I criedI couldn't. The traffic was all a blur now and its drone became a distant hum. For the first time in my life, I truly knew the meaning of the word agony.
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