PHATTY BURGERS –Part 4– Little Christmas Eve

It did occur to me, as I sat in my car outside of Raydoe’s trailer at the campground on Thanksgiving Eve, that I should pause to thank God. I had been working so hard I hadn’t had time to think of Him much; maybe a brief, “Help me, God”, heading into work, and another before I fell asleep, but little beyond that. I certainly hadn’t taken the prescribed one-day-off-in-seven to devote to worship. That alone earned me some hellfire, or so some would suggest.

 I would counter such holy critics, if they were present, (and they were present, as echoes in my mind,) by arguing that a poet worships seven days a week by admiring God’s reflections in creation. Maybe I forgot to worship the Father with all my heart and all my soul, but, when I admired the way the Sun lit clouds, I was indirectly worshiping the Source. Even though I had endured a grind of 21 days of ten-hour-shifts, working so late I missed the sunsets and so tired I slept through the sunrises, I did admire the late morning sky and the silver sagebrush as I drove into work, and the brilliantly starry desert sky as I staggered to the trailer to sleep after midnight.

I also admired the people. People are like clouds; in that they reflect God’s light. If you have a poetic streak you see it is true that “There is a little bit of God in everyone.” Beauty is even in the ugly.

My mind drifted. I reached into the back seat for the battered notebook that served as my diary. For 21 days I’d written little; mostly strange stray thoughts and incidental observations, with some tiny numbers indicating precise penny-pinching;  but now I felt the urge to perhaps write a poem, or at least wonder aloud about an odd feeling I had that I could hardly remember: I felt happy!

I flipped open the notebook, looked down into the passenger seat footwell, rooted about through the rustling drift of empty hamburger boxes to locate a ballpoint pen, and then nibbled the pen thoughtfully, gazing out the window at the way the low afternoon sun enflamed the red sandstone. Life was beautiful.

My mind drifted. I’d studied Shakespeare and had been amazed by the wonderful way he could make even a dope be a beautiful dope. Even a complete scoundrel like Falstaff was made laughable and lovable, and even epitomes of evil, like Iago or Macbeth, were made worthy of pity.

In a strange way such poetry obeyed the second half of the “Greatest Commandment”, and I attempted to emulate Shakespeare. Maybe I failed to worship God with all my heart and soul, but I got straight “A’s” on loving my neighbor as myself. I even loved my enemies, which made no sense to businessmen like Ike Weed and Quincy Phabbutt, who seemed to make both customers and employees into enemies. In a sense this made them my enemies, but I found them fascinating, which means I was forgiving and loving of even those who abused me.

To me it seemed businessmen put profits before people, and poets put people before profits, and prophets put God before people. In my not-so-humble opinion there could be but one conclusion: Poets were superior to both businessmen and prophets, as poets alone cared for people.

I may be able to articulate such wit now, but back then I am not certain I even knew what the “Greatest Commandment” was or where it was written. In some ways I was blind and groping my way through ink.

For example, I loved the Phatty Burger employees, but this put me on thin ice when my employees were beautiful women like Splendor and Toonya. As I explained earlier, I understood the distinction between lust and love, and between infatuation and active appreciation, but understanding doesn’t mean as much as it should when you are still young enough to have hormones rampaging in your veins. Maybe hormones were not running riot as much as they did when I was sixteen, but at sixteen I had no clue what I was doing; I had innocence on my side; at age thirty-one I did have a clue, and that isn’t always an advantage.

It may be spiritual for a poet to see the beauty in women but is not so spiritual to utilize a poet’s imagination to immediately create a sexual fantasy. I can now forgive myself, for I was very lonely and deeply craved a soulmate and wife, but back then the way my mind wandered just seemed wrong. It was as if I wanted as many wives as Solomon.

In any case I banned Toonya and Splendor’s memory from entering my car as I sat in the campground outside Raydoe’s trailer, and instead invited the memory of recent hardship in, even as I ruffled a (to me) huge wad of cash in my hands. On Thanksgiving Eve the contrast between poverty and wealth indeed seemed a reason to be thankful.

On my way home from work I’d bought a carton of 200 cigarettes for my ex, hoping they might bribe her to become my exex, but even this huge expense, (an entire nine dollars in 1984), barely dented my wad of cash, nearly five hundred dollars. I didn’t fail to note the irony of the situation. That morning, before cashing my paycheck, I couldn’t afford a single cigarette, and had been reduced to rerolling the rank tobacco from butts in my car’s ashtray. What a difference a day makes. What a difference a paycheck makes.

Yet, as I sat in my car, I knew that love of money is a sin. I didn’t know it because I had studied scripture, (which states not money, but love of money, is a sin). Instead, I knew it because I’d grown up in a rich town and had seen money poison people, firsthand.

In any case, as I sat in my car and ruffled money I found myself having a chat with God for the first time in many days. I was very thankful I was not poor anymore, but in a way suspicious. I was saying, “What are you up to, God?” I distrusted the way money made me happy because I knew money cannot buy happiness. But there could be no denying it, I was happy to have my wad, and, it being Thanksgiving Eve, I thanked God for my happiness, if not my money. It seemed to have been a long, lonely time since I’d felt any genuine happiness.

My wad had been especially huge because when Ike Weed cashed my paycheck he used the Phatty Burger deposit, and people at a fast food joint seldom pay with big bills. My wad was big but cumbersome. I reduced its size by turning fifty ones and ten fives to a single hundred, because, when I bought the carton of cigarettes for my ex, I noticed a scrawled sign by the register stated “Need Ones and fives”. They got sixty bills and I got a single hundred, which I slipped into a side pocket of my wallet as a sort of hedge-fund against the future.

Even as I did this, doing so seemed a little unthankful towards God. It seemed to express a distrust, and that I fully expected to be flat broke in the future. As a general rule, it seemed to me God spent more time keeping poets flat broke than making them rich. Poverty seemed an important part of poetry, a price poets paid. The price had to be paid because, “Ya gotta pay the dues if you wanna to sing the blues.” In fact there seemed something downright weird and unnatural about being as rich as I now felt I was.

Besides slipping a hundred into one pocket of my wallet to hedge against the future, I slipped a fifty into another pocket to repay Ike Weed for the advance he had given me, yet despite the subtraction of these two large bills my wad was still over three hundred. Considering I couldn’t even afford cigarettes that morning, I felt fabulously wealthy.

Yet my thanksgiving was not for my current wealth, but rather for what God had seen me through before I was wealthy. Looking back, it occurred to me that, even when I couldn’t afford cigarettes, I never needed to quit my addiction, for God supplied me with rank tobacco to reroll. I also never went hungry, which was a good thing, for I had a metabolism in overdrive. I never in my life needed to diet, and tended to be so lean that fasting was dangerous. But it seemed God never asked me to fast. Perhaps I ate from dumpsters on a couple of occasions, but I never once went hungry. And, as I sat in my car, that was what I was thankful for. I felt like a sailor on a ship that has come through a 21-day storm. I wasn’t as thankful for the sturdy ship or for the safe anchorage as I was to simply be a survivor, and to be alive.

Looking back, I think anything beyond survival made me nervous. I felt God would provide what I needed and not what I wanted. I’d get water and not lemonade. Therefore any excess made me feel it must exist for some future shortcoming. It must be like the bounty of harvest, just before an especially severe winter.

In some ways this didn’t seem quite right. It didn’t seem like thanksgiving. To see bounty as a promise of future hardship Is like seeing a sunrise as a promise of night. But as I sat in my car in a campground, it was hard to be an optimist. God had recently seemed like a drill sergeant, and my life like a boot camp.

Boot camps whip you into shape, and that was what I tried to be thankful for. Discipline had seemed to pay off, as I now could ruffle a wad of cash, but I wasn’t altogether sure bootcamp was over. As I had my talk with God I questioned “what he was up to”. Hopefully this amused God. It must be fun for God to hear mere mortals attempt to figure Infinity out.

One thing I thought I was figuring out was that God was teaching me the difference between love and lust. In terms of women, God seemed to shatter my resolutions to ignore all females by placing glaringly beautiful ladies right in front of me, dead center in my life, but as soon as I reached out to grab that female He would snatch her away. Splendor was a perfect example of this: A militant feminist, she seemed a female I would abhor, but instead I started to fall in love with her, so God (and Quincy) had her immediately quit Phatty Burgers, and therefore she couldn’t progress to becoming an object of my lustful sexual fantasies. As a result, I experienced the love but not the lust.

“I see what you’re doing” I said to God. “You are keeping me from having 400 wives and 600 concubines like Solomon. But couldn’t you at least allow me have one?”

The same thing seemed to happen, in a far less romantic way, in terms of jobs. As soon as I started to commit my life to some occupation other than poetry, something would occur that would make me quit or else get me fired. Therefore it was very surprising, in some cynical way, that I actually passed the Phatty Burgers “appraisal”. I was steeling myself for yet another firing. My expectation had been that God would allow me to commit just long enough to get a fat paycheck, and then have me fired, and send me on my way to the next stage of his tough-love boot camp.

The simple fact I passed the “appraisal” awoke hope in me. It seemed boot camp might at long last finally be finished, and I could just progress onwards to being an ordinary soldier.

In romantic terms, I hoped this meant I could quit the business of being so damn chaste all the time, and could progress to the romantic ideal of being a good man who loved a good woman. This involved the next day, when I’d go see my ex. Hope had me thinking I might persuade her to be my exex. Rather than breaking up we might be making up.

As I sat in my car, thankfulness gave way to thoughts about why I saw monogamous marriage as a good thing, which involved thinking about things it was difficult to be thankful for. My diary shows I often drifted into morbidity.

Now I can be thankful I was gifted with the parents I had, but they were unfaithful to each other, sixty years ago, and, thirty-six years ago, I was still bitter about the fiasco they made of their marriage. I couldn’t understand why such lovely people couldn’t be loving. But, gifted with IQs over 130, they chose the Sophist path, which made them seem like they had IQs of 60.

As a child, I felt they were the world’s best parents, and it was agony to watch them make fools of themselves. They cheated. They justified betraying Love and marriage vows with eloquent sophistication. Ruin resulted. It was agony to witness and hell to endure, yet was understandable, given their circumstances. It took time to understand their circumstances. Now I forgive them. But thirty-six years ago I was still going through the painful process of understanding, which is so much a part of shaking-off bitterness and being healed by the antidote of forgiveness.

The one thing I had firmly decided back then was that my parent’s horrible divorce was not a proof that marriage was a bad thing, but rather that sophistication was a bad thing. It was better to be unsophisticated, and to be a bumpkin loyal to your spouse.

I explained this to my ex, before we became lovers: Commitment had to be 100%.  Marriage was not like wading into water at a beach, where you can get up to your knees and decide the water was too cold and turn back. It was taking a plunge. There was no such thing as a “trial marriage.” It was either 100% or it was not truly marriage.

My ex had smiled and vigorously nodded she agreed, but 60 days later told me “I don’t feel 100% committed any more.” She went on to inform me that she felt the sole reason for our relationship was that some sort of higher power felt her job was to “get you out of California”. Because she had completed her task, she felt her job was done, and the relationship was over. She was therefore and henceforth unequivocally my ex. My reaction to this logic was not well thought out. I slapped her. I was immediately ashamed, but her immediate reaction was odd.  She smiled. I assume she smiled because my slap provided her with a convenient reaffirmation of her status as an “ex”.

In my eyes “100% commitment” involved accepting the world of another and dedicating your life to entering and serving-in that other person’s world. Marriage, in my eyes, involved becoming twice as big. Loving enlarged you by adding another world to your own, and people who snubbed marriage preferred to be shrunken. In my eyes my ex was preferring to be small, and I wanted her bigger than that. I could be 100% committed even if she wasn’t. I could rescue her, by getting her to recommit, to forgiving my slap, and to becoming my exex.

All this stuff was passing through my brain, in a far less digested form, as I sat in my car attempting to be thankful just before Thanksgiving. And hope was telling me I might be successful. After all, I had succeeded at Phatty Burgers, and had a wad of cash in my hands. I had staggered to my feet in one way, so why not stagger to my feet in another?

Hope is a dangerous thing, for hope can be dashed. Yet hope is a thing poets are all about. Poets want to take two sad words, “if only”, and make such hope become more real. And, when you think about it, why not? Why put on a depressed face and say, “if only bosses could be nicer to employees” or “If only employees could be nicer to bosses” or “If only exes could be nicer to their ex” or “if only an ex could be nicer to their exes.” Why not skip the bother of such weeping and wailing, and shoulder the burden of making hope be real? Why grouse that hoping seems preposterous? It is better to be attempting to make beauty apparent, than to side with dashed hope. If you concede defeat before you begin, because you are so sure hope will be dashed, then you won’t begin. And if you don’t begin, hope is just a dream that can’t come true.

Not that I had much hope, as I hoped. After all, I did slap my ex across the kisser, and once a man has resorted to such illogic, he can have little hope of forgiveness, even if the female seemingly deserved it. However, as I chatted with God, it just seemed I should act as if I had hope, even if the cause seemed lost.

There was a slight chance (only 6%, according to the pregnancy test) my ex’s crabby moods might be due to our pre-break-up behavior, so I figured I should be responsible and a good provider, as if we were still together and my money was still her money and my work still aimed at her happiness. Not that she ever responded to my letters, but hope can be a cactus that requires no watering.

I’d checked out places we might reside, besides a tent or trailer in a campground, and the best place in Gallup was the El Rancho Hotel. That was where Hollywood movie stars had stayed when they filmed near Gallup. Rates at the El Rancho were reduced due to the depressed local economy, and I abruptly could afford such a place, though it cost four times as much as a campground. I thanked God I could be a good provider and tempt my ex with such a refuge. It seemed hope might be something other than insanity, as I sat in my car.

I tried to bolster my hope by envisioning happy endings, like one reads in romantic novels, as I sat in my car. I even hummed the old song, “I wish instead of breaking up that you and I were making up.” However a disconcerting reality intruded. When you are in love, your beloved’s face floats in front of you even when you are trying to do some mundane job such as work at a lathe. Yet now, when I sat in a campground and attempted to hope, I couldn’t even picture my ex’s face. Not a good sign.

My stomach started to grumble, and I left my prayers and Toyota to deal with more immediate concerns.  I needed to eat. No mother would feed me, and no wife would feed me, and no sister would feed me, and no daughter would feed me, nor would any other charity. It can be rough being a poet. You care for everyone, but nobody cares for you. Yet, before I tune up any violins of self-pity, I’ll mention such a predicament has its good side: No one tells you to sit up straight or to hold your fork correctly.

I did have a Thanksgiving meal, a “Phatty’s Phabulous Pheast”, but had no microwave to heat it in, and I didn’t want to cook hunched over at the minuscule electric stove burner in Raydoe’s tiny trailer. Such cramped conditions just didn’t seem conducive to the hope I was attempting to muster. I wanted to use my battered and blackened stewpot over a campfire. But campfires don’t turn on with a switch. I needed to gather some fuel.

There is something wonderfully down-to-earth about gathering fuel. My wad of cash meant nothing. (In fact I’d once read of bank robbers who successfully eluded the police by fleeing into wilderness, but were reduced to burning stolen dollars to start a fire, because all the kindling was wet.)

It is a pity so few in modern society know the pleasure of gathering the wood for the fire that cooks the meal. Many don’t even know the pleasure of preparing the meal. They pop a “Phatty’s Phabulous Pheast” into a microwave, and then wonder why dinner seems so empty.

In 1984 I escaped such progress and wandered about a campground devoid of tourists attempting to scrounge fuel. Because the tourists were gone, a prime source of fuel, the leftovers from their campfires, was also gone. I’d checked every campsite for weeks and had used up all the half-burned logs available. I’d also used up all easily gathered fallen wood. All that was left was  breaking dead branches from living sage brush and scrub cedar, and, unlike low, dead branches of hemlock and pine back in New England, such branches do not snap easily  from the trunk and need to be twisted and wrenched. My knicked knuckles bled before I had a decent armload to bring to my campsite, to start my fire with.

Something about starting the fire was another thing to be thankful for. Yes, it was much more work than turning on the electric stove in Raydoe’s trailer, but sage and cedar smell better than an electric burner. And gathering wood under desert sky midst red sandstone cliffs beats the hell out of clicking a switch. And lastly, you pay no utility bill for the heat you make; you owe nobody for the heat that cooks your food; you are a free man, self-reliant. In some ways a homeless bachelor in a campground is last man you should pity. Instead pity rich men who must pay for electric stoves, and for trophy wives who demand they hire cooks or else take them out to eat at fancy restaurants.

I dumped the contents of my free “Phatty’s Phabulous Pheast” into my stewpot, from its microwave-safe plastic containers, not forgetting to thank turkey farmers for the turkey, pea farmers for the peas, and potato farmers for the mashed potatoes. I opened the gravy containers and dumped gravy on the mashed potatoes, wondering who farmed the gravy, and who I should thank. I confess I forgot to thank the folk who made plastic containers, and the oil riggers who make all plastic possible. But I thanked many, though the meal was free, for I knew there is no such thing as a free lunch. For every scrap of sustenance we get, some farmer has sweated and slaved, somewhere. But I still had something else to add to my pot which I was especially thankful for.

When Raydoe vanished, he had scooped up nearly every crumb of food in the trailer as he left, but missed the best item of all. On a shelf, hidden by cleaning supplies, was a canning jar of homemade hot sauce.  I think some relative had given it to Raydoe, perhaps his grandmother. It was amazing stuff, very unlike commercial hot sauce, for it didn’t overpower with the burning sensation of chilies, yet doubled the flavors of chilies, and there were also intangible flavors due to some secret mix of vegetables and spices which grandmothers never reveal. Lastly, it had the touch of love in it. Some relative was very fond of Raydoe, and I always felt a little wicked to be stealing his sauce. That scrumptious sauce was more than a fair trade for the dried rice and beans and cans of sardines and jars of  peanut butter I had bought, that Raydoe scooped-up as he left.

It was amazing what a dash of that sauce could do to a “Phatty’s Phabulous Pheast”. I tried to eat slowly, but felt the urge to devour like a wolf. I used a tortilla to blot the stew pot as clean as a dog would have licked it, and then sat back and patted my happy stomach while watching the sky.

I have always been thankful for the sky. Often it is the best show in town, and it doesn’t cost a cent. Even a man in a jail cell, looking at a patch of sky between bars, can be liberated and free as a bird. Or that is how I felt during math classes, as a boy. The sky is a reason to thank God. It deserves more than a single syllable, and far more than three letters.

On this particular Thanksgiving eve, the sky put on an amazing show. Sunset didn’t just happen in the west, but also overhead and into the east.

Not that the sunset was particularly baroque; there were only a few curls of high clouds. It wasn’t foreground clouds, but background sky, that got to be center stage. The sky faded from blue to the yellow of a manila envelope, and then got yellower and yellower, until it began to be orange, and then as orange as a pumpkin, but not just in a stripe above the western horizon, but from horizon to horizon, all the way to the east. I felt like I was under the water of an orange sea.

My curiosity awoke, and I wondered what caused the sky to behave in such an unusual way. Some sort of dust must be up high in the atmosphere, to make the sky be so orange. I’d read of huge volcanoes like Krakatoa hurling ash so high that sunsets all around the world became amazing, but that phenomenon persisted day after day. This seemed more brief, a one-evening-event, so my mind mused about what sort of dust could be causing the phenomenon.

I smiled when my thought recalled reading about dust storms in the Sahara. I’d read that the Sahara’s dust often retards the development of hurricanes east of the Caribbean, and can even be found in ocean-bottom-core-samples near the Bahamas and even in the Gulf of Mexico. And if such dust can drift as far as the Gulf of Mexico, why not up the Rio Grande Valley and then, taking a sharp left turn, up the Rio Puerco to Gallup New Mexico? It was sheer hypothesis, but such wonders are possible.

Right at this point a nag voiced in my memory, with a wonder that stated, “Why can’t you just enjoy the view? Why do you have to spoil it with your stupid science?”

It was the voice of my ex, come to haunt me like a ghost.

My ex claimed she had renounced religion, but in some ways was orthodox to the core. She told me science was bullshit, there was no such thing as evolution, no such thing as dinosaurs, and even no such thing as geology. She stated this after I was admiring a canyon wall where a layer of red sandstone was topped by silver limestone, and I stated this indicated an arid landscape had been covered by a rising sea, millions of years in the past.

At the time I had to admit she had made a good point. Landscapes are beautiful in and of themselves. You don’t need to explain them or know how they came to be. You can love without explanations.

In this manner the love which God had woken in my heart opened a new world to me, a world unlike my own, my ex’s world, where one simply appreciated beauty without wanting to dig at it. However, I am what I am, and as soon as I appreciate something I want to dig at it. I want to know more.

Some people do not appreciate it when you want to know them better. They feel picked at, probed, pecked-at by snitching tweezers, and request you just leave them alone. It is like the quote Greta Garbo never spoke, “I vant to be alone.” Sometimes people just need some space.

Yet love is a two-way street. If I allow others to be as they are, they should allow me to be as I am. And God made me full of curiosity. I can’t help myself. I must spoil things with my stupid science, because the Creator is so amazing that I want to know how He did creation, and to love Him more the more I learn, with ever-increasing admiration. For that is what science is, as I see it: Ever-increasing admiration.

My ex and I had arrived at a sort of impasse which seemed impossible to resolve, but I had hope. God created every note in his orchestra, and knows how to resolve every discord into harmony. He often does so with humor that makes you laugh.

For example, one discord that led to my parent’s divorce involved my father’s tendency to work harder, where my mother sought relaxation and peace. If you had a problem my father’s solution was to get up early and run five miles, while my mother’s solution was to sleep late and recuperate. This becomes humorous if you are a little boy attempting to please both parents. One tells you get up and the other tells you to lay down, and the result is you become a yoyo. Then the two scratch their heads and wonder, “Why is our son such a yoyo?” (If they have divorced, they scratch their heads in different houses, but one incongruous thing I noticed about my divorced and supposedly irreconcilable different parents was how they said the same thing, even using the same phrases, (“it is all water under the bridge”), even when miles apart.)

It is easy for God to resolve such discord, for God sees both exercise and rest are part of His creation, and how to harmonize the two opposites in a way that is healthy and healing and creates huge happiness.

That was the healing I hoped for, tomorrow. What some might call a miracle could possibly occur, but, if it occurred, it would just be God pointing out a harmony we two lovers should have seen all along. Often such a “pointing-out” is as simple as seeing two cannot walk through the same door or sit on the same toilet at the same time, but it takes God to point out how idiotic we mortals are behaving. Marriage cannot work unless it involves three.

A sense of euphoria swept over me. The sky moved past orange and became ruby. From west to east the sky was bright ruby, and all the world beneath was ruby, a brief ruddy sight I’d never seen before and would never see again. I felt sorry for people indoors, who missed it.

I was thankful. My life was a wonderful life, full of wonderful gifts. I saw beautiful things others never saw. I apologized to God for ever complaining. I wanted to yell to the whole world that their lives were equally beautiful. I did not know why we all became so blind and were sullen so much, but the fact was everyone was, everyone is, and everyone ever more shall be, beautiful.

As I enjoyed this unexpected bliss I knew it was not a vision that would last. I’d awake the next morning grouchy, and wonder what the hell had gotten into me. I’d wonder how I could get so high without drugs, or even beer. I’d attempt to dismiss the bliss as a manic mania, but I also knew that, while the bliss might not be lasting, what I glimpsed was far more lasting than any of my worldly woes. This world is perishable, as fleeting as a sunset, but heaven is everlasting.

Even as the amazing sky started to fade and grow dusky, and even as I started to grow sleepy and think I should hit the hay early to prepare for a long day tomorrow, the bliss persisted. No woe had power. Things that ordinarily could cause me to cry seemed mere jolly mishaps.

One thing I recall chuckling about as I fell asleep was that I became aware I felt liberated. I felt allowed to wonder. I could wonder if the ruby sky might be due to God whisking dust from the Sahara to the skies of New Mexico, without being told I was an unholy blasphemer to bring science into a sunset. It was a relief, to sit in a sunset free of my ex, but I still was determined to keep our vows, and to make her an exex tomorrow.

Phatty Burgers –Part 3– The Appraisal

(NOTE: I changed the name of this rough draft to “Phatty Burgers” because I learned “Fatty Burgers” had already been used.)

After three weeks, I finally was going to get a day off. Phatty Burgers was closing down for Thanksgiving, which I gathered the Navajo called “Little Christmas.” I was surprised by how the city of Gallup emptied out and shut down, the day before.

In 1984 the day before Thanksgiving in Gallup wasn’t like Christmas Eve was in other places, where businesses might hope to snare some frantic, last-minute shoppers. The only thing anyone shopped for was food, and, while the lone Gallup supermarket stayed open into the afternoon, everyone else looked like they were hurrying to close after breakfast. Even when I drove from the campground into work before lunch I seemed to be the only car inbound on the dusty frontage road through the sagebrush, while there seemed to be an unnatural amount of cars leaving Gallup. Through windshields I saw smiling faces with dreamy eyes, as people left town for some gathering outside the city limits; even most bars in Gallup were closing.

This gave me something to ponder. As a Mutt-with-Puritan-heritage I’d always thought of Thanksgiving as a Puritan holiday.  Naively I thought it was only big in New England, or among transplants from the northeast. In fact, I’d assumed Indians would resent Thanksgiving, (thinking they’d gotten the raw end of the deal), but apparently around Gallup they’d embraced the day and made it their own, in a way I didn’t understand.

I’d become increasingly aware (with the help of Splendor) there was lots I didn’t understand and was ignorant of, but I didn’t have as much time to ponder as I would have liked, for two reasons. The first was that Fatty Burger’s manner of training ran me ragged. The second was that on the day before Thanksgiving Quincy Phlabutt grew cross, as the “efficiency number” produced by the cash register dropped from four to three after breakfast, even when Quincy put nearly all the employees on unpaid breaks. The public apparently wasn’t interested in fast food, just before a feast. When the “efficiency number” dropped below three Quincy began sending everyone home. The workers were happy, as they wanted to begin their festivities, but it didn’t please me much; it meant I had to do a lot of the clean-up alone, after we closed when no lunch rush developed at noon. (Quincy had become extremely crabby when the “efficiency number” hit zero).  But I attempted to look cheerful, for I knew the district manager Ike Weed was dropping by, and I’d undergo my “appraisal” after work. (“Appraisal” was the word Fatty Burgers used to describe whether they’d give me the boot or not.) I was fairly certain Quincy would bring up much I “needed to improve upon”, and I didn’t want to give him any extra ammunition, by being a sourpuss.

I wasn’t as worried about the appraisal as much as I was worried about whether I’d be able to get my paycheck cashed.  Phatty Burgers policy made employees wait for nearly a week before a check was issued for a prior fortnight’s “pay period”.  Consequently, it was possible to work a fortnight and then wait nearly a week, nearly three weeks in all, before seeing a penny. Fortunately, when I began working I’d worked three days of an earlier pay-period, and, (though I got no overtime despite working ten hour days), I still got a check for $135.00, minus $15.00 the government raked off for taxes. I had to wait a week for that $120.00, but a $50.00 advance from Ike Weed enabled me to eek by. Then I eeked by a further two weeks on $120.00, waiting for my big, fat paycheck to come rolling in. It was going to be nearly $600.00, (after taxes) with all the overtime I’d worked.

Getting by on what amounted to roughly $57.00 a week hadn’t been easy, especially as Raydoe remained absent and I had to pay the $25.00/week rent on his trailer at the campground. I practically lived on Triple Big Burgers, (as managers ate for free at Phatty Burgers) (but not other employees; other employees only got a 10% discount.)

If it were not for the free food, I could never have afforded the $40.00 I spent, returning to the gas station at the edge of town where I’d briefly worked, and having them weld my muffler back onto the tailpipe, one morning before work. That was as close as I came to splurging for 21 days. Cigarettes had been few and far between, but, even with rationing, my addiction had reduced me to removing the butts from my car’s stuffed ashtray and rerolling the rank tobacco. 

The three weeks had been rough, but poverty had its benefits. Not only did I smoke less, but I had to stay sober. Also I could barely afford the gasoline to drive to the campground and back each day, and therefore couldn’t drive to the ranch to see my ex, who I still wanted to make my exex. I was such a fool that I still thought of my pay as “our” money. My last decent paycheck, when I worked helping a lumberyard conduct its inventory, had enabled me to spend eighty dollars on new boots to replace my disintegrating sneakers, and I then drove to the ranch and gave my ex another eighty, so she could buy boots, because her sneakers had completely disintegrated and she was walking about barefoot. But for the past three weeks I couldn’t be a noble fool like that. My life was stuck on hold, on a treadmill of ten-hour shifts, day after day. The prospect of having hundreds in cash to ruffle in my hands was wonderful, but a problem lay in the way. Who would cash my check?

Even cashing the earlier $120.00 check had been a problem. The bank wanted to charge me $10.00, which sent me fuming out the door with the check uncashed. Quincy had agreed to cash that check from a Phatty Burgers register, but he balked at this far larger check. He said I’d have to ask Ike Weed.

I was actually, in some ways, hoping I flunked the “appraisal.” I wasn’t hoping to a degree where I stopped trying or sabotaged anything; I still tried to be a good trainee. But getting the boot would in some way have been a relief, as long as I got my check cashed. I could have gone back to writing poetry and working on my novel. At times pretending I was a management trainee and not a poet felt like I was a sheep in wolf’s clothing. But I had no time to ponder. I hadn’t written a poem in three weeks.

And now I was rushing about dealing with Quincy’s anxiety about Ike’s imminent arrival. Everything had to be perfect, and Quincy kept glancing searchingly through the front window, as if seeking the sight of Ike’s car pulling into the parking lot. The reason Quincy sent everyone home was apparently because he wanted the Wednesday’s “efficiency number” to look good for Ike, but that left him with no employees to make the place look spiffy for Ike, and therefore he harangued me. I was overworked to begin with, and very tempted to tell Quincy not to be such a pathetic brown-nose, but also felt a sort of pity, so I hurried about attempting to make everything spiffy, though I wanted to be a true manager and sit back with my arms folded in a commanding manner like Quincy did.

I nearly snapped when Quincy sent me out to chase down wrappers blowing about the parking lot and put them in the trash, as that was a job for the lowest of the low, but I also have always loved the outdoors, and I also relished the escape from Quincy’s haranguing. The lot was already clean, as we had few customers, but I policed the grounds, looking for the smallest bottlecap or cigarette, and it was while stooping to pick up an especially long, only half-smoked cigarette (which I frugally thought might be worth keeping) that I saw Ike.

Ike had parked by the Supermarket and was attempting to sneak up to the Phatty Burgers back door. I assumed he was sneaking to observe how we ran the place when we didn’t know he was watching. But I knew. I knew because Ike Weed had a jaunty and marvelous manner of walking, and sneaking only exaggerated his walk and made it into a walk like no other’s.

When most sneak they crouch forward and bring their hands up in front, like kangaroos, but Ike couldn’t do that, for his ordinary manner of walking was duck-toed and leaning backwards. Therefore, as he snuck, he actually leaned backwards even further, feeling forward with his feet with each step, as his arms pistoned simultaneously downwards behind him. It looked remarkable, and could be no one but Ike, but I pretended I didn’t notice. I adopted a stern, concentrating expression, as if cleaning parking lots mattered more than two beautiful women walking by. In fact I put on a performance, first glowering left and then frowning with a furrowed brow to the right, and then nodded to myself as if feeling approval, before I hurried in to warn Quincy.

Quincy was in no mood to be warned. He wouldn’t listen. He had noticed I hadn’t policed the far end of the parking lot and began to berate me for my neglect. I tried to interrupt, but he wouldn’t allow it, and then I saw the door behind him crack open.

I immediately changed my tone, and stated, with such brash intrusiveness Quincy was taken aback, “Of course you are absolutely correct. I had assumed I need not check that trash receptacle because the new one you ordered hadn’t arrived yet, after the local teenagers blew the last one to smithereens with cherry bombs and M-80’s. But you are quite right:  I should have checked.”

Quincy closed his astonished mouth, swallowed, nodded, and then, rather than just telling me to go back out and check, began to deliver a prissy lecture about how the public is so stupid they will throw trash into a space where a receptacle isn’t. I felt he should be interrupted, so I said, with an expression of gladness, “Hey! Who is that? It must be Mister Ike Weed!”

Quincy wheeled with his jet-black hair flying, and staggered backwards, his bronze face turning gray, as the door swung open and Ike walked forward in his jaunty, duck-toed, manner, smiling broadly, to conduct my “appraisal.”

It seemed a very odd appraisal. Quincy kept aiming the subject towards things I “needed to improve upon”, but over and over things exploded in his face, and turned into things Quincy needed to improve upon. I accidentally made things worse for Quincy by, early in the appraisal, mentioning I urgently needed my paycheck cashed and that the banks were all closed. This revealed the size of my paycheck, and the fact I’d worked ten hour days seven days a week for three weeks, which made Ike raise his eyebrows at Quincy.

The entire interview was conducted in a hurry because Ike wanted to go to his Thanksgiving, which was apparently going to be held in Las Vegas. He had three more Phatty Burgers to inspect, before he turned south at Flagstaff to zoom south to his holiday, and therefore every shortcoming he uncovered was a delay, and made him more impatient with Quincy than he needed to be.

His questioning revealed I had worked three shifts, over and over, but had never worked the shift that was most important. I had worked the lunch, dinner and closing shift, but not the breakfast shift. The breakfast shift was important because that was what I was going to be transferred to, across town.

This was all news to me. I wasn’t even sure I’d be accepted, as a trainee, and was steeling my nerve for the possible blow of learning I was not an acceptable prospect. Quincy kept bringing up my shortcomings, things I needed to improve upon, but over and over Quincy got dressed down for his failures to train me properly. As this continued, I found myself no longer so much the subject of the interview, and more of a bystander. I had the strange sense I had stepped back, and was no longer in the crossfire, but rather was watching two combatants go at it.

Of course, they didn’t know they looked like combatants. They were just two men utterly engrossed in their business, which happened to be Phatty Burgers. They were like baseball fans totally absorbed in batter’s statistics and pitcher’s ERA’s, who so enjoy the game that they aren’t even aware they are arguing as they argue. I was gifted with the detachment of an outsider, vaguely like a housewife who cares not a hoot for baseball.

One thing I noticed was how quickly Ike cut Quincy down to size. At first Quincy was a bit puffed up, seeing himself as an authority about to deliver an opinion, but, as Ike brusquely hurried through his own agenda, he dismissed Quincy’s opinions and wanted only facts. At first Quincy seemed to get defensive, and wheedlingly tried to explain certain things, but when Ike wouldn’t listen and hurried on to the next item on his agenda, Quincy seemed to become offended, and sat up taller and prouder, and even seemed to become slightly frosty. He opened a notebook and coolly took notes, only occasionally asking for a clarification.

Other things bewildered me. They raced through a discussion about a second Phatty Burgers across town, which was apparently just constructed and unbelievably successful. Quincy seemed prepared to start my training for the breakfast shift at that place the Friday morning after Thanksgiving, which caused my guts to lurch, as getting up at 4:00 AM didn’t fit in with my plans to be visiting my ex on a ranch over an hour to the south. But Ike said Quincy had to be present to oversee my training, and Quincy swiftly decided Monday likely would be better. I assumed Quincy wanted to enjoy a long weekend and anticipated getting up at 4:00 AM with an eagerness like my own.

Their hurried discussion made me feel like a pawn between two men playing chess. For the most part I sat back as a detached poet, mentally taking notes on the behavior of two men who had no idea they would someday appear in my novel. Only once was my opinion required, and it sprang upon me abruptly. I responded without thinking, and was sorry I did, for it made Quincy look less than wise yet again.

Ike abruptly turned and asked me what I would do differently if I ran a Phatty Burgers. I spread my palms, looking about, and said, “Most everything looks very good to me, except…maybe…for that.” I pointed at six-foot-high placard advertising “Phatty’s Phabulous Thanksgiving Pheast”, and showing a glossy family sitting down smiling at plates of turkey, green peas, and mashed potatoes with a small, perfectly circular, brown pool of gravy in the middle. I added, “I don’t recall selling a single one of those.”

Ike turned to Quincy and said, “I told you it was a stupid promotion.”

Quincy became more rigid and frosty, and jotted something in his notes.

I laughed, “Oh well, we only ordered twelve of those platters”, and then asked Ike, “Can I grab one of those things? They’re just sitting in the cooler, but I wasn’t sure they were included in the free meals Managers are allowed.’

“You might as well,” Ike sighed, “Otherwise they’ll just rot.”

“Thank you”, I said, which seemed appropriate for Thanksgiving, but the hint of baleful frost in Quincy’s glance towards me seemed less than thankful.

With what seemed to me amazing efficiency and rapidity the interview was over. In terms of what mattered most to me, (the cashing of my paycheck), Ike asked if the day’s deposits could cover the check. Business had been so slow the deposit was only a few dollars larger than the check, a fact Ike noted with a wry shake of his head towards Quincy. Then he opened the deposit bag and counted out the money, handing it to me and taking my check, and telling Quincy to rewrite the deposit slip. I felt a little guilty because I knew Quincy took great care over deposit slips, and also because I knew he wanted to be done and to go home to Thanksgiving. A new slip was extra work. I also felt sorry for Quincy, because Ike never asked for Quincy’s “efficiency numbers.” That might have made Quincy appear more praiseworthy, but he seemed to receive less than little praise from Ike. He received zero. As Ike stood up to depart I notice Quincy’s shoulders sagged slightly.

The cash I suddenly fondled in my hands included many ones and fives and made a beautifully fat wad, making me feel very rich. It included a single large bill, a fifty, and I held it out towards Ike to repay him for the advance he had given me.  He looked a little confused, gave me a sort of scornful glance, snapped his briefcase shut, and left without taking the bill, or even asking why I held it towards him. I felt like I had transgressed in some way, but was baffled about what my transgression might be. Quincy was regarding me suspiciously, as he gathered up the deposit bag and went back to the office to write a new deposit slip. I felt like holding out the fifty might have looked like some sort of bribe, and I wanted to defensively explain to Quincy I was only repaying a loan, but Quincy curtly stated, “You can punch out now”, over his shoulder. Something about his tone suggested I should just leave rapidly, so I grabbed a Phatty’s Phabulous Pheast from the walk-in cooler, and left.

I had a lot to think about, driving through the sagebrush to the campground. What’s more, I actually had some time to think. It was only three in the afternoon on Wednesday, and I didn’t have to work until just before noon on Friday. I had a whole forty-four hours! But I resisted the urge to swing into the one place still open, and buy a six-pack-of beer. Instead, I swung in and bought a carton of cigarettes for my ex, because part of the forty-four hours would involve my heading to the ranch and seeing if my ex had any desire to become an exex. I might have forty-four hours free from Phatty Burgers, but I wasn’t truly free. The lot I had to think about included things beyond Phatty Burgers.

As I pulled into the campground I was struck by how myopic my appraisal had been. It was all Phatty Burgers this and Patty Burgers that; nothing but Phatty Burgers. It seemed an ultimate atheism, as if there was no life after Phatty Burgers.

To me it seemed a strange denial to pretend people were so small, and to call it “businesslike”.  To me it seemed obvious there definitely was life after Phatty Burgers, beginning with the campground I was driving into, and continuing into an uncertain future of attempting make my ex be an exex. To try to see me only in Phatty Burgers terms was like attempting to judge an elephant by its ear.  In like manner, to try to see Ike and Quincy only in Phatty Burger terms was missing what I, as a poet, could see in both characters.

As I switched my tiny Toyota’s engine off in front of Raydoe’s trailer in the campground I had the urge to just sit in my car.  Not that I wanted to think. In fact I missed Raydoe, and the way he never gave me time to think. I missed the way he’d say, “Hey Stupid Gringo, why are you just sitting there?” But Raydoe was gone, and I had time to think.

The campground was wonderfully quiet. The barrage of Blue Northers we’d endured was over, and a calm had descended. Rather than from the North Pole, I think the wind wafted north via the Rio Grande from the Gulf of Mexico. It was milder, calmer, and much moister, though there was not a cloud in the sky. There was also not a tourist in the campground. I had time to think.

The tourists had seemed annoying when I was attempting to work on my novel, not many weeks earlier, because they’d invite themselves to the picknick table where I chain smoked and typed, and pretend they were interested in what I was typing, when they actually wanted to brag how far they’d driven. But now I wouldn’t have minded their interruptions, for I wasn’t sure I wanted to think.

Sometimes thinking was harder than working. Working ten-hour-shifts was relieving, compared to battling the banshees of thought. Thought could make me crazy, but work was therapy, like the basket weaving they make madmen do in mental institutions. I took a deep breath, as I sat in my car. I had survived Phatty Burger’s appraisal of me, but I wasn’t so sure Phatty Burgers was going to survive my appraisal of it.

FATTY BURGERS –Part 2: Training–

As I entered Fatty Burgers for my first day of work as a management-trainee, I of course had my share of preconceptions, some which were correct and some which were miles off the mark. But one must use what they have at hand, when entering a new situation as a novice.

One thing I could recognize was that Quincy Phlabutt was not entirely welcoming the idea of a new trainee. I assumed I might represent competition, if I turned out to be worthy of the exalted position of a Manager of a Fatty Burgers.

It wasn’t a thing I felt I could tell Quincy, but I wasn’t actually competition. I saw myself as a poet. Working for a fast-food burger joint was not a sign of success. In fact it was proof I was very humble, and willing to accept humiliation.  It would be one more event, in my future autobiography, which would describe my climb to success as a brilliant writer. The events would demonstrate I was not a snob as I climbed, and accepted many demeaning jobs. (But I was a snob, in my own way.)

The good part of my poetic snobbery was that I was not about to cut anyone’s throat to be a manager of a Fatty Burgers. I could take it or leave it. However, I was not so sure about Quincy. He might lack the freedom of owning a poetic temperament, and the management position he had might be all that he had, and he might fight like a cornered rat to keep it.

At age thirty-one I was still amazingly naïve, and still tended to see the best in people. However I’d already bopped about from state to state and from job to job far more than many do in their entire lives, and had been the “new kid” at so many jobs that I’d learned to divide people into two types, those who welcomed me and those who did not. Quincy struck me as one who would not.

As a person skilled in poetry, but not much else, I tended to work at “unskilled” positions. But to me the word “unskilled” demonstrated snobbery on the part of whoever came up with that word, “unskilled.” Why? Because it takes a certain skill to endure the monotony of such positions. I doubted the snob who invented the word “unskilled” had the skill to last even a week at many “unskilled” positions, which he in his snobbery had looked down his long nose at.

To be honest, I had a hard time lasting very long at such positions myself. Therefore I had a certain respect for the tougher characters who could last longer than I could. Many were very welcoming towards me as the cheerful “new kid”, initially because I made a welcome break to the monotony of their job, and later because I respected them, and found them far more interesting than the job itself was. People tend to like being viewed as fascinating.  But some found me threatening, in some way, to whatever meager poise they had achieved in their precarious position; there is little security at a workplace involving easily-replaceable “unskilled” workers. “Turnover” is high, especially at fast-food joints, and in fact when I returned to work at the Fatty Burgers in California a second time after a year, not a single employee who had been around the first time was still there, except for the manager.

At prior workplaces I had found it well worth my time to make the effort to befriend the people who were most hostile, upon my arrival as a “new kid.” I sought to utilize my most disarming smiles and most ingratiating charm. Often it worked, and in some cases the very people who liked me least, as the “new kid”, became the friends I exchanged letters with after I quit the job and left the area.

Even before we exchanged our first words Quincy Phlabutt had made it clear, with body language, that I was not welcome, so of course I loaded up my disarming smiles and ingratiating charm. This involved “figuring him out”, utilizing my skill as a Sherlock Holmes, which often came up with stunningly incorrect deductions. But it was all I had.

I assumed Quincy must be a rancher’s son,  grandson, or great-grandson, for the last name Phlabutt is Caucasian, and, in my four months of kicking about Gallup, I had heard mentions of a Phlabutt Ranch to the southwest, and had bought cigarettes at a Phlabutt Trading Post, in the middle of nowhere. This immediately lowered Quincy’s status, in my not-so-humble opinion.

I was not fond of ranchers. Why? I had a suspicion a rancher might be at work at seducing my ex, who I wanted to be my exex. She and I had come east to the wild west from California to work on a ranch, but, while my job had not materialized, her job had. A certain rancher needed a nanny because his wife had died of cancer, and my ex became a nanny as I did not become a ranch hand. This caused jealousy to enter my Sherlock Holmes calculations, and one thing about the genuine Sherlock Holmes was: His deductions were never poisoned by jealousy.

Mine were. But one power of poetry is that when you are being a dope you know it. It appeared in my scribbles, and I didn’t like what I was seeing. I soon was battling myself, which makes for some tedious reading, in the yellowing pages of my 1984 diary. I’ll spare you the details, and simply state that at that time in my life I could come up with a good many reasons to look down my nose at anyone who owned a ranch.

For one thing, as Raydoe had explained to me, ranchers had stolen the land they ranched. They stole it from the rightful Spaniards who had deeds to the property. Of course, Navajo and Apache explained the Spaniards had stolen the land from them, while Zuni, Hopi and other Pueblo tribes explained the Navajo and Apache had stolen the land from them. None of this mattered much to me, because poets own no land and sleep in their car. My superiority was shown because I had not stolen anyone’s land, while ranchers had.

For another thing, ranchers were despots who didn’t understand democracy. Back in New England, where I was from, the colonial farm was sixty acres, which meant a town could hold over a hundred farms, and this forced people to work together and encouraged democratic processes at Town Meetings. Even in the Midwest, where the average homestead had expanded to 120 acres, towns still held enough farms to encourage democratic processes. But in the arid, wild west 120 acres might barely feed a single cow on a bad year, and ranches had to be huge, bigger than entire towns back east, and rather than encouraging democratic processes they encouraged despotism. Ranchers were downright European, in their king-like attitudes. Back east a blacksmith had to serve many farmers, but out west a rancher might feel he needed his own blacksmith. He needed his own cook, his own accountant, his own this and his own that, even sometimes even his own congressman. He needed to own everything, as absolute dictator of his domain, which was utterly unlike democracy and a terrible backsliding from the spiritual principles etched in the Constitution of the United States. In other words, to be a rancher was like being a communist, in my poetic opinion. A few ranchers might be spiritual, and be enlightened monarchs like King Charlemagne of France, but others were besotted by power, and became mini-Stalins and mini-Hitlers. As a poet, I had no such power, which made me superior.

In other words, from day one I thought I was Quincy Phlabutt’s superior, even as he lifted his regal nose and made it obvious that he felt he was superior to me. This made me wonder. How could he fail to notice my obvious superiority? My Sherlock Holmes side got to work.

One obvious thing was that, although Quincy might have a Caucasian last name, he looked more what Raydoe called “Indio” than many Navajo. I’d noticed some Navajo had brown hair with blond streaks, but Quincy’s was jet black with a blue shine to it. Some Navajo got teased by others for growing bushy Spaniard mustaches, but Quincy’s attempt at a mustache was a slender line of wisp, like a thirteen-year-old’s.  Sherlock had some explaining to do.

I did some calculating, and decided, if the first Phlabutt rancher arrived in the 1880’s, Quincy was likely a great-grandson.  While the original eldest son might have inherited the ranch like a European king inheriting a kingdom, Quincy was more likely the issue of younger sons who inherited little but a rancher’s imperious attitude. The younger son might have married an Indian, and indeed Quincy looked like his mother, grandmother, and even great-grandmother might have been Indian, but perhaps he received advantages and privileges from his great-grandfather, including a better education, which made him appear a cut above the rest, a rancher’s son with a rancher’s imperious attitude, even though he was merely a manager at a Fatty Burgers.

I recognize it was nervy of me to assume so much about a person I didn’t know. I confess my nervy assumptions to you, to show you the calculations occurring in a whirring, hyperactive poetic brain, as the poet enters a situation where, in Truth, he knows next to nothing.  I should hasten to add that, concluding such conclusions, though you know next to nothing, also includes the strategy you decide to employ, dealing with the situation you assume exists.

Basically, I plotted to be obsequious with Quincy, as I walked into Fatty Burgers for my first day of training. I would hit him full blast with my disarming and ingratiating charm. To my surprise, it was easy to do. In terms of the small universe made up of managers of Fatty Burgers, Quincy was a brilliant star. It was easy to flatter him because I was amazed at his ability.

For example, one management-job involved, at the end of a shift, removing the three cash register drawers, counting up what each held, and arriving at an accounting of the shift’s gross profit, which would be used against an estimate of expenses and arrive at a net profit. I knew all about such stuff, as I had to learn such stuff to pass my A-level exam in Economics in England, but this did not mean I liked math or was particularly fast when it came to adding up numbers. I could add, but I tended to be very careful and worked at the plodding pace of a turtle. Quincy was a rabbit, by comparison. As he added on the calculator his fingers were a blur, and he could accomplish in five minutes what took me an hour. He was amazing, and I told him so, and saw a brief and genuine smile flash across his face as I flattered him, but then his sternness reappeared, and he told me there was no excuse for me taking an hour to do what could be done in five minutes.

If I could put myself back in that time, I would offer a friendly rebuttal. For example, I can whip off a sonnet in five minutes, where others might be hard pressed to correctly produce a sonnet in a month. Should I tell them there is “no excuse” for their slowness?

At the time I simply nodded, and told Quincy I’d try to be as fast he was, “counting the drawers.” And I really did try. But I couldn’t come close to matching his skill. He was my superior.

In other areas his superiority could be questioned, especially concerning how to treat employees and customers. Although our management manual held certain written genuflections about how employees should be treated with respect, and how the customer should be treated like they were always correct, Quincy seemed to feel this was put in the manual for show, and Fatty Burgers didn’t really mean it. Quincy felt employees should be payed as little as possible for as much work as possible, while customers should be charged as much as possible for as little product as possible. This was close to gospel, for Quincy.

I begged to differ. I believed there was a reason, outside of Quinsy’s capitalistic reasoning, to go the extra mile for both customers and employees. I struggled with my poetry to say what the reason was, but it was the same reason I was kind towards Quincy, even though in some ways he was a horrible person, only looking to exploit others, even to the point of ripping-off both customers and employees. Even as Quincy rolled his eyes and sighed about my ineptitude, I was poetically rolling my eyes and sighing about his lack of spirituality.

In terms of principles, we were a clash of giants, but in fact we were small people in one of the more remote fast-food joints on earth. Yet clash we did. Almost from the first minute we met we were manifesting a difference of opinion, namely: What matters most? People or profits? Who should you care more for, numbers, or your customers and employees, and even your boss?

Right off the bat I manifested a completely different style of management. Quincy tended to stand with his arms folded, observing, and occasionally pointing out things that needed to be improved upon. I was more of a hands-on guy, who wanted to work elbow to elbow with my staff. Quincy seemed a little taken aback by my willingness to immediately roll up my sleeves and plunge into doing the more servile jobs, but I simply told him New Mexico’s Fatty Burgers were different from California’s, and that I wanted to get a “feel” for what the differences were. Quincy shook his head very slowly, as if in disbelief, but he let me go at it.

This in turn introduced me to the staff, and the simple jobs they did.

None of the tasks at a fast-food joint are particularly hard; the process of preparing a burger and fries and a drink has been broken down into simple steps even a child could do; the trick was to do it faster and faster and faster, in a lunch rush, and I was always amazed by how things could go wrong. A small glitch, such as forgetting to refill a ketchup bottle, could throw a wrench into the mass production of burgers, and a pile of incomplete burgers would swiftly form a backlog, as swearing people rushed about seeking ketchup. Quincy would frown at such blunders and make it very clear such mistakes were not acceptable and would not be tolerated, whereas I tended to laugh, and find more ketchup, and remedy the chaos.

When I had time to think about it, (which wasn’t often, as there was lots to learn), I decided it was safest to allow Quincy to keep his rancher’s role as chief despot. A king likes to feel he is in charge of policy. But I felt the real shaker and mover of policy was the court jester.  When some glitch in policy (like an empty ketchup bottle) caused a shambles, it was often the jester who first pointed out the shambles, making a joke of it, and who suggested a change of policy. Jesters had to utilize tact, making light and avoiding blame, or they’d get their heads chopped off, but kings found it useful to have one in every throne room. I felt I could see a way to make a poet useful in the court of Quincy the king.

 As a worker I knew the job sucked, but I had learned the job was more fun if you understood all were in what sucked together, and together worked as a team, and together dealt with the amazingly non-stop examples of unforeseen botched-plans with good humor and tolerance. Quincy typified bad humor and intolerance, and it was no surprise to me I was immediately more popular. But Quincy stated good business had nothing to do with popularity. It was about making money.

One thing that Quincy did irked the hell out of me. There was a “management tool” within the workings of the Fatty Burgers cash-registers, which, if you typed in the secret management code, would print out a slip of paper which held a number which supposedly stated whether you were being efficient or not. Basically, it added the number of dollars you had raked in selling burgers the prior five minutes, and compared it with the number of dollars you paid out paying employees. I am not at all certain what the actual break-even point for Fatty Burgers was, as there were other expenses to consider besides labor, but I did notice that, at four dollars raked in for ever dollar spent on labor, Quincy stood serene, with his arms folded, but if that number began to drop towards three dollars raked in for every dollar spent on labor, Quincy became increasingly agitated, and then would abruptly blurt, to an employee, “Take a break!” The employee would “punch out” to take a break, which meant their break was time they were not paid for, so of course the numbers Quincy was focused upon leapt in a favorable direction, even sometimes to a number over making four dollars for every dollar you paid out, at which point Quincy would smile and fold his arms as if hugging and caressing himself.

To a poet like me such a focus seemed stupid. But, as it would have been unspiritual to call a Quincy stupid, I perished the thought, and did what poets do, which is to seek a synonym for, “stupid.” I liked the word “crass”. Quincy seemed crass, for two reasons.

The first reason was that the number on the cash register readout might be an anomaly, produced by some empty ketchup bottle briefly slowing the mass production of burgers, and once that problem was solved production would surge. The last thing you wanted to do, in such a situation, was to yank a worker from the production line, for that would create a whole new problem.

The second reason was that I felt it might be in some way illegal to sit down workers without paying them. It had to do with the concept of “minimum wage”, which in 1984 had been stuck at $3.35/hour for a long time, though inflation meant $3.35 could buy less and less. I knew how frugal I had to be, paid such skimpy wages. To pay less seemed a sort of crime, but Quincy was committing this crime with impunity.

To me it seemed that, if Quincy asked a person to come and work from an hour before noon to an hour after noon, he should pay them for the two hours they were present, but he would sit them down for a half hour before lunch and a half hour after, both breaks “off the clock”, and only pay them for an hour for the two they were present. In effect the employee was paid $1.67 an hour, which seemed a flagrant violation of the minimum wage law.

Yet one thing I liked about Gallup in 1984 was that people tended to dismiss rules and regulations imposed by outsiders. Some did not bother getting license plates for their cars. Why bother? Cars ran just as well without them. And I had learned I had best be on guard at spot-labor jobs, for why should anyone pay me $3.35 an hour, if I would work for less? You needed to be careful, whether you were an illegal alien or a flat broke American poet desperate for work, for people might flash a twenty dollar bill at you, offering it for a job that later might turn out to take ten hours, which would mean you’d agreed to work for only $2.00/hour.

This exploitation was one of the few things I could become hot headed and political about, but the fellows waiting with me for spot labor with me at the unemployment office had not been impressed by my zeal. They were used to grinding poverty and to being exploited and seemed to think I was being a big cry-baby to make a fuss. But I did notice they themselves seemed pretty careful making the initial deal, and if someone flashed a twenty they wanted to know how long the job should take, but, once a deal was a done deal, they were pretty stoic about simply working until the job was done.

Having suffered working for less than minimum wage myself, the last thing I wanted to do was do the same thing to others, but Quincy didn’t merely ask that I do it; he demanded. If the imaginary number produced by the cash register slipped from 4 towards 3, I simply must sit an employee down, unpaid, on a break.

If I had not wanted my ex to become an exex, I might have told Quincy where he could stick his stupid statistics. But, because I wanted my ex to become an exex, I gritted my teeth and was a good, little “management trainee”, and swallowed the feces clotting my throat, and did what I was told. But I felt ashamed for doing it and tended to go visit my employees while they were on break, partly to gain feedback, and partly to apologize for being such a cheap bastard.

This introduces a glorious subject, much richer than the subject of Quincy.

Quincy might have wanted to be the center of my universe, but poets (or at least American poets) seem to gravitate towards the masses. Bosses may demand more attention, but the run-of-the-mill are far more numerous, and to a poet hold much more variety, interest, and beauty. A boss may be worthy of respect, like a big tree in the vista of a sunrise, but a tree is not the entirety of a sunrise, and a lone tree cannot compete with the magnitude of the rest of the vista.

The first employee to impress me was Toonya, which was short for Petunia. She was about as opposite Quincy as a soul can get, female where he was male, and the epitome of pity. She had amazing eyebrows that slanted down like a pleading dog’s, at either side of her forehead, and which filled her face with sympathy even when she was relaxed. I found her expression slightly unnerving, because, if I wasn’t feeling at all grumpy, I wondered: What she was being so sympathetic about? I had the feeling her heart was brimming with pity, as if she looked out upon a world she felt sorry for. But something about such pity holds an unspoken request; it asks you to please, please, please stop. And I wondered, “Stop what?” What was I doing that was so pitiful?

Toonya didn’t say. She seemed the antithesis of a militant feminist, and would never demand or complain, and was submissive to a fault, and so of course Quincy felt no fear of excessively making her punch-out and take breaks. It seemed to me she spent more time on the premises of the Fatty Burgers than many others, yet was paid less, and that just didn’t seem right, especially as she was so kindly. I think just the way she looked at me made me feel embarrassed about being such a cheap bastard, which seemed to be something her pity felt sorry about. Not that she spoke a critical word. She didn’t need to. Her kindness and sympathy made me do a cross examination of myself. I was my own detective grilling myself as a suspect, under hot lights.

Toonya had long, straight, black hair loosely tied as a pony tail well down her back, and skin the color of honey, and I would have guessed she was Hispanic, but, when not in the silly Fatty Burgers uniform, Toonya dressed in the fashions of the older Navajo women, though fairly young herself. She wore long skirts of shiny fabric, dark blue or dark green, pleated and down to her ankles, and long-sleeved, black blouses of what looked like velvet, and sometimes a white-and-black or white-and-brown shawl with patterns like a Navajo blanket. So I figured she was Navajo, and my Mutt brains went to work at the hopeless task of figuring out what a Navajo was.

To me such mental gymnastics always seemed a little like trying to see with your ears, or to determine what particular color a rainbow was, but I suppose an outsider is always attempting to put vastness in a nutshell. (Some even say that is the purpose of poetry.) However, Toonya quietly shattered even the few preconceptions my baffled brains had been able to gather about “cultural attributes” of the Navajo.

For one thing, like most Native American tribes, the Navajo had been through hell and had to learn to live without expecting much mercy. How could they then produce a female so brimming with apparent mercy, pity, and sympathy? For another thing, the Navajo struck me as tough, and stoic, and able to endure pain without pleading, and didn’t even like using the word “please” (because it made one a beggar). Yet something about Toonya’s eyebrows did beg; they begged me to stop being a cheap bastard. I couldn’t really explain it, but they doubled down on the forbidden word “please”, and silently asked me to “please, please, please stop,” like the voice of a good angel sitting on my right shoulder.

She was such a contradiction it made me laugh, for she was stoicism gone haywire. She was like a brave never flinching midst a Sundance ordeal. She was stoic in her ability to never lift a finger to strike back at a capitalist like Quincy. Instead her amazing eyebrows showered the lout with pity. When I watched her my laugh burst out of me against my will, often at the oddest times.

Early in my training I was rushing about in my “hands on” manner, attempting to learn the details of every job done by every employee, and, with the lunch rush over, this involved various “restocking” and “clean up” tasks. I had already refilled every ketchup bottle, which emptied the huge container, (a big foil bag of ketchup with a plastic spigot in a carboard box), we used to refill bottles, so I also replaced that container with another big box from a back room.

With future ketchup-based fiascos averted, I went rushing out to avert future trash-based fiascos, which occurred when the trash containers became full and overflowed, which disturbed the aesthetics of dining. Customers don’t like to eat knee-deep in burger wrappers and fry boxes, which makes emptying the trash a big deal. However, in the middle of a rush nearly everyone is too busy to empty the trash; a manager could perhaps free up thirty seconds of his work force’s time and send an employee dashing out to remove a filled bag and replace it with an empty one. Therefore, to avoid trash fiascos, I was implementing a trick I had learned in California. It was to simply place spare trash bags under the bag currently in use. Then, when the bag currently in-use was filled, the employee rushing out to empty that bag did not need to go to a back room for a new bag but could use a new bag right under the old bag. This simplistic idea was part of my “hands on” approach, whereas Quincy tended to just fold his arms and say, “check the trash”, and only occasionally freed an arm to point out the window at wrappers that blew about the parking lot, demanding someone go out and chase them down.

As I rushed out to the area of booths where customers sat, with my arms loaded with trash bags, I saw the booths held no customers, but did hold Toonya, serenely sitting in her traditional garb. She was not in uniform because she was not working, and later I discovered she had dropped by to pick up her paycheck. She was chatting with Splendor, who wore the fashionable Navajo girl-garb of 1984: Blue jeans and a tight, black t-shirt.

Splendor was militant, and initially hard to like. She was nearly as tall as I was, with skin the color of my deeply tanned Caucasian skin, and had curly brown hair like mine, of about the same length, though we styled our hair differently. Mine was an attempt to be parted and flattened, whereas hers was a sort of afro of big ringlets. In some ways we could have been brother and sister, but she was Navajo and I was Mutt.

Splendor usually looked critical, as if she had a headache, but Toonya had her tamed. Toonya sat with her hands folded in front of her, nodding and sympathetically listening to Splendor complain about something, and Splendor was relaxing from her usual irate expression into a more peaceful sadness and resignation, sitting with her chin in a palm held up by an elbow.

The two women made a pretty picture, backlit by the big window to the parking lot, with the light shining off the Formica surface of the table. To me they seemed strangely reminiscent of an impressionistic picture of ballet dancers relaxing, by Degas. A happiness I felt surge in me made me laugh. Both girls turned to look at me after I laughed, and I immediately felt a little awkward for laughing. Not that I could explain myself. Maybe thirty-six years later, I now have the time to attempt it. But at the time I was in a hurry, and it is hard for poets to explain why they laugh; that’s why they write poems.

To be honest, I laughed because they were beautiful, but didn’t feel I could be that honest. My simple act of laughing had made Splendor rear up slightly, reverting to her usual pose of being indignant, which made me feel a little like the sinister, black-wearing men in top hats who lurk around the periphery of Degas paintings of beautiful dancers.  At age thirty-one I well aware how swiftly admiration can be corrupted by lust, so I was not about to tell the women I laughed because their beauty made me happy. Instead I continued on to a trash receptacle near them, desperately groping through my empty skull for something I could say. I looked at Toonya even as I worked, and her sympathetic, inquiring smile made me feel better than Spendor’s glower, and the words that popped out of my mouth were, “Toonya, I’ve been wondering something. Does it bother you to be put on breaks?”

“Oh no! I like breaks!”

“Even though it means you are off the clock, and not making any money?”

“Money?’ She laughed lightly, as if I was being silly. “No, I don’t worry about that.”

“You don’t?”

“No. I like working here and I like taking breaks here, because it gets me out of Cottonwoods. Cottonwoods gets dull before Little Christmas.”

“Little Christmas?”

Splendor softly groaned and looked like I was especially stupid, and, after rolling her eyes,  she somewhat scornfully and intrusively explained, “Little Christmas is what you Belaghana call Thanksgiving.”

“Oh! Forgive my ignorance. I never knew that.”

Splendor looked at Toonya and, a bit mockingly, repeated, “’Forgive my ignorance’. Don’t he say that like people talk in the movies?”

Toonya nodded with round eyes sympathetically at Splendor, and then turned and nodded sympathetically with round eyes at me. A bit lamely I added, “Well, I can’t help it. I’m new to the area and that makes me ignorant. Is Cottonwoods the town you are from?” Both women nodded. I continued, “And a Fatty Burgers is better than Cottonwoods?”

Toonya looked up and to the right and thought about it. Then she smiled and decided, “Home is home, but sometimes I like it here. It’s nice and warm, on days it’s cold at home.”

“Your house is cold?”

“Unless we’re cooking.”

Splendor added, “And her home is not a house. It’s a Hogan.”

“A Hogan?”

Splendor explained, “One big room with dirt floors and a hole in the middle of the ceiling to let the smoke out. No electricity. We’re trying to get electricity in Cottonwoods but the Tribe won’t help ‘cause we’re outside the Reservation, and the state won’t help ‘cause were officially squatters, though we’re fighting to get that changed. Cottonwoods has been there a hundred years.”

Though Splendor still looked cross, I was aware she was opening up, volunteering information. I looked out the window and said, “Well, isn’t that something. I didn’t know that either.” Then I laughed again and met their eyes. “Well, thanks for educating me. Be patient. I’ll learn eventually.” Then I hurried off.

As I returned to the work area Quincy was scowling at a clipboard. He informed me, “You haven’t done the post lunch inventory.”

A bit defensively I said, “Actually I glanced it over, but put off filling it out until now.” I took the clipboard from him and began jot down numbers off the top of my head.

Quincy’s brow clouded with disapproval. “Never put that job off.” Then he added, “Can you explain why we’re down a box of ketchup and a box of trash bags in the storeroom?”

This necessitated me explaining what I’d been up to, in terms of ketchup and trash bags, but rather than praising me the slightest for my initiatives, he explained, “You have to watch for missing boxes. Employees will steal stuff to use at home.”

I nodded.

Quincy glanced at the clock, and then added, “You’ve worked into your break time. I hope you know that, if you do that, you’re not allowed to extend your break to make up for the time you worked.”

“No. I didn’t know that. Thanks for telling me. I’ll go on break now. And Oh, by the way, have we got a folder holding the applications of the people we have working for us?”

Quincy looked wary but didn’t ask me what I wanted the applications for. “Current employee’s applications are in the blue “hired” folder next to the red “applicants” folder,  above the desk.”

One thing I liked about Fatty Burgers was that management ate for free. I hurried to make myself a quick Triple-Big-Burger with extra Cheese, Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato, and then wolfed it at “The Desk”, which was in a tiny room crammed with clipboards and folders in the back. As I ate, I quickly scanned through the applications in the blue folder; it held all the employees we had for four shifts. There were only around twenty-two for a seven-day week, and I noted eight were from Cottonwoods. I gobbled this information with the same speed I wolfed my Triple-Big-Burger, seeing it as part of my training.

My training involved working ten hours, through the lunch, dinner and closing shifts, and I also worked weekends, so I was getting heaps of overtime and making more money than I’d made since I lived in South Carolina. Some weeks I made $325.00, before taxes, which was absurdly good money for a penniless poet in those days, but when I made it back to Raydoe’s little trailer in the campground I was exhausted. My mind felt like a wasteland which held no poems. Instead my brains were assimilating masses of new information. Sometimes I’d find my tired brains thinking about the backroom stock of little, brightly-colored cardboard containers for French fries, but other times I’d find myself assessing employees.

I always found assessing employees a little troubling, for it often involved the faces of beautiful females floating through my head, much like way the face of a new girlfriend drifts across your mind when you’re falling in love. Now that I’m safely thirty-six years into the future I can say, yes, I was falling in love, though not in any way likely to result in marriage or anything more significant than appreciation.

At the time recalling the faces of females didn’t feel safe, and often troubled me, especially when it involved more than one female’s face. I was very stern with myself, and believed strongly that spirituality demanded that lust be corralled in a monogamous marriage, but lust had been able to make a jackass out of me on more than one occasion, which made me a little afraid of it. It might have been different if I was married, but I was alone and terribly lonely. As I slumped in Raydoe’s tailor, without even Raydoe to entertain me, the banshees of loneliness seemed to circle like sharks, and the last thing I needed was the faces of Toonya and Splendor drifting through my mind.

This was especially true if I wanted my ex to become an exex, or so I thought. She was the closest thing to a real marriage I’d ever had, and I was stubbornly clinging to the hope that, if I was faithful to her even as she was unfaithful to me, she would understand how noble and superior I was, awake to the error of her ways, and arrive weeping to beg my forgiveness, which I would magnanimously grant. (In actual fact she likely would have felt such behavior was so demeaning that she would rather have died first, but I clung to my hopes.) But I did notice something odd. Even when I tried to picture her face, I couldn’t even remember what she looked like.

This broaches the subject of a poet’s inner world, which I had to put up with even when I recognized it was unintelligible to most people, and psychologists might call it crazy. I had to put up with it because I was stuck with being a poet.

It would be all well and good if a poet’s inner world could be dismissed as sheer imagination, (as many psychologists attempt to do), but such visions involve too many uncanny coincidences to be dismissed. For example, perhaps, if you are a poet, you will be writing about someone you haven’t seen in ages, and just then the phone will ring, and that very person will be on the line. I’d seen many other examples, and I long thought such semi-psychic events were some bizarre thing that only happened to me, but then I chanced upon Mark Twain’s “Mental Telagraphy” and “Mental Telagraphy Revisited”, and became aware such events were a sort of occupational hazard, faced by writers.

Why are they a hazard? Because you have no control over them. They happen when they happen, not because you make them happen. You can’t make the phone ring by writing about someone who hasn’t called. Most especially, you can’t force dreams, which really are nothing but your imagination, to come true. In terms of what you desire, the inner world is fairly useless. Desire, in fact, seems to end the ability. In other words, if your imagination is focused on hankerings, there are seldom results, but if your imagination is desireless, there are.

I was trying to figure out this difference, but it was hard for me to do, as it was basically a difference between imagination and imagination. What’s the difference? It is not a difference you would suspect a management-trainee at a fast-food joint would be concerned about. Yet, as I slumped in Raydoe’s trailer, exhausted and lonely after ten-hour-shifts, it was something I pondered.

Thirty-six years later I can see the difference between imagination and imagination I delt with was the difference between lust and love, and also between infatuation and active appreciation. However back then all four things blurred together as a mess in a poor, pathetic poet’s skull. Imagination was a slurry, an unrefined mix of gold and dross, and the temptation was to flush the entire imaginative mess down the toilet, as a denial of reality. And in fact to deny imagination in this manner was what some psychologists called “facing reality.” However, for a poet to deny imagination is to deny the essence of their very being. I couldn’t do it. I had to accept the bitter with the sweet and put up with the slurry invading my brains.

By age thirty-one I was no adolescent, and had groped if not grasped, and intellectually understood there was a difference between lust and love, and also between infatuation and active appreciation, but I was a long way from turning such intellectual understanding into anything I could use, in real life. In real life, after work, I was a poor management-trainee dealing with slurry in his skull.

The ability to differentiate the difference between imagination and imagination means little to people who have no imagination, but for a poet it can become all-out war. An inner war. If you survive your victory is something called “discernment”. But at this point in my life survival seemed unlikely.

In terms of the intellectual issue of lust versus love, I envied Raydoe, for he had Bonnie, and having a wife puts the issue of lust to bed. For him lust could be erased by being sated. But even with my ex refusing to be my wife, and my lust unsated, I still could identify lust easily, because it hits you below the belt.

The issue of infatuation versus active appreciation is less physical and was harder for me to come to terms with. Again, I envied Raydoe, when he was crammed in the trailer with Bonnie and two daughters, for they were so in-his-face there was no way he could avoid active appreciation. In such a situation infatuation is the last thing on your mind.

In a strange way the same trailer was even more crowded after Raydoe vanished, when I lived there alone, because I had to deal with all the people my poetic imagination was inviting in, even when they were unwelcome.

What I am about to describe will not make sense to sensible people living sensible lives, for they are not poets. But sensible people living sensible lives would die of dullness, if it weren’t for those who enliven their hard work with the solace of a hit song that plays on the radio in the background of their workplace, or a jester who makes them laugh on the job, or a choir that makes drab church less dreary. Sensible people are in fact beholden to those who are not sensible, because being sensible would be a reason to commit suicide, in and of itself.

How so? Because life isn’t sensible, for every life is based upon a bad deal that makes no sense. To wit: You are born broke. There is no way you can pay your way. If you were sensible, when an infant, you would simply confess you had no money to pay for milk and deserved to starve and die. And you, humble as you are, would agree your life had nothing to offer, and would agree you had no worth, because you were born broke, and you would agree to die, aborted because you had no money when you were born. But a rude poet called a mother disagreed and impolitely stuck her nipple in your mouth and filled you with nourishing milk you hadn’t paid for. The simple fact she did this deed seems to preclude her being admitted into any society of sensible persons. But in truth mothers dwell in a reality sensible people call nonsense. Poets are similar. (The milk of human kindness takes many forms.)

My nonsense involved sitting alone and zoning out, looking at a blank wall, or a blank sheet of typing paper, but seeing something other than blankness. People who gaze into crystal balls are not mysterious to me. I saw things. I called them “ideas”.

Some ideas were intellectual and had little or no heart; various theories would half-form and then be demolished by critical thinking, but at times the heart would creep into ideas as a sort of bias; a theory would be so attractive it fought the critical thinking; at this point the debate became more audible; the theory would be proposed by a nice voice and the criticism be spoken by a snide voice I wanted to dump cold water on. Often the theory revolved around what was moral and what was not, or why morality made sense even when it wasn’t profitable. At this point the nice voice was my idealism, and the snide voices became the voices of people who had mocked me over the years.

It was around this point the voices began to have faces, as I recalled the arguments of old foes who I respected even as I debated them. Old bosses, old buddies, old father-figures, and old girlfriends would all come wandering into the tiny trailer, to cross my mind. Many brought along memories, flashbacks involving vivid scenery. Even items in the scenery had symbolic import. And all this was on the typing paper before I wrote a single word, or on a blank wall that had no wallpaper. And it was at times like this Toonya and Splendor might vividly appear.

I felt I had to draw the line and cut short my musing. If I wanted my ex to become an exex I had no business dreaming of beautiful women from Cottonwoods. Instead I should type. I should finish my novel. It was my ticket out of a life where I had to work at demeaning places like a Fatty Burgers. I got down to business. I had an outline of the plot. What was next? Oh yes, the teenaged rebel Jeromy accuses his lover Iris of wanting to turn him into a banker driving a Cadillac, and to spoof her desires he buys a wrecked Cadillac from a junkyard, and arrives at the high school in the smoking wreck, and next he grandly denounces status symbols with a splendid soliloquy. I set my lip and went to work at clacking the keys of the old-fashioned typewriter.

If I was a true novelist I could have stuck to the plot, but even a novelist might find the work difficult after a ten-hour shift at a Fatty Burgers. For a poet, sticking to the plot is difficult even first thing in the morning, and when weary I saw, to my dismay, my mind produce Toonya and Splendor, unexpectedly, in my novel. What on earth? What were a couple of Navajo women doing among the student body of highschool on the coast of Maine?

I savagely tore the page from the typewriter and crinkled it into a ball, and then whipped the ball into the trash. I was at war with myself. Why couldn’t I make my mind behave? Why was I thinking of Cottonwoods, New Mexico when I was suppose to be focused on Muddekov, Maine?

The next morning I arrived at work for my fourteeth straight day of work, with dark circles under my eyes, not expecting any pity from anyone. Who can understand the suffering of a poet? Anyway, that morning I was unsure I even was a poet. I couldn’t write a single page that made sense. All veered off course into madness. Maybe I wasn’t a poet. Maybe I was just a management trainee, and not a very good one, at that.

In a desultory manner I looked over a sort of map that showed who would work at what “work station”, during the lunch rush. I felt a sort of pang when I saw Toonya wasn’t working. Not that she was a good worker. To be honest, she was steady but slow, but the rush hadn’t started, so all I desired was her eyebrows. She wouldn’t need to say anything. Any suggestion of pity would suit me.

I hadn’t yet been deemed knowledgeable enough to “schedule”, but liked to scan the conglomerations of workers who were supposed to work as a unity, in a lunch rush. Quincy did the scheduling, and he created combinations that made no sense at all, at least to me. I would never schedule like he scheduled.

Perhaps, educated by two times I worked at a Fatty Burgers in California, where most employees were somewhat immoral California teenagers, I had been educated in ways Quincy wasn’t. I could almost immediately recognize who was dating whom, and who had just cheated on whom, and who had just broken-up with whom. Even when I was not a manager I knew when it was wise to go stand between two people, to promote harmony during the lunch rush. Yet, for some bizarre reason known only to himself, Quinsy would schedule such people elbow to elbow.

What made even less sense was that, when Quincy’s scheduling created a problem, he said it wasn’t his problem; it was mine. He delegated the work of cleaning up his fiascos to me. He created two jurisdictions. His was “scheduling”, and mine was dealing with the mess.

I hate to suggest such a thing, but at times I had a sense Quincy would schedule people to work elbow to elbow with other people they hated, (and hated to a degree where they quivered just hearing the other’s person’s name), just to see how I would handle the problems he created.

And indeed, there can be problems. It is difficult for two people, who cannot stand each other, to unify and create a simple hamburger, topped by a blotch of ketchup and a slice of pickle, between the top and bottom of a bun.  Conflicting tempers can flare in a hot kitchen, and ketchup can be squirted in faces rather than on burgers.

If I had overseen scheduling I might have avoided scheduling a boy’s ex-girlfriend working next to his new girlfriend, but at times Sidney’s scheduling seemed to specifically aim at such unwise placements. Quincy had a frosty attitude towards human passion and told me that workers should show up on time for work and should work where and how they were told to work. But then he seemed to go out of his way to enflame passions, which undermined working in a cool and collected manner.

This did not merely occur in terms of romances. If we’d had a Hopi employee (we didn’t) I’m quite certain Quincy would have placed them next to the most militant Navajo he could find, in terms of the Hopi-Navajo Land Dispute, (which likely would have been Splendor.) If we’d had a Black Panther (we didn’t) he would have had them work next to a member of the KKK (we had none I knew of). Then, if chaos occurred, and I had to deal with the resultant heat in the hot kitchen, Quincy would have raised his palms in a protestation of his innocence, and would say it was “my problem, and not his”.

Two weeks into my training, I started to recognize my trainer had a strange attribute. He seemed to arrange the very behavior he disapproved of. It was as if there was certain behavior he did not allow in himself, or in his own life, or in his family, that he was curious about. He wanted to see it. He was a sort of voyeur.

This is a very odd thing to recognize in the person who is supposed to be teaching you how to behave. Sadly, I was used to such misbehavior. Hypocrisy was a terrible ailment in America in my time, and my own mother used to say, as if it was a joke, “Do as I say and not as I do.” But when your trainer says one thing and does another, what is his message?

 Of course, if you are a management-trainee you are not supposed to be thinking along such complicated, intellectual lines. You are supposed to be thinking about burgers and fries.  There were times I cursed my mind’s tendency to play the shrink, and to psychoanalyze innocent bystanders. Yet perhaps, because poets spend so much time in dreamlands, they tend to be “sensitive” to odd subconscious things, rather than burgers and fries. It wasn’t sensible, but I couldn’t seem to help myself. I, (not as the management-trainee Quincy thought I was, but as the poet I actually was), (not the Clark Kent but the Superman), felt a desire to end Quincy’s confusion. I was the psychiatrist and Quincy was my client.

Of course, it likely would have infuriated Quincy to hear I deemed him a quasi-psychotic individual with a split personality, half moral and half voyeur. Therefore, I kept my lips firmly buttoned. But I kept my eyes open. I had to, for the problems Quincy created would occur during my trainee shifts. And one good thing about such problems is that they swiftly bring your head down from poetry’s clouds.

As I glanced over the people scheduled I was glad to see Waz Leroy was on for eight hours, from before lunch until after dinner, for she was an older woman and an excellent worker.

When, curious about her, I had earlier glanced over her application at “The Desk”, I discovered she was another employee from Cottonwoods, and her full name was Wazituyoo Leroy. Later, when I asked her how she pronounced her first name, I heard it was pronounced exactly like, “What’s it to you”.

At the time I laughed and would have made a light comment, but something baleful in the look Waz shot me warned me to bite my tongue.

I would have then let the subject drop, and would have moved on to the subject of burgers and fries,  but Splendor was present, and she had heard me laugh. Young and fiery, she could not allow my laugh to go unnoticed. She proceeded to give me quite a lecture about my being an insensitive jerk. It was very informative, and Splendor seemed surprised that rather than being offended, I asked questions. The answers she gave was like having a door to a cellar opened and having daylight stream in.

As a general rule, I tend to detest militant females. I try to be polite, but I can’t help think, as they berate, that the Bible states it is better to sleep on a corner of the roof (which is the equivalent of sleeping in your car) than to endure a contentious female. However Splendor seemed the exception to the rule. Her scoldings were based on hard facts, more down to earth than most bitching suffragettes, and interested me to a degree where I wanted more. I asked questions. I imagine she also found my responsive questioning an exception to her rules, regarding chauvinist pigs.  We were, in fact, falling in love. It was a brief friendship, but genuine.

The lecture she gave was about what went into a good employee having the name she had, “Wazituyoo Leroy.” I think Splendor initially meant to shame “my people” for how they had treated “her people”, and was surprised I took no offence. I’m not sure why I didn’t. Splendor sure wasn’t showing any care about how “her people” treated “my people.” But for some reason the poetic gift God gave me short-circuited such comparison. I am very glad the failure-to-take-offence occurred.

I think maybe a poet sometimes is able to accept the fact “his people” are imperfect, and may have in fact  treated “other people” wrongly, because a poet himself tends to get abused by “his people.” Sometimes the “his people” are the poet’s own mother and father. Yet, despite a fair amount of grousing about imperfect childhoods, often poets turn right around and contradict themselves; a truism of poetry honors ones mother and father, despite their human shortcomings, which might not seem sensible and might even seem hypocritical, but turns out to be Biblical. Jesus Himself stated “A prophet is not respected in his hometown”, and his hometown promptly proved He was correct by becoming so enraged by his criticism they attempted to throw Him off a cliff and kill him three years ahead of schedule. Not that poets are necessarily prophets, but they do tend to feel unappreciated by the very people they write poetry for.

 In any case, if poetic impulses allow one to forgive mothers who abused, and instead allow one to be thankful for milk they received, perhaps a poet like me was able to forgive Splendor’s abuse and appreciate the milk-of-human-kindness she gave, which took the form of a wonderful description of all that went behind the naming of Wazituya Leroy as Wazituya Leroy.

I learned lots of people in a squatter community like Cottonwoods had a man’s first name as their last name, because the man turned out to be irresponsible. It did not matter if the irresponsible man was a member of the U.S. Cavalry in 1880 or a Hippy in 1969, they did not stick around to care for what they had created. The fatherless child was therefore given the absent father’s first name.

Before anyone shames the women of Cottonwoods for having children out of wedlock, I should point out European’s have the same naming practices. Swenson  means “son of Sven” and Robertovich means “son of Robert”.  A name can say who the father was, without ever saying anything about whether the father was (or wasn’t) man enough to care for the child he created.

In any case, Wazituya was once the small child of a single mother living in a dirt-floored hogan, with the foster father in her life her mother’s brother, and was called something else, when abruptly she was called “a truant”. She was failing to learn what the invaders stated she should learn, by speaking Navajo rather than English. The invaders showed up and stated she needed to go to school. School wasn’t for a few hours a day, from nine in the morning until three in the afternoon. Instead the little children were snatched from the Navajo homes and sent away to a Gulag to be reeducated, and they could go for months without seeing their mothers. The Navajo deeply resented this kidnapping, but had already fought and lost a war, and were in no position to fight another. However, when a bureaucrat arrived and, holding a pen over a piece of paper on a clipboard, asked for the child’s name, they might be given a rude answer, such as, “What’s it to you?” And that was what was written down on the paper, and was what the little girl was called for years at school. Because her mother died while she was at school, for years Wazituya didn’t even know what her real name was, nor did her real name appear on any official paperwork.

This is a sad story, and was why Splendor gave me a tongue lashing when I laughed. The origins of Wazituya’s name involved grim times which weren’t funny, but for me the history lesson was a revelation, like a door to daylight being opened in a darkness. I thanked Slendor profusely, which Splendor found very odd, and caused her to be rude, for she laughed right back at me. We continued chatting, and I was telling her my own school could be an awful place to be, at times, when Quincy arrived and wanted to know why we weren’t talking about burgers and fries.

I now see I was going through the process, with the help of Splendor, of having my preconceptions replaced by reality, which is actually the difference between active appreciation and infatuation. Hopefully this explains how I could grow fond of an employee even though she called me a jerk. It also explains why I sometimes worked with a preoccupied look, with my eyes far away. Quincy would then tell me to keep my mind on the job. Little did he know what a poet’s job actually is.

On this particular occasion I was sitting at “The Desk” taking a deep breath before my shift, feeling thankful Waz Leroy was going to help me for eight hours, when the old-fashioned phone on the desk jangled, and I lifted it from the receiver and heard the voice of Waz, sounding both sullen and curt. She told me she couldn’t work. She had to attend to her father’s funeral. Then the phone went dead.

I felt upset, and not merely because I’d lost my best worker. I went up front to inform Quincy, but when I did he shocked me with a scornful and derisive response. He scoffed, “Again? Her father has more funerals than anyone else on earth!”

I felt a sort of shock, and said, “He isn’t dead? Well, I guess that makes me a chump. I felt sorry for her.”

Quincy nodded, adding, “Employees think nothing of lying.”

“Well, I guess I’ve learned my lesson.”

That might have bee the end of my training, but Splendor had just punched in for a two-hour lunchtime shift, and she wheeled from the register to add to my education.  “Idiot,” she addressed me, “You know Waz is an orphan.”

“Oh, you’re right. I forgot that.”

“And don’t  you Beleghana call any old preacher ‘father?’ Navajo are the same with their elders. In our language, when an elder dies your father dies.”

Quincy intruded, addressing me and not Spender, “I’ve been down this road before with Waz. If you check the opituaries in the newspapers I can almost guarantee you there will be no mention of anyone passing away this past week in Cottonwoods.”

Immediately Splendor responded, to me and not Quincy, “The word funeral is like the word father. It just means a ceremony. Little Christmas is coming. Waz has cooking to do at home.”

Quincy informed me, not looking at Splendor, “Employees should honor the schedule.”

Spender told me, not looking at Quincy, “Don’t do that. Don’t schedule Waz right before Little Christmas. She cooks for all the Cottonwood elders.”

I was glad I had Toonya as a good example, for I found myself nodding in first one direction with my eyebrows sympathetic, and then in the other with my eyebrows sympathetic, but sympathy wasn’t dealing with my problem. I interrupted the argument the two were having (via me) by stating, “Well, it is obvious I have a lot to learn, but I am wondering something, Splendor. You are only scheduled two hours. Could you possibly work longer? Even right through dinner?”

I felt a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach, as if I’d asked Splendor out on a date, and felt vunerable, because she might tell me to go jump in a lake. She scowled at me and then pouted. She looked down to the corner where two walls met the floor, and then up where the front picture window met the ceiling, and finally she gave me the slightest of nods.

I could have hugged her, and I suppose I beamed at her. “I can’t thank you enough.”

Quincy commented, “You are lucky. What would you do if she couldn’t fill in for Waz? You’d have to hire someone to replace her. What would you do?”

I laughed, “Well I’d be in a fix, no doubt about it. It’s pretty hard to hire and train people on such short notice. And I’ve noticed something odd about the applicants in the red, applications file. Either there is no phone number at all given, or lots of people have the same phone number”.  I turned to Splendor. “I’ve noticed all the people in Cottonwoods have the same number. If I called that number, who would I reach?”

She scowled and gruffly said, “Post Office.”

I nodded. “Interesting. Obviously I have more to learn.” Then I turned back to Quincy and told him, “In California, when folk didn’t show up for work, the management sometimes had to roll up their sleeves and pitch in. Looks like I’ll have to do that, to cover for Splendor as she covers for Waz. But if it gets too crazy I may need you to pitch in. Can you do that?”

Quincy looked down a long, frosty nose, and stated, “If I must.”

I said, “I am ever so grateful.” I did not mean to be sarcastic, but perhaps I was, slightly, for when I turned to get to work I noticed Splendor’s shoulders were shaking, and she glanced at me with an unexpected twinkle in her eyes. Then, as we worked through the lunch rush, often elbow to elbow, I had the definite sense I was falling in love. Little did I know it was the last time I’d see her.

Some sort of “altercation” involving “insubordination” occurred before I showed up for work the next day, and Quincy claimed he “fired” her, though everyone else told me, “Splendor quit.”

However before Splendor vanished from my life, during that final shift together, there was one final torture I needed to experience. It occurred during the height of the dinner rush, when she needed to hurry up front to take orders, and I was working making French fries at top speed in the back. I was enjoying the sound of her voice, as she said, “Double Big Burger, Large Fries, Large Cola,” and then there was the ruffling sound of a microphone being mishandled, and a harsh, male Hispanic voice stated, “Will the stupid Gringo please come to the front and talk to…” and then I heard more ruffling and Splendor’s voice say, “Gimmie that, Glahni.”

I knew the voice was my missing friend Raydoe’s, and dumped a load of hot French fries in the drainer to hurry to the front, and saw Raydoe glaring at Splendor, who was glaring back. As Raydoe saw me coming he announced, before I could even speak, “I am transferred to Tucumcari and will come get my trailer later. But I am sad to see you in that stupid uniform and working with Mulatto trash.” Then he wheeled away and stormed out. I glanced at Splendor and saw her glaring at the rude man, but also looking hurt, as her eyes met mine.

 I said, “That guy is so rude. But…what’s a Glahni?”

“A drunkard. He stunk of Garden Delux.”

I nodded. “Usually it’s beer. I share a trailer with him at the campground. Sorry he was so rude.”

“And I’m not mullato.”

I felt incredibly awkward, and what came out of my mouth was, “To me you are just Splendor”.

She pouted and insisted, “He is a very bad man.”

I nodded, but added, “Yes, sometimes. But other times he is different. He gave me a roof when it was raining. It’s hard to hate a guy after he does something nice like that.”

She continued pouting, and then glanced sharply to the side. I followed her gaze and saw Quincy was regarding us anxiously, biting his knuckle. When I looked back at her I saw her face was strangely softened. She said, “Some Glahni are like that. Two different people.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Exactly”, was all I could think to say.

She looked away from me, down at the keyboard, and mentioned, as an aside, “No orders.”

I looked around and stated, “Yes, the place seems to be emptying out. Guess the rush is over. Would you like to punch out?”

She nodded, and as soon as I said she could punch out, she turned away, but then I added, “And thank you for filling in for Waz. You really saved my bacon,” and she stopped in her tracks. She slowly turned around, and inquired, “Saved your bacon?”

I chuckled and explained, “Oh, that is a way people from back east have, of saying they got helped out. You know, the bacon is frying and you get busy with the toast and the bacon would burn, but someone turns off the burner or shifts the pan from the fire. You would have burned the bacon, left to your own devises, but some outsider steps in and saves the bacon.”

She thought about it, and then nodded, seemingly more to herself than to me, but then looked up and met my eye and said “I get it” and then her face gave me a beautiful gift. The face I had never seen smile smiled at me.

If this was a romantic novel, she and I would have married. If this was pornography, we would have had sex. But the fact of the matter was this was reality, and I never saw her again.

FATTY BURGERS Part 1 –The Bum Seeks Work–

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.

THE NOVEL THAT NEVER WAS | Sunrise’s Swansong (

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.

Somebody some
Body want

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?”


My favorite moments are those when things come together, and life makes sense. All the tests of the past are suddenly seen as preparations for the present. Winston Churchill described such a moment in his own life as “walking with destiny.”

Of course, in order for such moments to be special they can’t happen all the time. What this means is that there must be other times when life makes no sense whatsoever. I’ve had a lot of those. Such times either break, or strengthen, your faith.

In my case it seems I have experienced a little of both breakage and strengthening. If my faith was perfect I would have had no doubt I was cared-for, even in the midst of calamities, and would have whistled cheerfully, but the truth is: I grumbled a lot. In my time I’ve been one of those bums you shy away from, because they are talking to themselves as they shuffle down the street.

Actually in my case I was talking to God. Basically I‘d be saying, “I don‘t get it. Nothing makes sense.” This seems a little audacious, for in a sense it is like a speck of dust folding its arms and tapping its toe and demanding that Infinite God start explaining Himself. But I think God likes it when we draw close. Maybe He’d prefer it if we praised more and grumbled less, but He can handle our grumbling. He isn’t like a mother who shakes a baby unconscious to stop its crying.

In any case, if grumbling is “drawing closer to God”, then I do get points, for I grumbled a lot. One reason I grumbled was because I had a great appreciation of harmony, and could see how beautiful life might be “if only”. Those two words can be the saddest words in the English language: “If only”.

The fact life could get ugly was especially frustrating when it seemed to defy Karma. The Bible states, “You reap what you sow”, but I seemed to experience the opposite. For a long, gloomy time my motto and mantra was, “The right thing is never the rewarding thing”.

I think this tends to be a common experience for all artists of all types. God gives them a gift, and they know they are gifted. Furthermore they know it is wrong to “bury your talents.” The Bible makes it quite clear that the fellow who buries his talents gets punished. So artists do the right thing, which is to sit around being artistic when everyone else goes out to work in the fields. Then, when harvest time comes around, everyone else has a harvest, but what have they earned? It is a bit crushing for young artists to realize they don’t get paid millions, like the Beatles were paid. The Beatles were the exception and not the rule, for if what you sow is songs, then what you reap is music, not money/

It can be exasperating, especially when you are young, to try to achieve a balance between, on one hand, utilizing the unprofitable yet dazzling talents God has given you, and, on the other hand, fulfilling your worldly responsibilities. When I was young I decided good symbols for this dichotomy were Aesop’s “Grasshopper and Ant”. At age 26 I decided each deserved its own sonnet:


When I was young, I was told a fable
About a grasshopper and one good ant.
The good ant gathered grain for its table.
The grasshopper fiddled the following rant:

“Man can’t live on bread alone; all need song.
Yes, all need song. Life, without its tune,
Is wrong. Yes, utterly, hopelessly wrong,
                                     That grasshopper came to ruin,
Or at least that is what the fable states.
I guess that means next spring will be silent
Without the sweet chirping a grasshopper makes.
I guess that means all the ways that I went
Will lead me to death, while you’ll never die.
Either that or all the old fables can lie.


               THE ANT SONNET

The poor ant works while the grasshoppers fiddle.
The ant looks up to the sky with trust.
The ant can’t see God stands in the middle.
The ant is shocked by the first locust.
The locusts swarm and the fields are stripped.
The ant’s outraged and it seeks its peers.
Army ants march in tight ranks, grim lipped.
Soon the last locust disappears.
Thus there’s no fiddling. Thus there’s no grain.
Thus we have nothingness. Thus we’re insane.
Thus all our efforts breed flourishing pain.
Thus does humanity go down the drain.
Pray for ecology. Then there’s a chance
That grasshoppers will get along with the ants.

“Simple yet eloquent”, I said to myself, writing my own review. Then I sat back to await the accolades. Instead I received the usual rejection slip. Rather than the $1000.00 first prize I was counting on, I had to get a job at a herring cannery.

I think the people at that cannery thought I was too prissy and would never last, for the very first day they gave me the worst job, down in the dungeons in the bowls of the building, where a gargantuan machine groaned and squealed, screening the herring guts from a flood of reeking waste water. God heard me grumble a fair amount, that afternoon.

This brings me to the question, “Did God respond to my muttering?” In some discussions this becomes a debate about God’s nature: “Is God personal or impersonal?”

I tended to argue God was personal, but others would counter I was merely putting a silver lining on clouds, even when they were utterly dark. For example, I came to see my cannery job as a blessing. It toughened me up. I learned I could endure harsh conditions. Also the people working there were a wonderful collection of characters who loved to laugh, and I found myself enjoying myself, even though few cared about poetry. By the time I left, seven months later, I had reversed my thinking, and was sure I wasn’t going to die young like John Keats, (because I had outlived him), and few would have called me “prissy.” Therefore I could say God had been smart to put me in a cannery, rather than give me $1000.00 for sitting on my duff. I believed this,  but more cynical people would growl I was merely trying to polish a turd.

Skip ahead seven years, and I had bounced from job to job, north and south and coast to coast, and perhaps was getting discouraged. I felt farther from being “discovered” than ever, and rather than wiser I seemed more confused. I was usually broke, and lonely. I often wrote because the paper was the only one who would listen.

Said the singer to the song,
“It is for your lips I long;
It is for your sweet embrace
Though I cannot see your face
And I cannot ever kiss my own creation.”

The song came singing back,
“You are everything I lack
And we need each other’s life for celebration.”

By the time I passed age thirty-three I was catching on to the fact that art, at its best, is a reward in and of itself. To ask for money lessens it, and can dirty it at times. Inspired art is a matter of the heart, and is beyond the arithmetic of budgets. Trying to materialistically value art is like a husband and wife trying to calculate who owes whom how much, and for what. And this is especially true when art becomes worshipful. When joy wells up, and one bursts out in song, art possesses a spontaneity which makes it different from a paid-for service. (When one employs the services of a dentist, one isn’t looking for spontaneity.)

Not that worship isn’t valuable. It is. The Bible even stipulates that people who are manifesting gifts with great ability should receive a “double portion” so they are freed from other tasks that might divert them from manifesting their gift. However it seemed to me this occurred after they were already successful. It wasn’t what I wanted, which was money before I succeeded, so I might “develop my art” and “have time to write.”

Young artists called this “an advance”, and dreamed of achieving such riches, but age brought wisdom, and a certain cynicism. As years passed, hearing the words “an advance” made some immediately adopt the voice of Wimpy in the old Popeye cartoons, saying, “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today,” while others stated the only advance you were likely to see from an editor was a sexual one. By the age of thirty-three I had glumly concluded money was a matter for the material world, whereas art flourished elsewhere. I tried to have a sense of humor about it, but God heard a lot of grumbling from me.

I have only got a penny
And that isn’t very many
And in fact it can’t by any
But as long as I keep living
There is love; there is forgiving;
There is sight, and thought for sieving
And it’s ALL FOR FREE.

In January 1988 I was barely managing eke out a precarious balance between worldly responsibility and art, on the cold, dry and winter-drab streets of Gallup, New Mexico. When the weather had grown cold I had moved into town from a campground where I’d survived at $25.00/week, into a motel unit on Old Route 66 which cost a whopping $60.00/week. Originally I paid for a week at the start of the week, but gradually was later and later with my rent, until I was paying for the week when the week was over, which the landlord didn’t approve of at all.

Minimum wage back then was $3.30/hour, or $26.40 a day, and I needed at least three days of work to pay my rent, and to have a little left over for rice, beans, coffee (and cigarettes, which I could buy very cheaply on nearby reservations.) I preferred to work four days a week, so I could buy gas for my sputtering 1974 Toyota Corolla, and afford to do some laundry at the Laundromat, and splurge on a chicken and a six-pack of beer. I’d work five days a week rarely, and only to buy time to write the following week. I preferred to have three or four days a week to wrack my brains. My writing seemed to be growing steadily worse.

I eat, sleep, work, drink and piss.
There’s just one thing I miss:
One year without a kiss;
Lord, it’s too long.

Lord! It’s too long.
It’s too long, Lord,
Too long! My mind
Can’t afford
Being Bored.
Help me, Lord.

The way I found work was to head up to the local Unemployment Office at the crack of dawn. You had to arrive there early, because an unwritten law stated that the men who arrived first got the first jobs, and, as some days there were only one or two jobs, it tended to be a case where the early bird got the worm. Often I’d arrive at five although the office didn’t open until eight, and I got to know some of the other fellows, (primarily Navajo, with a few Apache and Hispanics), quite well.

Gallup was going through hard times. All sorts of Booms had gone bust. The coal mine had closed. The Uranium mine had closed. The Native American jewelry and tapestry booms had gone bust. The road-building boom had withered with the completion of Interstate 40, and the completion of that interstate basically ruined all the businesses along Old Route Sixty-six. Summer tourism was only a shadow of its former self, and when tourism dried up in the winter the unemployment rate soared above fifty percent. The only sure jobs were to work for the government; for example, at the unemployment office.

It was hard enough merely surviving those winters. Bums like me really had to hustle, and pick up every returnable wine bottle seen on the sidewalk and return it, and sell plasma at a place in downtown Gallup. I had learned to get by, providing everything went well. But then things didn’t go well.

First, my car developed an odd ailment. It would run for only three to five minutes, and then would die. After the engine cooled down it would run again, and then die again. I knew very little about engines, but couldn’t afford a mechanic. I took to visiting bars to pick the brains of people I barely knew. They gave me around fifty wrong answers, but in order to learn the answers were incorrect I had to take their advice. In one case I stressed my budget by going to an auto-parts store and purchasing a new coil for $42.99. It did no good. The car still stopped running after three minutes. I parked it behind a friend’s business, two miles from my motel unit, and began walking a lot.

$42.99 for a coil was more than a day’s work, and I was a little late paying the $60.00 for my motel unit that week. Fortunately I’d earlier helped a Navajo friend raise the money to fix his truck by giving him $50.00 for $50.00’s worth of food-stamps, out at a campground months before, and I still had the food-stamps. I did not give the landlord the food stamps, but he accepted my explanation I’d have to do some adroit swapping, and he had no qualms about grabbing the dollars I produced a day later.

That landlord approached the size of a midget, with a wife who was shorter, and he likely had a grudge against white people, for it was white people who, seeing the writing on the wall, wisely unloaded all the motels along Old Route Sixty-six, as Interstate 40 neared completion, to a whole collection of short people with the distinctive accents of the sub-continent of India.

Little did the small man know, but I had a wonderful time in India in 1974, and was a sort of reverse-racist, in that I was inclined to think the best of people who spoke with that accent. He never thought the best of me. No matter how cheerful and ingratiating I endeavored to be, he never once smiled.

I was getting used to this treatment. A poet is always living in a dream-world above the sleazy concerns of money-grubbers, and he suffers a sort of heartache when the rubber meets the road. There are certain situations that allow shrews to revel over eagles, and landlords enjoy that advantage over poets, when the rent is due.

But I must mention this: I am not a Zuni, and in my adventures with them I was most definitely an outsider, but they were, on certain occasions, splendidly kind to me. The same can be said for other groupings of persons I met in that area. I was an outsider with the Navajo, an outsider with the Hispanics, an outsider with the Chinese-Americans, the Italians, the Mormons, the high mountain Ranchers, the Hopi, the Acoma, the Apache, and I can give examples where they dazzled me with kindness, and made me want to write poems about them.

I wish I could say the same for the diminutive motel-owners along Old Route Sixty-six, but I’d be dishonest if I said so. Surely they are kind to people in their own clique, but I never saw a hint they could be kind to poets. I drifted through Gallup often over the course of four winters, and hit the motel owners with blasts of my charm, and they proved impervious. It gave me the sense I must be getting old and ugly, for in my younger day I was highly skilled at getting invited to dinner.

I grumbled to God about this, as I trudged about without a car. I was tired of being an outsider, always on the wrong side of a windshield, cold while others drove by snug. Rather than life making sense it seemed increasingly senseless. Many of my pet theories were going down in flames. “No good deed goes unrewarded” seemed to be being replaced by, “No good deed goes unpunished.” My idea that people from the sub-continent of India were more spiritual and less materialistic than Westerners was replaced by experiences of money-grubbing meanness. Worst, my sense that God was a compassionate father who listened to me was challenged by a sense God didn’t care a fig about me.

I fought that feeling with might and main, likely because, if I didn’t, I’d vanish under a quicksand of complete despair. I told myself God was teaching me valuable lessons. I was learning to count on self-reliance before charm, and to never be a moocher. I was learning to avoid judging people by their accents. But these arguments weren’t working very well, especially as my health began to fail.

I had to get up when it was dark and walk for a half hour to get to the unemployment office before anyone else, and a couple of mornings I simply felt too ill to do it. Then I did manage it, but there was no work for anyone that day. I only made $52.80 for an entire week, which meant I had to avoid my landlord for a weekend. Fortunately I had a friend who didn’t mind me serving as a sort of “night watchman” at his shop, by sleeping in the back. He liked me being there because Gallup could get rowdy on the weekends, and businesses that didn’t have caged windows often suffered break-ins. Usually my friend slept at his workplace, but he wanted to get away that weekend to see his girlfriend.

I did manage to get work the next Monday, which allowed me to casually hand the landlord $60.00 that evening, apologizing for being late, and excusing myself with the statement, “I’ve been away.” It wasn’t a lie, for I was sleeping roughly two miles away, but the little man looked like he didn’t believe a word of it.

The next week was worse. With Monday’s money used for the prior week, I was starting behind, and only got one other day’s work, for another $26.40. I sold Plasma on Tuesday for $7.00 and again on Thursday for $9.00, plus a bonus of $7.00 (which one received every eighth time one visited.) I turned in $2.60 of aluminum cans I had collected, plus lugged four cases of returnable wine-bottles to the bottling plant, feeling dizzy and exhausted, for $8.00, which gave me a total of $60.00 exactly, but no money for food.

I went to my parked car and searched under the seats, and collected $2.65 in loose change, and also found my G+H green-stamps. (I collected them even when I didn’t shop, for some people didn’t bother with them, and I’d spot them blowing about the parking lot of the grocery store and would pounce.) I walked to the green-stamp “redemption center” and got another $3.60. I then had a whopping $6.25, and felt like a millionaire. I bought a pound of chicken wings for 69 cents; two carrots, an onion, and a potato for 89 cents; a pack of cigarettes for $1.09; and a cheap six-pack for $1.50. Then I went back to my motel unit to make a stew, sip beer, smoke, and write. I had taken care of the worldly-detail side of things, and quite honestly felt a welling-up of self-esteem. But I had forgotten the landlord in my satisfaction. He was pounding on my door even before the water was boiling, scowlingly demanding my rent. I had the $60.00 tucked into an envelope in a book on a shelf, and retrieved it in my most casual manner, as if the money had been there all week. He snatched the envelope from me and suspiciously counted the money, before wheeling and walking away without a good-bye.

“What a turd,” I thought to myself, closing the door and cracking a beer. “I bet he’ll be sorry, when I’m famous, and put him in a story.”

I tried to settle down and enjoy myself, but felt feverish and restless. The landlord had put me in a bad mood, and I knew better than to attempt to write, because self-expression would likely dissolve into a rave about how all landlords are jerks. Instead I was hoping the chicken soup might cure me. Either that, or the fresh pack of cigarettes. All week I’d been emptying the tobacco from old butts, and re-rolling it as “second generation” tobacco, and few things are more raunchy. It made even an nicotine-addict like me smoke less, but I felt worse.

Being unable to shake my cold, or ’flu, or whatever it was, bothered me, for one thing I’d always been able to count on was my stamina and resiliency. On some work-sites I’d go out after work with the fellows, and everyone would drink far more than was wise, and the next day I’d be the only one who showed up for work. Nothing seemed to weaken me the way it weakened others, and I could get away with things I probably shouldn’t have risked. At worst I might lay low for a few nights, catching up on my sleep, but soon I’d be bounding back to repeat the offences. Yet now things seemed to be catching up with me. Not even the chicken soup helped.

Things had reached the yearly low, in terms of the local economy. Not only was tourism as low as it ever got, but it was the week before the various governments (Federal, State and Tribal,) cut monthly checks, and everyone was barely hanging on, waiting for those checks. Even though I didn’t receive one, I knew I would likely benefit from the flurry of buying and boozing that followed their issuance. I had the feeling that, if I could just hang on one more week, things would improve.

But what followed was a dismal week. Not only were there far fewer wine bottles on the sidewalks, but there were far more people collecting them for the refunds. Never had the streets of Gallup seemed so clean. I sensed I was in trouble even before the week began. Then, though I looked for work every day, not a single spot-labor job appeared up at the unemployment office. A cheerful employee up at that office informed me and my fellow Destitutes that we should have hope, for people would soon be hiring spot labor to make ready for the next tourist season, and a Navajo grunted back, “Easy for you to smile. You’ve got a pay-check, this Friday.” I buttoned my lip, but imagined that my landlord wasn’t going to be very impressed by mere hope.

I couldn’t even hide out, being a “night watchman” at my friend’s, for he had left town early, due to the complete lack of business; Gallup’s streets were so empty he likely didn’t fear his shop would be broken into. His shop was dark and lonesome-looking. I decided there are few sadder sights than a friend who isn’t home when you need a friend.

I had to do something, so I sat in the local public library until it closed, and then in my car until I got cold, and then headed to an all-night coffee shop until it was very late, (getting free refills for my 50 cent cup from a kindly waitress), and only then did I tiptoe back to my motel, and went to bed without even turning on the lights.

Then next morning I crept off early, taking a path that avoided the view from the front office‘s window, and headed off to my final hope, which was my post-office box. You never knew what might come in the mail. My main hope was for my tax refund, which would be around a hundred dollars. I muttered to God a lot as I walked to the post office, and as I opened the box my muttering became fervent prayer, yet when I opened the box it held the ultimate rejection-slip: It was empty.

God may be King of kings and Lord of lords, but I fear I was then less than respectful. Not that I used the wrong words. I said, “Thanks a lot.” But the tone was all wrong, and caused other people in the lobby to jump. I didn’t care. Life had ruined me, and I owed it no good manners.

I knew I should seize the bull by the horns, and walk to my pip-squeak landlord and explain the situation, but the idea made me want to vomit. Instead I wandered about town, meeting my fellow Navajo bums, who knew how I felt, because they too had to face pip-squeak white men who had invaded their land. None of them were better off than I. We all were surprisingly sober for a Saturday, and broke, just hanging on until the economy improved.

By afternoon hunger drove me back to my motel unit, and I snuck back in to cook my remaining food, which was dried rice and dried beans. It wasn’t easy. Because Gallup, though down in a valley, is at an altitude above the highest mountains back east, water boils below 200 degrees Fahrenheit, and also, because the barometric pressure is much lower, water evaporates with amazing speed. Boiling is next to useless, because the rice and/or beans are nearly as hard when you are done boiling as when you begin. I learned this the hard way. However a Hispanic fellow had taught me how to fry rice and fry beans, so that it was already cooked before you boiled it. However I had no oil or butter to fry with, and therefore, displaying scientific ingenuity, I had to roast my rice and beans in a carefully-attended frying pan, before boiling. It took until after dark to produce the gruel I ate, and, although I did hang my spare blue jeans over the window to hide my lights, enough light must have leaked out to alert my landlord to the fact I wasn’t “away”.

One odd event happened, as I ate my gruel, that final night I had a home, before I became homeless. I was praying, asking God for, if not a “sign”, then mercy, when a little mouse appeared from behind the radiator on the far side of the unit and began coming towards me. At first I thought it was cute, and a good “sign”, but quickly I surmised the mouse was very sick. Rather than darting and scurrying it staggered. It labored forwards, tottering to my feet, where it fell over on its side and died. Hmm. Not a good “sign”.

The next morning I crept off with my final fifty cents to get a coffee, and when I returned an odd clam-shell was clamped to my unit’s doorknob. I couldn’t get in to my breakfast of rice-and-beans gruel. Obviously the landlord had had enough.

Just as obviously, this was a situation I needed to think about, before I faced it. I went for a long walk, and the day passed with me muttering to God a lot. I attempted to assess the situation in a pragmatic manner, (which poets only do when driven to it by emergency). How was I going to approach the landlord?

First, I had noticed few of his units were actually occupied. Therefore, as a customer who had always paid his rent, I must have some value, though I had just spent my last fifty cents. He must know I always paid, though I paid late. Perhaps, if I mentioned my coming tax-refund, he could be dissuaded from throwing me out.

Second, though the fellow seemed to have an accent from central India, I gathered he wasn’t a Hindu, primarily because the Navajos who had served in the Army referred to him as an “Aye-rab”. And also I had not spent hours staying warm in public libraries without poking through books. If you investigate you learn the nice-sounding word “partition”, concerning India, was not at all that nice in 1948. Gandhi could talk of love and pacifism to his heart’s content, but millions died, as peoples who had lived together for centuries divorced, and the subcontinent convulsed.

Though my landlord looked too young to have been driven from India in 1948, I surmised that likely his grandparents and parents had been among the millions who fled north to Pakistan. I imagined they didn’t find things any kinder in their new home. Why else would they flee Pakistan to the far side of the planet? There were likely some very sad reasons why the little man never smiled. I should have compassion, and also not expect the worst. Surely the fellow would pause before making me homeless, having once been homeless himself. Surely he would not do unto others what he himself hated, when it was done unto him.

Actually he seemed to rather enjoy it. When I finally dared return to talk to the greedy, little man, he just wanted me to get the heck out. He didn’t want to talk about history, or about compassion. He had not even any interest in my future tax-refund. Perhaps, after being bullied by others for generations, he was relishing the chance to be a bully. He didn’t actually smile, but I thought I detected a sort of satisfaction in the way his nose wrinkled a sneer. He seemed to like being mean, especially because, in my cowboy boots, I was a well over a foot taller than he. I’m not certain if there is a David and Goliath in Islamic literature, but if he was a Jew he definitely would see himself as David, and me as a Goliath.

It was an odd experience for me. I have been accused of many short-comings in my time, but seldom of being a Goliath. Poets are seldom accused of being hulking monsters, but apparently my failure to come up with the rent made me one. When I looked into the man’s eyes I saw nothing remotely approaching sanity. If the measure of a man is determined by his responses, the already-short man grew even shorter.

However I should confess I was not scoring much higher, if you are into measuring men. The only measure I was interested in was the distance between my fist and his chin. I was so tired and so sick that a ripple of rage quivered through my brain. I was close to violating my poetic principles, and the man was close to being unconscious and perhaps dead. But I abstained, thank God. Instead I chose to think in terms of words. What words could I concoct that would punch the greedy little rat in the jaw? The best I could do was to growl, “If you are not interested in money or my tax-refund, just unlock the door. I’ll be out of your life by sunset.”

Rather than devastated, he looked pleased, and he asked, “By sunset?” I nodded. Then I thought of something absolutely devastating I could say. It was proof I was a true word-smith, and made me smile, which changed the little man’s expression towards suspicion as he took the clam shell gadget off the doorknob, but I kept my words to myself. I figured it would be smart to be on my best behavior, until I had my stuff moved out.

I didn’t need to even think of what I had to do next. Now that I was a street person, I obviously needed a shopping cart. I recollected I’d seen one down in the bottom of a gully beside the nearby supermarket. In a matter of minutes I came squeaking back to the motel unit. The little man had vanished. I unlocked the door and began to load up everything I owned. It didn’t take long. My suitcase slid onto the shelf below the cart’s basket, and books and scribble-filled notebooks and a battered typewriter took up most of the rest of the space, with my coffee cup and a few utensils topping everything off, including my pot holding the last of my gruel. Then I pushed my squeaking load to the front office to return my keys, and to deliver the nasty statement I was treasuring.

The mean midget was looking sort of smug when I walked in, but I could tell my statement hit home by the way his deranged eyes crossed slightly after I spoke. I said about the worst thing I could think of saying to a Muslim. It was, “All you Hindus care about is money.” Then I walked out sniggering to myself, and pushed my squeaking cart off into the sunset.

A single sheet of paper may not weigh much, but that cart weighed a ton. Even on the flat pavement I was huffing and puffing, and then I reached a hill that lay between me and my distant car. It really wasn’t all that steep, but I felt sick and dizzy. Also cowboy boots have no tread, and it was hard to get traction. Halfway up the hill I had to pause to rest, and I ate some gruel. Before I ate I remembered to pray. Maybe it was not heartfelt, and was done by rote, but I figured I deserved a point or two in heaven for making the attempt. I tried to remember I was better off than some folk, who had no food at all, but God saw how I rolled my eyes and heard the irony in my voice.

I continued up the hill and continued my muttering, as the twilight grew and the streetlights came on. I was asking God a lot of tough questions, most revolving around the fact He is suppose to be a God of love, but I was failing to see the compassion in my current state of affairs. At last I reached the top of the long rise, and started down the other side, and immediately knew I’d made a big mistake.

The cart was so heavy it practically pulled my arms from their sockets, and I swiftly discovered I could only slow the cart. I couldn’t stop it. I was sort of skiing along behind it, attempting to dig in the heels of my cowboy boots but not having much luck. I was mostly concerned with steering the thing, but as I looked ahead I exclaimed, “Oh really, God? Really?”

Down the hill, under the reddish glow of a street light, a police car was drawn up to the side of the road. Two officers were crouching behind the street side of the car, looking up onto the the porch of a house. On that porch, under the yellow glow of a porch light, a man was raving at the officers. He was waving a handgun about.

It’s funny what you think in a situation like that. I briefly considered letting go of the cart. So what if I lost my life’s work? Poetry wasn’t seeming very profitable, at that moment. However I hung on, for it occurred to me that, if I let go, the cart would rapidly accelerate to sixty miles an hour, and then, the way my luck was going, it would collide head-on with the police cruiser.

I slid on, closer and closer, and finally emerged from the night and slid right between the cruiser and the porch, giving a little wave to either side as I passed through the brightness. As I re-entered the night I glanced backwards. Both the officers and the man were laughing. Apparently I had relieved the tension and defused the situation. Not that I expected any thanks.

“Really, God? Really?” I kept muttering as the cart slowed at the bottom of the hill, and I pushed it on to my car. I had the strangest sense God had used me to break up a fight, and that perhaps He was a compassionate God after all. Maybe not compassionate to me, but compassionate to others.

Yet I then experienced a remarkable turn in my fortunes. I blundered into two day’s work at a car-wash while an employee recovered from the ‘flu. Not only did it pay an unheard-of five dollars an hour, for ten hour days, but also it held an unexpected windfall. At the end of the carwash was an enormous vacuum cleaner people could use to clean the inside if their cars with, and when I was sent to empty the dirt out of it I discovered that besides sucking dirt from the inner mats it sucked up a surprising amount of spare change. Life was good.

The oddest thing of all involved my health. I figured about the worst thing I could do to my body was to be wet all day in a midwinter car-wash, and then sleep in a cramped Toyota when it was ten degrees below freezing. I confidently looked to the corners of my eyes, awaiting the first symptoms of pneumonia. Instead I was hit by radiant health. It made absolutely no sense to me.

Then I remembered the little mouse that died at my feet in the motel unit. Perhaps there was something poisonous in that air. It was making me sick, and God had to get me out of there. I wouldn’t listen, and stubbornly stayed in a poisonous situation, so God had to get drastic.

Of course, I knew some would say I was just putting a silver lining on a black cloud, but that was their problem. The idea worked for me, and I felt loved more than I deserved, and was happy. I even wrote a long poem, sitting in my Toyota one afternoon, and it flowed out without correction and, when I reread it, seemed rather good, if I do say so myself.


So in love with child-scarred walls
Was I that I was loathe to leave
That place called home, that beat abode
Which saw me waul and roll and teethe
And then, astounded, rub my chin
And feel the first felt bristles there.

But Real-Estate can never grieve
And For-Sale signs never grin
To see a family stay secure,
And none would heed my aching heart.

I saw them empty every drawer
And watched my childhood bed depart
And, though I then slept on the floor
And listened through the lonely night
To echoes of bygone delight
Go ghosting through the empty halls,
When square dawn roses paned the walls
I had to rise and had to roam
And leave the place I loved, called home.

The smiles and tears and miles and years
I’ve crossed have made a man of me,
And home’s become most anyplace
I rest, and practice poetry.
A tent, or flea-infested pad,
Or barn, or boxcar, boat or bench,
Or millionaire’s mansion, where I’m guest,
Is home enough to make me host
And give what people crave the most
But most have lost for Real-Estate
And For-Sale,
With fingers crossed
And eyes on gain, choosing losing,
Causing pain, never giving what
I give: The poetry; the Gift.
You cannot buy a gift,
And it’s a gift to be the host
And practice the benevolence
Remembered from a place called home.

I have seen that poetry can bring
The beauty back to sitting on the stoop
Looking at the clouds. Sitting doing
Nothing with a friend. Children sitting
Doing nothing in the lush of summer
As the flowers droop for plushness
And the lone narcotic is the drone
Of many bees too drunk on honeydew
To sting. Bees drinking deep, then winging
Through the lucid air and bluer skies
Back to a honeyed place called home.

Upon the tops of boxcars, or thumbing
In the sizzling heat above the soft
Macadam, my home has come along
With me though I am not a turtle
And not burdened like a snail.
Everywhere I go is home
And everywhere I rest I’m host
And puzzle people with the art
Which makes one feel at home.

For they have bought the houses
And they have hoarded land
And they have sold their souls and sought
What seekers know is sand.
Forgetting green needs water
And sun scorches without rain,
Their roses lack all perfume
And they’re driven to complain,
“I’ve the title to this land.
I own the air you breathe.
You have no right to play the host.
I must ask you to leave.”

And so I hit the road again.
Always, as I roam,
I glance back at the place I knew
And briefly made a home.

Sometimes I wonder, as I walk,
If people watch my leaving,
Then glance about an empty house
And muse, without believing,
On how the quiet seems to mourn;
On how the heart feels strangely torn;
On how the house seems strangely lorn
And not the place called home.

For home comes always on with me
And when my old age sets me free
I’ll look behind, and I will see
The body that I used to be
And used to call my home,
And then my gaze will glance ahead
And see what fearful fools have fled.
There is more to life than bread.
With Real-Estate and For-Sale dead
I won’t have lost; love’s always led
Me to a place called home.



I likely should tie up some lose ends.

I soon mastered the art of sleeping in my Toyota. All one needs to do is learn to curl up in the proper manner, around the stick-shift on the floor. This freed me from the bother of coming up with any rent, for the rest of the winter.

Once I had a bit of spare money I bought a manual about old Toyotas for around five dollars. This helped me figure out what was making the car stop. It was a tiny, worn O-ring that insulated a wire that entered the side of a carborator. As soon as the engine warmed the wire would short out. A new O-ring cost 89 cents, and I was on the road again.

Before I headed out of town back to the campground, I had a final meeting with my friend the tiny landlord. One day I was walking by the motel on the far side of Old Route Sixty-six, and he came dashing across the street and asked me if I had the money I owed him. I didn’t, so I just spread my palms and said, “I’m sleeping in my car.” He looked suspicious, as always, but also crestfallen. Something about how his shoulders slumped as he walked back across the road pricked my conscience, so, when my tax refund came a few days later, I returned to the tiny front office where he lived with his wife and children. (As usual it smelled of the delicious cooking which I was never offered.) He wasn’t in, but his wife came to the desk. When I explained I was there to pay a debt she snatched the money from my hand and turned away. I noticed she was shaking slightly. It helped me understand they likely were desperately poor.

It also helped me understand there might be worse things than to be a bachelor, able to sleep in a car and then head out to a campground when the weather got warm, free as a bird.)