To some degree the left wing revealed such an overriding capacity for fraud during the recent American election they even stunned themselves. This makes the petty fraud involved in Global Warming arguments look both more minor and more obvious. There are some petty crimes you can get away with until some bozo comes along and spoils everything by doing things far too flagrantly.
For example, as a teenager among teenagers one crime we committed was to take a jigger of whisky from a parent’s quart bottle and replace it with a jigger of water. Parents didn’t notice. But then some audacious bozo would get overly ambitious (or greedy) and take ten jiggers of whisky and replace them with ten jiggers of water, and parents couldn’t help but notice, and the jig was up; Presto: Locks appeared on all the liquor cabinets.
In a sense that is the state of the stunned American mind at this point. The jig is up.
The phrase, “The jig is up” came from the underworld of crime, which saw the tricking of the law-abiding as a sort of dance; confidence tricksters spoke of their plots as “capers”. Sometimes the naïve could be seduced, but sometimes the naïve caught on to what was occurring during the dance, in which case the dance was over. Jigging is a type of dancing, so “the jig was up.” The party was over. The virgin had become aware the one she danced with was a slobbering lecher.
This pretty much spoils the arctic sea-ice fun,; the spirit of friendly debate between Alarmists and Skeptics. The party is over. I likely will simply talk of the sea-ice, and leave Alarmists out of it. They have gotten what they want, like King Midas did. Now they shall suffer. I’ll just go on as I’ve always gone, observing the Truth with wonder.
This winter has largely seen high pressure settling over the Pole, favoring the Canadian side where the thicker ice resides. Thrice, however, major feeder bands of mild air have swirled north and formed a “Ralph” (anomalous area of low pressure) which tracked roughly from Fram Strait and over the Pole towards East Siberia. These interruptions (to the general settling of high pressure’s cold air over the Pole) occurred in December, the very start of January, and to a lesser extent a few days ago, and resulted in spikes in the DMI polar temperature graph.
The milder air has no melting effect on the sea-ice, as even the highest spikes (red line on graph) are well below freezing (blue line on graph.) They may cause sea-ice to thicken less quickly, partly because they are less cold, and partly because they bring scant moister to the desert dry Pole and increase snowfall, and even a few inches of snow forms an insulating blanket atop the sea-ice surface, slowing the thickening of sea-ice beneath. But also this increased snow tends to add to the thickness of the sea-ice, by becoming the sea-ice’s topmost layer.
The milder air can have an effect which causes the snow to become stiffened, as if starched. During the freezing of the sea-ice, sea-salt is exuded from the sea-water, largely sinking downwards as cold brine, but some exuded at the surface in “ice flowers” which are so fragile they tend to fragment, and then become powdered salt as the ice sublimates in the super-dry air. There is a haze of powdered salt in the super cold air in the arctic night, and also powdered salt mixed with the snow. The salt usually has no ability to melt the snow at the usual extremely low temperatures, but when milder air comes north the salt melts the snow just enough to make it sticky enough to become starchy when temperatures again crash. (Russians have a word for this starchy snow, but I don’t.)
The milder air also can also have an effect which increases the amount of sea-ice. This seems likely because the milder air feeds a “Ralph”, which dramatically shifts the winds, from a high pressures clockwise motion to a low pressure’s counter-clockwise motion. As these changes move across the Pole vast areas of ice which have been moving one way stop, and move the other, but, because this process is not perfectly synchronized, one ice floe weighing a billion pounds may crash against another weighing two billion, resulting in rumpled bumpers called “pressure ridges.” These can extend thirty feet upwards and, because nine tenths of ice is under water, they can extend down two hundred seventy feet (and create hiding places for submarines). Then, after the ice floes exchange insurance papers and back off, they can create sudden areas of open waters called “leads” which steam like a hot cup of tea in the bitter cold air. This open water swiftly freezes over, producing feet of new ice far faster than ice could form if protected from bitter blasts by six feet of sea-ice and a foot of snow. In fact a winter which sees a lot of open water at the Pole likely creates more sea-ice than a winter than sees none.
Lastly, the creation of open water at the Pole may be part of a process that chills the North Atlantic, and thus is the author of its own demise, because a colder North Atlantic eventually will lead to an increase in sea-ice, and less open water. Exactly how this happens is still being studied, but my guess is that the freezing of a lot of sea-water creates a lot of chilled brine, as salt is extracted from the ice, and this sinking brine in some way chills water below which in some way by some currents are transported to the North Atlantic. (A lot of “some way” in my guessing.) All we know is that since there has been more open water available to freeze in the bitter cold of midwinter, the deeper surface-waters in the North Atlantic have seen a downward trend.
The sinking brine has some trouble effecting the topmost waters of the North Atlantic, as it has a tendency to sink to the deeps of the sea, and become involved in currents that creep at a snail’s pace, taking centuries to arrive at a coastline that uplifts them as a nutritious, cold “upwelling” that promotes some of our planet’s greatest fisheries. Icebergs, on the other hand, do not sink. If you can get enough of them bobbing around in the North Atlantic, the top waters can definitely be effected.
At this point I look to see how much sea-ice is being exported from polar waters through Fram Strait. Even though such export can decrease the short-term levels of sea-ice further north, if they chill the North Atlantic they can lead to a long-term rebound. (This may have happened between 1815 and 1845, when wild swings in the areas that had sea-ice and did not have sea-ice were reported by whalers, and also English explorers attempting to penetrate the Northwest Passage). This year has seen a modest flush of sea-ice through Fram Strait, but likely not enough to completely connect Iceland to Greenland with a sea-ice-bridge.
When the sea-ice is not flushed south, it is kept north, and this year indeed some has stayed north, for a second winter, creating the letter “S” in red in the Central Arctic. I point this out for such thickness in the Central Arctic (over 12 feet thick according to DMI) is new to me. The ordinary “Transpolar Drift” is being opposed by a little talked-about “Siberia-to-Canada-drift” some Russian scientists mentioned in the 1950’s (when they did not like it when their ice-stations drifted too far from Mother Russia towards Capitalist Canada.)
In fact, if you have an imagination like mine, you may see that “S” is preceded by a “W” and “I”, and followed by an “E”. Is the arctic hinting at a word to the WISE? Is the chilling of subsurface waters in the North Atlantic and build-up of sea-ice in the Central Arctic a sign of things to come?
I think at this point I am suppose to say, “For the answer and the next installment of this thrilling saga, send $19.98 to…” Instead I’ll just say, “I wonder. I don’t know, but I wonder.”
And I watch. The last feeder band of mild air to the Pole was weaker, as was the Ralph it created. The cold high pressure rebuilt more swiftly, but you can still see the milder temperatures as a band across the Pole in the DMI map of thermobars. (Also note that the fiercest cold is not, (and never has been), generated over the oceanic waters of the Arctic Sea, but rather over the tundra of Siberia and, to a lesser extent, Canada.)
Each of these mild feeder bands represents, to me, a colossal waste of our planet’s heat. They arrive at the Pole and the heat just vanishes, dropping around five degrees a day. It vanishes up into outer space. It is like opening the draft in a chimney with no fire in the fireplace; all the house’s heat goes up the flue. If you desire a warmer winter and kinder world, you prefer to see descending air and high pressure at the Pole.
And indeed the last “Ralph” has faded before reaching East Siberia, and high pressure is rebuilding.
High pressure at the Pole is likely is good in the long run, but in the short run may transport air from East Siberia across Bering Strait and down towards my neck of the woods. Temporarily I may freeze my socks off. But one must not allow a temporary setback to discourage one. Spring will return, eventually.
Can we mere mortals contribute in the slightest to the speed at which spring returns? Can we influence the climate by buying electric cars or curly lightbulbs or throwing virgins into volcanoes? I doubt it. But here is my word to the wise:
We can contribute to the Truth by standing by the Truth. According to some versions of the tale, this was how King Midas got his daughter back. He turned her into cold gold by being a greedy bugger, but after he saw the horrible thing he had done he confessed the truth, “I am a greedy bugger”, and as his tears of remorse fell on the cold gold, cold gold turned back into a warm daughter.
I leave it up to you to figure out how the heck such cryptic innuendo has anything to do with Arctic sea-ice. In the meantime,
I’ve written elsewhere how I wound up in a campground outside Gallup, New Mexico, feeling a bit of a fool for having trusted a woman I likely ought not have trusted, but unsure whether I should completely abandon the girl, as I had vowed I would stand by her through thick and thin, even “forever and a day”. My honor was in tatters, but the flag hadn’t quite fallen.
I had reasons to resist my impulse to ditch the dame. For one thing, there was a slight chance I’d gotten her pregnant. A pregnancy test stated otherwise, but such tests were not infallible. On the test’s box it stated there was a 6% chance the test was wrong. Even if the woman despised me, and deemed any further devotions on my part the attentions of a geeky stalker, I felt I should stand by, if I was even a half-decent man. Not that I felt half-decent. To be honest I felt about as decent as used toilet paper.
Eventually it became clear she was not pregnant, was in fact sleeping with another fellow, and finally that she had left that other fellow, and the area, to go mooch off live with a new person far away. However these sorry revelations took time to penetrate my thick skull, and during the time it took for things to clarify, I made an effort to find work, and save money, and even to find a place we might live, in case what wasn’t going to happen did happen. I prepared for a reunion that never occurred. In a sense I was multiplying my foolishness, but I was a responsible fool.
I was a believer in fairy tales, clinging to hope, but the hope was like a life raft developing more and more leaks. Eventually I was holding the life raft up, rather than it holding me up. In other words, my hopes were becoming absurd. I couldn’t help but cringingly see what a fool I had been.
By this point I had hoisted myself up by my own bootstraps, first working in a lumber yard, then as spot labor, then collecting bottles, cans and even green stamps from a supermarket parking lot, then selling my plasma, then working at a gas station, and finally landing a job as an assistant manager at fast food joint I’ll dub “Fatty Burgers”. I had moved from a sodden tent, to a camper, and finally to a nice room in Gallup’s El Rancho Hotel (which bragged Ronald Regan once stayed there.) However this material success reeked of pointlessness and emptiness, when the woman who it was all for gave no indication of being impressed, or even caring the time of day for me. Eventually I could fool myself no longer. I had to face the fact I had been ditched. It was as if there was a poster in the post office with my face on it, proclaiming I was not wanted, dead or alive.
My diary makes pitiful reading, at this time. What a colossal bozo I was! One of the most cringe-worthy elements was my attempts to ignore the glaring facts, by seeing the bright side, the better side, the hopeful side. Someone could have run me over with their truck, and I would have complimented their white-walled tires.
Eventually even a fool sees truth sinking in. Then the demolishment of his hopes and dreams is not a pleasant experience, especially if he is a sensitive poet with high ideals. In fact it is a time when high ideals make misery far worse than is experienced by more hard-hearted individuals, who expect little from their fellow man (and woman). However the tale of this rise and fall holds many lessons.
Gallup in 1984 was not a place to see much that was encouraging, on a simplistic, materialistic level. It’s economy was reeling from successive blows to all the ways the local folk made money. Gallup’s coal mine had closed when transcontinental trains switched from coal to diesel, and later the uranium mines closed as back-to-nature California hippies protested that never-left-nature Navajo were facing radiation, although many Navajo drove pick-up trucks and to them it was as if the hippies were protesting Navajo making high wages at the mine. At the same time these same California hippies wanted to look cooler than they could afford to look, following the fashions of Hollywood actors and actresses who made cowboy movies in Gallup, and therefore hippies bought fake Navajo blankets from Mexico to hang on their walls, and fake turquois Navajo jewelry from Singapore to dangle from necks and wrists, and fake baskets and fake pottery from Los Angeles artisans to place on fireplace mantles, and this caused the Native American jewelry and Native American weaving and Native American pottery trades (Hopi and Zuni as well as Navajo) to suffer grievous slumps. The Hollywood stars Californians wanted to emulate then decided making Westerns was passé, and film-crews and stars didn’t stay at the El Rancho any more, nor were Navajo extras needed to portray attacking Indians on galloping horses, (making a fifty dollars bonus if they fell “shot” from the horse at a full gallop). Meanwhile all the motels and restaurants and tourist-traps along old Route 66 were losing money and closing down, as the new Interstate 40 bypassed them. The flurry of work caused by the construction of I-40 had come and gone, one more boom followed by one more bust, in a desert prone to producing ghost towns and Anasazi ruins. In fact my personal climb from a cold and sodden tent to a comfortable El Rancho Hotel room was the exception to the rule. Most were experiencing a fall from luxury to, if not gutters, then to a serious cutback in life’s joyous lavishness. The bar-tender at the El Rancho Hotel told me the beer formerly was delivered every day, and twice a day on Saturdays, but now only came once a week. In many ways the light had left the city, as many awoke in a cold dawn of shattered dreams.
When I had the time to think about it, (which wasn’t often, as I had to hustle so hard,) I was not of a mindset that wanted to join the depressed. Perhaps being a faithful fool and good provider hadn’t gotten me anywhere with the girl who abandoned me, but I was in no mood to get drunk for a long time, and awake in a gutter. I wanted to fight such despondency. However I found beer helpful in mustering a sort of Dutch Courage, and therefore it is true, I confess, I did occasionally awake in a gutter.
My diary contains some complaining I did to God about the fact my virtue seemed more inclined to make me look like a sucker, than to earn me any sort of reward. In fact my motto for that time was, “The Right thing is never the Rewarding thing.” This is quite contrary to the view of some, which is that if you “convert” (to whatever) you promptly see a miraculous increase in your bank account.
It may be true, in the long run, that “no good deed goes unrewarded”, but we live in the short run. And in the short run, and especially in Gallup in 1984, it seemed that “no good deed goes unpunished”.
For some reason God permitted me to give Him lectures, in 1984, about how it was wrong for a nice fellow like me, who meant so well, to wind up ditched. Looking back, I lacked the very patience God was displaying towards me. If God had been as intolerant as I was, rather than permitting me to give Him lectures, He would have thunderously stated, “How dare you lecture God?” and turned me to a crispy cinder. Instead he smiled, and continued the lesson he was teaching me.
What was He teaching? I honestly can’t say I know. Our Maker’s ways are way, way over my head. They involve far more than my puny self. They involved what was the best for every person in the complex situation, (and even for any stray dogs, cats and rattlesnakes in the vicinity). However I can speak humbly for myself, and tell of what a lone loner like myself learned.
What I learned was that I was haughty, and thought highly of myself, as if I was more moral, more enlightened, and my deeds were more likely to result in goodness. My vanity was involved. I was concerned it “made me look bad”, when I was ditched, rather than entirely thinking and caring about the person who ditched me. (Not that I didn’t think of her, but also I thought of myself.)
Neither I was a spiritual novice, at age thirty-one. I was well aware egotism has a nasty habit of resurrecting itself even in our best efforts to be selfless. I was constantly attempting to scold my own arrogance. I was more than willing to suffer for others, putting aside my “selfish desires” for a “greater good.” However on some level I felt this made me superior, and therefore unable to fall as flat on my face as I saw others falling. God seemed to think it would do me good to see I could fall far flatter.
For example, others might have shallow, fleeting relationships, “one night stands”, but I was above such cheap, reprehensible behavior. I saw myself as more faithful than the stupid super-hero James Bond, (who was rather adept when it came to one-night-stands, but a lousy father-figure, in terms of monogamous loyalty). I would never subscribe to the philosophy of “use her and lose her.” I would stand by my woman. But…when the woman ditches you, despite all your talk of loyalty, you yourself find yourself in a position of being part of, if not a one night stand, then an “abbreviated” relationship. You are just another cowboy in the El Rancho Barroom, singing the blues. Your blues may have an element of loyalty, in that they wish for reunion, but there is a certain pathos in such singing, when the future will reveal such wishes “jus’ ain’t goin’ t’ happen”.
Up until this point in my life I’d always been scornful of the pathos in country music, which seemed to moan and groan about the inevitable. I mean, when we buy a puppy we know we’ll likely outlive the cur; why get so maudlin when the old dog dies? But in the El Rancho barroom such tenderness didn’t seem so overblown, and I even wrote some country lyrics of my own, which I called, “Bartoon”:
Been a while since I missed Like I’m missing tonight. Though the beer’s really good And the band is all right And a gal with intent’s To the left of my sight I don’t meet her eye. I don’t even try. Been a while since I missed like I’m missing tonight.
I’m missing the chance To dance and then score; To smile and smile broader And walk out the door With warm at my elbow; A warmth I adore; And she is right there But hell if I care. Been a while since I missed like I’m missing tonight.
My table is empty But there is a chair And easy as drinking You could be there. The chair-leg would scrape. You’d hide in your hair, Look up, and say “Hi” In a sort of a sigh. Been a while since I missed like I’m missing tonight.
I really was delighted by this poem, as I completed it on a napkin in the El Rancho dining-room and barroom, listening to a hired group play “oldies” for a largely unappreciative audience in a largely empty ballroom. I had that wonderful feeling writers get, when the words “all come together”, and weeks of rotten writing resolve into the production of a single decent ditty. I even wondered if the lyrics might be my “break-through”, my “one-hit-wonder”, which (for some poets) ends artistic poverty with a brief bonanza. I gave the weary musicians on the stage an appraising glance, wondering if they might be the medium which would end the dreariness of my barely-scraping-by.
Such optimism was often what sustained me back then, though there was no truth to my dreams. I’m now more than twice as old, and know the lyrics never made me a dime. Instead I enjoy the old song because I appreciate the self-expression, and how it accurately portrayed my spiritual dilemma. I was in essence being faithful to the unfaithful, which is like offering a strawberry to a pig.
Pigs are more pragmatic than most poets, and are more focused on truth of a down-to-earth sort. This dichotomy resulted in a second good song from that time of downfall:
When Truth first met the Faithful One Sweet Truth had sighs to say: “I feel that now our love will last Forever and a day.” The Faithful One enchanted was. Truth caused his soul to thrill, And all that he could say to her Was, “Yes. Oh yes, it will.”
But Truth could never tell a lie And so there came a Day When she broke Faith by telling him “My Love feels gone away.” The Faithful One was shattered And groaned this in his woe, “If love has gone please tell me where For there I have to go.”
These lyrics also struck me, at the time, as splendid poetry, beyond my ordinary ability, and perhaps another one-hit-wonder, (a two-hit-wonder?) but once again it never made me a dime. As an artist, doing the right thing was once again not the rewarding thing. Which begs a question: Why be right?
The answer is simple: Being wrong hurts. I knew this because I had been prone to attempting “alternative lifestyles” which scorned traditional “conservative” morality, but which tended to wind me up in pain. I was a scientist, and conducted experiments. I had first-hand experience of what the “alternative” to right was (and is), and what it was (and is) is: Wrong.
This forced me to compare “good” with “evil”, which is one heck of a subject to grapple with, if you can find the time. Why? Because “good” for most people is not based on anything even slightly spiritual. “Good” is just the gratification of your lustful desire. If you crave a cigarette, it is “good” to get one, and “evil” to be denied.
In spiritual terms “good” is different. “Good’ may be to not get what you desire. It may be “good” to quit cigarettes, though it makes you feel like manure baked in a pie.
In like manner, most spiritual behavior involves the loss of some desired gain. You want the pleasure of punching a fool in the nose, but instead restrain yourself and are tolerant. You want lust gratified, but instead remain pure. You want to grab and cling to gold, but instead reject greed for generosity. You desire might and power, but instead allow others to come first. In many ways all the things that go into low concepts of being a “winner” are set aside, because being a “loser” is seen as “better”.
This seemingly self-destructive behavior demands some sort of explanation, and the explanation is easy if you have ever tasted Love. Love makes mincemeat of a lot we usually call sensible, pragmatic and even sane. Yet Love is impossible to intellectually explain, (which is why country music and poetry and even drums were invented).
In some senses Love is like the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” where the black and white film switches to color and Dorothy says, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” The dreary is illuminated as if by a sunbeam, the dull enlivened by intelligence, the worthless made worthy, and one is immediately addicted. But it is an odd addiction, for there is no pill involved. There is nothing to gobble or grab, no body you lustfully clutch. In fact Love cannot be grasped, for the experience is achieved by letting go. You let go of your selfishness, and open out to another. Rather than the pinched existence of a Tweezer with his tweezers, the vista of a whole new world opens up, as if you crested a hill and discovered a new and better world spread out before you. You are like Balboa sighting the Pacific for the first time.
The joke of it is that we gain so much not by grabbing, but by letting go. This is utterly opposite the pragmatism of a pig. In fact, in most cases, during our fleeting and tenuous glimpses of the grandeur of Love, we incorrectly ascribe some “thing” as being the cause of our bliss, and clutch at that “thing” and make it a false-god, when in fact our fleeting glimpse of Love was a glimpse of the Real God. Furthermore, in most cases it came about not because we grabbed some worldly “thing”, but rather because we let go of sanity, (and it paid off).
For example, it is stupid for a Plugger, barely able to pay his bills, to gamble, but suppose a Plugger abandons sanity and destroys his budget, buying fifty lottery tickets on his way home from work, one day when he is especially fed up, perhaps even to the point of suicide. And suppose he is transformed by a winning ticket into a instant multimillionaire. For just a moment all his problems seem solved, and he is walking on cloud nine. However what exactly solved his problems? Was it the winning lottery ticket, or the momentary abandonment of sanity?
I assert, for the purposes of argument, that it is the abandonment of what we call sanity, more often than not, that opens the portals of Love, and gives us just a glimpse of a life far better. And what is this so-called “sanity” we abandon? It is the chains of our hankering, whether it be the hankering for heroin or for fine art. Our desires are our downfall, yet we call them sanity.
To conclude this venture into the realms of theory, (far from the pragmatism of a pig), the premise is arrived at which states that, if only we could become desireless, we might experience the full blast of Love, all the time.
This concept, somewhat Buddhist in nature, had a certain appeal to me. But I’d tried it, in my clumsy way. I’d been there and done that, and found withdrawing from the world worse than boring.
In my hippy manner I’d attempted to find some remote cave, (perhaps not in the Himalayas, but far from a Real Job), and had contemplated, if not my navel, my poetry, and had seen it become horribly ingrown.
Why horrible? That is an entirely different tale for some other time, but it basically boils down to, “Nothing ventured; nothing gained.”
My withdrawal seemed like that of a seventy-year-old man still living with his ninety-year-old mother, (Like Prince Charles with Queen Elisabeth).
When I use the word “ingrown” it is in it’s most negative context, like a toenail hurting the toe it is part of, like a person so preoccupied with himself he is the antithesis of selflessness even as he sits cross-legged doing yoga pretending he is like Buddha.
To be honest, my early attempts to be desireless were a complete failure, except for the fact they prompted me to loathe sitting in a cave (which was my mother’s basement.) Nothing, it occurred to me, could be less loving than to reject the entire world, (with the possible exception of suicide.) Rather than the portals of Love opening, sitting in a cave faced me with sterility, and a barrenness so empty, boring, and downright poisonous I was propelled away from such horror into the travails of life, even if it involved living among unsympathetic people who had no inkling why I might want to sit in a cave in the first place.
And why might that be? It is because the world has no inkling. Most people are pragmatic pigs, (and in many ways I include myself). Most people are enslaved by chains of desire, and desire their chains like a heroin addict desires his heroin. Desire enslaves them to their daily dose. They have no inkling of what exists outside their desire.
The problem with being a poet is that you have an inkling, very slight in some cases, that glory exists outside of the daily dose. In some way, (often amazing, if you ask them,) they have seen beyond desire. And once they have seen it, they are forever restless. Whatever they desired before is no longer worthy of worship. If they are a heroin addict, they may still go for their daily dose, but they are restless. If they are a bigshot politician, they may still go for reelection, but they are restless. They know the daily dose is not enough. The answer lies beyond desire.
Even pigs seek what is beyond desire, for they want to eat until the desire to eat stops gnawing at them, and they are sated, and can flop down bloated and desire no more. Then pigs enjoy a brief time of piggy peace, before the gnawing starts again.
In like manner, lust seeks what is beyond lust, for after orgasm is a time when desire is no more, before it starts to gnaw again.
And during that brief moment of piggy peace, what is seen? What is so pleasant? Is it not a brief glimpse of what life might be like without desire?
What poets see, and most don’t, is that the same peace is always around us, enfolding us, soothing us, whether we eat until we can’t, or not; or achieve orgasm, or not; or win reelection, or not; or write a one-hit-wonder, or not. For most the “…or not” leads to the agony of frustrated desire, but for poets the “…or not” is the so-called “suffering of a poet” which opens the portals of Love.
The poet sees the beauty of the sky even when sleeping in his car. He sees beauty in in the faces of fellow workers even while washing dishes. It is a beauty which requires no prerequisites. You don’t have to be a winner, for it is there when you’re a loser.
And perhaps this is the beginning of taming desire, and not being so subservient to low impulses. Rather than seeing “good” as merely the gratification of desire, one sees “good” in putting desire aside. Rather than giving in to lust one is pure. Rather than giving in to hate one is kind. Rather than lashing out one is tolerant. Rather than greedy one is generous. This new definition of “good” is not all that different from the old, for it too seeks to gratify desire, but now the desire is otherworldly, and, to the worldly, appears insane.
And this, roughly, was my state of mind when I walked into the little Fatty Burgers on old Route 66 in Gallup. On one hand I was just looking for a job, but on another hand I was a poet looking deeper.
As a poet, I felt God had blessed me with a gift, or “talent”, and when I died I did not want to stand before God and be accused of “burying my talents.” (Jesus told a tale where a particular servant was given coins called “talents”, but was so afraid of investing unwisely he buried the coins, and later handed them back to his master unused. The master was very angry the servant had not used the gift.) For this reason I justified pushing the limits of writing-without-a-patron-or-sponsor, but over and over I eventually reached a point where I was so destitute I simply had to get a job. I grumbled a lot to God about being unrecognized, and being placed in such predicaments, when God could just have well blessed me, like He blessed other equally weird poets, with one-hit-wonders.
However I also assumed God knew what He was doing, and was asking me to not to bury my talents, but rather to bring them into a workplace. Rather than poems on paper I’d write them aloud, as doggerel to entertain fellow workers, or perhaps as limericks about the boss for workers, or perhaps limericks about workers for the boss.
But I never liked the prospect beforehand. Initially asking for a job was as bad as asking a girl you greatly desire for a dance; refusal was devastating. The prospect was so painful I had to give myself all sorts of pep-talks before I’d even attempt asking. I’d huff and puff like a Olympic weight-lifter about to set a new record, and lower my shoulder like an armored knight about to bash through an iron gate. But, when I first arrived in Gallup, on three separate occasions, (at a lumber yard, a gas station, and at Fatty Burgers), something odd occurred.
Just before all three occasions I muttered something like, “OK God, you aren’t going to fund my writing, and so you must want me to work a Real Job. But I’m only good at poetry and have nothing else to offer. But to obey You I will ask over and over, at place after place, even if it takes me a week, along the entire length of Route Sixty-six, from east side of Gallup to the west.” Then I’d gaze down the highway at all the small businesses, my expression very weary, as if I’d already asked at all places, though I hadn’t asked at one. I’d sigh and slump at the prospect of so much begging, but then, stiffening my spine, and mentally screaming a “Hee-yuh” like a karate master cutting a brick in two with a chop of his hand, I’d walk through the first door, and immediately be hired.
The ease of the hiring was so unexpected that it was like lowering your shoulder to barge through a door, and having the door be opened just as you got there. If it happened just one time it would have been weird enough, but to have it happen three successive times seemed downright bizarre.
At the lumber yard and gas station I didn’t even have to fill out an applications; I was told I could “do that later”, and instead was immediately put to work. Also I found the interviews enjoyable, in and of themselves, which was something new for me. The experience of asking for work no longer seemed full of dread, of fearing possible rejection, like asking a beautiful woman for a dance, (or, if it was, it was like enjoying the chat with the beautiful woman even if she didn’t want to dance).
When I thought about it, the experience of asking for work in Gallup was a little like hitchhiking, where I always enjoyed the conversations with the people who picked me up. Hitchhiking also was an experience involving “asking”, but somehow the request was wonderfully simplified; all you needed to do was dangle out your thumb; also the rejections didn’t seem so painful, (though it could get annoying when an hour passed and several hundred cars whooshed past, each one a rejection). But, when someone finally did stop, I’d almost always find the driver in the mood to talk, both about themselves and about me.
This same general inquisitiveness seemed to inhabit most job interviews I underwent in Gallup, (and there turned out to be many, over the following four years.) Perhaps it is part of the local culture; it is an area where few are “from” the area and most are “passin’ through”, and therefore there is a curiosity about where people are coming from and where people are aiming. I came to enjoy such chats, but, when I first arrived, any interest in a no-account loser like myself seemed uncanny, and even a little supernatural.
When I say “supernatural” I suppose I am to some degree confessing I own boyish superstitions which extended into manhood. One simply tends to notice when their luck suddenly changes. One may scientifically know that when one flips a coin the odds are fifty-fifty it will be heads or tails, but one also has a gambler’s nose that sniffs out times the odds are defied; in like manner athletes speak of “hot streaks” and “cold slumps” as if they involve something other than mundane levels of concentration; also fellows asking girls to dance speak of “getting lucky.” Fishermen are equally superstitious about when and where the fish are found, and although books stated the greatly-desired fish “halibut” was so named because “but” was an ancient word for “flat fish” and halibut was eaten on holy days, the fishermen themselves (in Maine) said the fish got its name because “but” was an ancient word for “boat”, and halibut was a greatly-desired catch, and any boat that caught one was blessed, or a “holy boat”; [IE: “Hali But”.]
Even when I was at my most cynical and considered myself a hardened Atheist I tended to become slightly mystical when hitchhiking. Not that I prayed, but I did mutter to myself, peering through windshields at the practiced indifference of passing drivers, noting the way some carefully looked the other way, or down at their dashboards, or adjusted their rear-view mirror, and at times these conversations-with-myself became interesting. (Pity I had no way of recording them, but cellphones hadn’t been invented). Likely much of my luck hitchhiking had to do with how long my hair was, and how harmless or threatening I appeared, but there could be inexplicable times when my luck was very “good”, and times my luck was very “bad”, and my conversations were with whatever-it-was that controlled such destiny. The deserted roadside would hear a lot on grumbling and complaining as car after car passed, and then a resounding “Yes!” when a driver finally pulled over.
This sort of conversation began even before I became an Atheist, continued while I was an Atheist, and grew more evident as my Atheism withered away. In a sense it was talking-to-God, which may seem an odd thing for an Atheist to do, but I once knew a man whose final statement as an Atheist was, “Will You please shut up!”
An odd aspect of such conversations is that they are encouraged by bad luck, hunger, loneliness and fear. People may think they don’t believe in ghosts, until passing through a graveyard at midnight, and soldiers say, “There are no Atheists in the foxholes.” A major episode in the withering of my own Atheism involved being out in small sailboat in a big storm. Eventually many Atheists decide, at the very least, that they are Agnostics. I passed through that phase as well, but by age thirty-one I was definitely a Believer.
For many of us our level of faith is determined by whether our luck is good or not. Good luck reaffirms our faith while bad luck breeds doubt. However I had noticed, at some point, that when times were good I had a tendency to forget about God, whereas hard times awoke the urge to pray. When you think about it, this makes no sense whatsoever: We pray more when our faith is less? However it does seem to be a human tendency, and, if it is reality, then it would make sense for God to dish out some bad luck. Even God might get a little lonely when we ignore Him, and, if we are going to be so ungrateful about good luck, perhaps bad luck is God’s way of getting our attention, and even of playing hard-to-get in a Divine Romance.
By age thirty-one my attitude towards hard times was starting to change. Not that I ever looked for hardship; I’ve always preferred voluptuous luxury; but in some strange sense the greatest luxury of all was the sense God was near, and I had that sense most when times were hard and luck was bad.
Call it masochism if you will, but there is a reason people suffer the ordeal of climbing mountains. The reason is a Beauty unseen when you molder at home, and the same Beauty walks with you when you suffer like a poet on the street. To me the perception of such Beauty seemed a state of heightened awareness, where things we usually take for granted, like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, gain great significance simply because you’re hungry. (In some ways it is quite similar to being high on marijuana, without the brain damage.) Because you are so much more appreciative, you notice discrepancies from the norm, such as getting work the first place you ask, three times in a row.
At the lumber yard I just happened to walk in the first morning of an inventory, and no one was much looking forward to counting the vast, jumbled confusion of boards, beams, molding and dowels. The job lasted for the four weeks it took to sort out the confusion, and I apparently was good at it, (perhaps because my own life was a confusion in need of sorting), for they stated I’d be welcome back the next year.
At the gas station I arrived “running on fumes”, and was desperate for even a job sweeping a floor, for a quarter of a gallon of gas, but I just happened to walk in when the air stunk strongly of marijuana and the three fellows who worked there were feeling very generous. They found me good entertainment, for I knew so little about cars that it was amusing for them to watch me pump gas; I had to ask customers how to open their hoods when they asked me to check the oil, and I sometimes couldn’t even find where to pump the gas, (when the gas cap was under a license plate or, in a ’56 Chevy, behind a tail light). However the owner of that station turned out to be a cocaine addict and the job abruptly vanished after two weeks, when there was suddenly no money in the till.
This led me on to Fatty Burgers, which I decided to try because I had worked in a Fatty Burgers in California .
Fatty Burgers was a nation-wide chain, nowhere as big as MacDonald’s, but attempting to compete. Individual Fatty Burgers were not owned by a single owner far away. Various smaller owners bought “franchises” and then attempted to make their small restaurant expand into a small chain. The local Fatty Burgers chain was owned by someone who I think began along Old Route Sixty-six in Albuquerque, and expanded along the highway east and west.
I walked into the Gallup branch during the quiet after the breakfast rush, and immediately noticed the three workers and manager were all deeply tanned and all had straight black hair. The place was quaint, far smaller than the Fatty Burgers where I worked in California. It had two old-looking registers behind a short counter, and a third more modern-looking register in a boxy drive-through window. No one was moving very fast. A girl with very white teeth and a pleasant smile ambled up to the counter and asked me what I wanted, and when I replied, “An application”, her right eyebrow dipped as her left arched in interest, but she turned to look towards the manager, who wore a white shirt, and brown vest and pants, to show he wasn’t one of the mere underlings, who were brightly dressed in gaudy uniforms, a little like clowns, with flaming, checkered baseball caps and silly, red pants.
The manager will need a name, so I’ll dub him Quincy Phlabutt. He was a big, sleek, well-oiled looking man with jet black hair combed straight down everywhere except right at the temples; he stood with a slightly smug smile and his arms folded, doing nothing. When he overheard me ask for an application his smile didn’t change, but his eyes shifted towards me and appeared to become even more smoky and superior, and he lifted his nose slightly in a manner that seemed critical. He walked to the counter, took out a pad of applications, tore one off, and handed it to me without a word. When I asked, “Can I borrow a pen?” he sighed, and pointed with his lips, and a girl got me one. I was thinking to myself the odds of getting a job looked slim, but as I went to sit down I noticed Quincy’s eyes abruptly widened, one of the girls hissed, “Ike’s here!” to the others, and the three workers seemed to work a little faster, wiping counters and filling napkin racks, even though the place was empty.
As I started on the application I glanced sidelong as Ike Weed crossed the parking lot and entered the Fatty Burgers, wearing the same white shirt and brown vest and pants Quincy wore. He didn’t appear at all intimidating to me, a medium-sized man who took short steps and duck-walked on his heels, leaning backwards slightly, with a notebook and clipboard under one arm. He had a shock of straight, brown hair brushed to one side over his forehead; the hair was just starting to gray with middle age at the temples. His Howdy Doody cheeks were also just starting to sag into the barest beginnings of pale jowls, apparently recently scraped clean with a dull razor. He wore a friendly smile which seemed less friendly when I saw it was fixed. It was the frozen smile of a poker face, and his eyes darted about the parking lot observantly. When he stooped to pick up a wrapper I noticed Quincy winced slightly, behind the counter. Then I looked down at the application, and began to fill it out.
I didn’t approve of dishonesty, but have to admit a certain creativity entered in, when I filled out applications. I had learned I should “enhance my resume” earlier in my wanderings, when God, with his sense of humor, had me walk into an unemployment office in Cleveland on the very day more than half the staff in the office had received pink-slips, due to government cut-backs. Most were more interested in finding jobs for themselves than for me, but one woman was different. Even as I sat in Gallup I fondly remembered her.
Four years earlier I had sat down in front of her desk. She was young and pretty, and in a very good mood, for she was sick of working and saw collecting unemployment as a sort of vacation, and she offered me a coffee and we spent a merry hour chatting in a manner I had never experienced before, and have never experienced since, among bureaucrats. She was very interested in my wanderings, and had fun turning my confession (that I was a shiftless drifter) into what made me look very experienced, on a resume. For example, one time I landed a job in a small market in Maine, and then the boss got drunk and didn’t show up for a week, and I had to fly by the seat of my pants trying to figure out how to keep the market open. The young woman smiled, and took this fiasco and wrote down on my resume that I was a “working manager.” She also stated I didn’t need to put down every job. Also I didn’t need to mention I didn’t really want a Real Job, and preferred to write. She gently chided me for TMI (Too Much Information) and stated it wasn’t dishonest to be selective, when telling the truth. I should mention the Economics classes I took in school, but not the Creative Writing courses.
I smiled and nibbled my pen, looking at the ceiling and remembering her laugh. I wished I’d asked her for a date, though it would have been daring to do so, considering I was nearly flat broke while in Cleveland. She was a road untaken. Life might have been different, if romance bloomed in Cleveland. But it didn’t, and here I was, dumped in Gallup. I signed and began filling out my application, unaware Ike Weed had walked up behind me and watched as I wrote. I wrote rapidly, for I fully expected to have to fill out many applications that morning, and perhaps it was the speed at which a writer can print, (far more neatly than a doctor), that drew Ike over.
Ike abruptly reached down over my shoulder to pick up my application even before I had finished figuring out how to make it look like flipping burgers was the goal of my life. He introduced himself as the District Manager, glancing over the application, and then he asked me, “You worked in a Fatty Burgers in California?” When I nodded he said, “I have to go on to Flagstaff, and then plan a weekend down in Las Vegas, but I’ll be back this way next Tuesday. Let me call the Fatty Burgers where you worked in California, and if it all looks good I may have a job for you. Can you be here at noon on Tuesday?” I nodded.
It was Friday, which meant I’d have to wait a weekend, which I couldn’t afford to do, but still I walked out of the Fatty Burgers in a bit of a daze, astonished at God’s sense of humor. What were the odds of walking into that place at the exact time the District Manager did? I noticed, as I left, that Quincy gave me a look that was not entirely approving, and concluded my chances were better with Ike.
Out on the street I came to the instant decision not to fill out any more applications, and instead to cross the dry bed of the Rio Puerco and clamber up an embankment to a bridge on I-40, where I could see a distant crew working. I wanted to see if Raydoe, who I shared a tiny trailer with at the campground, had shown up for work, and also ask Ed, the foreman, if there was any chance I might work there.
Raydoe is a character for another story, and in fact his chapter in my life was just ending. He had vanished. I called him “Raydoe” as it was short for “Desparado”, and he called me “Stupid Gringo” because that is what I was. I put up with a lot of abuse from him because he had a good heart under a sinister exterior.
For example, he didn’t like seeing me typing in a dark night in a pouring rain, my head bumping up the roof of a tiny, drenched, orange pup-tent lit from within by six candles, and his way of inviting me into his camper was to yell, “Hey Stupid Gringo, come out of that tent into my camper!” When I politely replied, “Thank you, but I’m quite all right!” his reply was, “If you don’t get the fuck out of there I’ll pull up your pegs and pound you!” It seemed like an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Raydoe worked repairing bridges on the interstate. His family lived on I-40 hundreds of miles away on the far side of New Mexico, and he missed them terribly, although, hypocritically, cheating on his wife Bonnie didn’t seem to bother him one bit. He did finally manage to convince Bonnie to come to the campground with his two daughters, at which point I had to move out of the camper into a big, canvas tent I set up with a couple Navajo, who also worked repairing bridges. The entire time I slept with them I don’t think we spoke a word. They were always dead tired at the end of a day, and stayed sleeping even when the tent blew down.
Bonnie couldn’t stand the solitude of the campground, or being cooped up in a tiny trailer, but I did have coffee with her a couple times during the week she lasted. She told me I need not hide her husband’s indiscretions; she had accepted the fact he was what she called, “a lady’s man.” She was an Indian from a pueblo near Santa Fe, but described Raydoe as “Pure Spaniard.”
I was starting to learn you needed to describe what-you-were in Gallup, but, when she asked what-I-was, I told her, “I guess I’m a Mutt,” which made her laugh. I gently dared venture that she should get her girls out for walks because the scenery was gorgeous, and also because she seemed to be suffering from cabin fever, but she never left the cramped trailer except to walk her girls to the campground bathroom. When Radoe was home she seemed to argue with him constantly, and the vehemence of their discussions sometimes caused the little trailer to rock to and fro, but the moment she took her daughters back east he missed her terribly. I assumed, when Raydoe vanished, that that was where he had vanished to.
Climbing up a steep, dirt embankment between sage and prickly pear onto the abutment, I saw Ed watching me curiously from the far side of the bridge. I also saw Raydoe wasn’t around, and then winced as a blast of wind hit.
Raydoe had mentioned working on bridges “sucked utterly”, and now I saw why. The wind couldn’t be bothered to go around you. There must be few places besides mountaintops more windy than bridges on interstates, a fact I already knew as a hitchhiker, but as a hitchhiker I could hurry across; the prospect of remaining in such an environment all day was daunting. Raydoe often told Bonnie she didn’t know how lucky she was to be stuck indoors all day, as she argued he didn’t know how lucky he was to get out. I thrust my hands as deeply as I could into my pockets, thinking I understood Raydoe a little better, and also that maybe I didn’t want the job, but I was desperate, so I trudged over to Ed to work the conversation around to asking for work.
Ed was a wiry, balding man with a thin, white mustache, neatly trimmed, which was the only part of his face that wasn’t weather-beaten half to death. His skin was gray with an undertone of purple, and he smoked and cursed constantly. I knew him only slightly, because he’d give Raydoe rides when Raydoe’s truck broke down, which turned out to be fairly often. He always seemed very curious to see an intellectual typing away in Raydoe’s tiny trailer, but he never asked any questions and always seemed in a hurry. As I now approached him he looked a hundred pounds heavier, for he was dressed like an arctic explorer in January, yet still was hunched over and hugging himself, as if shivering, overseeing a group of young, Navajo men who were tying rebar in the relentless wind. He looked hopeful when he recognized me as I approached, and shouted, “Got any news from that cocksucker Raydoe?”
I shouted back, as shouting seemed necessary in that wind, “No. I wondered if you had news.”
“No. That asshole said he wanted a three-day-weekend and has taken the whole fucking week off.”
I nodded and tried to look sympathetic, which probably was a bad idea, as it encouraged Ed to rant. He sputtered, “That turd acts like he’s the boss of me, always demanding this or that and never giving dipshit in return. I’ve had it with the moron.”
One of the Navajo laughed, “You said that last week.”
“Well this time I mean it. How many times have I helped that fuckhead out? Getting that piece of crap he calls a truck fixed? But is he thankful?”
Another Navajo shouted, “You should respect. He owns a quarter of the state.” The men all laughed.
I knew what they were referring to. Raydoe claimed his grandfather had a deed, ornately inked onto ox-hide and signed by the king of Spain, and dated 1698, which gave his family title to the northeast quarter of New Mexico, including Santa Fe. It was his land, but the Anglos had stolen it.
Ed scoffed, “Oh you Navajo can laugh at Raydoe, but you sure get pretty pissed-off about your land getting stolen by white men, don’t you now? Meanwhile you’re doing a pretty fucking good job of taking the Hopi’s land, ain’t you now?” (He was referring to the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute.)
I was slightly horrified at Ed’s rudeness, but the Navajo just laughed and nodded. Their sense of humor was something I was just beginning to learn about. I decided to steer the conversation my way. “I was hoping you knew where Raydoe was. I paid last week’s rent at the campground, but this week I’m broke. I don’t know what will happen to his trailer if he doesn’t pay.” I paused, before continuing, “By the way…if Raydoe isn’t working…I was wondering…”
“Oh, don’t even ask. I’m not allowed to hire white people. Only Indians.”
“Raydoe isn’t Indian.”
“No, but he qualified because he just got out of prison. He knifed some fat white biker in a bar, but luckily the guy was so fat he didn’t die, so Raydoe got off easy; his lawyer sniffled about Raydoe’s wife and kids, and the dumb judge bought it, and the State says I’ve got to hire disadvantaged folk on a state job, so I get stuck with the losers.” He scowled at the Navajo, who grinned back at him, so he added, as if only to me but loudly, “These fuckers ain’t really disadvantaged; but slow as molasses. You couldn’t be slower.”
One of the men explained, “We don’t want to kill the job.”
Ed exploded, “You want to be stuck in this fucking wind-tunnel forever? Let’s move on to some bridge in some cozy valley. They’ll find us all fucking dead here if we’re not done by December, though I will say…” he continued, again as if talking aside to me, though still shouting, “…these fellows are tough. Look at the fuckers! They dress in November like it’s August. But look at you! You’re as fucking stupid as they are. Oh, I’d hire you, but…”
Ed continued, abruptly explosive again, “…I swear those dipshit politicians in Santa Fe drink tequila all day and decide things by throwing darts at a wall. A bridge shouldn’t be fucking rotting so soon after it’s built. Look at this crappy concrete.” He gave the crumbling curb a kick. “We even have to replace the rebar, because either it’s rusted, or they fucking forgot to put it in, in the first place. Concrete don’t like it when it ain’t reinforced and a thousand overloaded semis drive over it each day, specially when it’s fucking crap to begin with. Either the contractor bought sub-standard to pocket some cash, or the engineer was from Florida and had no clue how cold it gets at 7000 feet, but the asshole politicians sit in warm offices and hire their uncles and make the messes that we have to freeze our fucking asses off fixing.”
I nodded, starting to wonder how to extract myself and leave.
He went on, “I don’t know how I wound up in this God-forsaken place. I’ve never understood why everyone argues about who owns a worthless desert, but at least most of the state has rock that is red and looks fucking beautiful. Gallup? It’s all gray and dull brown. Doesn’t matter what direction you come from; it gets uglier as you pull into town.”
To my concern a trickle of red blood began to flow from Ed’s left nostril. One of the Navajo said, “Your nose is bleeding again.”
Ed pulled out a dirty handkerchief and muttered, “It’s the damn dust in the fucking wind. And you think you want this job? I tell you you’d fucking quit in a fucking week. But I’d hire you, just to get some fucking work done. I could train you to tie rebar in an hour. You couldn’t work slower than these fucking snails. But the Law won’t let me.”
I sighed, and then put on a brave face. “Oh well, I may have a job at a Fatty Burgers next week, but I was hoping to get paid three times as much an hour, working for you.”
A Navajo who looked older than the rest grunted something in Navajo, from down the bridge.
“What’d he say?” asked Ed.
“He said, ‘Tell the Belighana to fake it’,” translated a younger man.
“You could do it,” laughed another. “Indians from back east all look pretty Belaghana to me. And Raydoe says you spend all your time pecking at a typewriter and never get laid. Type out something that looks official and says you’re Mohawk. You think they’d ever check? Even if they do, by then you’ll be paid!”
Ed exploded, “Oh for fuck’s sake! You assholes just want me fired,” and everyone laughed.
I ventured, “Actually, my grandmother’s grandmother’s maiden name was Miss Eagle, and my Dad thinks she might have been Abenaki. That might make me a sixteenth. Does that count?”
Ed grinned and said, “Go fuck yourself.”
One of the Navajo said, “Give faking it a try. You never know.”
I said, “Maybe I will. In the meantime I guess I’ll go and sell some plasma.” Ed looked puzzled, but the Navajo nodded, well aware of what I referred to. Then I climbed down the embankment. As I crossed the dry river I told God that what I’d just experienced was one of the most interesting job interviews I’d ever had, and that I hoped He’d let me stick it into a novel, someday.
Arriving back at my car, I briefly prayed it would start, but it didn’t. It was a tiny, brown 1974 Toyota Corolla with only a 1200 cc engine, and I had no money to buy a new battery. But I had learned to park it on hills. Even on a shallow downward slope I could push the light car in neutral, with the driver-side door open, faster and faster, and then jump in and pop it into first gear. It helped to also turn the ignition key, so the weak starter-engine could contribute. The engine would explode into deafening life, as I also couldn’t afford a new muffler.
Driving west into downtown Gallup I sort of liked the fact my pathetic little vehicle roared like a Harley. I jutted out my jaw slightly. If it hadn’t been so cold I would have hung my forearm out the window. Loud cars alter your personality.
I also liked the fact many Navajo, in 1984, did not take kindly to white bureaucrats issuing orders, and some drove without bothering to get license plates. This made me worry less about the fact my car had expired plates from Maine. In fact having plates from Maine made me more interesting, to local folk, even four years later.
I pulled up to the Plasma Place, which was on the main drag in downtown Gallup. Such enterprises spring up where drunks need money, and poets know where such places can be found because poets manage to be broke even when sober. I did not at all like going there, and every time I went God heard me pray that it would be the last time.
Basically they took a pint of blood out of you, ran it through a centrifuge to remove the plasma, and then put the red blood back into you. Because the body swiftly replaces plasma, you could go twice a week. Because they liked reducing the amount of testing they had to do, they encouraged tested people to come again. The first time you went you’d get seven dollars for laying on a cot for two hours, but the second time you’d get nine.
As usual I was the only Caucasian there. The nurse behind the counter and most of the fellows in the waiting room were Navajo, though I occasionally met a Zuni or Mexican. After registering and waiting I’d walk into a room holding roughly fifteen cots, holding fifteen men with needles in their arms, and blood either going out to a bag down low, or coming back in from a bag hung high. Though there was some sullen conversation in the waiting room, a stoic silence filled the room where the transactions occurred. The needles hurt, and hurt more after the passage of time, and there was no way to shift away from the pain. I tried to talk, for the five nurses were quite pretty, their white uniforms contrasting nicely with their dark skin, but they were very professional, (and also I suppose a man selling blood isn’t usually seen as a good prospect). They refused to flirt. The only Caucasian I ever saw was the old doctor, who I did like to talk with yet whom I almost never saw after the original interview; he lurked in a small office and only occasionally rolled through the room in his wheelchair.
Time really dragged in that room. I always brought a notebook but it seemed impossible to write. The stoicism was somehow the antithesis of a type of relaxation needed in order to write, and the stifling created writer’s-block. After an interminable two hours the needle was at last removed from your arm, and you walked back to the waiting room to receive your payment, in cash. On this occasion I got a pleasant surprise. Not only was it an even-numbered visit, which meant it was nine dollars rather than seven, but it turned out that every eighth visit you received a “bonus” of seven extra dollars.
My Toyota was so startled at my wealth that it started without needing to be pushed, and I drove back to the area of the Fatty Burgers, (which had been built in a prime location for a fast food joint, before I-40 was built, right at the exit of a “modern” mall, which forty years later might be called a “mini-mall”. The mall held a “modern” supermarket, fairly small for other parts of the country but quite different from the local trading posts, which were more like old-fashioned, rural grocery-stores, with stuff in barrels.)
I had learned a poet’s skill of stretching a food budget, and plotted to survive the weekend on a chicken stew, and also sardine sandwiches. One odd thing was the tins of sardines were from a cannery where I once worked in Maine, and only cost half as much in Gallup as they did in Maine. I suspected the tins were very old, but the fish were in hot chili sauce and I didn’t taste any difference. They cost 42 cents a tin, and I bought three. The cheapest loaf of white bread was 89 cents. I bought a pound of chicken wings for 69 cents. Three potatoes, three carrots, an onion, and a single chili pepper only cost 94 cents more. A big bunch of celery was a big expense at 89 cents, but I hadn’t been getting my vegetables lately, subsisting largely on Spanish rice Raydoe taught me how to make. Thinking of him, I bought a small bag of rice and small bag of beans, both for 39 cents, and a small tin of tomato paste for 35 cents. I knew we had cooking oil in the trailer, because Raydoe had bought a huge, five-gallon pail of WIC cooking oil off an Indian somewhere, for a dollar. I totaled things up in my head to roughly six dollars, mentally put five dollars aside for gasoline, and decided, with five to spare, I could spend $1.50 on a six-pack of awful beer from Texas that tasted slightly of sulfur, (but which worked). Then, feeling wonderfully rich, and with $3.50 left over for four packs of very cheap, no-tax, reservation cigarettes, which I could buy near the campground, I drove home.
Home was a tiny trailer, with a living space much like that of a small sailboat: Room for two beds on either side, which by day became a couch on one side and a table with two seats by a tiny stove on the other. When you slept one person’s head was under the stove. Unlike a small sailboat, there was no toilet, and you had to use the campground bathroom. Also unlike a sailboat, the trailer had a long, thick cord that plugged into campground electricity, and the stove and heat were electric. It was far superior to a tent, though for the life of me I didn’t see how Raydoe survived even a week in such a small space with a wife and two daughters.
Raydoe was still gone, and I was assuming I’d enjoy the peace and quiet of a second weekend alone. I’d gotten a little tired of being called “Stupid Gringo” all the time, but to my surprise I missed him. I’d learned the art of handling being belittled at an early age, (taught by two older brothers), and knew how to laugh at myself, and Raydoe seemed to like laughing as much as he liked being superior.
From the moment I stepped from my car and walked towards the darkened trailer I could feel the banshees of loneliness rising on all sides. Almost immediately I knew I’d likely lose the battle.
The battle was with myself, and involved rationing the six-pack and making it last the entire weekend. I knew I could do it, because I often did it, but there was another side of myself that wanted to battle the banshees, and that involved crushing the six-pack in three hours.
I made myself get busy making the chicken stew, as that was a good way to avoid the banshees, but as I did I found myself missing Raydoe’s constant belittling, which often contained good advise. For example, one time I was mystified by how my rice refused to cook, unaware that at 7000 feet water boiled at less than two hundred degrees and didn’t cook as well, and also that the air was so thin, at that altitude, that water boiled away with amazing speed. Twice I added water, and twice the water boiled away and the rice was still crunchy and basically raw. “Stupid Gringo, it will take forever that way,” scorned Raydoe, dumping the rice onto a plate and then pouring a quarter inch of cooking oil into my pot. He heated the oil until it started smoking, and then dumped the rice back in. Because the rice was wet there was a tremendous roar of crackling and popping, and Raydoe stepped back with his eyes round, but pretended he hadn’t been alarmed, once the racket died down. He stirred the concoction until the white rice was browned, and many kernels had puffed like popcorn, and then added the tomato sauce and a little water, dumping in some tabasco sauce for zest. Then he stirred it as it bubbled, explaining, “It don’t take so long to cook when it’s already cooked by the oil.”
In like manner Raydoe attempted to teach me how to be lecherous, but with far less success, especially when the girls we picked up were hitchhiking schoolgirls; (I apparently was an especially stupid Gringo, because instead of leading them astray I dropped them off where they wanted to go). But recalling these episodes, wherein I caused Raydoe to roll his eyes and slap his forehead, only reminded me how lonely I was, and how unrewarding doing the right thing was.
I left the trailer with a bowl of my soup to eat out at a picnic table, looking up at the bright red sandstone formations on either side, and watching them be stained even redder as the sun went down. A haunting moon was rising, and the banshees gathered. The wind was dying, as the Blue Norther faded, and I hoped the winds might swing around and waft warmth north from Phoenix, giving us a kinder Saturday, but the campground was nearly empty, and the creeping chill of an approaching winter swiftly grew with the rising darkness. The cold comes quickly after sunset under a desert’s icy stars. I scrawled a poem:
I think I am going to die
I see a skull's face
In the full moon
And high in the sky
Hear a mad loon
Luting a lonely
And sad tune.
Why am I staying here grieving?
I won't hurt any by leaving.
Why am I staying here moaning?
Life's just a way of postponing.
Ask me to stay.
The banshees had definitely gathered, so I hurried into the camper to work on a novel I was struggling with at that time. I had sent a synopsis to an editor who I hoped would look at it. The novel was my ticket out of poverty, at least in my imagination. I rolled a clean sheet of paper into the typewriter and looked at it. Then I looked at my diary. Then I looked at the beer.
Looking at the yellowing pages of that diary, more than thirty-five years later, one thing that amazes me is how long and how much beer it took, for me to get around to admitting I was hurt. Now, when I run up against a painful aspect of life, I often just say “ouch”, and get on with life, but back then it seemed I’d write and write and write, and, only after a six pack, would I say, “ouch”. It is interesting to ponder what made it take me so long.
I seemed to have a hard time facing the fact people, including myself, aren’t perfect, and rather than generous may be greedy, and rather than pure may be lustful, and rather than kind may be hateful. A certain arrogance was involved; I simply couldn’t believe anyone would be hurtful to anyone as wonderful as I was. So instead I sought a different explanation. I felt mean people were misunderstood, a victim of their circumstances. Once they had been a pure and innocent child, but life had mangled them. If only I could understand them I could excuse them.
In actual fact, the person might simply be being a jerk. But it took six beers before I could arrive at that conclusion, and even then, the next morning might find me sorry I had been so rude.
The bits and pieces of spiritual theory I had picked up in my wandering contained a premise that our spirits had evolved from bestial origins, but I was dead set against the Freudian, psychological idea that we were merely advanced apes, and also the Atheistic belief there was no such thing as our spirit. I believed that besides evolving we were also involving, and involving involved opening up to Love. We might have come from apes but we were aiming towards angels. God was in everyone, trapped but striving to get out, and I should help them, and this made it hard for me to see people as jerks, even when they were being jerks. I might be a sort of ruthless drill sergeant to myself, but I must be kind to others. In fact, in 1984 I don’t even think the catch-phrase “Tough Love” had been invented, or, if it had, it hadn’t achieved wide usage and I’d never heard it. I had very little ability to tenderly and kindly tell a person, “You’re just being a jerk”, even when it was the truth. Instead I felt compelled to figure out what their problem was, which can be a waste of time, for even if you can figure out why a person is behaving like a jerk, they may go right on being one.
Saturday morning found me hung over and discouraged. I had a couple of coffees for breakfast, which didn’t help much, and then went for a long hike around Church Rock, which did help. I found graffiti carved into the stones from the 1880’s and 1890’s, when the cavalry had a post nearby, and imagined some of those lonely soldiers, far from home, suffered hangovers as well, precisely a hundred years earlier at precisely the same spot I stood. In my mind’s eye I pictured them standing, in their deep navy-blue uniforms with yellow trim and shining brass buttons. So I wasn’t so alone.
Then I followed a gully up into a hill, seeing its multicolored walls rise higher and higher until I found myself in a box canyon with towering, coral sides, flaming in the bright sun against a turquois sky. At the very end was a lone pine, tall and straight and perhaps a hundred feet tall, but below the box canyon’s towering sides. Someone had started to chainsaw the big tree down at some point, but only one inch into the trunk something stopped them. I decided that perhaps the snarling chainsaw echoed loudly from the surrounding stone, and in the blaring noise the voice of some spirit spoke and told the sawyer to quit desecrating the beauty. I liked my explanation, and sat beneath the tree to see if I could hear the same spirit. I heard nothing but a soft wind in the needles high above me, but something about sitting in the pool of sunlight touched me, and I felt better.
I spent the rest of the weekend eating chicken soup and sardine sandwiches, smoking and drinking coffee, working on my novel, and doing my laundry. It cost twenty-five cents for a washer and a dime for each ten minutes you used a drier, which ate into my cigarette-money, but I felt the need to clean up my act.
I liked that campground’s laundromat because Archibald, a Navajo veteran who was in charge of campground maintenance, lived in the same building, and his family ate dinner in a room adjoining the washing machines, and, though I knew it was rude to eavesdrop, I could never resist. I was lonely and it warmed me to hear a family in action. The kids would come home from school and say what they had learned, and a dead silence would fall like lead. It was obvious that Archibald believed differently from what the schoolmarms taught.
It was the beginning of a time when I learned a fair amount about Navajo culture, though not as a nosey anthropologist, asking all sorts of unwelcome questions, but as a bum. I swiftly sensed the Navajo had taken a lot of -bleep- for what they believed, from a wide variety of missionaries and schoolmarms and government officials, and were not inclined to be honest because they had caught hell for their honesty. In fact, some were more likely to fabricate some absurd “tradition”, just to see if you would fall for it. I found it best to avoid “belief” and “tradition” altogether, and instead stay on the very real level of what you wanted.
On this particular occasion a rattlesnake, attracted by the warmth, came through the door of the laundromat as I sat scribbling in my diary, waiting for my laundry to finish tumbling in the drier. I shouted, “Hey Archibald! You there? A rattlesnake is paying a visit!”
I heard a chair scrape, and Archie appeared, smiling. He held a broom. In a most gentle manner he urged the snake towards the door. The snake didn’t appreciate being pushed back out into the cold, and struck at the broom repetitively, but Archie remained patient and gentle, until at last the snake gave up and left. Then Archie looked at me and said, simply, “We don’t kill those.”
In my diary I wrote, “Navajo apparently don’t kill rattlesnakes.” I didn’t ask “why”. It was just something I noted.
My novel was different. In my novel I was asking “why” a lot, not about other cultures, but about my own. We Mutts, called Americans, do a lot of things that demand some sort of explanation, but no one explains. So I tried.
There was nothing I enjoyed more, even though I had no final answers. To have two whole days alone in a campground, just thinking, was a sort of paradise for me, despite the inherent loneliness. It was like sitting on a sunny morning when you don’t have to work, working on a crossword puzzle in a newspaper. Only the puzzle wasn’t a crossword; it was America.
But, without a patron, eventually a poet must cease his pondering.
I often tried to extend my meditations even when the chicken soup sank low in my pot, by adding more water. The soup grew thinner and thinner, until it was what I called “slime soup”, which was basically potato skins floating above chicken bones with no marrow. I doubt even that meager diet would have driven me from the delights I found just thinking, but running out of cigarettes was another matter. When I ran out of cigarettes great art could go get damned; I wanted a job.
So it was I wrenched myself from bed in the twilight before dawn on Monday morning to hurry to the Gallup unemployment office to seek “spot labor”. Men would start to line up long before the office opened, outside the door, and no one dared cut in line. If there were only three jobs that day, only the first three would get work.
I softly cursed the comfort of Raydoe’s trailer. In a tent there was no danger of oversleeping, and I sometimes went to the bathroom in the dark before dawn just to warm up. But now, as my howling Toyota roared towards Gallup in the twilight before dawn, I knew I was late.
I was tenth in line. In line were six Navajo, a Mexican, an Apache, a Zuni, and then there was me, the Mutt. I vaguely knew who some were because I’d been there before, and I’d learned that in Gallup you needed to say what-you-are. But I knew little more. No one was talking much. Coffee was lacking and cigarettes were scarce. Two hours passed before the doors opened at seven, at which point the line was eighteen men long. (Men who arrived later took one look at the line, and turned away.)
We sullenly filed in and wrote our names on a sheet of paper, and then sat down in a line of chairs along the wall by the door. Before us was a counter, and not far beyond the counter was the far wall. Compared to California, the unemployment place was tiny. Between the counter and the far wall were, as I recall, eight desks, but there were only two people, the manager and a secretary. At eight o’clock two more clerks came to work, and at nine three more, and another secretary. So backwards was the bureaucracy of New Mexico in 1984 that the clerks didn’t even get their own cubicles. The entire office was just a big room with walls made of sheet metal and no windows, with a single cubical with Plexiglas windows, where the manager could sit at a desk, though he usually didn’t. He seemed like a restless man, constantly walking from desk to desk and talking with the clerks, or swerving to the coffee pot. The smell of fresh coffee, which I couldn’t have, could be maddening.
By eight o’clock most of the spot labor jobs had come in and the men started to wander off, some to sell plasma. I tended to stay and scribble in my notebook. I had nowhere else to go, and that place was warmer than the street. The first time I was there I got so engrossed in describing my plight, so people in the future would know what a great writer had suffered through, that I completely lost track of time, and landed a job that came in at 10:30. So I knew it might pay to wait, but more often it did not.
Later I got to know the eight employees a little better, but at this point I was still a recent arrival to Gallup, and learning the ropes. I’d had such good luck getting jobs on my own that spot-labor was still a frontier. Yet, as I sat hoping for work, one of the employees, Bonita, had already made herself known.
Bonita detested me. I think I must have looked exactly like a man who treated her very badly, in her past. From the moment I first walked in the place, during my first attempt to find work, she regarded me with undisguised loathing, which of course made her very interesting to me. Not that she was attractive. She was overweight and had acne, with a silly bun of over-pretentious hair piled too far above her pale, spotted forehead, and she spoke with a Mexican accent that seemed equally overdone, more Mexican than Mexicans. I was fairly certain the accent was an affectation, because one time she answered the phone, and said, “Oh hi, Mom”, and then talked with hardly any accent at all.
It is funny to think how I must have looked to her. I assume I must have attempted to be disarming with a sequence of appeasing expressions. None worked, but I wish they were on film. In retrospect they might be hilarious.
I suppose that, just as men find some woman attractive and some women repellant, women are the same, and I just happened to be especially repellant to Bonita. But it is the strangest thing, when you walk into a place where the people are supposedly there to help you, to meet eyes filled with loathing.
Little did I know that later on, during my time in Gallup, Bonita would be appointed as the bureaucrat in charge of helping me. But that is a tale for another time. All I knew was she was a most fascinating female. She seemingly couldn’t keep her eyes off of me, because when I lifted my eyes from the notebook I brought along to scribble in, she’d often be staring at me.
Not that I ignored the other five. It gets boring, just sitting waiting for work, so I of course had nothing to do but write observations about what the others were doing. (Little did they know that what they did might appear in a future novel.)
On this particular morning I had issues more pressing than multiculturalism to attend to. I needed a job. I needed one because I was running out of cigarettes. If I ran out of cigarettes, political correctness went right out the window.
Only the first two in line got spot labor jobs by 8:00, and one by one the others started to leave. Things looked grim. My mood was foul and getting fouler. When Bonita looked at me, she did not see my usual attempts to be appeasing and disarming, but rather flashing eyes. She looked surprised.
It was right at this time I noted, to Bonita’s right, a different employee thoughtfully regarding me, his index finger tips on his forehead and his thumbs on his cheeks and his elbows on his desk. As I met eyes with him he seemed to arrive at some decision, and sat back and crooked a finger that beckoned me. He was Fred Gentlechief, a fellow I barely knew.
With a last name life “Gentlechief” you’d assume Fred was Native American, but Fred also looked like he had to shave three times a day. He had more whiskers on a square inch of his chin than I had on my entire face, and it was my understanding that Native Americans were genetically predisposed to have smooth faces. But one time, standing outside in line, I heard one Navajo tease another about his mustache, and the second Navajo told the first that his great-grandfather had grabbed his great-grandmother while raiding a Mexican village. I assumed Fred was the product of several such raids, as I walked over to his desk.
In 1984 Gallup was way ahead of the curve, in terms of so-called “multiracialism”. The unemployment office of Gallup was like the crew of Star Trek, in its racial variety, despite numbering only eight individuals. This mixing didn’t seem to be the result of the brute force of a legislated decree, but simply the way things were, the natural result of having Navajo, Zuni, Hopi and Apache reservations all around Gallup, comprising areas larger than entire European nations. Yet despite all the mixing there was a lot of focus on what-you-were. Even Hispanics seemed divided into all sorts of categories. I myself was a Mutt minority, and didn’t care all that much about whether a person was a wetback or a wetterback, because such identifications seemed like too much to keep track of. Mostly I was interested in the individual I was talking with. That seemed enough to keep my brain fully occupied.
Fred Gentlechief was short, swarthy, round, articulate and soft spoken, yet surprisingly frank about things without seeming the slightest bit blunt or rude. For example, he casually told me he sometimes took the best spot labor jobs for himself, to make a little extra money on weekends. I liked him immediately for his honesty, and his slow, inclusive smile. He gave you the feeling you were in on the joke.
Fred confessed to me he had a problem, because he had taken a spot labor job he discovered he actually didn’t want. He’d agreed to clean a lady’s lawn, but when he swung by during lunch the prior Friday, when the woman was not home, he saw that the yard held what appeared to be two hundred and fifty dog poops. He’d found ways to avoid the woman all weekend, but now he had to face the music. He wondered if I’d like to hustle down to her house and offer to do the awful job, before she left for work at nine. The house was only a hundred yards away. About two minutes later I was knocking at her door.
The woman was in a rush to get to work on a Monday morning. When she answered the door the reek of freshly splashed perfume nearly knocked me over backwards. She was not young but still good looking, which is to say she was roughly my age. She was in such a hurry that I seemed like a distraction, and she had no interest at all in the excuse that Fred Gentlechief had instructed me to give her. She handed me a coal scuttle and scoop, pointed at the dog poop, and rushed off, saying she’d be back at noon.
Facing the poop, and starting to scoop, I had to keep my brains entertained, and I did what I usually did, which was to play Sherlock Holmes, and to invent an entire life history for the woman, though I had an absolute minimum of actual information.
First I determined her dog was a big dog, by the size of the poops. The dog was not around, as there was no deep baying when I worked near the house, and also the poops were desert dried and not a single one was juicy, a fact that I was gladdened by.
Next I determined the woman was not good at instructing, when in a hurry, for she had not told me what to do with the poop, and the coal scuttle was full when the job was only 10% done.
Third, I determined that either the lady was very disorganized, or a man had left her, perhaps taking his dog with him, as there were various half-completed jobs around the yard, with tools left out. I found a shovel and buried the poop down at the bottom of the yard. There was a toolshed down there, and when I peeked in I saw it held a lamp, radio, and a great many beer cans, some in bags but some scattered around on windows sills and on a workbench.. There were few tools in the shed, for rather than in the shed most were scattered around the yard. At this point I was fairly certain a man was involved.
I worked fast and was done the poop-cleaning by mid morning, and to keep myself busy I began cleaning up the beer cans in the tool shed and putting the tools away. A few of the uncompleted jobs were easy to figure out, for a Sherlock like me. They were obvious, such as a rake by a half-raked flower bed beneath a hedge, and I completed those jobs, deciding the fellow was a bit of a slouch. He even left a saw out to get rusty by a half sawn board, with a hammer rusting by rusty nails, by a fence needing a board. I decided that job was interrupted the day the drunken bum got thrown out, and fixed the fence. Then I glanced at the low November sun, which seemed past its zenith, so I went to check the clock in my car. It was well past lunchtime. The woman had apparently completely forgotten me.
I ran out of cigarettes at 1:45, and suddenly Sherlock began to arrive at conclusions that were radically different: The man left because the woman was a total bitch. She drove him to drink in a toolshed. At 3:30 I went to my car and fished through the ashtray for the longer butts, and smoked those.
As I suffered I kept working, for over the years I had discovered you can do one of two things while in nicotine withdrawal. You can either curl up into a fetal position, suck your thumb, and whimper, or you can utilize a surprising amount of energy made available, and do superhuman things such as walk through a howling blizzard to buy a pack of smokes. I used the energy to rake the entire lawn, and also to crush all the beer cans and put them in my car, because at that point it had occurred to me that the bitch might be planning to skip off without paying, and I wanted to be able to sell the aluminum for a pack of smokes. I figured there was around $4.00 worth, and the sun was starting down.
It was just then the lady came home from work. When she got out of the car and saw me her face filled with dismay and she clutched her forehead, and then she crossed the yard with her palms spread open before her, profusely apologizing. If it was an act, it was very effective, for my rage evaporated in a twinkling. I told her we all can forget things, now and again.
At this point she stopped looking at me and looked around the yard, and her expression shifted towards amazement and pleasure. The place really did look changed; I had even done some rearranging of the lawn furniture. She smiled and asked me what she owed me. I told her spot laborers like me got minimum wage, and usually got $26.80 for a full day’s work. She shook her head, and went into the house, quickly returning with a twenty and a ten. I thanked her and made some joke about the speed at which I’d run off to buy cigarettes. She held up a finger, went back into the house, and returned with an unopened pack of Lucky Strikes. She apologized that they might be stale. They were her late husband’s.
As I greedily opened the pack and smoked one, it seemed only right to ask a few sympathetic questions about the man whose cigarettes I smoked, and she leaned against the side of the door and showed me how wrong a Sherlock can be.
Her husband had died of a sudden and swift form of cancer the autumn before, and the dog had sulked miserably and died in the spring. She herself had gone numb and blank for around six months, only working because she feared if she stopped she might die. She had plenty of money; the life insurance paid off the mortgage; but life, as she put it, “held nothing at all interesting.” Then, as she put it, “Time and praying healed me.” She joined a church group for bereaved people, and made some new friends.
As we chatted it became obvious we were checking each other out. I think she decided I was too poor even as I decided she was too old, but neither of us seemed offended. Sometimes it is warming to even be considered.
After my third cigarette I looked towards my car and confessed I had scooped up $4.00 worth of her aluminum cans, and she said I was welcome to them, and we cheerfully parted ways. My day’s profit was $34.00, which was good for me.
All was well in my world, as I headed back to the campground. In fact the next morning I felt a little greedy to even look for spot labor. It was lucky I got no work, for I had totally forgotten my scheduled meeting with Ike Weed at Fatty Burgers. I only remembered after I had cashed in the aluminum cans, and stopped at the supermarket for more bread and sardines, and some hamburger and mushrooms I planned to add into some Spanish rice I planned to cook later. Seeing the blinking Fatty Burgers sign reminded me, and rather than shopping I crossed the parking lot to meet Ike.
Wealth is a relative thing, and at that time having $34.00 in my wallet, plus a few Lucky Strikes remaining in the pack in my shirt pocket, made me behave far differently than I might have behaved had I been broke and in nicotine withdrawal. I actually didn’t want the job. When I left the Fatty Burgers in California I had thanked God for getting me the hell out of there. Therefore I was far more relaxed at the job interview than I might have been.
Right off the bat I remembered Ike said he’d be going to Las Vegas, and asked him if he’d had a good time and good luck. My alacrity surprised him, and made him slightly defensive, but apparently he’d had very good luck, which placed him in a mood brimming with confidence as well. Stars must have been aligned favorably, for at that point in time we were a couple of lucky guys.
Ike offered me a coffee, which I gladly accepted, and then he took out my job application and some notes. This made me slightly defensive, so I lit up a Lucky, because back then you were allowed to smoke in restaurants. When he mentioned he’d had a talk with my old boss at the California Fatty Burgers, Hudson Wallace, the end of my cigarette glowed very brightly.
I was nervous because Hudson and I had a frank talk just before I left California wherein we confessed the sort of things you don’t confess unless you never expect to see a person again. One thing Hudson confessed was that he never would have hired me, and only allowed his ex to hire me so she would learn not to hire “that type.” Then I turned out to be a good worker who gave two weeks notice both times I decided to leave, while his girlfriend did turn out to be “that type”, and quit Hudson without giving notice.
Most of what I confessed didn’t bother Hudson, involving breaking Fatty Burgers laws; for example: Rather than throwing an “expired” burger into the expired-bin, I ate it. However one confession troubled him, and that was that I knew my girlfriend put down a fake social security number on her job application, when in fact she was from Canada and qualified as an illegal alien. Hudson was upset by this news, as he himself could get in trouble, but I figured it was better for him to know beforehand than to get blindsided. He could always say she left because he told her to go back to Canada, and write things down on paper to make it look true.
At the time I saw no harm in my girlfriend’s scofflaw tendencies, but now I was olderand wiser and had learned my lesson, but one does not want to discuss such things in a job interview. I was nervous about what Hudson had told Ike. My only defense would be to throw my ex under the bus, saying “She did it; not me”, when the truth was I approved of her getting the job. The fact she wasn’t a citizen was a can of worms I didn’t want opened. There are things you confess when leaving a situation you don’t want mentioned when entering.
Not that such things should matter much, if you are being hired as a dishwasher or burger flipper. However simply the way Ike was going through evidence like Sherlock Holmes clued me into the fact this was no ordinary job interview. He noted, for example, that when I lived in Maine I had been a “working manager” of a small store.
Could it be that a bum like me was seen as “management material”?
To my complete astonishment that was exactly what Ike was driving at. He mentioned Hudson told him I was a hard worker, who had given two weeks notice both times I left Fatty Burgers, but then Ike asked Hudson if he thought I might be “management material.” Ike stressed Hudson didn’t immediately answer. Ike stated, “Hudson paused a long, long time, before he said, ‘He might.'”
I doubted I really was management material. My experience had always been that such promotion elevated you from one-of-the-guys to a person “the guys” didn’t much like. I seemed to lose more than I gained. But I asked, “What’s the pay?”
“I’ll start you at $4.50 an hour for the first two weeks. Then I’ll either fire you or raise you to $5.00 an hour. I’ll know by then whether you are up to snuff. There will be some overtime as well. We are expanding and short on good help.”
For most this would be good news, but a poet sees a job as less time to write, and the word “overtime” is a sort of death knell to any novel they may be working on. However another desire entered into the equation, and was that my ex might become an exex.
If only I was good enough; if only, rather than a damp tent or a cramped camper, I had a nice, warm room at the El Rancho Hotel, my ex might change her opinion of me.
In retrospect, my lust was a lot like nicotine: When I was in withdrawal, art got thrown under the bus. Just as I’d walk through a snowstorm for a cigarette, I’d endure Fatty Burgers for her.
But of course I did not bring this up in a job interview. What I actually said to Ike was, “When do I get paid? I had to wait two weeks to get paid at the Fatty Burgers in California, and the guy I’m living with is late on his rent.”
Ike reached backwards and pulled out an unnaturally fat wallet, stuffed with winnings from Las Vegas, and fished out a crisp fifty dollar bill. “Consider this an advance.”
I took the bribe. “OK. I’ll give it a shot. When do I start?”
“Tomorrow morning. Be here at seven. Quincy will show you the ropes.”
I looked over at Quincy Phlabutt, who was standing with his arms folded, with a hint of a frown. I nodded towards him in a way I hoped was disarming.
I walked out of the interview shaking my head, and muttering softly to God. “God,” I said, “You seem to be rising me up in the world. Have things changed? Are the right things going to start being the rewarding things? Or are you handing me a long rope to hang myself with?”
I’m seeking escape from worrisome news by ducking thirty-five years into my past and writing about a time I worked in a fast-food joint. I think I’ll call the work, “Fatty Burgers”. But worrisome news keeps popping up as fake-news headlines on my phone, even when I try to block it.
It seems so sad that President Trump is portrayed as such a criminal, worthy of having his Twitter and Facebook accounts blocked, when what he did was speak Truth to Power. He simply held up a mirror, so the “Swamp” could see itself. Sometimes a mirror corners you like a rat.
A cornered rat is vicious, and it seems Trump has been exposed to four years of viciousness. This viciousness has in turn exposed the “Swamp” as being exactly as Trump described: Corrupt, evil, hypocritical, and illegal, and supported by a press that is dishonest. Now the “Swamp” feels it has at long last turned the tables, and Trump is the cornered rat.
Psychologically the “Swamp” shows symptoms of a person with so-called “personality disorder”, wherein a family and/or workplace and/or community desire to love and help, but all the individual sees is a preconceived threat. Trump supporters want to love and help America, but are seen as racist Nazis. The swamp is so terrified it fights like a cornered rat, breaking rules, even including the counting-of-votes which forms the backbone of majority-rule. To cling to their piece of the pie they will shoot the chef; kill the goose that laid the golden egg.
Back against the wall, like a cornered rat
The guilty bares teeth and does not confess.
It's a sad conclusion. The pity's that
It only worsens the rage and distress
To fight to the end. A bloody last-stand
Sneers at surrender, scorns forgiveness,
And slaps away Love's soft, offering hand.
Where life promises more, death clutches less.
Oh Lord, You have shown us a high, white peak
But some poor souls are unable to climb.
Silver silence is in these words I speak
But some clutch cold gold. Silence? Its sweet crime
Will rob them of lusts. Oh Lord, break their fears
And Your silence. A final stand nears.
Of course I am not talking about Nazis, nor Paris, but we may be entering a time (hopefully brief) when we must talk in a sort of code, or face censorship.
I will confess that I awoke in the dead of a night, a few days ago, with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, and thought to myself, “This is how the French must have felt in June, 1940.”
To think of an alien leadership marching in and overriding the will of the French people, taking control of every newspaper and every radio station and demanding absurd opinions be preached as if they were Truth! How repugnant it must have been to all French people, but especially the freedom-loving Parisians! All that was light and poetic was cancelled by harshness and hate and an overbearing demand for so-called “discipline”. For four long years they had to bear the burden, before liberation arrived from the west. Hitler wanted Paris reduced to ashes, as his troops retreated, and his constant questioning, “Is Paris burning? Is Paris burning yet?” shows his singular lack of love for Parisians.
But that is long ago and far away. Nothing so ugly could happen here. The American people would never allow outsiders to negate the results of their votes with computer-algorithm-chicanery, replacing those duly elected by freedom-loving citizens with the monsters of minority-rule. Right? The American people would never put up with the replacement of honest reporters with a media of pure propaganda. Right?
Not for long, and especially not for four long years.
It seems that such invasive nastiness destroys itself, in one way or another, because all their creativity, all their ingenious plotting, all their clever lies and calculating distortions, is creativity which attacks its own foundation, for what is the foundation of creativity? The foundation is the Creator Himself. And he does not take kindly to being mocked.
The pity is that a lot of needless hurt occurs, between the time a Hitler invades Paris and the time he retreats defeated (for God defeats all such fools.) It is far better if the retreat is far faster, more prompt, and does not require four long years of foolishness.
The Nasty love money, but on every American coin it states “In God We Trust.” The Nasty are walking out on thin ice when they mess with American money. Also the Nasty, thinking they can fool people into thinking they are not nasty, will place their hands on the Bible and pledge to uphold the American constitution, secretly thinking the constitution is stupid. They will place their hands on their hearts to look good, pledging allegiance to “one nation, under God, indivisible”, all the while planning to exploit division and thinking there is no such thing as God. But God sees.
God not only sees the Nasty, and all their shenanigan’s, but He created them, for reasons all his own. They are like an ax he created to chop down a certain tree. Once the tree is down, the importance of the ax is finished, and God may melt the ax down and turn it into a great many sewing needles. But the Nasty have no idea such a melt down awaits them. Instead they believe they themselves are gods.
I find it depressing to think too hard and too long about the mentality of the Nasty. It is darkness that can infect the thinker’s brain, especially late at night when the dawn seems forever away.
Therefore I defy the Nasty, who clamor they alone deserve attention, and wrench my thought away from their clutches to contemplations of the Almighty, who is Truth, and also Love personified. This is far more pleasant to contemplate, and can brighten midnights like Aurora Borealis shimmering heavenly curtains through the night skies.
Next thing I know I am awaking after the drenching of deep, rich and restorative slumber, and all the east is brightened by dawn’s rosy light. And I go out to face that beautiful day.
It is not for me to lead vast masses, command huge armies, or sing before thousands. All I do is my job, given to me by the Creator. In God I trust, as do most Americans. He will not fail us. So I go to my small business of running a Childcare, and attend to small children who may be presidents in the future, and even in a time of great doubt, I feel great certainty.
This winter’s fairly open: The snow pack’s Down to a hard inch, a vast white eggshell Over blue-shadowed grounds, with patches of blacks And browns on south slopes, where my goats know well Weak sun hits hardest. All else stays freezing All the short day, for the shadows stay long At noon, and the sun is only teasing When it peeks over pines. The ice is grown strong On the pond; there skaters scrape as they play Madcap hockey, voices clear in the chill And close despite distance. This tranquil day Seems a gift. Foolish politicians thrill Over uproar, but such fuss is a fetter. God creates peace, and peace is far better.
I am trying to pay no attention to politics, and am engrossed with a tale of my life as a bum. It was a time in the winter of 1984-1985 when my good deeds were not rewarded in the manner young men are rewarded in a Horotio Alger novel. Instead I experienced being something of a chump, a sucker. I would do the right thing, but my rewards were negative.
I suppose I am attracted to such ancient history because in 2020 the American Voter did the right thing, but hundreds of thousands of fraudulent votes may apparently be playing such honest citizens as chumps. I am looking backwards to see how the heck I survived the humiliation of such cruelty.
Hopefully my research of old diaries will eventually result in some good advice, but the American People are not going to wait with bated breath. Anyway, even if I came up with some amazingly spiritual revelation, then Google, Facebook and Twitter likely would promptly make my brilliance hard to find. In essence, I’m basically retired, thinking for myself without any power which the worldly care for. The American People are responding to being treated like chumps without a bit of my good advice.
It is something of an interruption to my work-in-progress about 1984-1985, but I feel compelled to note that on this date in history what the media reported as “hundreds” of Trump supporters gathered in Washington to protest being treated like chumps. Likely the crowd was a quarter million, and perhaps a half million, for the gathered entirely filled the “Mall” between the monuments. Then a very small number, 00.001% of the gathered, “stormed” the Capital. Interestingly, close-ups show some of these badly-behaving individuals had the hammer-and-sickle tattooed on their forearms, which is not often seen on Donald Trump supporters. It is being suggested Antifa staged the event to make Trump supporters look bad. Trump himself then urged the demonstrators to refrain from such misbehavior, and to peacefully go home, having made their point.
The point being? That the American People do not appreciate being played for chumps.
All this is off the point of my attention, which is the winter of 1984-1985. But as the stimulus of current events does demand some small amount of attention, I suppose I should sigh and give those who never attend to me some attention, with a quick sonnet:
History repeats, but what's tragedy
The first time is comedy the second.
I try to look away, and to not-see
How the stiff-neck's logic tends to bend
When the treatment they doled-out to others
Rebounds and bites them. Oh sure, it is OK
When Antifa assaults tea-sipping mothers,
But when Trump-supporters ask the time-of-day
The hurt Swamp quivers. I must shut up!
It is like watching a boy ask a girl
For a first date. Runneth over's my cup
Of good advice, but though my grim lips curl
I bite them. Fools don't want to hear
Truth that is rising and will shortly appear
Perhaps because the political climate has become so unfriendly, I’ve been thinking about friendship. What is it that makes a person a friend?
One thing that occurred to me is that friendship represents a freedom from certain obligations, obligations which can be associated with both family members and romantic entanglements, and especially political affiliations. Family members can be very demanding, as can lovers and also political affiliations, but friendships are usually free of such weight. This freedom seems all the more striking because the ancient origins of the word “friend” are the same as the origins of the word “free”. This leads me to wonder what it is we are free of, when with a friend.
When with a friend I feel free to talk. This differs from situations which in some way stifle you. The current political climate holds what is called “cancel culture”, which to me seems similar to the repression it claims it replaces; in fact an individual caught up in “cancel culture” reminds me very much of the stuffy archetype of a church-lady, who disapproves of just about everything that causes people to smile. It is religion without love, rules without heart, and lacks something people crave; namely: Acceptance.
For acceptance people will make great fools of themselves. People caper and prance like children desperate for attention, wearing fashions which fifty years in the future all will laugh at, all for the sense they are accepted. Yet with a true friend one needs do none of that; one is freed of that; one has no fear of being “cancelled.”
To some degree a true friend frees one of certain moral codes, simply by not asking one to improve, in order to deserve their friendship. This is not to say one does not recognize the realities of good and evil; two heroin addicts can recognize the evil of their enslavement, but they are friends with each other because they share an understanding of the pangs of their shared slavery. They understand each other, and it feels good to be understood.
Just about the only other being who can give a heroin addict this level of understanding is the Supreme Being. God is said to be all merciful and eternally benevolent, full of compassion for His lost sheep. It is a great pity that religion so often loses its grip on such Almighty Love, veering into judgmental stances, even doling out hangings and amputations, after inquisitions which are about as unfriendly as you can get. God, on the other hand, is a true friend.
It is natural for God to be understanding, because He is omniscient; if God knows everything then He knows exactly how it feels to be a heroin addict. Also He is omnipresent; if God is everywhere then he is in the shoes of a heroin addict. Of course, God is also beyond those shoes, but He knows every step taken to land one in the predicament one is in, and also the steps out of the predicament to freedom and great joy. You couldn’t ask for greater understanding or a better friend.
Considering God is such a great friend, it is interesting to consider why people avoid God. What is it about we idiotic mortals which causes us to prefer to be alone? What is it about friendship we dislike?
This leads to further thought about the word, “agreeable”. To a certain degree we all like being agreed with, and find agreement supportive. However heroin addicts know they agree heroin is wonderful stuff, and thus form a sort of support-group wherein they are bad influences on each other. A support-group is not always a good thing. At some point disagreement has value.
Yet one thing about a good friend is that they are able to discuss the disagreeable without being disagreeable about it. At this point I confess to being baffled. How is such a thing even possible?
At this point of complete bewilderment it occurred to me such ambiguity is possible in friendship, because God has entered the relationship, and God is unfathomable. I know this is an audacious statement, especially when discussing the friendship between two heroin addicts, but under some circumstances the friendship of such depraved addicts is superior to church-goers. How so? It is simply because they are honest and true and don’t pretend to be better than they are.
Religion seeks to emulate such honesty with booths where you go to confess to a priest in, and psychiatrists offer couches claiming they can do the same thing as churches, but such procedures are a bit artificial and tend to be enacted by rote, like rituals, and lack the confession which is utterly spontaneous and natural, in friendships, even friendships between heroin addicts.
Saint John said it best, when, with his beautiful simplicity, he stated, “If we say we have no sin then the truth is not in us.” What this states is that God is not in us, when we pretend to be better than we are. All that is beautiful about friendship is denied, if we don’t confess.
But the thing of it is, we will never confess if someone attempts to bully us into confession. Communists have bloodied faces, knocking out teeth, to force people to confess on blood splattered paper, but such confession is utterly alienated from friendship, and the people who survive such awful ordeals immediately recant from all they confessed in Gulags, the moment they are freed. Such confession is fake, but, in the case of real and true friendship, the confession is voluntary. And one knows they are with a friend, because the confession is welcome.
The spiritual reality about the truth in such confessions is that it allows God into a relationship. This ought stun people. It ought cause people to speak rude, unchurchy words, such as, “I’m shitting bricks!” Why? Because such a statement possesses huge power. So big is this Power that in comparison Hiroshima was a popgun, yet this Power is seen in events that seem inconsequential, such as two heroin addicts becoming best friends, and walking from addiction to freedom together.
This hidden power brought The Roman Empire to its knees, 2000 years ago, and is quite capable of doing the same to current powers. But the emphasis should not be power, but rather friendship. If your emphasis is power, you are missing the point. If you seek to overpower your friend, you miss the Light and don’t really love them. If you instead wish to love them, you seek to understand them, which brings me back to “confession”. And confession involves Truth, which involves Almighty God entering your relationships, even if you are as insignificant as two heroin addicts talking to each other, as friends.
The sad thing about current politicians is their inability to confess. They cannot bear the light of Truth on their lives. They are advised by the same greedy fools of Madison Avenue who advise children that chocolate-sugar-bombs cereal is good for their health. They have abandoned truth, becoming as deranged as a man who has drunk salt water and abandons his life raft, swimming towards a shark.
Politicians have pretended so long, and been so fake, they can’t remember what real is. How can they confess, when they can’t remember what real is? How can they have even an inkling what friendship is? They are doomed and damned in a friendless and loveless rat-race, snickering as they profit off prostitution and heroin, as God departs them to go visit the addicts who confess.
I hope you catch my drift, the audacious nature of my insinuation. My suggestion is that the power does not actually lie in those who think they are powerful. Those fools are deluded.
In truth the power lies in those who are friends. So be a friend. If you dare do it you will shake the earth.
I aim this message especially towards those who can’t be friends with anyone, as their ideals are too high, (and also perhaps they are too fearful they can’t be forgiven). Get the heck off your high horse. Confess you are low as a heroin addict, in your own way, and you will gain the power of God. Refuse, and you will be but a deluded embarrassment, for all your high ideals.