Socialists have never liked the freedom of small farmers, as the idea of liberty resulting in good things jars their concept of “collective” good. Stalin took this to an absurd length in his efforts to utterly wipe out the “Kulak”, who were seen as “class enemies” of the poorer serfs. Lenin described the Kulak as “bloodsuckers, vampires, plunderers of the people and profiteers, who fatten themselves during famines”.
In actual fact the last Czars created the Kulak in an effort to lessen the tendency of the serfs to rebel and join radical and militant movements, such as communism. Rather than veritable slaves who owned no land, the serfs were given the opportunity to borrow money and purchase land from wealthy landowners. In a sense it was a mortgage, which the better farmers paid back, becoming small landowners. Generally speaking, a Kulak was a small farmer who owned more than 8 acres.
As is often the case, the lazy did not become prosperous. It was the farmers with ingenuity and industry who became Kulaks. They produced a disproportionate amount of Russia’s food, and for the most part were conservative in their outlooks. Therefore they became the “petite bourgeois” communists despise.
Stalin killed roughly a million, either through murder or through starvation. He sent hundreds of thousands to gulags in Siberia, and more than a hundred thousand left for gulags but never arrived. Stalin felt that by removing such “weeds” the remaining population would be pure, and productive. In actual fact the production of grain plummeted, and there was a terrible famine, especially in the Ukraine, which is one reason there is animosity between Ukrainians and Russians to this day.
During the final days of the Soviet Union small farmers were once again allowed to farm small lots, and immediately out-produced the collectives. 5% of the farmers produced 50% of the food. This should teach a lesson, namely: People with ingenuity and industry have more value than lazy people.
Of course, it is deemed wrong to say any person has more value than another. And it is likely true that God cares for the lazy as much (if not more) than he cares for the industrious. After all, the lazy need help. They need motivation. Whether that help takes the form of a caress or a kick-in-the-butt likely depends on the person and the administrator. However, when it comes down to food on the table, having food has more value than lacking food; hence some people have more value than others, in that particular way.
In my time I’ve lived with many hardscrabble farmers who have first hand experience with the difference between feast and famine, and I found they had a sort of common sense which college students lacked. The college students borrowed money and ate in cafeterias, while the Navajo wove rugs and used the money they made to buy things their land could not produce, such as cooking oil. Their land could produce little that is needed to subsist on a vegan diet, but their land could support sheep. Therefore they ate a lot of mutton. In like manner the old New England farmers only had a little land they could grow vegetables on, but much stony land that could be used for cows, sheep, goats and pigs, and they tended to have diets which included meat and dairy products. Yet college students often looked down their noses at such practicality, and, if radical, tended to castigate non-vegan people, like Lenin cursed the Kulak.
I have tried to educate these idealistic, vegan college students, but usually have failed, and often have been dragged into arguing about politics which has little to do with eating. Therefore I was glad to come across this explanation of the practical side of farming, which I think every vegan should watch.
(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.
I’ve written elsewhere how I wound up in a campground outside Gallup, New Mexico, feeling a bit of a fool for having trusted a woman I likely ought not have trusted, but unsure whether I should completely abandon the girl, as I had vowed I would stand by her through thick and thin, even “forever and a day”. My honor was in tatters, but the flag hadn’t quite fallen.
I had reasons to resist my impulse to ditch the dame. For one thing, there was a slight chance I’d gotten her pregnant. A pregnancy test stated otherwise, but such tests were not infallible. On the test’s box it stated there was a 6% chance the test was wrong. Even if the woman despised me, and deemed any further devotions on my part the attentions of a geeky stalker, I felt I should stand by, if I was even a half-decent man. Not that I felt half-decent. To be honest I felt about as decent as used toilet paper.
Eventually it became clear she was not pregnant, was in fact sleeping with another fellow, and finally that she had left that other fellow, and the area, to go mooch off live with a new person far away. However these sorry revelations took time to penetrate my thick skull, and during the time it took for things to clarify, I made an effort to find work, and save money, and even to find a place we might live, in case what wasn’t going to happen did happen. I prepared for a reunion that never occurred. In a sense I was multiplying my foolishness, but I was a responsible fool.
I was a believer in fairy tales, clinging to hope, but the hope was like a life raft developing more and more leaks. Eventually I was holding the life raft up, rather than it holding me up. In other words, my hopes were becoming absurd. I couldn’t help but cringingly see what a fool I had been.
By this point I had hoisted myself up by my own bootstraps, first working in a lumber yard, then as spot labor, then collecting bottles, cans and even green stamps from a supermarket parking lot, then selling my plasma, then working at a gas station, and finally landing a job as an assistant manager at fast food joint I’ll dub “Fatty Burgers”. I had moved from a sodden tent, to a camper, and finally to a nice room in Gallup’s El Rancho Hotel (which bragged Ronald Regan once stayed there.) However this material success reeked of pointlessness and emptiness, when the woman who it was all for gave no indication of being impressed, or even caring the time of day for me. Eventually I could fool myself no longer. I had to face the fact I had been ditched. It was as if there was a poster in the post office with my face on it, proclaiming I was not wanted, dead or alive.
My diary makes pitiful reading, at this time. What a colossal bozo I was! One of the most cringe-worthy elements was my attempts to ignore the glaring facts, by seeing the bright side, the better side, the hopeful side. Someone could have run me over with their truck, and I would have complimented their white-walled tires.
Eventually even a fool sees truth sinking in. Then the demolishment of his hopes and dreams is not a pleasant experience, especially if he is a sensitive poet with high ideals. In fact it is a time when high ideals make misery far worse than is experienced by more hard-hearted individuals, who expect little from their fellow man (and woman). However the tale of this rise and fall holds many lessons.
Gallup in 1984 was not a place to see much that was encouraging, on a simplistic, materialistic level. It’s economy was reeling from successive blows to all the ways the local folk made money. Gallup’s coal mine had closed when transcontinental trains switched from coal to diesel, and later the uranium mines closed as back-to-nature California hippies protested that never-left-nature Navajo were facing radiation, although many Navajo drove pick-up trucks and to them it was as if the hippies were protesting Navajo making high wages at the mine. At the same time these same California hippies wanted to look cooler than they could afford to look, following the fashions of Hollywood actors and actresses who made cowboy movies in Gallup, and therefore hippies bought fake Navajo blankets from Mexico to hang on their walls, and fake turquois Navajo jewelry from Singapore to dangle from necks and wrists, and fake baskets and fake pottery from Los Angeles artisans to place on fireplace mantles, and this caused the Native American jewelry and Native American weaving and Native American pottery trades (Hopi and Zuni as well as Navajo) to suffer grievous slumps. The Hollywood stars Californians wanted to emulate then decided making Westerns was passé, and film-crews and stars didn’t stay at the El Rancho any more, nor were Navajo extras needed to portray attacking Indians on galloping horses, (making a fifty dollars bonus if they fell “shot” from the horse at a full gallop). Meanwhile all the motels and restaurants and tourist-traps along old Route 66 were losing money and closing down, as the new Interstate 40 bypassed them. The flurry of work caused by the construction of I-40 had come and gone, one more boom followed by one more bust, in a desert prone to producing ghost towns and Anasazi ruins. In fact my personal climb from a cold and sodden tent to a comfortable El Rancho Hotel room was the exception to the rule. Most were experiencing a fall from luxury to, if not gutters, then to a serious cutback in life’s joyous lavishness. The bar-tender at the El Rancho Hotel told me the beer formerly was delivered every day, and twice a day on Saturdays, but now only came once a week. In many ways the light had left the city, as many awoke in a cold dawn of shattered dreams.
When I had the time to think about it, (which wasn’t often, as I had to hustle so hard,) I was not of a mindset that wanted to join the depressed. Perhaps being a faithful fool and good provider hadn’t gotten me anywhere with the girl who abandoned me, but I was in no mood to get drunk for a long time, and awake in a gutter. I wanted to fight such despondency. However I found beer helpful in mustering a sort of Dutch Courage, and therefore it is true, I confess, I did occasionally awake in a gutter.
My diary contains some complaining I did to God about the fact my virtue seemed more inclined to make me look like a sucker, than to earn me any sort of reward. In fact my motto for that time was, “The Right thing is never the Rewarding thing.” This is quite contrary to the view of some, which is that if you “convert” (to whatever) you promptly see a miraculous increase in your bank account.
It may be true, in the long run, that “no good deed goes unrewarded”, but we live in the short run. And in the short run, and especially in Gallup in 1984, it seemed that “no good deed goes unpunished”.
For some reason God permitted me to give Him lectures, in 1984, about how it was wrong for a nice fellow like me, who meant so well, to wind up ditched. Looking back, I lacked the very patience God was displaying towards me. If God had been as intolerant as I was, rather than permitting me to give Him lectures, He would have thunderously stated, “How dare you lecture God?” and turned me to a crispy cinder. Instead he smiled, and continued the lesson he was teaching me.
What was He teaching? I honestly can’t say I know. Our Maker’s ways are way, way over my head. They involve far more than my puny self. They involved what was the best for every person in the complex situation, (and even for any stray dogs, cats and rattlesnakes in the vicinity). However I can speak humbly for myself, and tell of what a lone loner like myself learned.
What I learned was that I was haughty, and thought highly of myself, as if I was more moral, more enlightened, and my deeds were more likely to result in goodness. My vanity was involved. I was concerned it “made me look bad”, when I was ditched, rather than entirely thinking and caring about the person who ditched me. (Not that I didn’t think of her, but also I thought of myself.)
Neither I was a spiritual novice, at age thirty-one. I was well aware egotism has a nasty habit of resurrecting itself even in our best efforts to be selfless. I was constantly attempting to scold my own arrogance. I was more than willing to suffer for others, putting aside my “selfish desires” for a “greater good.” However on some level I felt this made me superior, and therefore unable to fall as flat on my face as I saw others falling. God seemed to think it would do me good to see I could fall far flatter.
For example, others might have shallow, fleeting relationships, “one night stands”, but I was above such cheap, reprehensible behavior. I saw myself as more faithful than the stupid super-hero James Bond, (who was rather adept when it came to one-night-stands, but a lousy father-figure, in terms of monogamous loyalty). I would never subscribe to the philosophy of “use her and lose her.” I would stand by my woman. But…when the woman ditches you, despite all your talk of loyalty, you yourself find yourself in a position of being part of, if not a one night stand, then an “abbreviated” relationship. You are just another cowboy in the El Rancho Barroom, singing the blues. Your blues may have an element of loyalty, in that they wish for reunion, but there is a certain pathos in such singing, when the future will reveal such wishes “jus’ ain’t goin’ t’ happen”.
Up until this point in my life I’d always been scornful of the pathos in country music, which seemed to moan and groan about the inevitable. I mean, when we buy a puppy we know we’ll likely outlive the cur; why get so maudlin when the old dog dies? But in the El Rancho barroom such tenderness didn’t seem so overblown, and I even wrote some country lyrics of my own, which I called, “Bartoon”:
Been a while since I missed Like I’m missing tonight. Though the beer’s really good And the band is all right And a gal with intent’s To the left of my sight I don’t meet her eye. I don’t even try. Been a while since I missed like I’m missing tonight.
I’m missing the chance To dance and then score; To smile and smile broader And walk out the door With warm at my elbow; A warmth I adore; And she is right there But hell if I care. Been a while since I missed like I’m missing tonight.
My table is empty But there is a chair And easy as drinking You could be there. The chair-leg would scrape. You’d hide in your hair, Look up, and say “Hi” In a sort of a sigh. Been a while since I missed like I’m missing tonight.
I really was delighted by this poem, as I completed it on a napkin in the El Rancho dining-room and barroom, listening to a hired group play “oldies” for a largely unappreciative audience in a largely empty ballroom. I had that wonderful feeling writers get, when the words “all come together”, and weeks of rotten writing resolve into the production of a single decent ditty. I even wondered if the lyrics might be my “break-through”, my “one-hit-wonder”, which (for some poets) ends artistic poverty with a brief bonanza. I gave the weary musicians on the stage an appraising glance, wondering if they might be the medium which would end the dreariness of my barely-scraping-by.
Such optimism was often what sustained me back then, though there was no truth to my dreams. I’m now more than twice as old, and know the lyrics never made me a dime. Instead I enjoy the old song because I appreciate the self-expression, and how it accurately portrayed my spiritual dilemma. I was in essence being faithful to the unfaithful, which is like offering a strawberry to a pig.
Pigs are more pragmatic than most poets, and are more focused on truth of a down-to-earth sort. This dichotomy resulted in a second good song from that time of downfall:
When Truth first met the Faithful One Sweet Truth had sighs to say: “I feel that now our love will last Forever and a day.” The Faithful One enchanted was. Truth caused his soul to thrill, And all that he could say to her Was, “Yes. Oh yes, it will.”
But Truth could never tell a lie And so there came a Day When she broke Faith by telling him “My Love feels gone away.” The Faithful One was shattered And groaned this in his woe, “If love has gone please tell me where For there I have to go.”
These lyrics also struck me, at the time, as splendid poetry, beyond my ordinary ability, and perhaps another one-hit-wonder, (a two-hit-wonder?) but once again it never made me a dime. As an artist, doing the right thing was once again not the rewarding thing. Which begs a question: Why be right?
The answer is simple: Being wrong hurts. I knew this because I had been prone to attempting “alternative lifestyles” which scorned traditional “conservative” morality, but which tended to wind me up in pain. I was a scientist, and conducted experiments. I had first-hand experience of what the “alternative” to right was (and is), and what it was (and is) is: Wrong.
This forced me to compare “good” with “evil”, which is one heck of a subject to grapple with, if you can find the time. Why? Because “good” for most people is not based on anything even slightly spiritual. “Good” is just the gratification of your lustful desire. If you crave a cigarette, it is “good” to get one, and “evil” to be denied.
In spiritual terms “good” is different. “Good’ may be to not get what you desire. It may be “good” to quit cigarettes, though it makes you feel like manure baked in a pie.
In like manner, most spiritual behavior involves the loss of some desired gain. You want the pleasure of punching a fool in the nose, but instead restrain yourself and are tolerant. You want lust gratified, but instead remain pure. You want to grab and cling to gold, but instead reject greed for generosity. You desire might and power, but instead allow others to come first. In many ways all the things that go into low concepts of being a “winner” are set aside, because being a “loser” is seen as “better”.
This seemingly self-destructive behavior demands some sort of explanation, and the explanation is easy if you have ever tasted Love. Love makes mincemeat of a lot we usually call sensible, pragmatic and even sane. Yet Love is impossible to intellectually explain, (which is why country music and poetry and even drums were invented).
In some senses Love is like the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” where the black and white film switches to color and Dorothy says, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” The dreary is illuminated as if by a sunbeam, the dull enlivened by intelligence, the worthless made worthy, and one is immediately addicted. But it is an odd addiction, for there is no pill involved. There is nothing to gobble or grab, no body you lustfully clutch. In fact Love cannot be grasped, for the experience is achieved by letting go. You let go of your selfishness, and open out to another. Rather than the pinched existence of a Tweezer with his tweezers, the vista of a whole new world opens up, as if you crested a hill and discovered a new and better world spread out before you. You are like Balboa sighting the Pacific for the first time.
The joke of it is that we gain so much not by grabbing, but by letting go. This is utterly opposite the pragmatism of a pig. In fact, in most cases, during our fleeting and tenuous glimpses of the grandeur of Love, we incorrectly ascribe some “thing” as being the cause of our bliss, and clutch at that “thing” and make it a false-god, when in fact our fleeting glimpse of Love was a glimpse of the Real God. Furthermore, in most cases it came about not because we grabbed some worldly “thing”, but rather because we let go of sanity, (and it paid off).
For example, it is stupid for a Plugger, barely able to pay his bills, to gamble, but suppose a Plugger abandons sanity and destroys his budget, buying fifty lottery tickets on his way home from work, one day when he is especially fed up, perhaps even to the point of suicide. And suppose he is transformed by a winning ticket into a instant multimillionaire. For just a moment all his problems seem solved, and he is walking on cloud nine. However what exactly solved his problems? Was it the winning lottery ticket, or the momentary abandonment of sanity?
I assert, for the purposes of argument, that it is the abandonment of what we call sanity, more often than not, that opens the portals of Love, and gives us just a glimpse of a life far better. And what is this so-called “sanity” we abandon? It is the chains of our hankering, whether it be the hankering for heroin or for fine art. Our desires are our downfall, yet we call them sanity.
To conclude this venture into the realms of theory, (far from the pragmatism of a pig), the premise is arrived at which states that, if only we could become desireless, we might experience the full blast of Love, all the time.
This concept, somewhat Buddhist in nature, had a certain appeal to me. But I’d tried it, in my clumsy way. I’d been there and done that, and found withdrawing from the world worse than boring.
In my hippy manner I’d attempted to find some remote cave, (perhaps not in the Himalayas, but far from a Real Job), and had contemplated, if not my navel, my poetry, and had seen it become horribly ingrown.
Why horrible? That is an entirely different tale for some other time, but it basically boils down to, “Nothing ventured; nothing gained.”
My withdrawal seemed like that of a seventy-year-old man still living with his ninety-year-old mother, (Like Prince Charles with Queen Elisabeth).
When I use the word “ingrown” it is in it’s most negative context, like a toenail hurting the toe it is part of, like a person so preoccupied with himself he is the antithesis of selflessness even as he sits cross-legged doing yoga pretending he is like Buddha.
To be honest, my early attempts to be desireless were a complete failure, except for the fact they prompted me to loathe sitting in a cave (which was my mother’s basement.) Nothing, it occurred to me, could be less loving than to reject the entire world, (with the possible exception of suicide.) Rather than the portals of Love opening, sitting in a cave faced me with sterility, and a barrenness so empty, boring, and downright poisonous I was propelled away from such horror into the travails of life, even if it involved living among unsympathetic people who had no inkling why I might want to sit in a cave in the first place.
And why might that be? It is because the world has no inkling. Most people are pragmatic pigs, (and in many ways I include myself). Most people are enslaved by chains of desire, and desire their chains like a heroin addict desires his heroin. Desire enslaves them to their daily dose. They have no inkling of what exists outside their desire.
The problem with being a poet is that you have an inkling, very slight in some cases, that glory exists outside of the daily dose. In some way, (often amazing, if you ask them,) they have seen beyond desire. And once they have seen it, they are forever restless. Whatever they desired before is no longer worthy of worship. If they are a heroin addict, they may still go for their daily dose, but they are restless. If they are a bigshot politician, they may still go for reelection, but they are restless. They know the daily dose is not enough. The answer lies beyond desire.
Even pigs seek what is beyond desire, for they want to eat until the desire to eat stops gnawing at them, and they are sated, and can flop down bloated and desire no more. Then pigs enjoy a brief time of piggy peace, before the gnawing starts again.
In like manner, lust seeks what is beyond lust, for after orgasm is a time when desire is no more, before it starts to gnaw again.
And during that brief moment of piggy peace, what is seen? What is so pleasant? Is it not a brief glimpse of what life might be like without desire?
What poets see, and most don’t, is that the same peace is always around us, enfolding us, soothing us, whether we eat until we can’t, or not; or achieve orgasm, or not; or win reelection, or not; or write a one-hit-wonder, or not. For most the “…or not” leads to the agony of frustrated desire, but for poets the “…or not” is the so-called “suffering of a poet” which opens the portals of Love.
The poet sees the beauty of the sky even when sleeping in his car. He sees beauty in in the faces of fellow workers even while washing dishes. It is a beauty which requires no prerequisites. You don’t have to be a winner, for it is there when you’re a loser.
And perhaps this is the beginning of taming desire, and not being so subservient to low impulses. Rather than seeing “good” as merely the gratification of desire, one sees “good” in putting desire aside. Rather than giving in to lust one is pure. Rather than giving in to hate one is kind. Rather than lashing out one is tolerant. Rather than greedy one is generous. This new definition of “good” is not all that different from the old, for it too seeks to gratify desire, but now the desire is otherworldly, and, to the worldly, appears insane.
And this, roughly, was my state of mind when I walked into the little Fatty Burgers on old Route 66 in Gallup. On one hand I was just looking for a job, but on another hand I was a poet looking deeper.
As a poet, I felt God had blessed me with a gift, or “talent”, and when I died I did not want to stand before God and be accused of “burying my talents.” (Jesus told a tale where a particular servant was given coins called “talents”, but was so afraid of investing unwisely he buried the coins, and later handed them back to his master unused. The master was very angry the servant had not used the gift.) For this reason I justified pushing the limits of writing-without-a-patron-or-sponsor, but over and over I eventually reached a point where I was so destitute I simply had to get a job. I grumbled a lot to God about being unrecognized, and being placed in such predicaments, when God could just have well blessed me, like He blessed other equally weird poets, with one-hit-wonders.
However I also assumed God knew what He was doing, and was asking me to not to bury my talents, but rather to bring them into a workplace. Rather than poems on paper I’d write them aloud, as doggerel to entertain fellow workers, or perhaps as limericks about the boss for workers, or perhaps limericks about workers for the boss.
But I never liked the prospect beforehand. Initially asking for a job was as bad as asking a girl you greatly desire for a dance; refusal was devastating. The prospect was so painful I had to give myself all sorts of pep-talks before I’d even attempt asking. I’d huff and puff like a Olympic weight-lifter about to set a new record, and lower my shoulder like an armored knight about to bash through an iron gate. But, when I first arrived in Gallup, on three separate occasions, (at a lumber yard, a gas station, and at Fatty Burgers), something odd occurred.
Just before all three occasions I muttered something like, “OK God, you aren’t going to fund my writing, and so you must want me to work a Real Job. But I’m only good at poetry and have nothing else to offer. But to obey You I will ask over and over, at place after place, even if it takes me a week, along the entire length of Route Sixty-six, from east side of Gallup to the west.” Then I’d gaze down the highway at all the small businesses, my expression very weary, as if I’d already asked at all places, though I hadn’t asked at one. I’d sigh and slump at the prospect of so much begging, but then, stiffening my spine, and mentally screaming a “Hee-yuh” like a karate master cutting a brick in two with a chop of his hand, I’d walk through the first door, and immediately be hired.
The ease of the hiring was so unexpected that it was like lowering your shoulder to barge through a door, and having the door be opened just as you got there. If it happened just one time it would have been weird enough, but to have it happen three successive times seemed downright bizarre.
At the lumber yard and gas station I didn’t even have to fill out an applications; I was told I could “do that later”, and instead was immediately put to work. Also I found the interviews enjoyable, in and of themselves, which was something new for me. The experience of asking for work no longer seemed full of dread, of fearing possible rejection, like asking a beautiful woman for a dance, (or, if it was, it was like enjoying the chat with the beautiful woman even if she didn’t want to dance).
When I thought about it, the experience of asking for work in Gallup was a little like hitchhiking, where I always enjoyed the conversations with the people who picked me up. Hitchhiking also was an experience involving “asking”, but somehow the request was wonderfully simplified; all you needed to do was dangle out your thumb; also the rejections didn’t seem so painful, (though it could get annoying when an hour passed and several hundred cars whooshed past, each one a rejection). But, when someone finally did stop, I’d almost always find the driver in the mood to talk, both about themselves and about me.
This same general inquisitiveness seemed to inhabit most job interviews I underwent in Gallup, (and there turned out to be many, over the following four years.) Perhaps it is part of the local culture; it is an area where few are “from” the area and most are “passin’ through”, and therefore there is a curiosity about where people are coming from and where people are aiming. I came to enjoy such chats, but, when I first arrived, any interest in a no-account loser like myself seemed uncanny, and even a little supernatural.
When I say “supernatural” I suppose I am to some degree confessing I own boyish superstitions which extended into manhood. One simply tends to notice when their luck suddenly changes. One may scientifically know that when one flips a coin the odds are fifty-fifty it will be heads or tails, but one also has a gambler’s nose that sniffs out times the odds are defied; in like manner athletes speak of “hot streaks” and “cold slumps” as if they involve something other than mundane levels of concentration; also fellows asking girls to dance speak of “getting lucky.” Fishermen are equally superstitious about when and where the fish are found, and although books stated the greatly-desired fish “halibut” was so named because “but” was an ancient word for “flat fish” and halibut was eaten on holy days, the fishermen themselves (in Maine) said the fish got its name because “but” was an ancient word for “boat”, and halibut was a greatly-desired catch, and any boat that caught one was blessed, or a “holy boat”; [IE: “Hali But”.]
Even when I was at my most cynical and considered myself a hardened Atheist I tended to become slightly mystical when hitchhiking. Not that I prayed, but I did mutter to myself, peering through windshields at the practiced indifference of passing drivers, noting the way some carefully looked the other way, or down at their dashboards, or adjusted their rear-view mirror, and at times these conversations-with-myself became interesting. (Pity I had no way of recording them, but cellphones hadn’t been invented). Likely much of my luck hitchhiking had to do with how long my hair was, and how harmless or threatening I appeared, but there could be inexplicable times when my luck was very “good”, and times my luck was very “bad”, and my conversations were with whatever-it-was that controlled such destiny. The deserted roadside would hear a lot on grumbling and complaining as car after car passed, and then a resounding “Yes!” when a driver finally pulled over.
This sort of conversation began even before I became an Atheist, continued while I was an Atheist, and grew more evident as my Atheism withered away. In a sense it was talking-to-God, which may seem an odd thing for an Atheist to do, but I once knew a man whose final statement as an Atheist was, “Will You please shut up!”
An odd aspect of such conversations is that they are encouraged by bad luck, hunger, loneliness and fear. People may think they don’t believe in ghosts, until passing through a graveyard at midnight, and soldiers say, “There are no Atheists in the foxholes.” A major episode in the withering of my own Atheism involved being out in small sailboat in a big storm. Eventually many Atheists decide, at the very least, that they are Agnostics. I passed through that phase as well, but by age thirty-one I was definitely a Believer.
For many of us our level of faith is determined by whether our luck is good or not. Good luck reaffirms our faith while bad luck breeds doubt. However I had noticed, at some point, that when times were good I had a tendency to forget about God, whereas hard times awoke the urge to pray. When you think about it, this makes no sense whatsoever: We pray more when our faith is less? However it does seem to be a human tendency, and, if it is reality, then it would make sense for God to dish out some bad luck. Even God might get a little lonely when we ignore Him, and, if we are going to be so ungrateful about good luck, perhaps bad luck is God’s way of getting our attention, and even of playing hard-to-get in a Divine Romance.
By age thirty-one my attitude towards hard times was starting to change. Not that I ever looked for hardship; I’ve always preferred voluptuous luxury; but in some strange sense the greatest luxury of all was the sense God was near, and I had that sense most when times were hard and luck was bad.
Call it masochism if you will, but there is a reason people suffer the ordeal of climbing mountains. The reason is a Beauty unseen when you molder at home, and the same Beauty walks with you when you suffer like a poet on the street. To me the perception of such Beauty seemed a state of heightened awareness, where things we usually take for granted, like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, gain great significance simply because you’re hungry. (In some ways it is quite similar to being high on marijuana, without the brain damage.) Because you are so much more appreciative, you notice discrepancies from the norm, such as getting work the first place you ask, three times in a row.
At the lumber yard I just happened to walk in the first morning of an inventory, and no one was much looking forward to counting the vast, jumbled confusion of boards, beams, molding and dowels. The job lasted for the four weeks it took to sort out the confusion, and I apparently was good at it, (perhaps because my own life was a confusion in need of sorting), for they stated I’d be welcome back the next year.
At the gas station I arrived “running on fumes”, and was desperate for even a job sweeping a floor, for a quarter of a gallon of gas, but I just happened to walk in when the air stunk strongly of marijuana and the three fellows who worked there were feeling very generous. They found me good entertainment, for I knew so little about cars that it was amusing for them to watch me pump gas; I had to ask customers how to open their hoods when they asked me to check the oil, and I sometimes couldn’t even find where to pump the gas, (when the gas cap was under a license plate or, in a ’56 Chevy, behind a tail light). However the owner of that station turned out to be a cocaine addict and the job abruptly vanished after two weeks, when there was suddenly no money in the till.
This led me on to Fatty Burgers, which I decided to try because I had worked in a Fatty Burgers in California .
Fatty Burgers was a nation-wide chain, nowhere as big as MacDonald’s, but attempting to compete. Individual Fatty Burgers were not owned by a single owner far away. Various smaller owners bought “franchises” and then attempted to make their small restaurant expand into a small chain. The local Fatty Burgers chain was owned by someone who I think began along Old Route Sixty-six in Albuquerque, and expanded along the highway east and west.
I walked into the Gallup branch during the quiet after the breakfast rush, and immediately noticed the three workers and manager were all deeply tanned and all had straight black hair. The place was quaint, far smaller than the Fatty Burgers where I worked in California. It had two old-looking registers behind a short counter, and a third more modern-looking register in a boxy drive-through window. No one was moving very fast. A girl with very white teeth and a pleasant smile ambled up to the counter and asked me what I wanted, and when I replied, “An application”, her right eyebrow dipped as her left arched in interest, but she turned to look towards the manager, who wore a white shirt, and brown vest and pants, to show he wasn’t one of the mere underlings, who were brightly dressed in gaudy uniforms, a little like clowns, with flaming, checkered baseball caps and silly, red pants.
The manager will need a name, so I’ll dub him Quincy Phlabutt. He was a big, sleek, well-oiled looking man with jet black hair combed straight down everywhere except right at the temples; he stood with a slightly smug smile and his arms folded, doing nothing. When he overheard me ask for an application his smile didn’t change, but his eyes shifted towards me and appeared to become even more smoky and superior, and he lifted his nose slightly in a manner that seemed critical. He walked to the counter, took out a pad of applications, tore one off, and handed it to me without a word. When I asked, “Can I borrow a pen?” he sighed, and pointed with his lips, and a girl got me one. I was thinking to myself the odds of getting a job looked slim, but as I went to sit down I noticed Quincy’s eyes abruptly widened, one of the girls hissed, “Ike’s here!” to the others, and the three workers seemed to work a little faster, wiping counters and filling napkin racks, even though the place was empty.
As I started on the application I glanced sidelong as Ike Weed crossed the parking lot and entered the Fatty Burgers, wearing the same white shirt and brown vest and pants Quincy wore. He didn’t appear at all intimidating to me, a medium-sized man who took short steps and duck-walked on his heels, leaning backwards slightly, with a notebook and clipboard under one arm. He had a shock of straight, brown hair brushed to one side over his forehead; the hair was just starting to gray with middle age at the temples. His Howdy Doody cheeks were also just starting to sag into the barest beginnings of pale jowls, apparently recently scraped clean with a dull razor. He wore a friendly smile which seemed less friendly when I saw it was fixed. It was the frozen smile of a poker face, and his eyes darted about the parking lot observantly. When he stooped to pick up a wrapper I noticed Quincy winced slightly, behind the counter. Then I looked down at the application, and began to fill it out.
I didn’t approve of dishonesty, but have to admit a certain creativity entered in, when I filled out applications. I had learned I should “enhance my resume” earlier in my wanderings, when God, with his sense of humor, had me walk into an unemployment office in Cleveland on the very day more than half the staff in the office had received pink-slips, due to government cut-backs. Most were more interested in finding jobs for themselves than for me, but one woman was different. Even as I sat in Gallup I fondly remembered her.
Four years earlier I had sat down in front of her desk. She was young and pretty, and in a very good mood, for she was sick of working and saw collecting unemployment as a sort of vacation, and she offered me a coffee and we spent a merry hour chatting in a manner I had never experienced before, and have never experienced since, among bureaucrats. She was very interested in my wanderings, and had fun turning my confession (that I was a shiftless drifter) into what made me look very experienced, on a resume. For example, one time I landed a job in a small market in Maine, and then the boss got drunk and didn’t show up for a week, and I had to fly by the seat of my pants trying to figure out how to keep the market open. The young woman smiled, and took this fiasco and wrote down on my resume that I was a “working manager.” She also stated I didn’t need to put down every job. Also I didn’t need to mention I didn’t really want a Real Job, and preferred to write. She gently chided me for TMI (Too Much Information) and stated it wasn’t dishonest to be selective, when telling the truth. I should mention the Economics classes I took in school, but not the Creative Writing courses.
I smiled and nibbled my pen, looking at the ceiling and remembering her laugh. I wished I’d asked her for a date, though it would have been daring to do so, considering I was nearly flat broke while in Cleveland. She was a road untaken. Life might have been different, if romance bloomed in Cleveland. But it didn’t, and here I was, dumped in Gallup. I signed and began filling out my application, unaware Ike Weed had walked up behind me and watched as I wrote. I wrote rapidly, for I fully expected to have to fill out many applications that morning, and perhaps it was the speed at which a writer can print, (far more neatly than a doctor), that drew Ike over.
Ike abruptly reached down over my shoulder to pick up my application even before I had finished figuring out how to make it look like flipping burgers was the goal of my life. He introduced himself as the District Manager, glancing over the application, and then he asked me, “You worked in a Fatty Burgers in California?” When I nodded he said, “I have to go on to Flagstaff, and then plan a weekend down in Las Vegas, but I’ll be back this way next Tuesday. Let me call the Fatty Burgers where you worked in California, and if it all looks good I may have a job for you. Can you be here at noon on Tuesday?” I nodded.
It was Friday, which meant I’d have to wait a weekend, which I couldn’t afford to do, but still I walked out of the Fatty Burgers in a bit of a daze, astonished at God’s sense of humor. What were the odds of walking into that place at the exact time the District Manager did? I noticed, as I left, that Quincy gave me a look that was not entirely approving, and concluded my chances were better with Ike.
Out on the street I came to the instant decision not to fill out any more applications, and instead to cross the dry bed of the Rio Puerco and clamber up an embankment to a bridge on I-40, where I could see a distant crew working. I wanted to see if Raydoe, who I shared a tiny trailer with at the campground, had shown up for work, and also ask Ed, the foreman, if there was any chance I might work there.
Raydoe is a character for another story, and in fact his chapter in my life was just ending. He had vanished. I called him “Raydoe” as it was short for “Desparado”, and he called me “Stupid Gringo” because that is what I was. I put up with a lot of abuse from him because he had a good heart under a sinister exterior.
For example, he didn’t like seeing me typing in a dark night in a pouring rain, my head bumping up the roof of a tiny, drenched, orange pup-tent lit from within by six candles, and his way of inviting me into his camper was to yell, “Hey Stupid Gringo, come out of that tent into my camper!” When I politely replied, “Thank you, but I’m quite all right!” his reply was, “If you don’t get the fuck out of there I’ll pull up your pegs and pound you!” It seemed like an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Raydoe worked repairing bridges on the interstate. His family lived on I-40 hundreds of miles away on the far side of New Mexico, and he missed them terribly, although, hypocritically, cheating on his wife Bonnie didn’t seem to bother him one bit. He did finally manage to convince Bonnie to come to the campground with his two daughters, at which point I had to move out of the camper into a big, canvas tent I set up with a couple Navajo, who also worked repairing bridges. The entire time I slept with them I don’t think we spoke a word. They were always dead tired at the end of a day, and stayed sleeping even when the tent blew down.
Bonnie couldn’t stand the solitude of the campground, or being cooped up in a tiny trailer, but I did have coffee with her a couple times during the week she lasted. She told me I need not hide her husband’s indiscretions; she had accepted the fact he was what she called, “a lady’s man.” She was an Indian from a pueblo near Santa Fe, but described Raydoe as “Pure Spaniard.”
I was starting to learn you needed to describe what-you-were in Gallup, but, when she asked what-I-was, I told her, “I guess I’m a Mutt,” which made her laugh. I gently dared venture that she should get her girls out for walks because the scenery was gorgeous, and also because she seemed to be suffering from cabin fever, but she never left the cramped trailer except to walk her girls to the campground bathroom. When Radoe was home she seemed to argue with him constantly, and the vehemence of their discussions sometimes caused the little trailer to rock to and fro, but the moment she took her daughters back east he missed her terribly. I assumed, when Raydoe vanished, that that was where he had vanished to.
Climbing up a steep, dirt embankment between sage and prickly pear onto the abutment, I saw Ed watching me curiously from the far side of the bridge. I also saw Raydoe wasn’t around, and then winced as a blast of wind hit.
Raydoe had mentioned working on bridges “sucked utterly”, and now I saw why. The wind couldn’t be bothered to go around you. There must be few places besides mountaintops more windy than bridges on interstates, a fact I already knew as a hitchhiker, but as a hitchhiker I could hurry across; the prospect of remaining in such an environment all day was daunting. Raydoe often told Bonnie she didn’t know how lucky she was to be stuck indoors all day, as she argued he didn’t know how lucky he was to get out. I thrust my hands as deeply as I could into my pockets, thinking I understood Raydoe a little better, and also that maybe I didn’t want the job, but I was desperate, so I trudged over to Ed to work the conversation around to asking for work.
Ed was a wiry, balding man with a thin, white mustache, neatly trimmed, which was the only part of his face that wasn’t weather-beaten half to death. His skin was gray with an undertone of purple, and he smoked and cursed constantly. I knew him only slightly, because he’d give Raydoe rides when Raydoe’s truck broke down, which turned out to be fairly often. He always seemed very curious to see an intellectual typing away in Raydoe’s tiny trailer, but he never asked any questions and always seemed in a hurry. As I now approached him he looked a hundred pounds heavier, for he was dressed like an arctic explorer in January, yet still was hunched over and hugging himself, as if shivering, overseeing a group of young, Navajo men who were tying rebar in the relentless wind. He looked hopeful when he recognized me as I approached, and shouted, “Got any news from that cocksucker Raydoe?”
I shouted back, as shouting seemed necessary in that wind, “No. I wondered if you had news.”
“No. That asshole said he wanted a three-day-weekend and has taken the whole fucking week off.”
I nodded and tried to look sympathetic, which probably was a bad idea, as it encouraged Ed to rant. He sputtered, “That turd acts like he’s the boss of me, always demanding this or that and never giving dipshit in return. I’ve had it with the moron.”
One of the Navajo laughed, “You said that last week.”
“Well this time I mean it. How many times have I helped that fuckhead out? Getting that piece of crap he calls a truck fixed? But is he thankful?”
Another Navajo shouted, “You should respect. He owns a quarter of the state.” The men all laughed.
I knew what they were referring to. Raydoe claimed his grandfather had a deed, ornately inked onto ox-hide and signed by the king of Spain, and dated 1698, which gave his family title to the northeast quarter of New Mexico, including Santa Fe. It was his land, but the Anglos had stolen it.
Ed scoffed, “Oh you Navajo can laugh at Raydoe, but you sure get pretty pissed-off about your land getting stolen by white men, don’t you now? Meanwhile you’re doing a pretty fucking good job of taking the Hopi’s land, ain’t you now?” (He was referring to the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute.)
I was slightly horrified at Ed’s rudeness, but the Navajo just laughed and nodded. Their sense of humor was something I was just beginning to learn about. I decided to steer the conversation my way. “I was hoping you knew where Raydoe was. I paid last week’s rent at the campground, but this week I’m broke. I don’t know what will happen to his trailer if he doesn’t pay.” I paused, before continuing, “By the way…if Raydoe isn’t working…I was wondering…”
“Oh, don’t even ask. I’m not allowed to hire white people. Only Indians.”
“Raydoe isn’t Indian.”
“No, but he qualified because he just got out of prison. He knifed some fat white biker in a bar, but luckily the guy was so fat he didn’t die, so Raydoe got off easy; his lawyer sniffled about Raydoe’s wife and kids, and the dumb judge bought it, and the State says I’ve got to hire disadvantaged folk on a state job, so I get stuck with the losers.” He scowled at the Navajo, who grinned back at him, so he added, as if only to me but loudly, “These fuckers ain’t really disadvantaged; but slow as molasses. You couldn’t be slower.”
One of the men explained, “We don’t want to kill the job.”
Ed exploded, “You want to be stuck in this fucking wind-tunnel forever? Let’s move on to some bridge in some cozy valley. They’ll find us all fucking dead here if we’re not done by December, though I will say…” he continued, again as if talking aside to me, though still shouting, “…these fellows are tough. Look at the fuckers! They dress in November like it’s August. But look at you! You’re as fucking stupid as they are. Oh, I’d hire you, but…”
Ed continued, abruptly explosive again, “…I swear those dipshit politicians in Santa Fe drink tequila all day and decide things by throwing darts at a wall. A bridge shouldn’t be fucking rotting so soon after it’s built. Look at this crappy concrete.” He gave the crumbling curb a kick. “We even have to replace the rebar, because either it’s rusted, or they fucking forgot to put it in, in the first place. Concrete don’t like it when it ain’t reinforced and a thousand overloaded semis drive over it each day, specially when it’s fucking crap to begin with. Either the contractor bought sub-standard to pocket some cash, or the engineer was from Florida and had no clue how cold it gets at 7000 feet, but the asshole politicians sit in warm offices and hire their uncles and make the messes that we have to freeze our fucking asses off fixing.”
I nodded, starting to wonder how to extract myself and leave.
He went on, “I don’t know how I wound up in this God-forsaken place. I’ve never understood why everyone argues about who owns a worthless desert, but at least most of the state has rock that is red and looks fucking beautiful. Gallup? It’s all gray and dull brown. Doesn’t matter what direction you come from; it gets uglier as you pull into town.”
To my concern a trickle of red blood began to flow from Ed’s left nostril. One of the Navajo said, “Your nose is bleeding again.”
Ed pulled out a dirty handkerchief and muttered, “It’s the damn dust in the fucking wind. And you think you want this job? I tell you you’d fucking quit in a fucking week. But I’d hire you, just to get some fucking work done. I could train you to tie rebar in an hour. You couldn’t work slower than these fucking snails. But the Law won’t let me.”
I sighed, and then put on a brave face. “Oh well, I may have a job at a Fatty Burgers next week, but I was hoping to get paid three times as much an hour, working for you.”
A Navajo who looked older than the rest grunted something in Navajo, from down the bridge.
“What’d he say?” asked Ed.
“He said, ‘Tell the Belighana to fake it’,” translated a younger man.
“You could do it,” laughed another. “Indians from back east all look pretty Belaghana to me. And Raydoe says you spend all your time pecking at a typewriter and never get laid. Type out something that looks official and says you’re Mohawk. You think they’d ever check? Even if they do, by then you’ll be paid!”
Ed exploded, “Oh for fuck’s sake! You assholes just want me fired,” and everyone laughed.
I ventured, “Actually, my grandmother’s grandmother’s maiden name was Miss Eagle, and my Dad thinks she might have been Abenaki. That might make me a sixteenth. Does that count?”
Ed grinned and said, “Go fuck yourself.”
One of the Navajo said, “Give faking it a try. You never know.”
I said, “Maybe I will. In the meantime I guess I’ll go and sell some plasma.” Ed looked puzzled, but the Navajo nodded, well aware of what I referred to. Then I climbed down the embankment. As I crossed the dry river I told God that what I’d just experienced was one of the most interesting job interviews I’d ever had, and that I hoped He’d let me stick it into a novel, someday.
Arriving back at my car, I briefly prayed it would start, but it didn’t. It was a tiny, brown 1974 Toyota Corolla with only a 1200 cc engine, and I had no money to buy a new battery. But I had learned to park it on hills. Even on a shallow downward slope I could push the light car in neutral, with the driver-side door open, faster and faster, and then jump in and pop it into first gear. It helped to also turn the ignition key, so the weak starter-engine could contribute. The engine would explode into deafening life, as I also couldn’t afford a new muffler.
Driving west into downtown Gallup I sort of liked the fact my pathetic little vehicle roared like a Harley. I jutted out my jaw slightly. If it hadn’t been so cold I would have hung my forearm out the window. Loud cars alter your personality.
I also liked the fact many Navajo, in 1984, did not take kindly to white bureaucrats issuing orders, and some drove without bothering to get license plates. This made me worry less about the fact my car had expired plates from Maine. In fact having plates from Maine made me more interesting, to local folk, even four years later.
I pulled up to the Plasma Place, which was on the main drag in downtown Gallup. Such enterprises spring up where drunks need money, and poets know where such places can be found because poets manage to be broke even when sober. I did not at all like going there, and every time I went God heard me pray that it would be the last time.
Basically they took a pint of blood out of you, ran it through a centrifuge to remove the plasma, and then put the red blood back into you. Because the body swiftly replaces plasma, you could go twice a week. Because they liked reducing the amount of testing they had to do, they encouraged tested people to come again. The first time you went you’d get seven dollars for laying on a cot for two hours, but the second time you’d get nine.
As usual I was the only Caucasian there. The nurse behind the counter and most of the fellows in the waiting room were Navajo, though I occasionally met a Zuni or Mexican. After registering and waiting I’d walk into a room holding roughly fifteen cots, holding fifteen men with needles in their arms, and blood either going out to a bag down low, or coming back in from a bag hung high. Though there was some sullen conversation in the waiting room, a stoic silence filled the room where the transactions occurred. The needles hurt, and hurt more after the passage of time, and there was no way to shift away from the pain. I tried to talk, for the five nurses were quite pretty, their white uniforms contrasting nicely with their dark skin, but they were very professional, (and also I suppose a man selling blood isn’t usually seen as a good prospect). They refused to flirt. The only Caucasian I ever saw was the old doctor, who I did like to talk with yet whom I almost never saw after the original interview; he lurked in a small office and only occasionally rolled through the room in his wheelchair.
Time really dragged in that room. I always brought a notebook but it seemed impossible to write. The stoicism was somehow the antithesis of a type of relaxation needed in order to write, and the stifling created writer’s-block. After an interminable two hours the needle was at last removed from your arm, and you walked back to the waiting room to receive your payment, in cash. On this occasion I got a pleasant surprise. Not only was it an even-numbered visit, which meant it was nine dollars rather than seven, but it turned out that every eighth visit you received a “bonus” of seven extra dollars.
My Toyota was so startled at my wealth that it started without needing to be pushed, and I drove back to the area of the Fatty Burgers, (which had been built in a prime location for a fast food joint, before I-40 was built, right at the exit of a “modern” mall, which forty years later might be called a “mini-mall”. The mall held a “modern” supermarket, fairly small for other parts of the country but quite different from the local trading posts, which were more like old-fashioned, rural grocery-stores, with stuff in barrels.)
I had learned a poet’s skill of stretching a food budget, and plotted to survive the weekend on a chicken stew, and also sardine sandwiches. One odd thing was the tins of sardines were from a cannery where I once worked in Maine, and only cost half as much in Gallup as they did in Maine. I suspected the tins were very old, but the fish were in hot chili sauce and I didn’t taste any difference. They cost 42 cents a tin, and I bought three. The cheapest loaf of white bread was 89 cents. I bought a pound of chicken wings for 69 cents. Three potatoes, three carrots, an onion, and a single chili pepper only cost 94 cents more. A big bunch of celery was a big expense at 89 cents, but I hadn’t been getting my vegetables lately, subsisting largely on Spanish rice Raydoe taught me how to make. Thinking of him, I bought a small bag of rice and small bag of beans, both for 39 cents, and a small tin of tomato paste for 35 cents. I knew we had cooking oil in the trailer, because Raydoe had bought a huge, five-gallon pail of WIC cooking oil off an Indian somewhere, for a dollar. I totaled things up in my head to roughly six dollars, mentally put five dollars aside for gasoline, and decided, with five to spare, I could spend $1.50 on a six-pack of awful beer from Texas that tasted slightly of sulfur, (but which worked). Then, feeling wonderfully rich, and with $3.50 left over for four packs of very cheap, no-tax, reservation cigarettes, which I could buy near the campground, I drove home.
Home was a tiny trailer, with a living space much like that of a small sailboat: Room for two beds on either side, which by day became a couch on one side and a table with two seats by a tiny stove on the other. When you slept one person’s head was under the stove. Unlike a small sailboat, there was no toilet, and you had to use the campground bathroom. Also unlike a sailboat, the trailer had a long, thick cord that plugged into campground electricity, and the stove and heat were electric. It was far superior to a tent, though for the life of me I didn’t see how Raydoe survived even a week in such a small space with a wife and two daughters.
Raydoe was still gone, and I was assuming I’d enjoy the peace and quiet of a second weekend alone. I’d gotten a little tired of being called “Stupid Gringo” all the time, but to my surprise I missed him. I’d learned the art of handling being belittled at an early age, (taught by two older brothers), and knew how to laugh at myself, and Raydoe seemed to like laughing as much as he liked being superior.
From the moment I stepped from my car and walked towards the darkened trailer I could feel the banshees of loneliness rising on all sides. Almost immediately I knew I’d likely lose the battle.
The battle was with myself, and involved rationing the six-pack and making it last the entire weekend. I knew I could do it, because I often did it, but there was another side of myself that wanted to battle the banshees, and that involved crushing the six-pack in three hours.
I made myself get busy making the chicken stew, as that was a good way to avoid the banshees, but as I did I found myself missing Raydoe’s constant belittling, which often contained good advise. For example, one time I was mystified by how my rice refused to cook, unaware that at 7000 feet water boiled at less than two hundred degrees and didn’t cook as well, and also that the air was so thin, at that altitude, that water boiled away with amazing speed. Twice I added water, and twice the water boiled away and the rice was still crunchy and basically raw. “Stupid Gringo, it will take forever that way,” scorned Raydoe, dumping the rice onto a plate and then pouring a quarter inch of cooking oil into my pot. He heated the oil until it started smoking, and then dumped the rice back in. Because the rice was wet there was a tremendous roar of crackling and popping, and Raydoe stepped back with his eyes round, but pretended he hadn’t been alarmed, once the racket died down. He stirred the concoction until the white rice was browned, and many kernels had puffed like popcorn, and then added the tomato sauce and a little water, dumping in some tabasco sauce for zest. Then he stirred it as it bubbled, explaining, “It don’t take so long to cook when it’s already cooked by the oil.”
In like manner Raydoe attempted to teach me how to be lecherous, but with far less success, especially when the girls we picked up were hitchhiking schoolgirls; (I apparently was an especially stupid Gringo, because instead of leading them astray I dropped them off where they wanted to go). But recalling these episodes, wherein I caused Raydoe to roll his eyes and slap his forehead, only reminded me how lonely I was, and how unrewarding doing the right thing was.
I left the trailer with a bowl of my soup to eat out at a picnic table, looking up at the bright red sandstone formations on either side, and watching them be stained even redder as the sun went down. A haunting moon was rising, and the banshees gathered. The wind was dying, as the Blue Norther faded, and I hoped the winds might swing around and waft warmth north from Phoenix, giving us a kinder Saturday, but the campground was nearly empty, and the creeping chill of an approaching winter swiftly grew with the rising darkness. The cold comes quickly after sunset under a desert’s icy stars. I scrawled a poem:
I think I am going to die
I see a skull's face
In the full moon
And high in the sky
Hear a mad loon
Luting a lonely
And sad tune.
Why am I staying here grieving?
I won't hurt any by leaving.
Why am I staying here moaning?
Life's just a way of postponing.
Ask me to stay.
The banshees had definitely gathered, so I hurried into the camper to work on a novel I was struggling with at that time. I had sent a synopsis to an editor who I hoped would look at it. The novel was my ticket out of poverty, at least in my imagination. I rolled a clean sheet of paper into the typewriter and looked at it. Then I looked at my diary. Then I looked at the beer.
Looking at the yellowing pages of that diary, more than thirty-five years later, one thing that amazes me is how long and how much beer it took, for me to get around to admitting I was hurt. Now, when I run up against a painful aspect of life, I often just say “ouch”, and get on with life, but back then it seemed I’d write and write and write, and, only after a six pack, would I say, “ouch”. It is interesting to ponder what made it take me so long.
I seemed to have a hard time facing the fact people, including myself, aren’t perfect, and rather than generous may be greedy, and rather than pure may be lustful, and rather than kind may be hateful. A certain arrogance was involved; I simply couldn’t believe anyone would be hurtful to anyone as wonderful as I was. So instead I sought a different explanation. I felt mean people were misunderstood, a victim of their circumstances. Once they had been a pure and innocent child, but life had mangled them. If only I could understand them I could excuse them.
In actual fact, the person might simply be being a jerk. But it took six beers before I could arrive at that conclusion, and even then, the next morning might find me sorry I had been so rude.
The bits and pieces of spiritual theory I had picked up in my wandering contained a premise that our spirits had evolved from bestial origins, but I was dead set against the Freudian, psychological idea that we were merely advanced apes, and also the Atheistic belief there was no such thing as our spirit. I believed that besides evolving we were also involving, and involving involved opening up to Love. We might have come from apes but we were aiming towards angels. God was in everyone, trapped but striving to get out, and I should help them, and this made it hard for me to see people as jerks, even when they were being jerks. I might be a sort of ruthless drill sergeant to myself, but I must be kind to others. In fact, in 1984 I don’t even think the catch-phrase “Tough Love” had been invented, or, if it had, it hadn’t achieved wide usage and I’d never heard it. I had very little ability to tenderly and kindly tell a person, “You’re just being a jerk”, even when it was the truth. Instead I felt compelled to figure out what their problem was, which can be a waste of time, for even if you can figure out why a person is behaving like a jerk, they may go right on being one.
Saturday morning found me hung over and discouraged. I had a couple of coffees for breakfast, which didn’t help much, and then went for a long hike around Church Rock, which did help. I found graffiti carved into the stones from the 1880’s and 1890’s, when the cavalry had a post nearby, and imagined some of those lonely soldiers, far from home, suffered hangovers as well, precisely a hundred years earlier at precisely the same spot I stood. In my mind’s eye I pictured them standing, in their deep navy-blue uniforms with yellow trim and shining brass buttons. So I wasn’t so alone.
Then I followed a gully up into a hill, seeing its multicolored walls rise higher and higher until I found myself in a box canyon with towering, coral sides, flaming in the bright sun against a turquois sky. At the very end was a lone pine, tall and straight and perhaps a hundred feet tall, but below the box canyon’s towering sides. Someone had started to chainsaw the big tree down at some point, but only one inch into the trunk something stopped them. I decided that perhaps the snarling chainsaw echoed loudly from the surrounding stone, and in the blaring noise the voice of some spirit spoke and told the sawyer to quit desecrating the beauty. I liked my explanation, and sat beneath the tree to see if I could hear the same spirit. I heard nothing but a soft wind in the needles high above me, but something about sitting in the pool of sunlight touched me, and I felt better.
I spent the rest of the weekend eating chicken soup and sardine sandwiches, smoking and drinking coffee, working on my novel, and doing my laundry. It cost twenty-five cents for a washer and a dime for each ten minutes you used a drier, which ate into my cigarette-money, but I felt the need to clean up my act.
I liked that campground’s laundromat because Archibald, a Navajo veteran who was in charge of campground maintenance, lived in the same building, and his family ate dinner in a room adjoining the washing machines, and, though I knew it was rude to eavesdrop, I could never resist. I was lonely and it warmed me to hear a family in action. The kids would come home from school and say what they had learned, and a dead silence would fall like lead. It was obvious that Archibald believed differently from what the schoolmarms taught.
It was the beginning of a time when I learned a fair amount about Navajo culture, though not as a nosey anthropologist, asking all sorts of unwelcome questions, but as a bum. I swiftly sensed the Navajo had taken a lot of -bleep- for what they believed, from a wide variety of missionaries and schoolmarms and government officials, and were not inclined to be honest because they had caught hell for their honesty. In fact, some were more likely to fabricate some absurd “tradition”, just to see if you would fall for it. I found it best to avoid “belief” and “tradition” altogether, and instead stay on the very real level of what you wanted.
On this particular occasion a rattlesnake, attracted by the warmth, came through the door of the laundromat as I sat scribbling in my diary, waiting for my laundry to finish tumbling in the drier. I shouted, “Hey Archibald! You there? A rattlesnake is paying a visit!”
I heard a chair scrape, and Archie appeared, smiling. He held a broom. In a most gentle manner he urged the snake towards the door. The snake didn’t appreciate being pushed back out into the cold, and struck at the broom repetitively, but Archie remained patient and gentle, until at last the snake gave up and left. Then Archie looked at me and said, simply, “We don’t kill those.”
In my diary I wrote, “Navajo apparently don’t kill rattlesnakes.” I didn’t ask “why”. It was just something I noted.
My novel was different. In my novel I was asking “why” a lot, not about other cultures, but about my own. We Mutts, called Americans, do a lot of things that demand some sort of explanation, but no one explains. So I tried.
There was nothing I enjoyed more, even though I had no final answers. To have two whole days alone in a campground, just thinking, was a sort of paradise for me, despite the inherent loneliness. It was like sitting on a sunny morning when you don’t have to work, working on a crossword puzzle in a newspaper. Only the puzzle wasn’t a crossword; it was America.
But, without a patron, eventually a poet must cease his pondering.
I often tried to extend my meditations even when the chicken soup sank low in my pot, by adding more water. The soup grew thinner and thinner, until it was what I called “slime soup”, which was basically potato skins floating above chicken bones with no marrow. I doubt even that meager diet would have driven me from the delights I found just thinking, but running out of cigarettes was another matter. When I ran out of cigarettes great art could go get damned; I wanted a job.
So it was I wrenched myself from bed in the twilight before dawn on Monday morning to hurry to the Gallup unemployment office to seek “spot labor”. Men would start to line up long before the office opened, outside the door, and no one dared cut in line. If there were only three jobs that day, only the first three would get work.
I softly cursed the comfort of Raydoe’s trailer. In a tent there was no danger of oversleeping, and I sometimes went to the bathroom in the dark before dawn just to warm up. But now, as my howling Toyota roared towards Gallup in the twilight before dawn, I knew I was late.
I was tenth in line. In line were six Navajo, a Mexican, an Apache, a Zuni, and then there was me, the Mutt. I vaguely knew who some were because I’d been there before, and I’d learned that in Gallup you needed to say what-you-are. But I knew little more. No one was talking much. Coffee was lacking and cigarettes were scarce. Two hours passed before the doors opened at seven, at which point the line was eighteen men long. (Men who arrived later took one look at the line, and turned away.)
We sullenly filed in and wrote our names on a sheet of paper, and then sat down in a line of chairs along the wall by the door. Before us was a counter, and not far beyond the counter was the far wall. Compared to California, the unemployment place was tiny. Between the counter and the far wall were, as I recall, eight desks, but there were only two people, the manager and a secretary. At eight o’clock two more clerks came to work, and at nine three more, and another secretary. So backwards was the bureaucracy of New Mexico in 1984 that the clerks didn’t even get their own cubicles. The entire office was just a big room with walls made of sheet metal and no windows, with a single cubical with Plexiglas windows, where the manager could sit at a desk, though he usually didn’t. He seemed like a restless man, constantly walking from desk to desk and talking with the clerks, or swerving to the coffee pot. The smell of fresh coffee, which I couldn’t have, could be maddening.
By eight o’clock most of the spot labor jobs had come in and the men started to wander off, some to sell plasma. I tended to stay and scribble in my notebook. I had nowhere else to go, and that place was warmer than the street. The first time I was there I got so engrossed in describing my plight, so people in the future would know what a great writer had suffered through, that I completely lost track of time, and landed a job that came in at 10:30. So I knew it might pay to wait, but more often it did not.
Later I got to know the eight employees a little better, but at this point I was still a recent arrival to Gallup, and learning the ropes. I’d had such good luck getting jobs on my own that spot-labor was still a frontier. Yet, as I sat hoping for work, one of the employees, Bonita, had already made herself known.
Bonita detested me. I think I must have looked exactly like a man who treated her very badly, in her past. From the moment I first walked in the place, during my first attempt to find work, she regarded me with undisguised loathing, which of course made her very interesting to me. Not that she was attractive. She was overweight and had acne, with a silly bun of over-pretentious hair piled too far above her pale, spotted forehead, and she spoke with a Mexican accent that seemed equally overdone, more Mexican than Mexicans. I was fairly certain the accent was an affectation, because one time she answered the phone, and said, “Oh hi, Mom”, and then talked with hardly any accent at all.
It is funny to think how I must have looked to her. I assume I must have attempted to be disarming with a sequence of appeasing expressions. None worked, but I wish they were on film. In retrospect they might be hilarious.
I suppose that, just as men find some woman attractive and some women repellant, women are the same, and I just happened to be especially repellant to Bonita. But it is the strangest thing, when you walk into a place where the people are supposedly there to help you, to meet eyes filled with loathing.
Little did I know that later on, during my time in Gallup, Bonita would be appointed as the bureaucrat in charge of helping me. But that is a tale for another time. All I knew was she was a most fascinating female. She seemingly couldn’t keep her eyes off of me, because when I lifted my eyes from the notebook I brought along to scribble in, she’d often be staring at me.
Not that I ignored the other five. It gets boring, just sitting waiting for work, so I of course had nothing to do but write observations about what the others were doing. (Little did they know that what they did might appear in a future novel.)
On this particular morning I had issues more pressing than multiculturalism to attend to. I needed a job. I needed one because I was running out of cigarettes. If I ran out of cigarettes, political correctness went right out the window.
Only the first two in line got spot labor jobs by 8:00, and one by one the others started to leave. Things looked grim. My mood was foul and getting fouler. When Bonita looked at me, she did not see my usual attempts to be appeasing and disarming, but rather flashing eyes. She looked surprised.
It was right at this time I noted, to Bonita’s right, a different employee thoughtfully regarding me, his index finger tips on his forehead and his thumbs on his cheeks and his elbows on his desk. As I met eyes with him he seemed to arrive at some decision, and sat back and crooked a finger that beckoned me. He was Fred Gentlechief, a fellow I barely knew.
With a last name life “Gentlechief” you’d assume Fred was Native American, but Fred also looked like he had to shave three times a day. He had more whiskers on a square inch of his chin than I had on my entire face, and it was my understanding that Native Americans were genetically predisposed to have smooth faces. But one time, standing outside in line, I heard one Navajo tease another about his mustache, and the second Navajo told the first that his great-grandfather had grabbed his great-grandmother while raiding a Mexican village. I assumed Fred was the product of several such raids, as I walked over to his desk.
In 1984 Gallup was way ahead of the curve, in terms of so-called “multiracialism”. The unemployment office of Gallup was like the crew of Star Trek, in its racial variety, despite numbering only eight individuals. This mixing didn’t seem to be the result of the brute force of a legislated decree, but simply the way things were, the natural result of having Navajo, Zuni, Hopi and Apache reservations all around Gallup, comprising areas larger than entire European nations. Yet despite all the mixing there was a lot of focus on what-you-were. Even Hispanics seemed divided into all sorts of categories. I myself was a Mutt minority, and didn’t care all that much about whether a person was a wetback or a wetterback, because such identifications seemed like too much to keep track of. Mostly I was interested in the individual I was talking with. That seemed enough to keep my brain fully occupied.
Fred Gentlechief was short, swarthy, round, articulate and soft spoken, yet surprisingly frank about things without seeming the slightest bit blunt or rude. For example, he casually told me he sometimes took the best spot labor jobs for himself, to make a little extra money on weekends. I liked him immediately for his honesty, and his slow, inclusive smile. He gave you the feeling you were in on the joke.
Fred confessed to me he had a problem, because he had taken a spot labor job he discovered he actually didn’t want. He’d agreed to clean a lady’s lawn, but when he swung by during lunch the prior Friday, when the woman was not home, he saw that the yard held what appeared to be two hundred and fifty dog poops. He’d found ways to avoid the woman all weekend, but now he had to face the music. He wondered if I’d like to hustle down to her house and offer to do the awful job, before she left for work at nine. The house was only a hundred yards away. About two minutes later I was knocking at her door.
The woman was in a rush to get to work on a Monday morning. When she answered the door the reek of freshly splashed perfume nearly knocked me over backwards. She was not young but still good looking, which is to say she was roughly my age. She was in such a hurry that I seemed like a distraction, and she had no interest at all in the excuse that Fred Gentlechief had instructed me to give her. She handed me a coal scuttle and scoop, pointed at the dog poop, and rushed off, saying she’d be back at noon.
Facing the poop, and starting to scoop, I had to keep my brains entertained, and I did what I usually did, which was to play Sherlock Holmes, and to invent an entire life history for the woman, though I had an absolute minimum of actual information.
First I determined her dog was a big dog, by the size of the poops. The dog was not around, as there was no deep baying when I worked near the house, and also the poops were desert dried and not a single one was juicy, a fact that I was gladdened by.
Next I determined the woman was not good at instructing, when in a hurry, for she had not told me what to do with the poop, and the coal scuttle was full when the job was only 10% done.
Third, I determined that either the lady was very disorganized, or a man had left her, perhaps taking his dog with him, as there were various half-completed jobs around the yard, with tools left out. I found a shovel and buried the poop down at the bottom of the yard. There was a toolshed down there, and when I peeked in I saw it held a lamp, radio, and a great many beer cans, some in bags but some scattered around on windows sills and on a workbench.. There were few tools in the shed, for rather than in the shed most were scattered around the yard. At this point I was fairly certain a man was involved.
I worked fast and was done the poop-cleaning by mid morning, and to keep myself busy I began cleaning up the beer cans in the tool shed and putting the tools away. A few of the uncompleted jobs were easy to figure out, for a Sherlock like me. They were obvious, such as a rake by a half-raked flower bed beneath a hedge, and I completed those jobs, deciding the fellow was a bit of a slouch. He even left a saw out to get rusty by a half sawn board, with a hammer rusting by rusty nails, by a fence needing a board. I decided that job was interrupted the day the drunken bum got thrown out, and fixed the fence. Then I glanced at the low November sun, which seemed past its zenith, so I went to check the clock in my car. It was well past lunchtime. The woman had apparently completely forgotten me.
I ran out of cigarettes at 1:45, and suddenly Sherlock began to arrive at conclusions that were radically different: The man left because the woman was a total bitch. She drove him to drink in a toolshed. At 3:30 I went to my car and fished through the ashtray for the longer butts, and smoked those.
As I suffered I kept working, for over the years I had discovered you can do one of two things while in nicotine withdrawal. You can either curl up into a fetal position, suck your thumb, and whimper, or you can utilize a surprising amount of energy made available, and do superhuman things such as walk through a howling blizzard to buy a pack of smokes. I used the energy to rake the entire lawn, and also to crush all the beer cans and put them in my car, because at that point it had occurred to me that the bitch might be planning to skip off without paying, and I wanted to be able to sell the aluminum for a pack of smokes. I figured there was around $4.00 worth, and the sun was starting down.
It was just then the lady came home from work. When she got out of the car and saw me her face filled with dismay and she clutched her forehead, and then she crossed the yard with her palms spread open before her, profusely apologizing. If it was an act, it was very effective, for my rage evaporated in a twinkling. I told her we all can forget things, now and again.
At this point she stopped looking at me and looked around the yard, and her expression shifted towards amazement and pleasure. The place really did look changed; I had even done some rearranging of the lawn furniture. She smiled and asked me what she owed me. I told her spot laborers like me got minimum wage, and usually got $26.80 for a full day’s work. She shook her head, and went into the house, quickly returning with a twenty and a ten. I thanked her and made some joke about the speed at which I’d run off to buy cigarettes. She held up a finger, went back into the house, and returned with an unopened pack of Lucky Strikes. She apologized that they might be stale. They were her late husband’s.
As I greedily opened the pack and smoked one, it seemed only right to ask a few sympathetic questions about the man whose cigarettes I smoked, and she leaned against the side of the door and showed me how wrong a Sherlock can be.
Her husband had died of a sudden and swift form of cancer the autumn before, and the dog had sulked miserably and died in the spring. She herself had gone numb and blank for around six months, only working because she feared if she stopped she might die. She had plenty of money; the life insurance paid off the mortgage; but life, as she put it, “held nothing at all interesting.” Then, as she put it, “Time and praying healed me.” She joined a church group for bereaved people, and made some new friends.
As we chatted it became obvious we were checking each other out. I think she decided I was too poor even as I decided she was too old, but neither of us seemed offended. Sometimes it is warming to even be considered.
After my third cigarette I looked towards my car and confessed I had scooped up $4.00 worth of her aluminum cans, and she said I was welcome to them, and we cheerfully parted ways. My day’s profit was $34.00, which was good for me.
All was well in my world, as I headed back to the campground. In fact the next morning I felt a little greedy to even look for spot labor. It was lucky I got no work, for I had totally forgotten my scheduled meeting with Ike Weed at Fatty Burgers. I only remembered after I had cashed in the aluminum cans, and stopped at the supermarket for more bread and sardines, and some hamburger and mushrooms I planned to add into some Spanish rice I planned to cook later. Seeing the blinking Fatty Burgers sign reminded me, and rather than shopping I crossed the parking lot to meet Ike.
Wealth is a relative thing, and at that time having $34.00 in my wallet, plus a few Lucky Strikes remaining in the pack in my shirt pocket, made me behave far differently than I might have behaved had I been broke and in nicotine withdrawal. I actually didn’t want the job. When I left the Fatty Burgers in California I had thanked God for getting me the hell out of there. Therefore I was far more relaxed at the job interview than I might have been.
Right off the bat I remembered Ike said he’d be going to Las Vegas, and asked him if he’d had a good time and good luck. My alacrity surprised him, and made him slightly defensive, but apparently he’d had very good luck, which placed him in a mood brimming with confidence as well. Stars must have been aligned favorably, for at that point in time we were a couple of lucky guys.
Ike offered me a coffee, which I gladly accepted, and then he took out my job application and some notes. This made me slightly defensive, so I lit up a Lucky, because back then you were allowed to smoke in restaurants. When he mentioned he’d had a talk with my old boss at the California Fatty Burgers, Hudson Wallace, the end of my cigarette glowed very brightly.
I was nervous because Hudson and I had a frank talk just before I left California wherein we confessed the sort of things you don’t confess unless you never expect to see a person again. One thing Hudson confessed was that he never would have hired me, and only allowed his ex to hire me so she would learn not to hire “that type.” Then I turned out to be a good worker who gave two weeks notice both times I decided to leave, while his girlfriend did turn out to be “that type”, and quit Hudson without giving notice.
Most of what I confessed didn’t bother Hudson, involving breaking Fatty Burgers laws; for example: Rather than throwing an “expired” burger into the expired-bin, I ate it. However one confession troubled him, and that was that I knew my girlfriend put down a fake social security number on her job application, when in fact she was from Canada and qualified as an illegal alien. Hudson was upset by this news, as he himself could get in trouble, but I figured it was better for him to know beforehand than to get blindsided. He could always say she left because he told her to go back to Canada, and write things down on paper to make it look true.
At the time I saw no harm in my girlfriend’s scofflaw tendencies, but now I was olderand wiser and had learned my lesson, but one does not want to discuss such things in a job interview. I was nervous about what Hudson had told Ike. My only defense would be to throw my ex under the bus, saying “She did it; not me”, when the truth was I approved of her getting the job. The fact she wasn’t a citizen was a can of worms I didn’t want opened. There are things you confess when leaving a situation you don’t want mentioned when entering.
Not that such things should matter much, if you are being hired as a dishwasher or burger flipper. However simply the way Ike was going through evidence like Sherlock Holmes clued me into the fact this was no ordinary job interview. He noted, for example, that when I lived in Maine I had been a “working manager” of a small store.
Could it be that a bum like me was seen as “management material”?
To my complete astonishment that was exactly what Ike was driving at. He mentioned Hudson told him I was a hard worker, who had given two weeks notice both times I left Fatty Burgers, but then Ike asked Hudson if he thought I might be “management material.” Ike stressed Hudson didn’t immediately answer. Ike stated, “Hudson paused a long, long time, before he said, ‘He might.'”
I doubted I really was management material. My experience had always been that such promotion elevated you from one-of-the-guys to a person “the guys” didn’t much like. I seemed to lose more than I gained. But I asked, “What’s the pay?”
“I’ll start you at $4.50 an hour for the first two weeks. Then I’ll either fire you or raise you to $5.00 an hour. I’ll know by then whether you are up to snuff. There will be some overtime as well. We are expanding and short on good help.”
For most this would be good news, but a poet sees a job as less time to write, and the word “overtime” is a sort of death knell to any novel they may be working on. However another desire entered into the equation, and was that my ex might become an exex.
If only I was good enough; if only, rather than a damp tent or a cramped camper, I had a nice, warm room at the El Rancho Hotel, my ex might change her opinion of me.
In retrospect, my lust was a lot like nicotine: When I was in withdrawal, art got thrown under the bus. Just as I’d walk through a snowstorm for a cigarette, I’d endure Fatty Burgers for her.
But of course I did not bring this up in a job interview. What I actually said to Ike was, “When do I get paid? I had to wait two weeks to get paid at the Fatty Burgers in California, and the guy I’m living with is late on his rent.”
Ike reached backwards and pulled out an unnaturally fat wallet, stuffed with winnings from Las Vegas, and fished out a crisp fifty dollar bill. “Consider this an advance.”
I took the bribe. “OK. I’ll give it a shot. When do I start?”
“Tomorrow morning. Be here at seven. Quincy will show you the ropes.”
I looked over at Quincy Phlabutt, who was standing with his arms folded, with a hint of a frown. I nodded towards him in a way I hoped was disarming.
I walked out of the interview shaking my head, and muttering softly to God. “God,” I said, “You seem to be rising me up in the world. Have things changed? Are the right things going to start being the rewarding things? Or are you handing me a long rope to hang myself with?”
My last post dealt with how I came to be plopped down in the middle of a desert. This post involves the state one is in, after a humiliating defeat makes one look like a complete fool.
True poets tend to be in this state a lot, for true poetry, (as opposed to the crass and commercial collegiate balderdash which makes the common man loath poetry), sees man could be far better than man actually is, and, because it forgets how mean man actually is, tends to trust in the wrong place at the wrong time, and therefore poets wind up embarrassed and looking like chumps.
This doesn’t just happen to sissy poet-dreamers. It also happens to entire nations, full of poetry and beauty, such as Poland and France. Some hard-nosed realist, such as Adolph Hitler, embarrasses them. They were just minding their own business, and the next thing they knew they were defeated, and were ruled by a Gestapo.
Any people who is outraged by outsiders infringing upon their God-given liberty is experiencing what a poet deems rather ho-hum and every-day, for every day a poet witnesses people behaving in less than poetic ways. How can I tell you what it is like to see how beautiful life could be, when I am like a Frenchman trying to explain good manners to the Gestapo? Henry Miller put it well:
Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source; there is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.
Others do not seem to be troubled by outsiders infringing upon people’s God-given liberty. They just “go with the flow” and “do what it takes.” If the Gestapo takes over, they smile at the Gestapo. It comes to them as a great surprise that, when the Gestapo is later defeated, they are called despised “collaborators”, and mobs of angry people shave their hair from their heads.
The French women being shamed in the above pictures were “politically correct” when the Gestapo ruled. They felt they were smart to ditch honest and patriotic French boys for what made more sense, in some senseless way. Maybe it was for money, or advancement, or power, or fame, or for some other thing, but it was not smart, in the long run. In the end a higher Truth defeated the “political correctness” of the Gestapo.
What the above pictures do not show, directly, is how their old boyfriends felt, when the above women ditched them for the Gestapo. It is obvious that the majority of the French people had a pent-up fury towards collaborators. But what about the rejected suitor? Did he want to see his ex shaved bald?
Probably not. (I say that as one who was chronically a rejected suitor when young, and also a poet). What the rejected poet wishes is a better way, often expressed with the two sad words “if only…”
It was important to me, when life plunked me down in the desert in 1984, to battle my own bitterness. I could recognize a rage in myself I didn’t like at all. It is one thing to write a sardonic song like the Eagle’s “Lying Eyes”, expressing contempt towards women who marry for money and who therefore, in a sense, put the gestapo of greed ahead of Truth, but it quite another thing to strip women naked, tar them and shave their heads and then force them to stand before a photographer, heiling Hitler.
At some point the rage one feels towards “collaborators” begins to approach the rage Hitler felt, towards those who surrendered Germany at the end of World War One. In his rage-warped mind the people who surrendered Germany were collaborators, and he was able to tap into the outrage of the German people, for the punishment inflicted upon Germany was not just. If the kaiser, who the king of England referred to as “cousin Willy”, was to blame, then he perhaps should have paid the price “cousin Nick” (the Czar of Russia) paid. And perhaps “cousin George” (king of England) should have paid as well. Talk about a dysfunctional family! The grandchildren of Queen Victoria were given great power and authority, but rather than good made a slaughter as bad as the slaughter caused by supposedly Christian Protestants and Catholics in Europe’s Thirty Years War (1618-1648) that cost Europe eight million lives.
It was the “swamp” of 1914, the royalty, that led mankind to misery. The soldiers didn’t hate each other. During the Christmas truce of 1914 the English and German soldiers played soccer together in No Man’s Land.
The soldiers didn’t hate each other. They had to be ordered to hate, and in actual fact royalty was horrified by reports of their troops “fraternizing with the enemy”, and Christmas Truces were forbidden, after 1914.
In other words, the German people should not have been forced to pay enormous and impossible reparations; the royalty should have paid. And the demands of the victors were hateful, and punished innocent Germans who had already been horribly punished by the stupid war. In a sense it was a continuation of war’s hate, and it was quite easy for Hitler to tap into the national resentment towards all who collaborated with such an unjust and hateful invader. But responding to hate with hate only made things unspeakably worse, and resulted in slaughter that made World War One’s horrible slaughter look small.
We are now facing a political elite which make the royalty of 1914 look civil and wise, and a politically-correct “swamp” that makes 1914 look like a highland. If the lunatics running the asylum are allowed to have their way, the resultant slaughter will make World War Two’s look small. But some of these “elite” are actually on record as saying such a slaughter would be a good thing, as the over-populated planet needs to see population reduced to a half-billion. The death of seven billion would not trouble them.
As a poet I tell you, such ugliness is totally unnecessary. We too can play soccer in no man’s land over Christmas, and after Christmas no one can force us to return to killing each other.
There are certain socialists who seem to be attempting to blame all the world’s problems on old, white men, and when I listen to them I have the creepy sense I may wind up stripped naked and tarred and forced to stand for a photograph with my hand on my heart, saluting the American flag. Such socialists seem pumped up by the vengeful adrenaline-rush that Hitler exploited, which caused Germany to declare war on the entire world and all of mankind. Such socialist zealots are past being mildly mad. They are past going completely mad. Their intellects foam mad-dog-insanity. Such hatred is utterly unnecessary.
I know this because in 1984 my peculiar fate plopped me down in the midst of my “enemy”, in the desert. Most people I associated with were Navajo, and their word for me was “Behlighana”, which means “People who we fought.” Therefore I was identified with an invader, and as an oppressor, and even as a member of the gestapo. To even associate with me could be seen, (and indeed was seen, by a few), as “collaboration.” But instead we played soccer in No Man’s Land, like brothers.
I like to think this occurred because I am utterly charming, and such a good poet that just meeting me convinces people brotherhood is better than hate, but in actual fact I think the reasons may have been more mundane, and even sordid.
The first reason involves the fact some jobs are so hard men are forced to get along even if they don’t like each other. For example, on a sailing ship in a storm, everyone knows that they will die if they don’t work as a team to survive; all hands are on deck; race and religion do not matter. In “Moby Dick” Herman Melville describes the astonishing racial diversity which worked together on whaling ships. I have seen the same fellowship while spreading hot asphalt under a blazing sun in the desert. Sometimes a man has got to do what a man has got to do, and, because there is no time to hate an enemy, men are in harmony.
The second reason involved the fact some Navajo identified me as being a “Glahni”. (Which means, “drunkard.”) This was because, when the woman you crave has left you for some gestapo she thinks is better, the thing that replaces her can be a six-pack of beer.
I often could not even afford a six-pack, and when I could it often was a horrible bargain-basement beer with some name like “Texas Star” that smelled so highly of bad-water sulfur only a tough man could drink it. But I did drink, and when I had a six-pack I was willing to share. This somehow redeemed me from my gestapo status. Somehow I couldn’t be all bad, if I shared my beer.
In terms of the true Glahni, I was an effete tippler. True Glahni could pound down amazing amounts of alcohol. They explained to me that, back in the day, they could be arrested if they were found with a bottle, and therefore they would drink the entire bottle as fast as they could, and then throw the empty bottle as far as they could into the sage brush. Then they would sit back and watch what happened.
I told them I am a sissy. If I drank a quart of wine in thirty seconds, and then sat back to see what happened, I would get sick and throw up a quart of wine. The wine would be wasted. Therefore, I told them, I sipped more slowly.
They forgave me for being a sissy, because I had confessed my weakness. I then learned some Glahni were only passing-out-on-the-street briefly, like a drunken sailor binging while on leave, and the rest of the time were gainfully employed doing other things which sissy Behlighana could not do, such as walk on I-beams eighty stories above the streets of Chicago. Most of the time they were making more than ten times what I made, and were more sober than I was, as a tippler, but once in a while we were on the same page.
The law had altered, and the younger Glahni did not have the same reason to never be seen with a bottle holding alcohol. They were sissy tipplers like myself. However they castigated me in the same way their elders did.
The elders, after downing a quart of wine, were only good for ten minutes of good conversation, after which things went rather rapidly downhill. But the young tipplers could talk with me longer. They did castigate me, as being an oppressive invader, but they also recognized me as a brother. Why? Because I was drinking beer to drown my sorrows because a woman had chose a “gestapo” over me, and they were doing the same for the same reason, in their lives.
Our conversations were brutal and blunt, and so ridiculous we sometimes would shift from debating jaw-to-jaw to fits of laughter. For example, I often was informed, “You stole our land.” I’d look them straight in the eye and reply, “Land? Land? I have no stinking land! If I had land do you think I’d be sleeping in my car? It is you guys who have the land. Your reservation is as big as the the Netherlands and Belgium put together! Why is it I have to pay taxes and you guys don’t? It seems to me you guys should be taking care of me, but you guys get all the government hand-outs while I get diddlesquat.” Then I would laugh and conclude, “Those morons in Washington just haven’t got a clue.”
It is important to know the right time to laugh, when quarreling with your enemy. It is also important to deflect attention to the morons in Washington, which is something you can agree upon. In any case we’d dissolve from jaw-to-jaw disagreement to rolling around laughing.
There were a lot of reasons for laughter, for cultural differences make silly misunderstanding happen. At this point I have to restrain myself, or I’ll give a hundred examples. I had a lot of good talks, and enjoyed a lot of laughter, with the Navajo. People think Indians are grim-lipped and stoic, but my experience was that they love any excuse to laugh. And perhaps that is an element of stoicism: The ability to laugh at what would make others cry. But allow me to sidetrack slightly by giving a single example of a cultural misunderstanding.
One thing I was struck by in Navajo children of that time was that they were amazingly tough and seldom whined. This trait was made clear one time when a small four-year-old girl insisted on walking with me when I went to walk to get mail from the mailbox, which was a half-mile away across a blazing hot desert. I tried to talk her out of it, but she was insistent, for reasons that only make sense when you are four-years-old. So she came trotting along beside me, as I went to get my mail.
The hot sun pummeled me without mercy, and I myself was thinking mail wasn’t worth such punishment before we reached the mailbox, but the little girl never once complained. I was fairly certain, as we set out, I’d wind up being asked to carry her, and was willing to let her ride my shoulders, or I never would have let her come along. But she never asked. All the way to the mailbox and all the way back this little girl never once whined or pleaded. I looked down at the girl, as she plodded beside me, amazed at the grim look on her young face. I could not help but conclude she was tougher than sissy poets, like myself, are.
I am not sure how Navajo parents taught their children to be so tough. The children seemed to follow a commandment at an early age, “Thou shalt not plead.” But then they would attend a white man’s school, and face a contrary commandment: “Always say ‘please’.”
There is a lot to laugh about, concerning this cultural misunderstanding. And I did laugh a lot, once I got the joke. The problem is some stuffy schoolmarms don’t get the joke.
This allows me to get back to the original topic, which is, in case you have forgotten, how some women bow to an oppressive gestapo, and later face having their heads shaved for doing so.
It seems to me underpaid schoolmarms have no idea of the danger they are in. They assume they know right from wrong, when they are merely enacting an inane edict created by know-nothing bozos in Washington, and inflicted upon the innocent.
It seems to me schoolmarms don’t know why they demand a child say “please.” They just demand it and think they have every right to punish a child who refuses to say “please”. (Or, if they are told Global Warming is an established fact , they think they have every right to punish a child who states it isn’t.)
One thing the Navajo Glahni and I immediately agreed upon was that school was not a pleasant experience. In their case the crap they endured in “Indian Schools” was really horrific, but in some ways not very different than what I experienced as a white poet in a politically-correct suburban school in a town of rich white people. The politically-correct seemed so busy attempting to virtue-signal to the gestapo that they are on-the-team and deserve-the-benefits that they never truly thought about whether what they taught made a lick of sense.
The misunderstanding is something to laugh about. For example, for a number of smart and quite beautiful reasons, Navajo of that time taught their children not to point. A Navajo joke was that their hunting dogs pointed with their lips, like their masters did. But at an Indian School a white schoolmarm might ask a child to point a what was a triangle and what was a square, and then become irate when the child, obeying the biblical commandment to honor their parents, refused to point.
Such misunderstanding can lead to the resentment and repressed fury expressed by the rock group Pink Floyd in “Another Brick In The Wall”.
However the repressed fury Pink Floyd wonderfully expressed is totally unnecessary. Do I really need to show again what hatred does to schoolmarms who, in their ignorance, complied with the political correctness of the gestapo?
Do we really want our stuffy, old schoolteachers to suffer such a fate? For that is exactly the fate a certain brand of socialism promises. In China schoolteachers faithfully taught what Chairman Mao stated should be taught, but when he put the “Cultural Revolution” into effect he tapped into a youthful rage that resulted in the “Red Guard” insisting nearly every teacher in China be destroyed, and when that “socialism” spilled over into Cambodia you could be killed for the infraction of having a writer’s callus on your middle finger, which supposedly proved you were a capitalist because writing was something capitalists did.
This is not anything any sane man wishes upon a schoolmarm, even if she was less than wise. In the end, what defeated Mao’s insanity was not smart Americans. Smart Americans avoided the draft by going to college. What defeated Mao was the stupid kids, who schoolmarms didn’t like and who didn’t go to college and who gained no student-deferment from the draft. It was these mere teenagers who went to Vietnam and defeated Mao’s demented version of Liberalism-gone-awry. (The victory in Vietnam was not that the North Vietnamese were overrun, but rather thyat Mao was delayed eight years, and during those eight years the “Cultural Revolution self-destructed in China.) These bad students, whom schoolmarms never much liked, in actual fact defended schoolmarm’s freedom to be schoolmarms. Not that many schoolmarms ever thanked Vietnam vets for their heroism. And many Navajo Glahni were Vietnam vets.
If you look at the above situation in the right way, it makes you laugh. There is something laughable about schoolmarms detesting the very people who save their wrinkled, old hides. At the same time it is sad. Such men deserve better.
Such men deserve to be loved by their women. Their women should see what fine men their men actually are, even if they are Glahni. And when you listen to a certain sort of music called “The Blues”, you often hear men who have in many ways disgraced themselves as “Glahni” appealing to their woman , (often with a sense of humor), that they are worth loving, and better than the politically-correct, schoolmarm’s gestapo.
When my life landed me in the middle of a desert, I had a strong wish that my ex would change her mind, and see that I was worth loving. She never did, but I was among Navajo Glahni who wished the same thing. I am thankful I met them, for it is hard to feel alone when you are midst a brotherhood of spurned men all yearning for the same thing you yearn for.
At some point after I met these spurned men I apparently felt the desire to express “The Blues” of being a Glahni who saves schoolmarms, but is never appreciated for it. I say “apparently” because I cannot remember how I came to scribble the following verse on now-yellowing paper. I find the verse somewhat stunning, for it suggests a level of inspiration was involved I do not remember; a golden light shone in the shadows, as we laughed and were losers, all those years ago. The crudely scrawled scribble employs the then-Navajo slang where a man is a “buck” and a woman is a “doe”, and states:
RHYME OF BUCK
Doe don’t hear the sonnets any more, I guess. Though I speak ’em all the time, Who hears rhyme? Like the sleeper to the snore or Confess- Ing harlots to the whore, She sees no crime.
When I ask her for a dime She don’t see Ten Syllables a line, And she has missed The beauty of my rhyme; The poetry.
The ones who reach her Teach her With a fist.
The terrorist Touches her. I fail.
Grenades are her maids. Bombs move her. I don’t.
Everywhere poetry pounds like warm hail; Still she sees no sonnet.
I sail. She won’t Until she sees the sonnet in her buck And brings out the Hid Mid- Night rhyme of luck.
As I scanned this poem, which I couldn’t recall bitterly scrawling, I had a sense a younger me thought I was being tricky as I wrote it. I rolled my eyes a bit rereading, because I saw immediately that the rhyme of “buck” and “luck” is “fuck”, and the poem in some ways is just the crude appeal of a spurned man, asking his ex to return to the status quo of nightly copulation. As such it seemed little more than the selfishness of lust.
However, as I recall, my younger self would never willingly give lust such power. (I might be defeated a thousand times, but I kept on fighting.) Therefore I knew some deeper trickery was involved. All of a sudden I saw what I never intended any reader to see. It was my youthful joke, aimed towards the ignorant. It assumed no one would ever figure out that the above poem, written in a politically-correct modernistic form, was actually an old fashioned sonnet. and as such would look like this:
Doe don’t hear the sonnets any more, I guess. Though I speak ’em all the time, who hears rhyme? Like the sleeper to the snore,or confess- Ing harlots to the whore, she sees no crime.
When I ask her for a dime she don’t see Ten syllables a line, and she has missed The beauty of my rhyme; the poetry. The ones who reach her teach her with a fist,
The terrorist touches her. I fail. Grenades are her maids. Bombs move her. I don’t. Everywhere poetry pounds like warm hail. Still she sees no sonnet. I sail. She won’t
Until she sees the sonnet in her buck And brings out the hid midnight rhyme of luck. (1985)
I assume that, by writing a sonnet no one would see was a sonnet, I was creating something that symbolized the hero hidden in the Glahni. After all, if God is in everything, then God is in the Glahni. Furthermore, to be quite frank, it was a lot easier to see God in the laughter of the Glahni than in the frowning of a prissy schoolmarm.
What was most God-like about the Glahni was that they didn’t seem to want their exes to be stripped and tarred and humiliated. They simply wanted their exes to be nice. Though unforgiven they forgave, which was a paradox we could laugh about, sitting in the desert sunshine, 34 years ago.
Now I suspect a lot of those fellows are dead. They were heroes who defeated Mao in Vietnam, but they also defeated a greater enemy in their own hearts: The seething hatred towards those who collaborate with the gestapo. Therefore I suspect they have gone to a sunny place where there is no hate, and the sonnets are not hidden.