Inventories

a serial novel
at The Coming of the Toads
begun 27 July 2020
and ongoing

The gods Get Bored

I throttled my green gnarly Harley across I-90 from Bellevue, wind chopped waves blowing over the wall on the south side of the bridge, the water as smooth as a coffin lid on the north side. I raddled through the last tunnel and merged onto I-5 north to downtown Seattle. A glob of ball lightning looped out of a smoke ring cloud hanging over the ballpark. The ball lightning bounced across the closed roof. The baseball stadium looked funereal. No game tonight. The winter circus was in town. On nights like this the gods might get bored and when the gods get bored no amount of prayer satisfies these clouds of gluttony, the local paradise filling like a wet basement. Why so many gods, I don’t know. Even the Catholics (and I am one, though maybe not a good one, whatever good means, but as Reverend Mother Mary Annette never tired of telling us, once a Catholic, always a Catholic), who profess belief in but one God, pray to the Saints and Mary and the rest, who seem to function much like the old Greek and Roman gods, one for every need or desire, one for every occasion, one for every problem, one for every predicament. A god for this, a god for that. A god for the nice, a god for the mean. Finely balanced too, the old gods, but like an unequal arm balance, some more powerful than others, leaving it to the mortals to try to balance things out. Still, evens up: one for light, one for dark; one for water, one for air; one for love, one for hate. Always meddling in human affairs, though, these immortals. Sure seem to get in the way all too often. Always wanting something, too, a piece of the human pie chart, insatiable. Why do we keep calling out to them? Was there a Saint of scooters? Could use a prayer to him now.  Dear Saint Scooter, please get me and my Vespa downtown safely, as an 18 wheeler passes at twice my speed, his mud flap cowgirls waving and laughing. God of lead, god of gold. God of the meek, and god of the bold. God of yes, and god of no. God of hot, god of cold. God of bought, and god of sold. God of gods, who never grows old, oldest of all. (27 Jul 20)

Hacked and Gobsmacked

I was late for my meeting with Walter. I had some explaining to do, but I wasn’t in the mood for working together as a team in the spirit of cooperation toward common goals for the mutual benefit of all. Nor did I feel like throwing any bums a dime. I was their in house Risk Manager. Walter was itself a Risk Management Brokerage, specializing in extreme and unusual risk. Sometimes avoidance was the best answer. I rode down Pine to First and over to Pike to the Market and looked for a place to pull the Harley over and park. Cleo nodded I could squeeze into the space in front of his international news stall. The rain had stopped, the clouds still low and grey and blue and hanging bushed like wads of cotton candy over the diamond. Out on the water a ferry would be approaching, carrying Walter from his The Breakers West on Bainbridge Island. I was late with my quarterly report. We’d been hacked and I was still too gobsmacked to explain it. Walter would want to know who, when, what, where, why, and how. “Damned if I know,” was not the answer he’d want to hear from his six digit plus bonus contracted Risk Manager. (28 Jul 20)

Candy Apple Red

A real nice fellow turns out driving the candy apple red Corvette, vanity licensed MYID. Catches up with me, powers up and flips me the bird as I try to negotiate the Harley kickstand. Vetteman angry with me for some reason. Cut him off. Where? When? My anger management pills must have finally kicked in because I felt little urge to cut Vetteboy down to size and make him eat his license plate. Little, not none. I wanted to feel none, nothing. The little urge didn’t come on from getting the bone, and not even the vanity plate was to blame. Those were little nubbers up along the first base line. You picked them up bare handed, stepped on the bag, and tossed the ball to a kid in the stands above the dugout. Big hitter, little nubber. Maybe the candy apple red drew the little urge out. Very few cars should be painted candy apple red, and never a Corvette, an old pick up truck in retirement maybe, I don’t know, but not a Vette. Candy apple red is a very special color. But like I said, little urge, but not none, but still, the pills seemed to be kicking in. Maybe I should up the dosage again. I wanted to experience nothing. Why did the gods keep me alive? To do their dirty work. Then Vettepunk said it, one of the words, called me one of the names, the names no one calls me and gets away with it, without a bit of divine retribution sits you back on your butt and gives you something to think about other than your Corvette id. First, let’s back up. I don’t ride a Harley. I ride a Vespa, candy apple red. I am not Bulldog Drummond. I am not Mike Hammer. Not Philip Marlowe. I’m not Sam Spade. I stand five foot two, and my eyes are blue, but I’m no stereotype. I learned early on to mind my own business. But minding your own beeswax is not so easy with dudes like Vettedog off leash and full of road rage and megalomaniac vitamins. “That scooter a little big for you?” Vettestalker says, sneer and all. (29 Jul 20)

Mistake of the gods

But I digress more maybe than necessary. Sylvie was calling. I was still dismounting my Vespa, emptying saddle bags, when my cell phone buzzed and lit up and I could hear the call was from Sylvie, my unfaithful half goddess psychotherapist and part time partner, probably calling to warn me off another one of my bad decisions. We shared office space in a little place I owned up on Queen Anne, a folk Victorian from 1907, inherited from my mother. Glaucus, Sylvie said, when we first met, fate is the decisions you make. Sometimes I think she remains my occasional companion just so she can restock this rune of hers into my road weary bag of regrets. Decisions I made? When was there ever a decision I made that was mine alone and not influenced in some way by the gods? And the gods make mistakes. In any case, and to bring to a close that business with Vettebug, and before we go on too much further here, I should probably make clear, I am not some comic book hero, or villain. I am a mistake of the gods. I am at least part human. The rest I’m not sure of, though certainly not from planet Earth. I am able to adjust my size at will, though at a huge cost of energy, and at risk of random results, coming and going. Having made a change in size, I require rest. Indeed, I am often near death. I prefer small sizes, the easier to negotiate and move about without attracting much attention, to move through crowds, for example. To explain in a way you might understand (indeed, in a way I might understand), I’m able to break myself down into an emergent group of neutrinos. Thus I’m able to move through solid masses – walls, mountains, trees, Corvettes. But I say emergent because it’s never totally certain what the group will reform into. In other words, I’m never certain I’ll be able to return to what you might call normal, that is, my normal size, the size in which I choose to live most of my life. I’m subject, then, to a certain amount of randomness, to noise, to use a word the actuaries are fond of. To bring to a close, then, the Corvette incident: I changed the Corvette to the size of a Matchbox toy car. Vetteman was now the giant he wished for. (30 Jul 20)

Gas for the Hog

I managed to mollify Wally and his team by announcing I was bringing in Ray to work the computer hacking case. Now north on a wet Elliott toward Pier 91, where I’ve a small package to drop off before meeting with a damsel at risk in a mansion on the waterfront in Magnolia, but pull over to gas up the Vespa hog, and what do I see ahead of me but an unattended candy apple red Corvette, gas pump hose sticking out it’s side, Vettebugger in heated conversation with gas station attendant. Machine won’t take Vetteboy’s card. He’s in one helluva hurry. Attendant tells him their system is down, cash only. Vetteboy no cash, now notices me, starts to make a run for it, hops in and pulls away, glances back, gas pump stand leaning toward him, sounds of breaking bolts and plastic ripping, forgot to take the nozzle out, pulling the pump stand off its base. Vetteboy looks out window to take a look, attendant yelling. And now some first classman in a deuce and a half pulls in and blocks the drive, no exit, so Vetteboy tries to hop the island, again the sounds of hounds and ferry horns, looks over his shoulder to see the gas pump shaking on the bolts on the cement stand, the gas hose stretched tight like he’s got a fish on, now the hose coiled around his back wheel. Stops, backs up, gas pump bent, attendant holding his head, nozzle on the ground. Finally, Vetteboy, worked free, takes off like a rice paper butterfly in a cyclone. (31 July 20)

Specialists

The gods are unable to love unconditionally. They each have a job to do. They are specialists. They’re always asking for something, wanting to cut a deal, cover a risk. Conditional love begets jealousy, a kind of anti-love. Having bestowed on humans the gift of qualia (i.e. feelings and the ability to think about those feelings), a bit of a battle ensued when it came to dispensing drugs to humans. Why, it was argued, now that they have consciousness, give them the means to tamper with it? When the gods get together, as for a quarterly offsite conference, for example, there’s often hell to pay. It came as no surprise then, when I stopped at Smith Cove to hand off my small package to Archangel Michael, a World War One vintage sloop-of-war converted for a tourist outings enterprise in the San Juan Islands and housed in the Elliott Bay Marina, I saw parked in a long term lot the candy apple red Corvette. (1 Aug 20)

Lightning Balls over Puget Sound

A hard rain falling, still blocks from Val’s Club, through the red light at the Seneca exit coming off the freeway, spin out of control and slide into a flooded work zone, taking out an orange CAUTION sign, and the engine dead, and I push to the nearest curb out of the water, not quite clearing the lane, hog’s tail sticking out. I try to kick the engine over a couple of times before surrendering to the waterlogged fact. I reach into the saddle bag for my briefcase, thinking I can run the rest of the way to Val’s Club, and wake up to a blue and red light show and a uniform walking toward me. License and registration, please. The young fuzz looked to be under twenty-one. More fate. A ’56 Buick 6 full of sailors speeds past. Fuzzball gives them a glance but doesn’t seem interested, repeats, license and registration, please. Very polite, very determined. The fuzz is super starched, but getting wet. And there’s now a backup examining my bent license plate. What seems to be the problem, officer? I mean, I’m sort of in a hurry here. Very late for a very important meeting with some very influential people, if you know what I mean. License and registration, please. But what’s happened is, the city needs to clean the crap out of its storm drains. What’s happened is, I’ve asked you for your license and registration. Yes, sir, I say, deciding a little compliance might soften the starch. You Charles Murphy? Yes, sir, though as unsure as ever, but decide not to get into that with him at this point, my collection of identifications. Tie Your Own Trailer Park, Mt. Si Road. Is that your current address? Yes, I say, thinking, one of too many. You know, Mr. Murphy, here in Seattle, we like to think of stopping at red lights as the law, and not merely a suggestion. Ray is a veteran Seattle PD detective. We were in the Army together, buddies in Vietnam. Sounds cliché, but true story, so I’m using it to get out of a jam. I was a clerk typist. Ray was a grunt promoted to sergeant, result of his optimistic volunteerism, otherwise known as MF crazy. But he credits me with saving his life out on a walk for a late evening smoke one night. I suspected Ray of being a god even then, before I knew much about the gods, just the stories Mom raised me on. Ray saved my life one too many times. He kept throwing me in and pulling me back out. Slowly over the ensuing years I began to realize that the gods make mistakes. A clerk typist just doesn’t see that much action, get into that many fire fights. Anyway, Ray’s out in the rain tailing the fuzz newbie in a training exercise, and while he doesn’t save my life this time, I am let go, as the saying goes, with a warning. Back home on the upper balcony with Sylvie and a bottle of Pinot Noir chasing one of Pinot Grigio and we’re playing a game of whiffle ball with lightning balls made on Sylvie’s magic cop spindle trying to hit the islands in the Sound. The rain falls and falls as thick as the Anything Goes chowder Sylvie whipped up for a simple evening of sitting out and bouncing lightning balls skipping like rocks across the Sound. (2 Aug 20)

Choice

We can’t choose to be happy, but we can choose to be peaceful. We can’t choose to be loved, but we can choose to love. We don’t need sacrifice, but we are able to choose altruistic behavior. Life is not a blurb. Just so, the gods are not mobsters, nor do they emerge ever as a rabble or a swarm. Gods sometimes work together, as Sylvie and I do, but most remain independent, and of these, many are often rapscallions, attempting to escape the grace of the father or mother. Grace is not always a party calling, grace being what one needs, not necessarily what one wants. We can’t choose to be gods, and we can’t ignore them if we don’t know where they hang out. We enjoy the gods at our own risk. (3 Aug 20)

Tchotchke

I might have known Vetteboy was a god by the way he could not hold his temper. I spent the day at the Seattle Library researching contemporary minor gods. You have to know where to look. And he was a corporate god. That also made sense and helped explain the candy apple red Corvette with the id vanity plate. Tchotchke was involved with Big Pharma sales. But he hated his job, so there was still some hope. What did he do, exactly? He was a sales cadet specializing in promotional payoffs. He was, quiet literally, a little head. He designed, had made, and distributed gewgaws to the winners of global corporate sales campaigns. He was in charge of baubles. He was a whim-wham man. It wasn’t a bad job, though, really. He got to travel and enjoy exotic settings, even if artificially created and catered for the rich tourist and corporate convention goer, and he had an impressive expense account. It seemed though that Tchotchke had always wanted something else. He thought as a god he deserved something better than keeper of the knickknacks. He did not understand the nature of godhood. He did not get along well with humans. He didn’t get the symbiotic relationship. As Sylvie put it, what good is a god who can’t sit still in the evening and watch the sun go down? (4 Aug 20)

Defenestration of the god Tchotchke

Most of the gods are afraid of windows, because they fear falling. I met up with the god Tchotchke at Pog’s Place. Vetteboy said he wanted to transfer some risk, and when I asked him how much, he said he wanted it all back. The Pub of the Gods is where we conduct our defenestrations in the Seattle area. There is no coming back from your deicide, I told Tchotchke. He said he understood. I gave him his bar of soap, the traditional send off gift (gods may bathe, but they don’t wash). He wanted out. He said he was looking forward to being fully human. The corporate gig as keeper of the thingamajigs had not been a good fit. I asked him what his plans were and he shrugged his shoulders and he said simply he did not know. He was going to spend his bar of soap on a long bubblebath. A quietness had settled over his face. His shoulders lowered, his chest fell, and I could see he was breathing differently, from his stomach. He handed me the keys to his candy apple red Corvette. We finished our pints and got up and walked to the window, and I pushed him out, and he fell into the Sound. (5 Aug 20)

Behind the One-way Mirror

The difference between accident and mistake is agency. I caught a glimpse of myself in the one-way mirror window. I knew they were watching me. Sylvie also. I looked pretty none too natty having slept the night in my new black and white camel hair jacket, the to the hilt popping blue diamond tie with bright orange accent circles now loose and wrinkled and hanging as low as my attitude. Feeling none too benevolent about myself, not at all, as I stared at my reflection in the glass. As soon as I got this god anger management problem under control, I was going to start in on my self image, I really was. But they had asked me to handle the transaction for them. These transactions are especially complicated. The stars must align pin point right, the players all set up. And there’s risk. I was by the skin of my teeth their agent. They were on the transaction, watching every move. They knew the risk, gave the authority. I didn’t sit at a computer and do all this. All I did was get the players to the table. Relationship bits and bobs. Trust. But how would the transaction disappear like that? Somebody broke into the stream and stole the file. Simple as that. Could be some kid from some small town in Kentucky for all we know. Some high school hacker, not even sure of what he’s got, no way to cash in on the instruments. The file could still be in cyberspace, and we’ve lost the tools necessary to pull the transaction up. Like something lost in real space, the file will continue to travel like the unraveling of pi. Unless the file was destroyed by a random noise issue, randomness, maybe an agent with a randomizer. A supercomputer. Behind a one way mirror. I drive the rig. I’m the race car driver, not the builder, not the mechanic, not the sponsor, and certainly not the owner. I don’t bother lifting the hood to see if the car’s propelled by an internal combustion engine or a nuclear reactor. Makes no difference to how I need to execute. Sylvie notes that’s a mistake. Who knows, who knows what they think. Very few comments, though the comment light was on. Walter is a fairly secluded and elite group of owners. Nothing in common with one another that I can figure out. These transactions are like poker games with them. And I’m on the carpet. The board room table is even covered with green felt. You dig that? I’m trying to figure out what’s meaningful here, and I have to tell you nothing too obvious at this point. I stood on the corner of Pike and 1st, above Pike’s Market, watching a Vashon ferry come across a disturbed bay. The air bit cold into my skin cut deep and found bone. The wind was blowing in circles, rain pouring down and around, puddles, running gutters. Rain now with sleet and snow flurries blowing in my face. I seemed to be the only person on the street. I hustled down to Pike’s to grab some breakfast at the Athenian. I wanted to talk to Molly. I needed some help. I needed a friend. I was about to make a trip, and I didn’t know if I was coming back. It was probably all a mistake. Or it might have been an accident. I was trying to discover any kind of reciprocal relationship. (6 Aug 20)

Sylvie’s Dream of Counterpoise

Sylvie dreamt an invisible wave of counterpoise forced all mortals to wear masks covering nose and mouth. Thus individual identity, what Freud called the id, was lost, and people would have to look into one another’s eyes when speaking and could only speak truth. Those refusing to wear a mask would be called liars and deniers and would be subject to debunking. Society would be detoxed of retail. Skilled jobs would return, though no one would be forced to work, and those who chose to work would not commute but work from home in building and making useful tools and items and providing useful services for daily life. One person might make beer, another shoes, another tiny houses. Another would keep the books. A livable wage would be guaranteed for every citizen of every country. The wave of counterpoise would cause disruption through widespread removals and reversals, humans moving down and away from commercialized statuses. Some would move literally underground. Already people were reinhabiting the Seattle Underground. Others were moving onto beaches or into the woods or turning abandoned malls into suburban campgrounds. Society would be deconstructed. Education would be deschooled. Police systems would be demilitarized and decentralized. Mortals would lose interest in their personal DNA and the social status of individual ancestry. It wouldn’t signify where one came from. The elderly would not be forced into retirement, but would assist with the care and teaching of the young, in growing community gardens, in making music, in writing and reading. Health care would be available to all and its underlying purpose would be health and not medicine. Cities would grow quieter, people moving around less, walking and biking, riding open air busses, trams, and light rail. Many things people had long taken for granted would disappear. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity would return. As would civil disobedience. People would be responsible for their own entertainment. When I asked Sylvie how this counterpose, as she called it, was to come about, she said she did not know, but had awakened too soon. At the end of her dream, she was swimming with the whales off Depot Bay. (7 Aug 20)

Walter and the Panhandler

Most gods have little choice but to follow their nature. It’s not so much that they are bound to, but that they want to. It’s what fulfills them, brings them happiness, even if its taste is bitter. It’s true though, that with a lot of hard work, one may achieve a kind of metamorphosis of one’s nature, changing, over time, but then that very change has always been a part of one’s nature, waiting in the wings, as it were. Metamorphosis is different from mutation or mistake or accident. The snail wants to be a snail, slipping and sliding slowly along its trail to and fro its eats. The seal is at home in her wavy salt water coves, climbing the rocks to dry in the sun after a meal of fish. So too the human can not be unhuman. Inhumanity is a different matter. One follows a slippery slope toward inhuman behavior, landing in the pond of selfishness, fed by streams of stinginess and hoarding. If you are happy, you will hand over some change to the panhandler on the corner, and not think twice about it. His cardboard sign may be filled with lies (veteran, three hungry kids and no place to call home, need money for ticket back home); so what, of these lies? Doesn’t all advertising fib? Appeals to the emotive, the passions. So when Walter and I reached the corner where sat the fellow with his sign (can’t work – groin injury), and Walter scoffed what was he, an NFL quarterback? I gave the fellow a greenback. Why Walter should care, Ray having just recovered the missing transaction of $300 million, is a story not of metamorphosis but of one’s nature. Walter is a miser. And, one of the wealthiest men in the world, he is, by nature, a panhandler who advertises by pandering to the base desires of a soft audience he detests. The language of the gods is not made of words. The best prayer, as Thomas Merton has told us, is wordless. As a flight of birds. As a sea breeze. As a flight of bills falling into a hat sitting on a sidewalk between two wretched legs. Words are seeds in bloom, flowers and weeds, wanted and unwanted. The bee is on your lips, her long tongue slipping through for the nectar of your words. It will take many bees to change these words to honey. The panhandler is working, similar to Walter, sifting his investment pan for gold nuggets, panning for gold. As an enterprise, it’s one of the most efficient. Surely, I told Walter, even you must appreciate at least that much. Money in one’s pockets, like gold, does nothing. It’s a dead weight. It must be circulated. This wretched state of affairs is part of human nature. Zeus blinded Plutus so that the god of money could freely pour the goods of his cornucopia without regard for worthiness. Thus we arrive at our current plutocracy, which affords sans philosophy, sans religion, sans love, sans hope, sans charity. (8 Aug 20)

Out of Dodge

Time for a road trip, distraction from this god business. A visit to Refugio. Get out of Dodge. But first a bit of unfinished business required me to be in Portland. I got a rental car, one way. I was to meet Joyce at Nick’s on Hawthorne. We often met there to review the Portland books.  Joyce was god posing as a real estate broker in Portland, among other things, and handled my local properties. He was another friend that went back to high school days, the surf junkets. Joyce had entered the seminary after high school. He could have been a professional baseball player. I always get a kick out of old Joyce. He spent two tours in Vietnam, olive drab Jesuit, nothing jejune about that, although there was plenty of fasting. I headed south on the I-5 out of Seattle, past the dark ball park and the orange stork dock creatures, a ball of lightning curving down and away, a foul ball, and past Boeing Field, not too much stop and go, up above Kent, through the Federal Way suburbs, made the turn west down through the flat Fife stretch, around the Tacoma Dome where once again I would miss Dylan, on through Fort Lewis. I took my time. I didn’t need any more traffic cops pointing out to me the speed limit in Washington is more than a mere suggestion. Traffic thinned out after Tacoma, the sky finally opening up. Nisqually Valley was lovely, the river running high and fast, but the bridge was quickly behind me and I wished I would soon be out in the warm water in some good waves, or maybe I would take a hiking trip somewhere on the eastside and fish some trout. Maybe even a raft float trip down the Deschutes, float the Trout Creek area. I passed the Sleater Kinney exit before Olympia and rounded the I-5 left curve south of the capitol around the brewery and pulled off on Trosper Road for the Starbucks there. The yellow Hummer that I had first noticed pulling on in Tacoma pulled off behind me. Back on I-5 with Grande Americano in the console and Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited in the CD slip of the rental and I fixed the cruise on 70 and turned the volume up but pulled off about twenty minutes later for a Centralia pit stop. The yellow Hummer again got off behind me. Coincidence, maybe, so I decided to get another Americano, even though the Trosper Road one hadn’t cooled enough yet to get more than a couple of hot sips. The yellow Hummer also stopped at the Centralia Starbucks. The yellow Hummer was getting curiouser and curiouser. I got back on the I-5 south. I stopped at each rest stop, the last one just before Vancouver, the yellow Hummer still in tow. Then I didn’t stop again until I hit Portland. From the I-5 I took the I-84 east and got off at the first exit, Southeast 33rd Avenue. I wanted to drive by Brewski’s stepson’s place in the Laurelhurst neighborhood. I lost the yellow Hummer at 33rd and Glisan, at the intersection by the Greek Orthodox Catholic Church. The Hummer stayed south on 33rd. I turned left onto Glisan. Jack was a young god posing as a local Portland lawyer who had helped me a few times on real estate deals. I might find him home since this was a Saturday, but rain was falling in Portland too, and no one was outside. Jack’s lawn was clean of the three feet deep leaves from the gargantuan maples that canopied the streets when I was last in Portland in the fall. There were cars in the drive. I cruised slowly past, not wanting to be seen (Jack’s wife didn’t care for me, and it would spell trouble for him if she thought we were meeting up), and came out onto East Burnside, went up 39th and over to Hawthorne where I parked behind the Fred Meyer on the corner of 39th and Hawthorne. Hawthorne was busy in spite of the rain and gloomy and cold weather. Nick’s was packed. College football was on the TVs. I found Joyce at the bar drinking a Heidelburg. I got a beer too and we both ordered doubles loaded. As I put away my Coney Island dogs Joyce described the Portland situation to me. We drank another beer and enjoyed the football and the noise and talk in Nick’s. No sign of the yellow Hummer at this point. I left Joyce at Nick’s and drove out to the Portland airport where I would catch an Alaskan flight down to Los Angeles. I drove slowly out 82nd toward the airport, no sign of the yellow Hummer on the way to the airport. I landed in Los Angeles a few hours later, grabbed my overnight bag, and walked out to the curb. The air was warm and moist with a hint of fuel in an onshore breeze. The palm trees swayed slightly as the cabs and shuttles jockeyed in and out of the traffic. A couple of traffic cops blew their whistles and waved cars to move on. The ubiquitous voice over the loud speakers continued to soothe the lonely or weary travelers in its Sisyphean cadence: The red zone is for the loading and unloading of passengers only: no parking. The no parking gal’s voice and the powder blue sky invited balloons or made you want to join the Hare Krishna and go sleep up in the hills above Santa Ynez where all you had to do was chant and be happy, or be happy and chant, not sure what comes first. I felt Los Angeles, first in the nose, then in the eyes, then in the mouth and throat. I caught a shuttle to a car rental agency off of Century where I rented a silver Taurus and pulled onto Sepulveda south, drove through the tunnel under the runway, and into Refugio. I was on my way to the Orange Tiki Room where Mariposa Avenue dissembles up in the dunes above Santa Monica Bay. I turned right on Mariposa off of Sepulveda, stopped briefly at Center Street but the old place looked deserted and like Nickels was not home. I went on up and over the Mariposa hill and came down to the high school and crossed Main Street. Nothing much looked changed since my last visit. I glanced over at the trees and the green grass in the library park. I might have stopped and gone for a walk, but the god in me frowned on sentimentalism. And this was not that kind of road trip. I was thinking at one point Sylvie might have been riding shotgun in the yellow Hummer. But why would that be? Thicken the plot a bit. But she could just hop a flight in Seattle and meet me at Nick’s in Portland. Why would she need a Hummer? My itinerary was not a big secret from anyone who knew me well. And a yellow Hummer wasn’t an easy thing to hide. I didn’t want to get aggressive with the Hummer. I would wait for the right opportunity. Anyway, I passed the library park without stopping. The Orange Tiki Room was lit up with new green neon lights, the tacky fake bamboo fence at the entrance. Inside the only light was the glow of an old juke playing a Duane Eddy thick stringed surf riff. A sandy grit covered the floor, and a couple of longboards leaned against the wall behind the bar. A waitress I did not know wearing a yellow polka dot bikini came over and asked me did I want a drink. I ordered a Pacifico and a couple of fish tacos. The evening was starting to jell in the basin. You could feel the air tighten a bit. There would be an evening glass off. The dry air was a relief after Seattle and Portland. Wormy around? I asked the yellow polka dot bikini after the tacos. Who should I say is calling? Tell him Woody’s outside covered with rain. Wormy came out. He was covered with the shavings of a surfboard blank. He still wore the long droopy mustache and had his hair pulled back into a long pony tail. His skin was a burnt bronze where not covered with the white foam shavings. He wore trunks and sandals and no shirt. He had the thick neck and strong upper body of the swimmer and surfer. His knees bulged with surf knots. My old lady! Wormy yelled. Been a long time coming this time around, man. Wormy, what’s happening? Shaping some new boards, man, come check out this new design. I followed Wormy into the back yard outside the bar. How’s business, Wormy? Not bad, not bad. We still got the wrestling Monday nights. Yeah? The nuns still take over the place Sundays, put the food out for all the homeless surf cats, you dig? Whoa! What’s this? Surfboard shop, man, dig it?  Wormy Surfboards, right here out of Refugio. Check out this five-fin. Far out. That’s Hoppy’s. You remember Hoppy. Of course. I’m working on this retro line, man, dig it, simple clean lines, single wide skeg, 9 and 10 foot boards, long, but not too slow, not so long. Good for the chop, the three foot slop, man, that’s what we get here, you know that. But when the good stuff comes in, this board, quick, smooth, rides high up in the water, you can sit on it and it won’t sink, you know what I’m saying, yeah, dig this board, man. I’m real happy with this board. So what’s up, man? What brings you down to Gundo and environs out of the wet country? I need a ride, Wormy. Where to? I’d be looking for a back door that no one’s watching. I think we might find an opening, yeah. How much? How far? When? What do you need exactly? Need to dissemble for a few days, few weeks, not sure yet. I don’t know, maybe this one’s the last trip, maybe I don’t come back this time. I’m thinking a boat out of King’s Harbor, fishing or something, diving maybe, south, Ensenada, Baja, then a small plane somewhere, then a big boat off of Peru to the South Seas. Any islands for sale these days? Nah, man, satellite tracking, zone right in on your bare naked ass, the only guy on an island, you kidding me? You’re better off someplace crowded nowadays, somewhere you can get lost in the crowd. Outback maybe, if you insist on being alone, takes forever to get there and longer to find your way out. Bounty hunter find you someday though, and they can satellite in on your butt in the Outback too. Dig it man, takes a crowd to be alone these days. Not easy, big important dude like yourself, wealthy like a horse fly, easy to swat, not so quick, some kind of god. You’re just too damn big, man. Who are the interested parties that might be coming in here next week asking after you? There’s no one on my tail. There’s a dozen hungry women tracking your every move, man, don’t kid me, hungry, angry, frustrated, and really mean women just wanting to make a meal out of you, a plate of oysters, like a beach after a night of storm surf, sea girls picking your parts, man. Ever the romantic, making up stories. New war, new stories, old war, old stories, same war, same stories. We’re talking sorties here, not stories. Wormy got on the phone, hung up, and said ride can be arranged. Drive down to Redondo. Stay close to the Strand. Pull over and leave the car running, walk out onto the pier. Someone will ask you if you’re the poet looking for the collector’s copy of Two Years Before the Mast. You reply, what’s the water like? But I’ll tell you what, man, you need to rethink this whole caper. Go homeless, man, go homeless right here in Refugio. Best place to hide. Disappear right here. Into the surf. (9 Aug 20)

A Supreme Boredom

Unique to the gods is the problem of supreme boredom. The gods have nothing to look forward to. Long after the last human has returned to stardust, the gods will live on, every day the same, infinite sameness. Mortals, humans, see that distant coach called death coming, in the distance, always somewhat distant, even if it’s knocking at the door. There’s always the chance of another breath, the breath of another chance. Death travels at night, during the day, in every season, every hour. It trots along – death by death by death. But at least mortality is not boring. To live a life without end is not a life. I don’t know how to describe immortality to mortals: a permanent scar; a tattoo that can’t be removed; a wart that keeps returning. A want that won’t go away no matter how many times satisfied. A roller coaster that never rolls to a full stop. To live knowing that you will sooner or later bid farewell – that’s exciting. If you knew you were never going to die, why would you ever bother even to get out of bed? Things could be put off until tomorrow forever. Death is a wake up call. (10 Aug 20)

A Change of Clothes

I abandoned the rental running as Wormy had instructed and made my way down to the Redondo Beach Pier. From the sidewalk near Catalina and Coral I had glanced back and the rental car had already been picked up and disappeared. The classic fin de siècle houses along the Redondo beachfront had perished, replaced with balcony ocean view condominium and apartment complexes. Hard to say which era was the more degenerate. Probably all ages are similar in that human nature has not improved over time. Nor has god nature. The universe is not expanding; it’s stuck in its own muck. But the south Santa Monica Bay night was now cool, a fine mist rising from the water, the horizon dark, no sign of Helios. It would have been a good night to cruise Highland, Manhattan, and Hermosa avenues through the beach cities on my candy apple red scooter hog. I had rolled down all the windows of the rental, but the feeling of being open and about, out in the salty air, wasn’t the same. Out on the pier, a few folks fishing, some buckets yet empty, others grimy grey water, or busy with bait. As I was walking slowly along the pier railing, one of the fishers stopped me with the Two Years Before the Mast code Wormy had given me. In a bag in a trash can was stashed a change of clothes, and I used the Oyster and Shrimp Shack backroom to change. When I came out, I was now another of the fishers, and would vanish in their midst. As Risk Manager to the gods, properly speaking, I am an oracle, but I can’t foretell everything. Likewise, our pasts remain obscure, ambiguous, seemingly unnatural. My mother was a mermaid, my father a walrus. I’ve close affinities with the fishes of the oceans, seas, rivers, and streams. Shells and the creatures that live in them. Rocks, sand, and seagrass and sea wind. Though in some tellings, my mother was a twisted weeping cypress and my father a magpie. (11 Aug 20)

Waiting for Sot

Most of the gods are on the make. Being at least part human, as I am, may cause one to harbor some scruples. These Sylvie relies on to keep me on the straight and narrow. It’s no wonder humans have created shame in an attempt to keep the activities of the gods under some control and keep them from seducing and infesting people with their talons and talents for abuse of power. The god Sot was both cob and pen. I was waiting for Sot’s message which should tell me when to expect Wally the Whale who would carry me in its belly out to sea. It should come as no surprise given the ambiguities of our origins that gods often have more than one name. I am sometimes called Chucker’s Chance, also Prior Probability. Possibility is not the same as probability. Nothing is impossible, but not necessarily probable. Initial singularity, an oxymoron, illustrates. The problem is we like to see something happen more than once so we can begin a line of best fit. One occurrence only creates a point, but not a line. Points are multidirectional in potential, while lines are by definition linear, lineal, and must contain at least two points, one of which can always be used as a referent. All of that the actuaries to the gods taught me – but that’s not to say I was a good student. For the next seven nights I made my way down to the pier to fish, waiting, testing my new cover, hiding out during the day in an attic above a garage in North Redondo. I had let my hair quickly fall to my shoulders as part of my new disguise. The beach cities are not particularly safe havens for hiding. Because the cities are relatively small and wealthy from enormous taxes from expensive properties and prolific and diverse businesses, their police are well funded. And the locals are not friendly to outsiders, though on the pier exceptions are made for the fishers who are supposed to add color and character which satisfies the tourist expectation and taste for the exotic. Still, there are rules written and unwritten that could mean either one’s safety or danger, depending on unknown, random forces at work. One had also to watch out for the Lifeguards. (12 Aug 20)

Rumors

Rumored it is the gods have lost power over time, and it’s true many of them have exchanged their berths in Heaven for capital on Earth. Nevertheless, many lesser gods remain, living on Earth, though adulterated with traces of human genome. And it’s difficult to determine if the god has absorbed some of the human or the human some of a god. Either way, a tiny insertion of one or deletion of another can result in unpredictable change in behavior, altruistic and selfish. As I made my way daily to and from the pier to fish, waiting for word from Sot, I saw that the South Bay was full of lesser gods: bellhops; waiters and waitresses; truck farmers with vegetables, flowers, and herbs; car wash attendants; house painters; roofers; cab drivers; dishwashers; bicycle and wheeled and track vehicle mechanics; maids, housekeepers, concierges; sex workers; au pairs; gas station attendants, clerks, bussers, baristas, bartenders. The theory goes the gods have lost power because human belief in them has waned, dwindled to a trickle. The symbiotic relationship has weakened, belief in one another deemed necessary for the continuance of both. Detrimental reliance has upset the cart. Rumor has it there’s to be a giant baseball game, good versus evil, lightning balls thrown and hit, and the losers will be cast from Earth into space. But it’s just another rumor. I don’t know how these things get started. (13 Aug 20)

The Flower Child

Still no sign from Sot. I moved into a hostel in San Pedro and began frequenting the old fishery taverns in the working class neighborhoods. There was a young woman living in the hostel gathered flowers and wild herbs from parks and yards near sidewalks and vacant lots and sold them standing on street corners to drivers in cars waiting at red lights, seemed interested in godhood, wanted to be able to become invisible. One night, sitting out on the veranda of the big hostel house, we got to talking. It’s no good being invisible if you can’t walk through walls, I cautioned her. You could get locked inside some room. She wanted to talk about the Catholic saints and the Church Militant. The saints, she argued, now took the place of the old, debunked gods. The saints were invisible, but you could feel their presence. She said she had known a guy who had wanted to become a god so he could fly. He was not prepared for the dangers of modern day air travel and was sucked into an engine of a 747 on takeoff at LAX. He had been practicing flying at low altitudes from the dunes at Playa del Rey. I came to enjoy our evening talks on the veranda, then one day she suddenly disappeared, leaving no word. (14 Aug 20)

Hotel Julian

After the flower girl vanished I moved out of the hostel and took a room in a boarding house, Hotel Julian, close to the Port, and a daily rhythm I succumbed to, as if I too were a retired seaman. The Julian was a respectable flop house still resisting gentrification, furnished rooms, and some not so furnished, rented out by the hour, day, week, or month. The rooms were on the upper floors, above a ground level row of retail shops: a corner grocery and liquor store; a one chair barber shop; a narrow tavern, no tables, just a long bar opposite a sandy table shuffleboard, a couple of dart boards against the back wall; a used book store; another shop or office space, its door padlocked and its windows butcher paper covered. The double doors and stairs leading up to the hotel opened off the sidewalk between the tavern and the book shop. At the top of the stairs was a landing with doors left and right. The door left led to the rooms, the door right to the lobby and hotel office. The lobby flaunted two overstuffed couches very hard to climb out of for most of the aged and afflicted in one way or another seamen who primarily made up the boarding house tenants. A card table with four chairs. An overturned whiskey barrel on which was painted a chess board, the pieces housed in a baleen basket, two stools inviting a game. A book and magazine rack, a couple of tourist maps. A corner self help coffee stand, open 24 hours. A sign: No Smoking, No Alcohol, No Food, No Cussing in the Lobby. The front desk and counter, cubbies for keys and notes and mail. The walls paneled in dark mahogany sheets. A few framed black and white photos from the old Port days, the ships and boats and wharfs and the men and women strolling in hats and duds now long out of style. Thick strip clear fir flooring. An absurdly ornate and elaborate chandelier a tall man would have to duck to cross under. Bay windows overlooking the street. I checked in for the week, found my room, threw my duffle bag onto my bed, and walked down to the docks to find some coffee and a plate of bacon and eggs. Thusly my new rhythm began at Hotel Julian. (15 Aug 20)

Weathered Weary Blues Band

Room 293, my room for the week, viewed Port Street, below the monthly rooms on the third floor of Hotel Julian and above the hourly and daily rooms on the first floor. Also on the first floor, located above the ground floor grocery, was a bunk or barracks room with twelve canvas and steel spring cots let by the night, two rows of six, one on each side, a three foot aisle down the middle. The Bunkroom opened at 7 in the evening and guests had to be out by 7 the next morning. The Barracks was closed during the day. A communal latrine at the end of the room served personal needs. Other than use of the latrine for cleaning and relief, the Bunkroom, or Barracks, was for sleeping only. The room was open to men or women, but not to couples. Singles only. But how Julian enforced that rule, I don’t know. Bunkroom conversation, if there was any, was sotto voce. If Hotel Julian guests wanted to hear or make noise, they climbed the back fire escape up to the rooftop, where an outdoor bar and grill, open to guests only, featured a house blues band Thursday through Sunday nights. The rooftop was closed Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and open from 9pm to midnight the other nights. I checked into Hotel Julian on a Monday, and it was a few nights later when I climbed the fire escape to the roof to hear the Weathered Weary Blues Band. Apparently, the band consisted of only one regular player, a guitarist who went by the name Jack Tar, and whether he came on alone or was joined by other players, he went by the Weathered Weary Blues Band. I got up to the rooftop around 9:30 and counted 9 folks including myself in the audience. I sat at a table in the rear and ordered a beer. But the tide was in and so was the fleet, and soon the rooftop filled to capacity, about 40 of us listening as Jack introduced none other than my disappeared flower girl who started in on “The Blues are Brewin,” accompanied by Jack Tar lovingly stroking an acoustic Gibson with a bottle neck on this little finger and a tall thin fellow blowing and sucking fills on harmonica. Up on the roof was lovely, and while dangerous waters might have been rising below, we paid that no mind as we got stuffed to the gills with the blues but never felt full. (16 Aug 20)

Remet and Regret

Come the following Sunday, I decided to stay on for another week at Hotel Julian, having found my time there restful and enjoyable, and while I was in the lobby at the front desk getting squared away, Flower Girl appeared once again. In any metamorphosis, one must decide whether to bring one’s memory along. If she was a goddess, Flower Girl was certainly not Mnemosyne. I don’t know why she pretended not to know me, to have never met me. Maybe I found our evening talks on the veranda of the hostel more engaging. I had recalled them several times since moving out, going over what was said, where we had sat, how the evening suns dropped into the ocean. I recalled her flowers, her yellow hair, her blue eyes, her smooth, sensitive skin, her happy smile that often broke into a sudden laugh, her frown when she seemed depressed or angry with something, her slightly freckled cheeks, the way she squeezed the arms of her overstuffed chair when she was about to exclaim something important, like she was about to experience an epiphany but held it off until she couldn’t hold it anymore. With each retelling in my mind, I strengthened my memory of our time together. She, on the other hand, may never have recalled those evenings, so they easily disappeared. Or maybe she confused, in her memory, her evenings with me with any number of other persons she had spent time with, all conversations blurring into an indistinct person and incoherent discussion. Perhaps she had other reasons for denying we’d ever met and talked and shared time together, alone, on the veranda of the hostel. I mentioned I’d heard her blues singing on the rooftop the other night. She thanked me for listening and said she lately had been showing up there every Thursday. When I asked her if she was also was staying at Hotel Julian she was again evasive and seemed to prefer not to answer, instead saying something obscure about being uncertain what her plans might be moving forward. Maybe she harbored regrets of our conversations, of sharing something too deeply of herself, and now she wished to reclaim that thing and keep it for herself, or to save it for someone else, and so with that new person the experience would be new and fresh and not a rehash of already spent emotion and epiphany. Or maybe she was the kind of person who only remembered bad experiences, a characteristic of the melancholic or depressed person, who relives moments better forgotten over and over again, and can’t seem to shake loose of them, while their happy memories sink to the bottom of a murky sea, and there I was, Prufrock’s “ragged claws,” or, forgetting the metaphor, quiet literally the lonely man leaning out the window of “twenty-nine three.” (17 Aug 20)

You Can’t Go Home Again

You can’t go home again. Neither should I have stayed on another week at Hotel Julian. The subdued rhythm of my pastoral turned boisterous with the arrival of the fleet, and my absence in Seattle and now my prolonged and somewhat mysterious trip south caught up with me, testing Walter’s patience, and as he was wont to do at any sign of disloyalty among those with a seat at his table, he terminated me. There was of course more to it than that. The Walter Team was disestablished. It would be near impossible to disambiguate the transactions. In any case, I was no longer Risk Manager to the gods. Sylvie said Walter had sent me a 30 day letter. I could transfer to a desk in Morocco or take my leave, but the 30 days had already expired, and I had been cut loose with a modest severance bonus. Sylvie was on her way to spring training with her Single A team in Costa Rica. She had leased the Queen Anne house to some moonshiners out of the hills somewhere in east Skagit who planned to set up a microbrew. She had taken the liberty of putting my severance into a fund of fund of funds with no guaranteed rate of return but with a reputable track record. While I would not yet have to give up my weekly room status for a berth in the bunkroom, I would have to scout around for some part time work. I would not go back to Seattle though. I would take my risks elsewhere and in due time. Come Thursday night of my second week on board I climbed the Hotel Julian fire escape up to the rooftop bar and grill where I drank a slow beer and listened to Jack Tar and the Flower Girl with the Weathered Weary Blues Band messing around with some country blues with players on guitar, banjo, harmonica, a snare drum with a single cymbal, a Flatiron mandolin, and a stand up bass. Flower Girl nearly keeled me over with this song:

“Back Home Again”

What I know about love, I wrote on a postage stamp,
and mailed myself half way up to the moon.
I’m in stardust singing – I do, I do, adieu.
I’m out on the road, and I can’t go home again.

I was born in the back of a beach bum shack,
again and again, then I sailed the seven seas.
I never made it back home again.
Adieu, adieu. You can’t go home again.

She was born in a coral of a rodeo,
off a road they call Route 66.
Between the cowboy and the clown she broke free.
Goodbye, goodbye. She won’t be back again.

The moral of this story, the point of this tale,
if you ever leave home, you can’t go back again,
because you won’t be there when you arrive.
Goodbye, my love, goodbye my love, goodbye.

And it’s home again, I want to come back to you,
see all my family and all my old friends too,
but it’s true what they say, you can’t go home again.
Goodbye, my love, goodbye my love, adieu.

Note: Hear “Back Home Again” played on the guitar
here: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CEAoxkhIXgq/

(18 Aug 20)

Occultation

Had I more resources at hand, my horizon might not have looked so limited. I took inventory: 2 pairs of jeans; 2 shirts; 2 pairs of socks; 1 pair of good walking shoes; a small shaving kit with toothbrush; 2 towels; 1 notebook, 1 pen, 1 pencil; cell phone and charger; $300 cash and some change; 1 piece of identification, an expired driver’s license; 1 bank card. Also in my duffle, a space blanket, a wool lifeguard blanket, both part of an emergency kit: electric torch, matches in waterproof box, first aid kit, iodine pills, scissors, a fat pocket knife, a green glow stick, a bright orange whistle. A small box with fishing line and hooks, a plastic jar of pink salmon eggs. A plastic folding cup. I pictured my wardrobe in the house on Queen Anne – the suits, the ties, the shoes for every occasion, belts, hats, gloves, stacks of laundered shirts, drawers full of socks, a closet full of jackets, coats, vests, pullovers, sweaters, shorts, jeans, bathing suits, wetsuit. In the garage, surfboards, the Vespa, my pickup truck, the station wagon, bicycles, baseball equipment, golf clubs, fishing gear, camping tents and sleeping bags. I walked through the house: books in every room; kitchen stuffed with dishes, pantry stuffed with canned goods, boxes of pasta, bags of coffee; breadbox in the nook; fruit basket. Shelves stuffed with herbs, condiments, cookbooks, oatmeal, rice, sugar, oils, red wine vinegar, chocolates, salts and peppers. In the basement, a freezer stuffed with salmon from our recent float plane trip to Alaska, frozen jams and bags of tomatoes, sides of bacon, rib eye steaks, a couple of roasts, a turkey, chicken breasts and chicken legs, butter, cheeses, breads, bags of frozen vegetables. All around the house, chairs, couches, tables, more chairs. Beds. Closets stuffed with stuff. Bathrooms smelling of lavender and honey. Medicine chests stuffed with pills, toothpaste, blades, creams, ointments, oils. Attic smelling of musk and dust, stuffed with old furniture, mirrors, costumes, chests stuffed with knicknacks, ornaments, toys, stuffed animals, dolls, vinyl record albums warped from heat. In the entry, parlor, living room – bouquets of flowers, houseplants, cats sleeping on warm window sills. Walls covered with paintings, photographs, lithographs, wreaths of dried flowers. A grand piano, its lid closed. I came back to my room in the Hotel Julian and thought again of the possibility of finding some part time work. Time for a bit of mindfulness. Nothing like living in the moment. But I had no resume, no references, no degrees or certificates of training of any kind, no background, no past. The only information I might put on a job application was my name and temporary address. If you’ve no past, you’ve no future. What would I say in an interview? I was a god? I was Risk Manager to the gods. I spent a few minutes role playing with myself an interview scenario. A god of what? A retired god. Oh, I see. I looked through the help wanted ads. Employers were looking for specialists. I had no specialty. And I was only part human. That part of me had not existed once before, a time I did not remember, then a life – family, school, military, work, family again, then retirement, an early retirement – then again that part I cannot remember would presumably return. Then a transubstantiation back to bread and wine, only the appearance of a god remaining. Who would hire such a creature? (19 Aug 20)

Wheels Within Wheels

Fearlessly knocking on doors in the nearby maritime industry, canvassing about the harbor for a part time job, I found I could not land anything. I thought I might find something washing boats, or something to do with dock and wharf maintenance, but with no connections, references, or background, even washing dishes or sweeping floors seemed out of reach. Having no access to independent transportation didn’t help. I learned from a Bunkroom guest, Cajetan, at Hotel Julian, in conversation on the rooftop one night, of stretches of sidewalk in Los Angeles where one might stand mornings in the hopes of being picked up for some temporary work need – no questions asked. One got paid under the table in cash. The jobs were usually for day laborers, but anything was possible. The stretch of sidewalk might change location though, and one had to stay in touch somehow with the informal system that fed the enterprise. According to Cajetan, living entirely off the grid was impossible. There were grids within grids, he explained, systems within systems, wheels within wheels. Every turning of one wheel turned another. Attempts to escape systems often led to spider web crisscrossing entrapments in systems themselves located off the grid. One might hide, but no one was independent. (19 Aug 20)

Tunnel Ahead

Pluto lived in the Seattle underground, the old stores abandoned below the raised street level project completed after the substantial fire of 1889. One night, after a poetry reading in Pioneer Square, Sylvie and I slipped down to visit Pluto. He was busy mapping out the Seattle Shanghai Tunnels, where the gods could get lost on vacation. Cities built upon cities give rise to strange rumors, seeping stories trying to explain what can’t be seen: the buried, the covered, the closed, the past. And the stories, like the people they depict, pile up, one sitting upon another, and their lineages when described set the characters and their plots upside down. Put no stock in the dead weight of your coat of arms. Neither be impressed nor depressed by what occupied your forebears. Your great great great grandfather may have been a prince or a pirate, a saint or an executioner, a sage or a fool; what does any of it have to do with you? A distant aunt may have been Catherine the Great or Catherine of Alexandria; so what? What system of serfdom is necessary to break the wheels that broke the backs of the ancestors eaten by cultural vultures and laughing hyenas and that continue to roll over so many? Where we come from is a matter of chance, unless there exists some Grand Plan, but there is no such plan, unless Hands Off is a plan. If where we come from is a matter of chance, so too is where we are headed. That does not mean we should forgo working to make good choices, but that we can’t fully control or even see or hear all the variables of influence, and that what looks like reward may be useless decoration. A purse is something that must be carried. (21 Aug 20)

Turning Down

Julien, upon hearing I was considering finding some part time work and moving from a weekly to a monthly room in Hotel Julien, told me he might be looking to add to his housekeeping staff now that the fleet was in. When I asked him to talk more about that, I learned his housekeeping staff consisted of two supervisors, two women, twins, who had been with him for years. They both worked seven days a week, one, called Dawn, from 7 in the morning, when the Bunkroom was to be vacated, to 7 in the evening, when the hotel would usually be full for the night, the other, named Eve, from 7 in the evening to 7 in the morning. Their staff consisted of part timers, students, mostly, or single moms from the neighborhood, looking for flexible days and hours and easygoing job sharing and scheduling with few rules or recriminations. Dawn and Eve were permanent employees, the rest of the housekeeping staff was considered temporary and paid under the table in cash. The duties and responsibilities of the housekeepers including turning down rooms, sweeping and vacuuming, working the laundry room, cleaning bathrooms, stocking supplies of sheets, blankets, pillow cases, towels and toiletries, washing windows, and cleaning up the Rooftop – washing dishes, tables, mopping floors. At the same time, Cajetan told me he had invested in some capital – he had purchased a used van and secured a job moving a personal law library from a home in Laurel Canyon to an office on Wilshire. He asked me would I help him out with his first job, about a day or two of manual labor moving books, he estimated. And he had big plans, having painted The Right On Moving Company on the sides of his van. Suddenly I was flush with job opportunities and said yes to both offers. Since I would be busy with Cajetan during the day, Eve suggested I start by helping with the Rooftop cleanups, which began around 11 in the evening and depending on the mess, might last an hour or two, Thursday through Sunday, the four nights a week the bar and grill was open. It’s an odd feeling going suddenly from unemployment to employment, of any kind. I wrote Sylvie a postcard: “Spent most of the day doing nothing, pondering the universe, with no conclusions. Start two part time jobs tomorrow. Determined to turn down the noise of the gods and pay attention to these new people in my life, and the pleasures of work.” (22 Aug 20)

Laurel Canyon Library

Lugubrious leather and hardback bound big heavy law books, collections and sets: cases, opinions, decisions, appeals, precedent, jurisdiction, tax, rules of court, forms, procedure, briefs, dictionaries, superseded, encyclopedias, treatises, history, code, session, agreements, administrative, legislative statute, regulatory, indexes, standards, reviews, reports, notes, bound journals, bulging 3 ring binders, looseleaf bins, oral argument, digests, local codes and ordinances, restatements, unpublished cases. Looking around, I thought it probable Cajetan had underbid his first contract job as sole proprietor of the Right On Moving Company. We were to move the private law library of one, Harry D. Luxe, from his home office up in Laurel Canyon down to his law firm office digs on Wilshire Boulevard. And we were to do this lifting and carrying in hands and arms each weighty and valuable tome down a flight of forty winding stone steps to Cajetan’s new van, a 1972 standard cargo Ford Econoline, that, on the way up to the canyon from San Pedro, had smoked, belched, rattled, stalled, incurred a bald tire blowout, and required two gas station stops to refill the overheating radiator with water, all the while Cajetan slip clutch driving stop to stop to conserve what remained of the dangerously thin squealing brake pads. Once we got the van loaded, it would be about a 5 mile drive out of the canyon down to Hollywood Boulevard and over to Fairfax then down to the Miracle Mile. Down there, you can see it from here, Cajetan pointed from the porch of the Laurel Canyon house, which richly afforded a view down the hills into the Los Angeles basin, where the morning fog was now rising like cakelike smog. Not far at all, Cajetan said. Should be able to get this job done in 9 trips, he predicted, predicated on what analysis I had no idea, but I happily picked up a couple of books, one under each arm, and started my first descent of the day down the twisting stairway of stone steps to the waiting van, vaguely wondering if our shocks would survive our first moving gig. (23 Aug 20)

Blueprints

Down in the basement storage room of Hotel Julian, rummaging through some old boxes, having been instructed by Dawn and Eve to conduct an inventory, I discovered a set of blueprints. I unrolled them on a dust covered desk. The old paper crinkled and popped and cracked a bit. The blueprints appeared to be remodeling plans from the late 1940’s, when to the building was added first floor retail space and large apartments leased long term were converted to smaller rooms for hotel use. The war years produced housing shortages around the port, quonset huts sprouted on empty parcels of land, and existing structures in the area were leveraged where possible for additional living space. The blueprints I stumbled across showed that the current Hotel Julian had not changed much since that late 1940’s renovation. The building occupied a small square block, and consisted of six floors (including the basement and rooftop). In the basement were three separate living space rooms with beds. One of these Dawn lived in, and Eve lived in another. The third was used as a day room for work breaks and lunches and housed a sickbed space for employees that fell ill or got hurt on the job. The basement also included a boiler and maintenance room (the upstairs rooms were heated by steam through a plumbing system using cast iron radiators), a laundry room, and the storage room. The first floor was used for retail space (current occupants as described in Episode 20 of this document). The other floors seemed today consistent with what I saw in the blueprints from the 1940’s: office, the bunkroom, and 4 day or hourly rooms on the 2nd floor (totalling 17 beds – 12 cots in the bunkroom, one single bed in each of the day or hour rooms, and one queen bed in the bedroom adjacent the office, where Julian lived); 12 size double bed rooms let weekly on the third floor (where I was still living week to week); and 8 monthly let rooms on the 4th floor, each with a queen size bed. There were no beds on the rooftop. Thus Hotel Julian contained 40 beds requiring daily housekeeping attention. (24 Aug 20)

In Storage

The blueprints I had found showed the basement of Hotel Julian was not quite 100% of the building’s footprint. A small square area under what was now the grocery, at the back of the basement storage and supply room, was apparently, and inexplicably, walled off. I tunneled back through the storage room boxes, stacked haphazardly. The farther back I worked, the harder it was to move around, stuff packed floor to ceiling and wall to wall, a hoarder’s dream. I found old light fixtures, cords ropes and wire coils, used furniture, a sofa, a loveseat, broken chairs, mirrors, doors their hardware removed, wood boxes and crates of handles, screws, nails, hand tools. Bits of screen and window pieces, moldings. A box of electrical circuit fuses. Three detached porcelain wall urinals, the size that rose from the floor to your face, a little kid would be afraid of falling into. A workbench buried under empty picture frames myriad styles and sizes. No one had been through this stuff in ages. Past the space utilized for current housekeeping needs – the storeroom area devoted to supply shelves and boxes of toilet and tissue and wrapping paper, cleaning supplies of soaps and bleach and buckets and brushes and brooms and mops and rags, spare light bulbs, bedding sheets and blankets and pillows, vacuum machines, squeegees, hand tools for routine repair jobs, most of which was well organized, new and fresh, rotated and restocked regularly – behind the currently used and useful, in the cavernous dark depth behind the contemporary storage and supplies, I found a kind of spillage zone, where items cut out of use or broken were dropped off probably with temporary intent but that never got moved again but were pushed back or buried under more throwaway and discarded stuff, stuff judged not yet ready for the dump, stuff that someone felt or thought would be used again, fixed, or possibly sold or traded on some future occasion. But it never happened, that future basement sale, that repair job, that trade, over and over again, yet the stuff continued to pile up, and most of it was probably never even seen again, the farther back I crawled and squeezed my way through, in places the stuff stacked floor to ceiling, the ceiling bulbs now burnt out, never replaced, so that I had to retreat back through my mole’s tunnel and find a flashlight before burrowing on any farther. (25 Aug 20)

Zoeasta and the Hidden Room

Zoeasta, one of the range free cats living about Hotel Julian, disappeared, and it was assumed she picked a spot to give birth to her litter. I found her in a box licking five closed eyes kittens when I returned with a flashlight to the storage room in the basement under the grocery to continue my inventory of supplies, surplus, and stowed stuff. The light startled her, but she recognized me and did not seem perturbed. I turned away and of course left them alone. I had reached the far back of the unused storage area, curious to explore around the walled room and to see if there was an entrance. A closer look at the blueprints I had found suggested there might have once existed a root cellar in the space, or a wine cellar. Maybe an old cistern. I smelled soil, felt a draft. Who were the workers in the 1940’s who worked on the hotel? The laborers, framers, plumbers. How long had this stone box been sealed? The dry, stone walls were built of riprap, cracks and joints sealed with plumber’s oakum. I made my way around the corner of the room and found what appeared to be a piece of the old unfinished basement. I stepped onto a space of smooth, hard packed dirt floor. The wall and ceiling here were shored with thick, rough sawn beams. A header beam built into the corner of the foundation topped a crawl space door with round side posts functioning as jambs. I sat on the ground and kicked against the wood panel with my boots. It cracked open and broke free in a burst of dust and splinters, and I peered in with my light. Three steps of railroad tie led down to another opening, a larger door. I crawled through the crawl space opening, scooted down the tie steps, pushed opened the door in another sneeze of dust and falling clutter, stooped through, and found myself in a clean, post and beam shored tunnel, about 6 feet in height and 3 feet across, its sides, between the posts, open dirt. The tunnel continued for about 50 feet. I must now have been under the street on the front side of Hotel Julian. I might even be across the street, under one of the old houses opposite the hotel. At the far end of the tunnel, another door, this one finished, ornate, like the door of a church, leafed and paneled, carved of hardwoods. I felt the door, rubbing my hand on the wood, and at the same time felt something rub against my leg, and there was Zoeasta, who then went to the bottom of the door, sniffing to and fro across the ground plate of solid timber. I did not have to force this door open. I turned the baroque arm of a twist handle, and the door opened easily, as if expertly hung just yesterday, and into a high ceilinged, unfinished but furnished room, stepped me and Zoeasta. The flashlight zipped quickly around, and I almost expected to surprise someone, the space looked so lived in. Zoeasta sniffed the air, back arched against my leg. But I surprised both the cat and myself when I flicked a switch on the wall next to the door we’d just come through and a ceiling lamp, a chandelier with multiple bulbs, flash flooded the room with light, revealing: a US Army canvas cot, a folding bed, a piss pot basin shoved under it, a wool blanket folded across the cot; a mirror hanging over a wood table on which sat a ceramic jug and bowl; an armoire and foot locker; male and female shoes, high laced boots and low quarters, polish and brushes; metal wall cabinet, helmet atop; a kitchen area – towels, bowls, tin cans, counter, small sink, cups; two chairs and a stool; a closet with a sitting stool over a hole and a pull rope from a small tank above; a bookcase full of books; a couch, coffee table with chessboard; ammo boxes, a gun rack; an old turntable and vinyl record albums; a spinet piano, sheet music; rugs, braided; round section of hardwood floor; electrical conduit pipe; a bellows attached to ductwork in the ceiling; a dart board; an accordion; a guitar; at the far side of the room, another door, Zoeasta already sniffing at its sill. (26 Aug 20)

Conversation with Minerva

Across the hidden room (no longer secret now that I and Zoeasta had broken the code) the back door opened onto a giant spider web blocking a small opening in the annulus surrounding a wellbore encased with cement. I had wondered about the absence of spiders as I had worked my way from the basement under Hotel Julian through the tunnel and into the underground room. A few webs I had seen, hanging like frayed tapestries depicting the scene of some ancient battle or site of seduction. But I have no fear of spiders (snakes, yes, but not spiders), and I quickly swept the web away from the door, careful not to harm the spider’s anchor thread, the easier for her to weave a new web. A ladder affixed to the inside of the vertical well shaft invited further exploration. But what to do with Zoeasta? She rubbed against my leg, arching her back, and rubbed her head on my calf, telling me something in cat speak. I could see rays of light at the top of the shaft. I dropped a rock, and several seconds later heard a splash. I could leave Zoeasta in the room and hope she made it back to her kittens, or carry her up the ladder with me. Either way, she probably knew her way back to her litter in the basement of the hotel better than I did. I decided to carry her up the ladder with me, thinking the tunnel into the hidden room might be too dark to navigate even for a cat. Once out of the well, I would hurry her back to the hotel and her kittens. We began our climb. I counted 40 rungs on the fixed steel ladder, about 10 inches on center. At the top, we climbed out of the well shaft into an elaborate wishing well cover, complete with spindle wound with rope from which hung a wooden bucket under a shingle hip roof held up by wooden beams sided half way up with horizontal, painted slats. On one side was a hinged gate. I opened it, stepped out, Zoeasta still in my arms, and was flabbergasted to suddenly notice an old woman, sitting apparently nude in a forest green Adirondack chair, knitting a long narrow tapestry that rolled across a yard of bermuda grass. I was standing in the backyard of a house, presumably across the street from Hotel Julian. The old woman had stopped her weaving or knitting and was staring at me, bemused, while I gazed back at her, bewildered. Disoriented, I absentmindedly let go of Zoeasta, who dashed across a grassy space and out of the yard. You found Zoeasta, I see, the old lady quipped, and she’s had her kittens, I see. Oh, my. Down below are they? Oh, my. I can see you’ve had quite the adventure, Glaucus. Hand me my robe there, on that side table. I’m just sunning, you know, getting my daily dose of vitamin D. I hope you don’t mind. Sorry if I startled you. What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue? Oh, don’t worry about Zoeasta, she’ll find her way back to her kitties. She visits us everyday, and she crosses the street to the hotel very cautiously. Smart cat, that one. Oh, yes, I know who you are, Glaucus. You’re staying at the hotel these days, and have even taken on some part time work there, though I’m damned if I can understand why. Yes, I see everything that goes on at the hotel. And you should be out adventuring, exploring the real world, not hiding out in these secret dream rooms buried beneath childhood’s ruins. What are you doing, anyway? Why have you so disappointed? What a waste, what a waste you are, Glaucus. And what have you done with Sylvie? Abandoned her for some flower girl? Though I rather like Florence. She’s had a hard go of life, so far. But I don’t see how you can be of any help. But we’ll see, we’ll see. How many kittens, by the way, in Zoeasta’s litter? Still 5, I hope. (27 Aug 20)

Fallout and Fall In

The hidden room, while abandoned, was hardly a secret. Everyone at Hotel Julian knew about it. As I had guessed, it was built during the hotel reconstruction phase in the late 1940’s. Designed to function as a nuclear fallout shelter, the room was built by Minerva’s late husband, who had died not from fallout, but from fall in. Climbing out one night after a bout in his room with a bottle of rum, he slipped and fell to the bottom of the well shaft, where he perished from the fall, from drowning, from hypothermia – or all of the above. He had gone missing for over a week before Minerva woke up one morning with a start, the noir thought of what probably happened to him suddenly dawning on her. I had been very nervous about Zoeasta making it back to her kittens, in spite of Minerva’s expressed confidence in the cat, and, initially, anyway, a bit ruffled at her criticisms of my current, what to call it, walk of life, and also suspicious of just how she came to know so much about me, I excused myself with the rational reason I wanted to be sure Zoeasta was back safe with her litter. Sylvie, for one, would never forgive me if she were to read that something awkward had befallen the kittens. Put another way, she’d shove a ball lightning up my butt if she found I was responsible for anything bad happening to any of the cats. Minerva insisted though I return to finish our conversation, she called it that, though I had said little, apparently my deeds speaking volumes to her already. Minerva’s house sat on the corner lot opposite the grocery of Hotel Julian. It took me less than a minute to run across the street and around the back of the hotel to the basement entrance, skip down the stairs, and check on Zoeasta, who I found licking her kittens, all five of them, I made certain, while they pummeled and sucked at her teats, all in a new padded and carpet lined box that sat just outside Eve’s door, and there stood Eve and Dawn glowering at me. We know where you’ve been, Eve said. You shouldn’t have taken Zoeasta with you. We were already planning on moving the litter closer to us and to her litter box and her food and water. I must have looked pathetic, and Dawn absolved me by saying the kittens were already about a week old and Zoeasta wasn’t away over an hour, and everybody seemed happy in their places. Are you going back to finish your conversation with Minerva, Eve asked. Minerva owns the hotel, you know. She keeps tabs on everything. Julian is her son. She makes decisions, Dawn added. And she’s decided she likes you, Eve said. Is that a good thing, I wondered, but kept the question to myself. (28 Aug 20)

Bingo at Xavier

Xavier Roman Catholic Church was within walking distance from Hotel Julian. Hearing they hosted bingo every Monday night, I walked over to play a few cards. About 20 players sat at tables in the church hall, Father Juan calling the numbers from a podium on a stage. I bought half a dozen cards at 50 cents each at a table set up at the entrance, took a paper cup of coffee, and found a seat at a table where sat a couple of ancient nuns wearing simple blue scarves, rosary necklaces, short black smocks, and Jack Purcell canvas shoes, white with the navy blue stripe on the toes. The night was hot out but the hall was cooled by three electric fans dropping from the ceiling. At one table was a family of seven: father, mother, grandmother, and four children aged about 6 to 12, three girls and a boy. They were all attentively playing multiple cards but occasionally one of the kids pointed to another’s card where a call otherwise might have been missed. A new game began, and I paid attention to my own card, intending to play but one card per game, in no hurry. I would drop my winnings, if any, into the donation box on my way out. The room was quiet, Father Juan calling the numbers in a sonorous, serious voice. The night passed on peacefully. If one of the kids shouted Bingo! a polite applause ensued, and the nuns smiled their approval. I sipped my coffee, unused to late evening caffeine, and after a couple of cups began to feel more alert to the musty smell of the hall, the noises – shuffling of cards, shoes, chairs scraping as someone got up for a trip to the refreshment table or restroom – and in the quiet between calls I could hear the soft whir of the big fans slowly turning above. (29 Aug 20)

Rosella’s Market

Rosella’s, the neighborhood grocery in the space on the northwest corner of the ground floor of Hotel Julien, was open, more or less, 24 hours a day, year round. Occasionally, Rosella’s might close, without notice or explanation, for an hour or two or more, or for an entire day, and would reopen unceremoniously as if it had never been closed. Rosella’s specialty was not-quite-fresh fruits, vegetables, and breads she sold past their sell-by or best-by dates: day old breads and pastries, bruised fruits, withering vegetables. Her suppliers included the large supermarkets located not too far away but throughout the Southland, and local bakeries, and truck farmers in from the valleys. Her buyers (or collectors, for they usually hauled off the food without cost) included a family of 12, including 6 boys and 4 girls, and her husband, Ramon, though he and his oldest sons spent most of their time busy with the family bricklaying business – Ramon’s specialty was brick patios, walkways, outdoor fireplaces, walls. I found it hard to go into Rosella’s, even if just to buy an apple for an afternoon snack, without wandering around considering the diverse displays of other things for sale: hats, tshirts, and flip-flops; guitar strings (but only one kind – Augustine Red Label Classical); magazines and newspapers (English and Spanish), and used paperback and comic books; kites and windsocks; plastic bats and balls, kazoos, hula hoops. Also beer and wine; candy; canned goods (most past their sell-by date); beef jerky; bubblegum (the kind with the cartoon prizes); pizza by the slice cooked in a microwave and hot dogs from a table top machine with bun warmer (several tables with chairs and umbrellas provided sidewalk sit out space for eating); cereals and nuts; cat and dog food; flowers, dried and almost fresh; peanut butter and oatmeal. Rosella also sold postage stamps. You could purchase a money order. You could pay your utility bills. Milk, pop, juice. Single, double, triple A batteries. Cookies, spices, pastas. And the bins of fruits and vegetables: lemons and limes, apples, oranges, bananas, garlic, mushrooms, potatoes, peaches, onions, tomatoes, avocados. And the breads: como, sourdough, brioche, baguette, rye, pita, bagels, tortillas, biscuits. Surfmats and swim fins. From the shelves, walls, floor, and ceiling of Rosella’s, was stacked, hung, crated, or boxed, something for anyone. (30 Aug 20)

Hotel Julian Lobby Lending Library

I returned to the fallout shelter to retrieve the books, carrying out several full boxes through the tunnel. I also carried up the bookcase, recruiting Cajetan’s help, our second Right On Moving Company job. I was living now in a monthly room on the 3rd floor of Hotel Julian, Seattle and Walter and my Risk Management career receding like a Ship of Fools in a bottle on an outgoing tide. Sylvie was preoccupied, occupied, post occupied, and will have been occupied with her baseball team and league business commitments. She enjoyed the game: the travel, the players, the games from the press box, the scouting, the trades, the score and stats keeping, the smells of the locker rooms, bats and balls and gloves and towels, the lighted ballparks – oasis in the urban night, where she arrived early and stayed late. I set up a self help lending library in the lobby of Hotel Julian with the books from the fallout shelter. I didn’t bother organizing the books but filled the shelves hodgepodge, figuring they’d just get all messed up anyway. I made a card catalog using some 3 by 5 cards I’d found in Rosella’s. I pasted an envelope on the inside flap of the back of each book. In the envelope I placed a 3 by 5 card, cut to size for some of the smaller paperbacks. On the card I wrote the name of the book and drew a table with three columns: name, date checked out, and date checked back in. On the wall above the bookshelves I affixed a card rack and posted instructions: patrons are encouraged to take a book, one at a time, sign your name and your checkout date, place card in rack, return book when finished, find the book’s card, write in check in date, and return book to shelves. Inside the front cover of each book, I wrote: Property of Hotel Julian Lobby Lending Library. I made an index of the books in a spiral notebook that sat on top of the shelves, and took a simple count. At the launch of the library, celebrated with Dawn and Eve and other members of the hotel staff, and also Rosella and Ramon and their four girls, and Cajetan and Minerva, the following books were available for checkout: War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, Ivanhoe, The Scarlet Letter, The Voyage of the Beagle, Experiments on Plant Hybridization, A Tale of Two Cities, The Death of Ivan Ilych, Vanity Fair, Lorna Doone, The Red Badge of Courage, Trilby, Pride and Prejudice, Middlemarch, Madame Bovary, Heart of Darkness, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Little Women, Principles of Geology, King Solomon’s Mines, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Works of Li Po The Chinese Poet: Done into English Verse, Chinese Military Dictionary (War Department Technical Manual), Flatland, The Island of Doctor Moreau, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Time Machine, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Dracula, Not Without Laughter, The Turn of the Screw, Moby-Dick, McTeague, On the Origin of Species, On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences, Banjo, Speeches of Abraham Lincoln, Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Experiments with Alternate Currents of High Potential and High Frequency, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Disquisitiones Arithmeticae, Mansfield Park, Ulysses, The Last of the Mohicans, The Plays of William Shakespeare, The Holy Bible, The Sun Also Rises, The Great Gatsby, The Call of the Wild, Winesburg Ohio, At the Mountains of Madness, and Wuthering Heights. Also, Webster’s New International Dictionary (second edition, 1934). Thus the library consisted of 58 books. (31 Aug 20)

Report

No longer did I keep track of days or dates, months or seasons, maintained no spreadsheets or accounting tables, those oversize green grid papers of boxes for numbers, vertical and horizontal reticulums storing data – what was given, what was taken, what was traded, what was sold, what was lost, what was gained. I had no vision, no mission statement, no objectives, no goals, no action plans, no target dates, no metrics. Business, commerce, like most other human enterprises, relies on language, and I had not yet lost words. The idea of praying, in particular, without words, had not yet come to me. Thus I continued my daily inventories, posting to my pocket notebook what I’d seen, heard, smelled, tasted, felt – the fat and flour of living one day at a time, no calendar, no appointment book, no contact list, no cold calls, no hot calls, no calls at all. No leads to follow up on. No inbox. No outbox. I remained aware of my unique position of privilege and how I’d obtained it, specifically the $300 million I’d pilfered from Walter, but just for a few hours, just long enough to cipher off some capital affording me a position from which I could both care and not care, though I had yet to learn to sit still. To report is to back carry, to carry on one’s back what one has accomplished, or failed to – at, with, from, below. A report puts a superior or subordinate or peer or groups thereof on notice of one’s presence, reminds some power of one’s presence, still waiting, awaiting, one’s availability, often irritably so, a codified reminder of jurisdiction and rule, of grip and clout. Reports are the daily bread of officialdom and bureaucracy. When all else fails, when no presentation presents to save one from one’s present predicament, one can always read or write a report. (1 Sep 20)

Postcard from Sylvie

Iwandered over to the post office at Fort MacArthur to check General Delivery and found I had a postcard from Sylvie: Hi, G! With team in Japan 3rd day of 9 day whirlwind tour with 3 game series at the Hiroshima Stadium vs the Carp. Visited the Peace Memorial yesterday. Very sober. Team in good shape, but lost first game to Carp, 5 to 3. Got 6 ok innings out of starter Bell, who gave up 3 runs on 2 walks and a double in the third then a solo homer in the 5th, then bunt, stolen base, and walk off double off reliever Potts by Carp in bottom of 9th. Heading out to ballpark now for some publicity interviews, pics, etc. Hope all’s well w you! Love, Sylvie. Continued walk and from the views around Fort MacArthur I took in the ocean, thinking of the possibility of a neutrino like trip through the waves and I’d instantly be able to join Sylvie at the ballpark and take in the game in Japan with some salty peanuts and a couple of beers and maybe a sushi and rice bento. Instead, I found my way over to the harbor and walked down a ramp to check out the yachts, and there I found Cajetan who had found a job cleaning boats. We agreed to meet up for a beer later on the Rooftop. I walked back to Hotel Julian and pinned Sylvie’s postcard to the wall by the side of my bed, with the pic of the Peace Memorial facing out, and fell asleep and dreamed of meetings and presentations and trips up and down the West Coast thwarted by failed connections, ticketing issues, floods, and train wrecks, roads rising and falling like waves. (2 Sep 20)

The Yachts

Before not long at all, Cajetan got caught in the capture spiral of the fancy riggings of yacht harbor life, seduced by marine varnish and well groomed boats, afternoon Long Island iced teas sipped on a securely docked deck, and untouchable ship’s daughters yearning, not to mention, to hear him tell it, a few ship’s mothers in the bounty. That some best man would certainly unceremoniously cut him adrift should his sycophant stowaway piracies be discovered only seemed to quicken his thirst to drink straight from the yacht hoses – the blower, the bilge, the drain line. He quickly promoted from cleaning boats to supervising the cleaning of boats, and with barely a month’s experience casting about the harbor for starlight opportunities, he started up his own hull cleaning diving company, a one man show, a startup enterprise he was keen to offer me a partnership in as he planned the floating of an initial public offering. All he needed was a bit more capital. I rushed to assure him he had no idea how moody a harbor could be, how skillfully the owners could cast him from dockside to a dirty ocean while they continued to hop yacht to yacht rarely if ever testing their prows against the same seas he grew up in. I told him his two weeks before the mast seemed to have netted him little more than more want, and he’d end up walking some endless plank of broken dreams if he did not soon “heel to his own keel.” (3 Sep 20)

Code Violations

A supposedly random building inspection by various authorities at large resulted in a temporary closure of Hotel Julian due to multiple code violations: plumbing, electrical, health – the grammar of business, industry, and construction. Because of the hourly, daily, and weekly services the hotel historically provided, the clientele the hotel attracted consisted primarily of maritime workers or fleet members in a time of severe housing shortages, but its purpose also aided in the growth of a culture of nomadic, vagrant, loitering, independent, outlier peoples arising over the years in its immediate environs. That culture was, come and go, at times more active than others, evident in weekend sidewalk and local park arts and crafts fairs and farmers markets, music busking evenings in parks and outside restaurants and taverns, a monthly swap meet at a defunct outdoor drive-in movie theatre, a local free medical clinic, underground crash pads and overcrowding of rental houses. Also, in panhandling and promiscuous drug use, prostitution, and petty crime incidents some members of the community were alarmed by, and the hotel was often the subject of debate and scapegoating at meetings of local neighborhood and business associations who put pressure on the local government institutions to crack down on illicit behavior. Following the most recent inspection, Minerva was served papers and this property condemned was suddenly a real possibility. At the same time, local gentrification opportunities resulted in her receiving two competing unsolicited offers to purchase the hotel – for demolition. She called for an unprecedented meeting with Julian and the entire hotel staff as well as the proprietors and employees of the ground floor businesses. Rumor had it, she was going to drop out and sell. (4 Sep 20)

An Air of Bad Ease

An air of bad ease descended upon the rooftop gathering as employees of Hotel Julian listened to Minerva explain her predicament, and, by process of detrimental reliance, their own. Commercial buildings, particularly those housing paying guests, were subject to strict codes designed to protect the public against construction dangers inherent in aging and disrepair of physical systems that might result in unforeseen and unexpected loss to property or life. The purpose of updated codes was to minimize the uncertainty of loss. While Minerva tried to focus on the cost of updating, including the interruption to business, which would probably put the employees out of work long enough they would have to find work elsewhere, Julian argued the building should qualify for state and national historical interest and preservation. Either way, Minerva countered, the costs would be a show stopper. But there might be preservation funds or grants available for which they could apply. But the project would require neighborhood support, and that was certainly uncertain. Besides, current guests could ill afford future rates required to sustain a renovated project. Would there come a new clientele? In this neighborhood? Did Julian want to participate in a gentrification project? Dour looks and quiet space filled the conversation, which was, for the most part, between Minerva and her son. Hotel Julian was, after all, a family owned business. And there was the problem of the tunnel, built under the public road without permit or any kind of engineering approval. The tunnel coming to light had afforded the inspectors no end of curiosity and enjoyment. At that, faces with frowns glowered in my direction. Prior renovations to the building, particularly the one of the late 1940s, adulterated its original character to a degree it would be difficult to argue its historical nature or value. And now an elevator would need to be installed. The fire escape ladders could no longer be used to access the rooftop for public tavern use. There wasn’t anything about the rooftop bar that met any kind of code, license, or fee requirement. Seamen had been berthing in the hotel since the late 1800s; surely that provided some proof of historical interest. There was no business plan. They had, in a sense, been stealing from the business, letting the building deteriorate from improper maintenance. They had let it go, much as a person aging might be prone to let their own body go, ignoring exercise, diet, health care. Not that they didn’t care for their body, or their mind, but that the maintenance and upkeep became too much to bear. The old building contained a history of stories few today cared about. Neighborhoods change, and they had simply gone with the flow, in part, though, responsible for the direction that flow had taken. They were not slumlords, but a low rent district had evolved over time in their surrounds. They had adapted. Minerva asked for suggestions and questions. What about turning the building into a maritime museum? Find a new owner, one willing to invest in the old. The air on the rooftop, rarely used during the day, the sun rising, warming, then heating the tar roof, became too hot without umbrellas, and Minerva adjourned the meeting without ceremony or decision. I stayed on the roof, still nursing my morning coffee, walking the perimeter, watching the yachts come and go down in the harbor, and saw a few sailors dressed in white pulling detail on a distant Navy Destroyer deck. I was thinking about what might come next, while the others climbed down to go to work. I felt at ease, even as I felt somewhat bad about that easy feeling that comes from an ability to both care and not to care when presented with a prospect designed for either. (5 Sep 20)

Deconstruction

Vulnerable was the word Minerva used to describe her building. To keep Hotel Julian afloat, keep up with increases in taxes, licenses, and fees, increases in costs of goods and services, including even a bare bones health care plan for her full time employees, would require new investment, resources, growth, but how would this tired, effete old woman grow an old hotel, expand its business? There was some discussion of building an aggressive, improved business plan, and buying used properties in affordable areas and copying the Hotel Julian model, creating a chain, a brand. That was a pipe dream. The building was wounded, noncompliance its Achilles Heel. We had 30 days to get out, before This Building Condemned notices were issued and displayed, the building then boarded up, sold, and handed over to a commercial developer. But as word of Minerva’s terms of surrender got out, and even before all the current residents could vacate, any number of contractors, recyclers, restoration businesses, carpenters, dismantlers, collectors and antiques dealers, inquired about purchase then invaded to carry the building off in parts. Clearly the hotel was not a sum of its parts. A kind of emergentism became evident. The value of the parts, extracted and made independent of the whole, could not be predicted by appraisal of the whole. A careful, observant, respectful deconstruction started, workers carrying off solid panel doors, and separate from the doors their hardware, glass door knobs, brass hinges. And clear fir sills, window casements, iron weights, leaded glass windows, double hung windows with sagging glass. Radiators, moldings, paneling, chandeliers, bathroom fixtures, porcelain tubs, tongue and groove hardwood flooring. Copper and galvanized pipe. The entire fire escape apparatus. Wall hangings, pictures, rugs, tile, railings, steps. Furniture: walnut bed frames, roll top desks, tables and chairs. The lending library of books from the fallout shelter with the bookcase – purchased and hauled off by Father Juan for Xavier’s school. Full dimensional lumber: 2 by 4’s, 4 by 4’s, 2 by 12’s. Huge basement beams and solid wood headers, the building by then hurriedly vacated. Another staff meeting was called, this one held across the street from the hotel in Minerva’s backyard. She handed each employee an envelope containing a severance bonus made possible by the sales of the individual parts of Hotel Julian, sweetening just a bit the bitter goodbyes. (6 Sep 20)

Love with the Proper Structure

Zeroing in on the yawing wound of her loss, Minerva had said she had loved Hotel Julian. There are lots of other buildings in Los Angeles, I offered, to assuage her pain – penalty, I thought to myself, for not taking better care of what she claimed to love. But it wasn’t the building she loved, the structure, all those parts lovingly dismantled and carried out by the scroungers, scavengers, salvagers. To love a plate of hot salty fries cooled with catsup, the same love as for a Coney Island hot dog and a cold beer at the ballpark on a summer afternoon as the crowd settles in to a quiet fourth inning, is not the same love one might feel for a fearless fox terrier, or an alley cat rescued from a winter rain, or a baby of necessity given up by its teen mother, or the love for an abusive father or mother whose needs can never be satisfied by the child. Jesus said to love the Father with all your heart, soul, and mind; he didn’t say you had to be happy about it. Likewise, he said to love others as you love yourself; but he didn’t say what to do if you don’t love yourself, if you suffer from anhedonia, if your self esteem has been lowered to the level of a creeping worm. But a worm will turn, as the saying goes, and pressed to love, will. Love is desire that never dies. We often want something that may not be good for us, and the satisfactions those loves might provide quickly peter out, but true love (to coin a phrase) is a want for something that is always good for us, even if that good does not produce the same kinds of satisfactions or gratifications we’ve come to enjoy and want again and again, and which we eventually might come to realize are actually insatiable, and we can only want more. To love is to want less, not more, to be fulfilled, not emptied. To structure is to build, compose, make up. (7 Sep 20)

Riding the Tide of Time

I kicked my separation bonus from Minerva over to Cagetan, enabling him to make some repairs on his van, and we planned to hook up in a few weeks down in San Diego for a trip farther south into the Baja Peninsula. In the meantime, I purchased a 1972 Piaggio Vespa Super 150, and set out for a slow cruise down Highway 1, through the beach cities along the coast. I would spend a few nights at the Moro primitive campground at Crystal Cove, between Corona Del Mar and Laguna. I wasn’t sure what year yet. The Piaggio came equipped with a Time Machine. I could move back and forth in time, though not, of course, farther than the present. Like the movement of the tides, rising and falling under the influence of the moon and other gravitational energies, the Piaggio Time Machine came with a tidal time range. I could move back in time, but only to about 1960, at which point the scooter started to overheat. I could move forward in time, but only to the present time I had left to move backward. And I could only time travel at dawn or dusk, during the Terminator – the grey line, the Twilight Zone. Any trip in time occured like a dream. I could travel years in seconds, but once landing, the material reality was diffused, poured out in a fuzzy, bent light, a narrative broken and full of surreal images like those sometimes appearing in the desert or over the ocean in an early morning or evening, a pause in the character of the light and air. I had not gone far when I decided to stop at the Pike Amusement Zone in 1963 Long Beach, where I parked and walked down to check out the roller coaster. (8 Sep 20)

Don’t Try This at Home

One should not time travel, nor play or work with the gods, unless fully qualified and experienced. One should live in one’s own moment, in one’s ongoing present, which is fully developed and capable of satisfying all one’s present needs. The reason we are unable to travel forward, into the future (with the exception of being able to travel forward to the future present we were in when we exited to travel into the past), is that the future consists of too many variables, too many possibilities, too many uncertainties – and no way of managing the risk. There’s only one door into one’s past. There is an infinite number of doors into one’s future, and picking the wrong one is almost certain, and will lead to couch surf zero. Two exceptions to one should not time travel: 1, we can still prepare for any uncertain future; and 2, we can visit the past to learn from our errors, as long as we don’t try to rewrite the past (while at the same time being mindful that we may not have understood at all what was happening when our past was present). Still, it’s also useful to remember that time is always under construction, and deconstruction, at the same time. In addition to travelling backward or forward in time, one might be inclined to want to stop time. I can often hear the click of time slow to a rest while time travelling on my 1972 Piaggio Vespa Super 150. One wants to travel through time in the slow lane of life. It should come as no surprise that by the time I made it down to San Diego to meet up with Cagetan, as we had planned, I had missed him. Apparently, Sot showed up, and he and Cagetan are presumably somewhere now travelling south through Baja. I’m not sure where that leaves me at this point in time. (9 Sep 20)

Tin Can Beach

I rode into a fog, thin at first, the coolness refreshing, but visibility continued to reduce. The ray from the lamp on my Vespa bounced back at me. Visibility soon reduced to virtually zero, and I pulled over to the side of the road and rolled into the trailer park at Bolsa Chica. No tent camping. No sleeping on the beach. I tuned the time machine on the Vespa to 1954, the fog lifted, and I saw a few firepits spitting light in the darkness down on Tin Can Beach. I found a place in the sand off the road where I could park the scooter and spread out my cowboy bedroll. Some crooner with a banjo sang folk songs in the distance. I covered myself with my space blanket and fell asleep to Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene,” this crooner’s notion to swim out into the ocean and drown. (10 Sep 20)

Hobo Poop on Tin Can Beach

Pete, a veteran with nightmares of night problem patrols, spoke of the snow of his time in country, how the snow melted in the winter firefights, how it sucked up red light like a county fair snowball. For guys like Pete, Tin Can Beach provided paradisiacal possibilities after bouncing around in troop carriers in the war zone off the Sea of Japan. The beach was a haven where you could talk about your predicament without being asked a bunch of silly questions, without wondering what the daze of the days was all about, tin cans strewn across the beach a way of counting and recounting. And Tom spoke of his Engineers unit. They mainly put up and took down their pontoon bridge, and he was a fording expert. Jack operated a compressor truck. Air tools. He made compressed air, engine tank on the back of a deuce and a half frame. Attached to air hoses, the construction platoons worked jack hammers, saws, drills, picks, shovels, drivers. Built road culverts, shelters, cleared paths through the wilderness. Moved villages. Pete, Tom, and Jack lived in a makeshift shack near the back of Tin Can Beach. I asked could they keep an eye on my scooter while I went in the water for a fresh soapless wash. Tom said not to take a shit straight out, but move north or south down or up the beach a good hundred yards or more. They’d been having problems with swimming into hobo poop in the water when they went in for their morning dip. Later in the day, a meeting was held to discuss the problem. Someone suggested they put up a sign down near the water line: No Shitting in the Water. Discussion followed as to the best way to word it. Pete said it sort of sounded like there was no shit in the water, worded that way. Don’t shit in the water, followed, an improvement, but still they didn’t feel they were there yet. Don’t sounded too informal. Do Not Shit in the Water. Was there a more polite term for what they were talking about? Do Not Poop in the Water. What water? Wouldn’t ocean be more specific? Do Not Poop in the Ocean. Tom suggested Not be underlined, for emphasis. And By Order of the Mayor of Tin Can Beach should be added, for officialdom. Approved plan in mind, we set about constructing the sign, and when it was finished, we walked in a group down to the water to erect the sign on the berm up from the high tide water line, on perpendicular line to the shack up on the beach. Everyone stood back to admire and critique the sign and saw that it was good and headed back up the beach to sit out in front of the shack to drink beers out of cans. In the morning, we awoke to the smell of Jack’s coffee in an open gallon can boiling over the fire pit, and watched a hobo walking along the berm, in a predawn mist, and stopping and reading the new sign, drop his pants down around his ankles and squat, facing the ocean, his back to us. We’ll never know the winning tale, Tom said. The next night, the tide came in higher than expected, and the sign washed out with the tide. I found it washed up surf mangled about a hundred yards down the beach. (11 Sep 20)

Used to It

Revving up the time travelling scooter I pulled away from Tin Can Beach and 1954 and the veterans I’d met and spent a few days and nights with hanging out and drinking beers listening to stories they’d brought back with them from Korea. I drove into the traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway heading north in present time. I thought I might continue north on Hwy 1, camping out nights, and see what more I might experience along the way, moving back and forth in time as suited my mood. I had thought about spending some more time with the veterans, maybe even putting up a shelter of my own on the beach. The cold water in the morning a short walk away provided the kind of wake up call one yearns for without knowing what exactly it is until you’ve hit the water a few mornings running. There are two ways of jumping into the ocean. One, you wade in, gradually getting used to the cold temperature until you’re out far enough to dive under a wall of white water. The other way is how I learned and preferred. You start at the top of the berm above the water line and dash down toward the water high jumping the waves until you’re deep enough to dive under one, come up, and keep swimming out, fireflies buzzing on your skin, biting, until they all wash off under the waves and you’re suddenly used to it. But Tin Can Beach was rife with disadvantages. My second night, sleeping in my bedroll in the sand outside the vet’s hut, we were wakened by a woman’s scream out on the beach followed by the sound of someone running clumsily through a pile of tin cans. We got up and walked about a little ways up and down the beach, but it was dark and quiet and still, and what we’d heard was apparently not that unusual. We went back to sleep, and in the early morning were again wakened, this time by an early surf fisherman who had stumbled across the body. It took the cops almost an hour to finally show up. One of them questioned us, but they knew the woman, and they already had a warrant out for her partner in crime. The interview cop wanted to know our addresses for his notes in case the authorities might need to get ahold of us later, and as we all tried to explain this was it, Tin Can Beach was our address, he shook his head and said, I don’t get it. I don’t get how you guys get used to it, living like this. We got to talking with him. Turned out he too was a Korean War veteran. Funny how we all seem to turn down different roads he said, but no one laughed. It wasn’t that kind of funny. But you get used to it – a war, sleeping out, incarceration in a system job, ticketing people, retreating far from some madding or smug crowd, time travelling. And I didn’t want to get used to it, used to anything. (12 Sep 20)

Pip Pip at the Pub

Toedeloe to the floor of the Vespa scooter, I cruised north up Hwy 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, in real time, present time, though I wasn’t always sure what week I was in or even what day it was, and guessed the time of day from the position of the sun in the sky and its shadows on the ground. I had no plans, no expectations, great or small. I had no doubt the locals I passed along the way had some, if only to make it to and from work without going stark staring bonkers, mad as hatters, excited as the March hares, gaga and crackers, freaked out. I wondered how it all held together, the daily commutes, full of horrible honks and screeching brakes, from the kid who was off walking and whistling to school homework in disrepair but excuse at the ready, to the CEO rolling off in his Rolls to explain to his Board of Directors the various whistleblower reasons for the latest decline in stock value, still revising his business plan, the new crew hired yesterday to be let go tomorrow. The buses jostling stop to stop, the big box ambulances curling their way noisily through a mess of traffic, the delivery trucks, 18 wheelers, pickup trucks, station wagons, hot rods, muscle cars, convertibles, vans, bicycles, skateboarders, walkers, and scooters all sharing the same roads. But unlike a schoolyard where the chaos of recess empties like a beer bucket with a bell the yard quickly returning to the quiet of pigeons descending from classroom roofs to snap up the crumbs of snacks, the kids all back inside heads on desks for a rest, their teacher reading aloud a short story, or his head too on his desk for a rest, and all is quiet – unlike the school yard, the road never fully empties, all day long, every day, vehicular traffic moving like the tides, in and out, up and back, to and fro, stop and go, this way and that, all manner of folk crisscrossing at the crossroads. Back in the 1950s, hitchhiking was more prevalent than today, and a military uniform and duffle bag in hand almost guaranteed a quick ride. In the 1960s and early 70s cardboard signs signifying destination were popular with travellers on street corners seeking long rides: Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Portland. So I was surprised when I rounded the Long Beach Traffic Circle on Hwy 1, on my way to Redondo Beach, and I saw a bald man in a Franciscan robe holding a sign saying El Segundo / Mission San Buenaventura. I glanced at him and shrugged my shoulders, as if to say no room on the scooter. But I was even more surprised when, a few hours later, having cruised leisurely through the beach cities on a solid gold weekday, and again stopping at Wormy’s Orange Tiki Room in El Segundo, where I planned to spend a few nights out back, working some maintenance to pay for my stay, Wormy planning a weekend long Pip Pip at the Pup in celebration of a local annual surf festival, and who should be there standing in his brown robe at the Orange Tiki Room bar, but the Franciscan I’d seen back at the Traffic Circle. You made it, I said. Pip pip, he replied, picking up his beer and taking a long gulping drink. Ah, he said, that’s the ticket to the pip pip. Wormy came in and introduced me to the monk, a Brother Juniper, a regular, apparently, who never failed to make Wormy’s annual fundraising Pip Pip at the Pub, this weekend being the 12th year in a row, all proceeds going to help fund the surf festival. Late afternoon now, evening glassoff in the offing, but I sat with Juniper in a corner of the bar where we both relaxed after our harrowing commutes from down south through the beach cities up to El Segundo. Wormy’s place gradually filled with pip pippers, a three piece country swing band showed up, a dart tournament grew some serious competitors, and out back a dunk tank was busy with dollar a throw chances to dunk a few local celebrities. The sun went down and the tiki torches came on and the festival was going, the street blocked off, the band now playing some straight ahead surf riffs. Out in the street a travelling carnival with rides for the kids started up. Face paintings. Balloons. Arts and crafts tables. Booths for local businesses and churches to pitch their stories. A police car parked at each end of the block. (13 Sep 20)

Brigid

Knowing the chance of my seeing Wormy again slim, I stayed on through the weekend at his Orange Orchid Tiki Bar, working the back room, enjoying the festival carnival. I slept in the backyard in my cowboy bedroll, with Wormy’s dog, Brigid Kildare, nestled against my legs. But in the early morning, Brigid did her dog thing, up early eating and drinking then hopping through the fence into the ice plant on the dunes and over and down to the beach where she must have rolled around on some dead gull or crab, come back wagging and nuzzling me to get up and follow. And she had rolled in some beach tar. The tar pads that stick to your feet walking the Southern California beaches are too often blamed on the oil business, the tankers docked off El Segundo, the water pipeline connected to Standard Oil, now buried under the beach and ocean, the old wood twin pier deconstructed, the rigs and drills up and down the coast dating back to the late 1800s. And the oil concerns have made a muck of maritime stuff over the years. But the tar Brigid had found and rolled around in this morning like as not was natural, floating up and washing in from natural petroleum seeps in the ocean floor. Whatever, Brigid was a smelly mess of rotting fish, dead bird, and sticky tar. I got up and walked her back down to the beach where we both got a stimulating morning wash in the salty waves, the air clear, a slight offshore breeze, a thin, faint fog already lifting as the sun came up over the dunes, orange shafts of smeared light flaring through the lazy billowing smoke puffs from the stacks of the oil refinery. Ah, she draws my ire, she does, when she does like that, comes in smelling of a red tide, Wormy said, as I explained where we’d been, Brigid now warming up deep in my bedroll. (14 Sep 20)

An Old Rig and a Passenger

Wormy had a girlfriend, was in a relationship, he wanted to get rid of, to get out of. He had a plan. He wanted to do some time travelling on the scooter. I tried to tell him that was a bad idea. All times are the same, same rotten humans unhappy with their lot. The only road to true happiness was to live like a gypsy in a caravan putting down only shallow roots if any, keeping with your family. Nonsense, he said. The girlfriend was called Tilde, a nickname ascribed to her from the way her eyebrows grew: ~ ~ . The plan was I would give Tilde a ride up the coast with me to San Francisco, where she had a sister Wormy was in touch with who would take her in and help her find a job waitressing. Tilde had been tending bar at the Orange Orchid Tiki Bar and sleeping with Wormy and had grown accustomed and comfortable with the arrangement, but Wormy was beginning to feel cramped and closed out and wanted to kick out before wiping out, as he put it, and did something really stupid like get married. He would tell Tilde it was all over between them, but that I would give her a ride up the coast to her sister’s place. Tilda’s sister was some sort of professor at one of the Frisco colleges. Her beau was a veteran right fielder for the Kyoto Kinks who owned a fancy Japanese restaurant in Frisco. Long ways to go two on a Vespa, I said. Impossible. You’re not taking the scooter, Wormy said. You’ll take the Chevy. The Chevy was his restored 1956 two-ten with a rebuilt 265 cubic inch engine, 3 speed synchromesh manual transmission. Cream white with turquoise roof and lower side panels. Not as classic as the Bel-Air, but a nice ride for a coast cruise. Go ahead, Wormy said, who had backed the car out of the garage and was beckoning me to take the wheel and we’d go for a test drive around town. It was a different kind of time travel, the ’56 Chevy, and maybe I’d had enough of the scooter for a time, and I agreed to Wormy’s plan. (15 Sep 20)

Three for the Road

Quiet finally filled Wormy’s place as an early morning fog rose over the dunes from the ocean beach. His plan to slough off Tilde awoke a sleeping shrew. They fought and argued and cried and wrestled and scratched, clawed and scolded each other all night long, Tilde’s wails crescendoing up and down scales like fiddles in flight. Why he couldn’t wait till morning to tell her I don’t know. Something about he wanted to give her time to pack and say goodbye. Late morning I got up and went inside and made coffee. On my way to the bathroom I passed their bedroom and saw them sleeping head to toe. The ’56 Chevy two-ten was gassed up and ready to go. I packed my bedroll kit and stashed it in the trunk with a small cooler of ice, a couple of beers, a chunk of cheese, and a loaf of bread. I waited outside with Brigid, sipping coffee, feeling the breeze begin to shift offshore to onshore. We were not getting the early start I had asked for. Wormy came out with his coffee. We heard the shower come on through the open bathroom window. Tilde came out, her hair still wet, her backpack fully rigged, and walked straight to the car without a word. She stowed her stuff in the trunk and climbed into the back and whistled for Brigid who jumped into the back seat, the two of them hugging and snuggling in a way that did not suggest goodbye. I gave Wormy a questioning look. Oh, yeah, he said, turns out Brigid is Tilde’s dog, not mine, and she wants to keep her. We were now three for the road as I pulled onto Grand Avenue and drove down to Vista del Mar where I turned north to San Francisco. (16 Sep 20)

Room for Two More

We didn’t get far, off Vista del Mar and onto Culver, when Bridgid let it be known she needed a pit stop, and I pulled off the side of the road in the Ballona Wetlands. Tilde put Brigid on a short leash and walked her into what I guessed was sagebrush. I stayed with the car, the traffic on Culver heavy in both directions. The basin was lovely though in the noon sun, buggy and birdy, hot wild flowers, liquorice, a stew of smells. Tilde got back to the car, turned, and whispered, oh look, and we stilled and watched a blue butterfly bopping around what Tilde said was buckwheat. Back in the car we crossed over Ballona Creek and came around onto Lincoln, then the first left and onto Admiralty Way to continue north around Marina del Rey, then left on Washington to Pacific Avenue. And that was where and when Tilde blessed me with the second surprise of the trip (this one a gobsmack bit more of a bell-ring than the dog) Wormy had neglected to mention. We were to stop off at Tilde’s parents’ place on Court D in the Venice Canals, where we would pick up Tilde’s two daughters, Nancy and Harriet, aged 10 and 6, who would be making the trip north to San Francisco with us. (17 Sep 20)

Cut and Run

By the time we finished packing and loading up the car with goods for the girls and Tilde it was too late to start out for the long drive to Frisco, so it was decided we would stay the night at Tilde’s parents on the canal in Venice and get an early start up Highway 1 come morning. Tilde insisted I install car restraint seats for the girls, the full rig for Harriet, who was under 8, and a booster seat for Nancy – thus we’d be legal and safe. But it took some time for me to modify the seat belts for proper fit, and I had to make a trip in her father’s pickup to a local auto parts store. Meantime, the girls were helpful in packing and loading up their own gear: dolls and teddy bear; blankets and pillows; notebooks, crayons, and pencils and pens; magnifying glasses; a violin and a Martin Backpacker guitar; books; sunhats; backpacks with clothes, water bottles, cell phones and chargers (this last forcing another errand to the auto parts store for an adaptor that would allow for charging devices using the dashboard cigarette lighter); dog food and dish and water bowl. With Tilde’s father’s help I attached a surfboard rack to the roof of the car and tied off the girls’ two bicycles. Tilde packed into the trunk a 5 man camping tent, a camp stove and lantern, and a bigger cooler stuffed with food, ice, and drinks. Tilde’s father, the girls called him Papa Papa, wasn’t a bad guy, and we got to talking about life in Venice living on the canals, but as an alleged close friend of Wormy, I got the cold shoulder from her mother, and was consigned to the front porch on the canal for sleeping quarters for the night. Tilde slept with the girls in their room, her mom stowed away in the master upstairs for the night, and Papa Papa and I sat out on the porch watching the water and drinking beers and when the beer was all gone turned to a bottle of Scotch Whiskey. We talked into the wee hours, and I awoke late in the morning, the house closed up and quiet, a note taped conspicuously to the porch door: Dear Glaucus, I am perfectly capable of driving myself and the girls to San Francisco, but thanks for your help. Good luck, Tilde. Out back, I saw that Wormy’s ’56 Chevy Two-ten packed to the gills was gone. Tilde had left my cowboy roll on the porch for me, and I hooked up and headed off in the direction of the Venice beach and boardwalk, first letting loose with a vociferous hobo pee in the empty alley, footloose. (18 Sep 20)

Now I Out Walking

Somewhere between my time travel stay at Tin Can Beach and being abandoned by Tilde in the Venice canals, I’d lost my cell phone. I had not missed it because no one ever calls me, nor did I ever call them. Occasionally I got a text from Sylvie giving me the score of some obscure baseball game. And I also sometimes spaced out playing any number of chess puzzles in an app I’d downloaded. But my use of the cell phone was sporadic, and most of the time I didn’t bother leaving the phone on. Walking away from Tilde’s folks’ place on the canal I thought of calling Wormy, but I couldn’t find my phone. I figured he was probably off time travelling on the Vespa anyway, and wouldn’t pick up. I crossed Speedway, continued north on Ocean Front, and cut over to the Boardwalk at Muscle Beach. North of the Venice Breakwater, where the beach is wider, deeper, I walked down to the water. I dropped my kit just above the water line and stripped down to my swimming trunks and walked out into the surf, close enough to keep an eye on my stuff up on the beach, far enough out to get a good washing. I slipped off my trunks and scrubbed them in the sandy salty foam, keeping just my head and shoulders out of the water. The trunks nearly got away from me in the surf. The beach was not crowded. I got the trunks back on and dove under a few small waves and swam out just beyond the break, turning and treading water, looking back at the beach, up and down the coast, out to sea, thinking about my trophic level in the food chains, walking about, in the water, up on the beach, in the Walter Group, in the Army, in the Church, in the library, in schools, on the streets, walking through the Los Angeles Basin with the hobos tramps and bums, with the blue pink and white collar workers, rich and poor sick and skaters bikers surfers and hodads, police preachers thieves detectives buskers, moms dads and kids, dogs cats coyotes racoons rats mice pigeons and opossums, work shifts, job gigs, sleeping on the beach, hiking up through the canyons, onto the Santa Monica Mountain trails, hiking through downtown, sleeping under an overpass, the traffic sound ongoing like the surf, day and night, night and day. (19 Sep 20)

Under Surveillance

To hobo is to work gig to gig while wandering. I was not a bum or a tramp, not to disparage those good folks. I was not a beatnik or a hippie. I ran out of Sylvie’s pills but the chip on my shoulder did not grow back. I did not run around or stand on street corners with a veteran sign hanging around my neck. I was not a superhero, nor an antihero. To look at me, talk to me, you would never guess I was a god. I was not a surfer or a hodad, a punk or a hood. In terms of socio economic demographic analysis, Venice was a good fit for me, where, it was sometimes said, figuratively, by those not in know, ignorant of street life, the Los Angeles sewer meets the sea (literally, the sewer meets the sea in El Segundo, at the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant). I was not part of some well intentioned social worker’s caseload. I was not out on parole, had no record, though I stood ready to assist with whatever community service might come my way. I was not on the run. Neither was I looking to put down any roots. I had a few old connections still, friends, if you didn’t ask for too much: Sylvie, Wormy, Ray, Walter. As I may have mentioned earlier in these episodes, I remained aware of my privileged position, and would not claim that I was in any way independent of society, though I would argue I was free of many of the systemic webs most are caught up in, often unawares, even if caught for a lifetime. I had few needs and even fewer wants. I had effectively disappeared. I was no longer a person. My only daily target action plan was to avoid impeding another’s notion of progress, physical or mental, to avoid falling into a bucket of crabs. So I was briefly startled, continuing my way north along the Venice Boardwalk, seeing the yellow hummer reappear at the end of a side street, two obviously holding thugs hopping out to greet me. The inside of the hummer, its back windows blacked out, was modified and equipped with high tech surveillance tools: computers, high powered scopes, cameras, radios, closed circuit electronics, biometric kits, affective computing tools, face recognition and thermogram devices and screens, wireless tracking devices, microchip implant kits, covert listening and GPS tools. The yellow hummer was a spider in a webbed Internet of person things (IoPT). We’re private not government the thugs were quick to assure me. Sylvie asked us to set up a Zoom chat with you. She’s concerned you’ve not been answering her text messages. (20 Sep 20)

The Interventionists

Jim and Jack were interventionists, private eyes specializing in surveillance, tracking down missing persons, stakeouts. They accessed systems, great and small. They could hack into a kid’s video game, a city’s traffic grid, banks, email, purchases, sales, the International Space Station. They’d been following me using outside smart home and building security cameras as I walked north through Venice, hired by Sylvie, my faithful half goddess counselor and once part time partner, my Cassandra, whose love for me I could not believe, who called out my bad decisions, my financial planner who set me up on my hobo trek through time and place after I’d borrowed the $300 million from the Walter Group for a day to syphon off just enough to pay my own separate future way before returning the file to its rightful owners, with interest. Fate is the decisions you make, Sylvie repeated, but I’d not been greedy, and that too was a fateful decision. And somewhere along the way Sylvie had purchased a minor league baseball team, fell in love with the green fields under lights at night, with the game, with the travel, with the players. Jim and Jack informed me I was invited down as Sylvie’s guest to Tucson for a three game series with the Desert Wavers versus the Northwest Roadtrippers. I spent the afternoon supervised by Jim and Jack in a professional makeup artist’s studio in Culver City, where I got a real washing followed by haircut and shave and some new duds. They fixed me up with a new cell phone and ID. We would catch a flight out of LA for Tucson come morning. Meantime I was their guest in their suite at Hotel Olumposh overlooking the Marina del Rey, where we dined, in the hotel’s Lighthouse Lounge, on butter seared scallops with prosecco, filet mignon petite medallions with truffles in a tangy orange sauce, squid soup, crab and oyster shooters, rosemary garlic and olive bread, Palos Verdes Pinot Noir – a jazz trio playing, a vocalist appearing during dessert (custard raspberry tarts, tiramisu) singing a set of songs all with the word moon in the titles. (21 Sep 20)

Blue Skies

History, a day game, his story, a looper machine, a rhythm continuously churning the same old fat. The past cannot cure this present precious moment as it is devoured by his own story. The ark sinks, the birds do not return, the sacrifice runs on and on and on. He was so Goddy Dodgy that he gave his only Son so that no one would need to sacrifice or be sacrificed again, to bring peace, yet every son and daughter is still sacrificed. Moloch. The Earth rolls forward, will not be stopped, leaves no tracks, nothing motionless as this tiny airplane 8 miles high begins its descent to a 9 inning game where I sit in the center field bleachers in the Tucson sun for an inning before retreating to Sylvie’s air conditioned suite next to the press box over home plate, with a glass of iced tea with a slice of lemon and a sprig of spearmint stick. Perado grounds to short, out at first. Alofme strikes out, looking hot and dehydrated, too exhausted to swing the bat. Carmone drives a hard ball to deep right center and already rounds first when Waltzer up against the fence leaps and pockets the shooting star. Sylvie mentions a few fine restaurants where we might later dine. She likes to eat out, under the blue skies, in the open air, and there’s a one story place she knows in South Tucson with a roof patio, with shade palms in huge buckets and fine water misters cooling the outside tables and a water fountain running against the traffic noise, bubbling and burbling, colorful umbrellas. The game was booked, we left the ballpark for the restaurant, and on the menu we found Berkshire Pig Tacos, Ossobuco with Gremolata, Peruvian Roasted Chicken. Sylvie ordered a bottle of cold dry white Merlot and another of dusty purple Sangiovese. The skies were blue, the sun setting solid gold, the heat lifting quickly in the cloudless desert evening. Your skies are never blue, Sylvie said. Always cloudy, or foggy, grey, cold. Why don’t you come live in the desert for some time away. There are ways to cool off. Swimming holes, sunhats, shorts and t shirts and sandals. The shade of the Tipu trees, Velvet Mesquite, the Blue Verde. Why do you gotta be so desperate all the time? Find some blue skies, enjoy the porch shade, relax. Stop worrying about the world. You’re the King of Anhedonia. Take off that crown of thorns. Feel some joy. Joie de vivre. Sit out with me and talk and dine and let the blue skies seep deep into your body. She reached across the table for my hand and I let her take it in hers and I tried to feel some pleasure in it. (22 Sep 20)

The Circus of Dr. Lao

We drove over to Abalone to visit Dr. Lao, his circus in town for a few days, as it was every few days, and I had not seen him in a few hundred years. He hasn’t changed a bit, Sylvie said, you’ll see. (23 Sep 20)

Intransitive

Sylvie and I drove southeast and south from Tucson, stayed a couple of nights as tourists in Tombstone, crossing the border at Naco into old Mexico, where we spent a night in Motel Cowboy, and a few nights farther out, in a rough cabin in a shady grove near a dry stream bed. Attempt no profit from your epiphanies, Dr. Lao had said. No worries, since I wasn’t having any, though the desert was lovely in its apparent simplicity. One story trailers, shacks, lean-to structures, adobe and brick block dwellings, old pickup trucks. Little commotion, no one about. No plots brewing that I could see. The prickly pear grows little opportunities, another Dr. Lao ambiguous comment. Life is a mystery only to be enjoyed, he said, not to be grasped mentally. That I got. When the beer and wine and food ran out we drove back north, cutting west after the border crossing to Sierra Vista and north past Fort Huachuca, and on up back to Tucson. Sylvie said what she got from Dr. Lao was motifs, like string theory. Life seemed made up of motifs, but her theory never went much beyond that. Life is made up of moods, I said. Moody. Life is a mood, and mostly a bad one. Very moodily said, Sylvie replied. Yes, an adverb chasing after some runaway verb, now ahead, now behind, a sentence with its noun cut off. And no object. No, and no object. Intransitive. In transit, anyway. Where to now? I don’t know. (24 Sep 20)

Tucson to San Diego

Fall now ahead, Sylvie’s baseball season over, we drove from Tucson to San Diego, where Sylvie was to attend a three day conference. Not in a hurry, we drove west to Why, then dropped south to the border crossing at Lukeville. Back in old Mexico, we stopped in Sonoyta to eat, dry and hot, folks moving slowly in the heat. After lunch we walked around some, surrounded but ignored by border business as usual. I had drunk a beer with a taco burrito full of red and black steaming beans and hot chilies, and with Sylvie now driving, I fell asleep. When I awoke we were on Mexico Federal Highway 2, driving west along the border. Desert, mesa, flat tan and sandy, rocky hills. We switched seats again and Sylvie slept while I drove and when she awoke she was surprised by crops and greenery reappearing around San Luis Rio Colorado. We crossed the border again at the portmanteau crossing of Mexicali and Calexico, picking up 8 west through chaparral forest to El Cajon and La Mesa, and finally drove into a muted San Diego night, where Sylvie had booked a bungalow near the water in Ocean Beach. We had encountered no gods in the desert, had not felt watched. The desert gods are heavy sleepers, Sylvie said. Now back to the city gods, I said. The beach gods are my favorites, Sylvie said. I should move the team to a beach city next year. You can never be sure about the gods, I said, how they’re going to act, or react. I unpacked the car while Sylvie opened up the bungalow windows to the ocean breeze. We sat out on the front porch facing a narrow road that led down to the beach, and Sylvie poured herself a glass of chardonnay and I drank a beer and then we went to sleep for the night. (25 Sep 20)

Plumber’s Helper

We slept until noon. Around three, Sylvie left to register for her conference at some humongous hotel on the bay. After registration and check-in there would be meet and greet meetings followed by an opening night banquet, speeches and entertainment, closing with some notorious keynote speaker with a wishful thinking slide show on passion, motivation, and sports. But Sylvie would be back at the bungalow for the night. She would not be sleeping at the hotel. I walked around the bungalow and yard, checking out the details, sipping a late afternoon coffee, feeling lazy and easy going. Our neighbors to the east were noisily going in and out of their place, filling a small dumpster out front with trash from their house. I wandered over to say hello. Josh and Margo were co-presidents of a service fraternity, and they’d leased the house for a week of meetings and parties in sync with the fall semesters starting up. The clean-up was almost over, and they were vacating the place as soon as they got it inspected and got their security and cleaning deposits back. Meantime, did I know anything about plumbing? One of their toilets was backed up. I found a plumber’s helper and a drain snake in the garage and went to work. Apparently they don’t teach you in college not to flush a bikini down a toilet, I said. Or an empty beer can. Margo looked distraught. Josh said he’d not taken Plumbing 101 yet. I plunged the second toilet for good measure. When I asked Josh what he was studying he said he’d soon be finished with a business degree in marketing and planned to pursue an MBA. His goal was to amass as much capital as he possibly could over the next ten years then sit back on his laurels and surf. He was planning a startup that would amass capital for the express purpose of funding other startups. Right, Margo joshed him, it will take you the next ten years just to pay off your student loans. Margo was studying forensic science. Maybe you should both consider a plumbing start-up, I suggested, and left them to their clean-up, studies, and careers. (26 Sep 20)

A Demon Wind

Up early, Sylvie off with quick cup to her conference, and I down to the sea in flip flops and swim trunks, beach towel tied around my waist, sweatshirt and an offshore breeze on my back, the beginning of a seasonal Santa Ana wind, air hot and dry and devilish flowing down hills and through canyons, the desert and basin air we’d just driven through now following us, blowing through the beach cities and across the beaches and out over the waters. Superstitious, noir ideas whirled around in these winds, some often true, said to increase anxieties, stoke wild fears and wildfires, redress phobias, reduce inhibitions, pull the Hyde out of the Jekyll. So I was not surprised when I spotted what appeared to be Cagetan’s van parked aside the beach frontage road. I walked up to the van: it was his, the curtains drawn, he was probably in there sleeping, and I banged on the side door. Nothing stirred. I walked on, beachcombing down at the tide line, circled around at Dog Beach and walked up to Smiley Lagoon, heading back now toward the bungalow. When I came near Cagetan’s van again, there he was, climbing out and stretching in the wind, his long hair blowing like beach grass. I stopped and watched him watching a few California brown pelicans diving into the water just outside the surf break. And still I was not surprised when I saw Sot now climb out of Cagetan’s van, followed by a squall of Santa Ana wind shaking the van, and I spread my legs to anchor against the gust, Beelzebub himself now spitting dryly, and I turned sharply down an alley and hurried into the wind away from the beach, deciding all at once against a Cagetan and Sot reunion. (27 Sep 20)

Dear Diary,

Sylvie suggested I keep a diary, to care for my days, to reel in my foul funny feelings, to reflect, contemplate, light a candle in the dark corner of the mind’s attic. She even bought me a little pocket notebook, with which I now wobbled down to the beach, wondering what to write, when, how, where. I had laughed, because my days were so full of nothing, nothing sure to write about. At first I thought she was kidding. But she said I missed the point, which was to interrogate oneself, one’s actions and inactions, hits and misses. At that I balked. Keep track of your seven deadly sins, she said, giving me some ideas to write about. Those were, she reminded me, in alphabetical order: anger, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, and sloth. Notice how commonplace the words are, Sylvie said. It’s almost impossible to pass a day without experiencing one of them. If you fast, for example, are you not being a glutton of denial. I wasn’t likely to go on a fast, I said, but again, I apparently missed the mark. We fast from things other than food, Sylvie said. We all the time fast from what is good for us, and that’s a deadly sin. But to complicate matters even more, I had forgotten to pack a pen with me down to the beach with my little notebook. It was also a beautiful morning, full of graceful offshore breezes as the Santa Ana devil winds had abated. I wanted to run down the tide berm run into the water high stepping the expelling waves and dive under a thin lipped curl held up by a breeze, waiting for me. The water was cold and the cold bees stung the skin and I sprinted and dove and swam out past the break, all seven deadly sins flying off from the cold and sudden exercise. Outside the break I stopped and treaded water and turned to watch the beach from the water and suddenly remembered the little notebook Sylvie had given me, which was in the pocket of my swim trunks, soaking wet. Uh, oh, I said to myself and any fishes nearby, an eighth deadly sin. (28 Sep 20)

The 6 W’s

Keep working on the 5 W’s, Sylvie suggested after she’d asked if I’d written anything in my diary yet, in the little pocket notebook she’d given me, and I said no, nothing. Who, what, when, why, and where, she said. That’s what people want to know. How about how, I asked. Sylvie’s conference now over, we had one more night in the Ocean Beach bungalow. We could stay on longer, Sylvie said. But I felt pressed up against the ocean here, Highway 8 spilling into our backyard, the town crushed with twenty-something teenyboppers, the yachts and ships and sailors and tourists, the rich and homeless mingling for a spot to be seen and unseen, Cagetan and Sot lurking about, though I didn’t mention that. How about we make our way north, I said, visit Refugio for a time, drop in on Salty and Penina. You think they’re not pushed against the water? I talked to Salty on the phone today. He said they never go to the beach on the weekends anymore, only on weekdays. We’ll pick them up, get a boat, sail out to the islands. Thus it was planned. We would leave tomorrow heading north to Refugio, but arrival uncertain, since we’d be taking our time and remain open to other sorties and such. Meantime, we went out to sit on the front porch, me with a beer and Sylvie with a wine cooler, and she saw my diary sitting on the railing where I had left it open to dry in the sun. What happened, she wanted to know. Oh, yeah, turns out there’s a 6th W: Wet. (29 Sep 20)

Guzunder

In the morning we packed up to head north. While Sylvie showered I walked down to the beach for a quick wake-up swim, the water clear and not too cold. When I got back to the bungalow there was Cagetan’s van parked at the neighbor’s place to the east of us, the one the college kids had nested in for a weekend of hokey-pokey. Apparently they had failed to get their deposits back, and Cagetan, gobsmacked but happy to see me, explained he and Sot had gone in together and started a business cleaning beach pads after short term rentals. All the kids returning to school created peak business. C&S Cleaners also did small repairs, touch up painting, installed new door handles and locks when necessary, and yard clean-up. Cagetan asked of any news of Minerva or the Hotel Julian crowd. No, but Sylvie and I might stop by there on our way up north. Sylvie drove so I could make some notes in my diary as we departed, when I might feel something, she said, as we often do when we take leave of a place we’ve lived in for a time. But I felt nothing. The little pocket notebook had dried out, the pages crinkly and water stained, gritty from the dried salt, but the book was useable, not that it mattered, since I still seemed to have nothing to say. Do the 5 W’s Sylvie again suggested, as we pulled away from the bungalow and I waved goodbye to Cagetan and Sot. I inventoried Sylvie’s 5 W’s: Who, no one; what, nothing; when, in no time at all; why, not a clue; where, past present and future, where all things happen at once like in dreams and when we awake we struggle to call to mind and tell, but the mind has emptied, and isn’t it just as well, the guzunder full of dreams tossed out with the night, emptied with a royal flush, the better to awake to the moment, not to temper or dilute, but to expel and terminate, no need to qualify or quantify, no desire to count or appraise anything. (30 Sep 20)

Listing

You’re writing, Sylvie exclaimed, her voice rising hurray as we came to a full stop point on Interstate 5 northbound. What did you write? 1.5 million people in San Diego and they all decide to drive north on the I-5 this morning. Let’s move over to the Cabrillo and head up to Fallbrook and visit the god of avocados. It’s going to be messy whatever we do. Why don’t we just find a place to stay and live and never mind all this sitting in cars driving around. But don’t you want to go places, see things, visit all the wonders of the world, parachute out of a hot air balloon, sail the seven seas, climb Kilimanjaro, travel back roads to far places to eat in parts unknown. We could sail around the Mediterranean and visit Italy and Greece and Turkey. And pick up refugees and ferry them to safety. Don’t you ever get tired of living on the dark side of the moon? At least I know my way around. And it’s not so crowded. Have you got Avo’s number in your phone? I’ll give him a call. Old Avo. Wonder how is he. (1 Oct 20)

Mission Imagination

Avo did not pick up, and Sylvie didn’t want to just drop in on him, imagining a happy reception. I suggested we change course again. We could reach San Juan Capistrano in the afternoon, walk around and pray some, relax, and find a place for the night in Laguna. Check out the surf at San Onofre and Trestles on our way to the Mission. That’s not very far at all, and I’m beached out after Ocean Beach, Sylvie said. Let’s head inland and visit the Nixon Library. La Casa Pacifica, that’s what I want, not the $100 million dollar place, a simple place near the beach. Did Nixon suffer from a poor self-image? That’s what others said, who helped him come to realize he’d grown up poor, which in itself was not a problem, because he enjoyed a great imagination, Nixon did, but doors of opportunity were closed to him, and he remained devoted to his family. Takes imagination to want something more than what one has been given. Who knows what he thought of himself. Takes some imagination to see ourselves as clearly as others see us. I always did say so. Takes imagination to see ourselves at all. The artistic imagination is different from other forms, from a political imagination, from an imagination of the body. Yeah, the body politic. Imagine the importance of imagination to a blind person. Without imagination even those with perfect visual acuity are blind. Blind to what? To what others see? How do we know what others see is any more or less what we call real than what someone else sees? Figmentation. Is that a word? It is now. What does it mean? It takes imagination to discover reality. In any event, the Great Stone Church in Mission San Juan Capistrano fired my imagination. The low retaining wall, leaning, reinforced with rusted metal plates and large bolts through old cements, lines of forms still visible in the granular rough face full of notches, chips, divots. Sun weathered, thin brush strokes of yellow-lime moss on the wall in the shade of an ancient pepper tree. (2 Oct 20)

Of Sanity and Sanitary

Little significance I found in riding in a yellow vehicle called a Hummer in a yellow land called California, mile after mile after mile after mile of streets filled with lookalike cultural paraphernalia: quick stop and go snack needs shops; gas filling stations; forests of telephone poles with crisscrossing wired canopies (but on select boulevards the wires now buried in tunnels, electronic catacombs, poles sticking up through the cement, independent flag poles topped with lights such that no bird got a good night’s sleep); strip malls, movie theatres, bowling alleys; cafes, diners, coffee boutiques; bars, taverns, pubs, breweries; car lots, parking lots, big box stores; churches, schools, parks, amusement arcades, golf links; clinics, hospitals, fire and police stations; refineries, manufacturing enclaves, buildings so tall one could no longer imagine leaping one in a single bound, nor imagine what went on in those buildings; hotels, motels, mattress and furniture stores; underpasses of concrete massive waves, railroad crossings, onramps, offramps, turnabouts; banks, auto repair shops, storage units; alleys full of graffiti covered dumpsters, fences, walls, two and three story buildings with only a ground floor; concertina wire and barred windows and doors. But up and down the side streets modest early or mid century dwellings built as single family homes, with well kept yards, only the cars in drives and lining the streets testifying to the current date. Maybe we should just go home, Sylvie said, leave the rambling to ramblers, but where was home, what was home, and of what value. Join a church, she said. Go to the spaghetti dinners, the crab feeds, the social dances, the concerts and one act plays and bingo nights, the little festivals, visit the sick and elderly, help the poor, volunteer to sweep the floor, whatever needs to be handled. We passed under another overpass where a tribe of homeless had gathered their tents and tarps and carts together, where a laissez faire system no doubt prevailed, and a true democracy existed, no one represented by another, but each deciding how they would live, under what conditions, and what beliefs, but still connected to other individuals, each with different wants and needs, even if under the state’s non exhaustive unavoidable uncaring umbrella, free, even if that freedom came at the cost of sanity and the sanitary. (3 Oct 20)

The Foreboding Bed

We drove through a tunnel of noise, adding our own tiny tinnitus to the cacophony of tinkling horns, ringing roads, buzzing bells, babbling motorways, looking for egress to ingress in some small motor motel to recess and relax and redress for a new beginning, a new morning, an internal spring, a fresh start. These motels are not hard to find, cities big and small all designed for the convenience of the motorist: the traveller, the travelling salesman on a limited per diem, the tourist on a budget, the trucker desiring a shower nap and cup of coffee, the rodeo rider on tour, the four piece garageband on a trip booked of small venue gigs, the soldier sailor or airman on leave on weekend pass or perhaps just Absent Without Official Leave, the family of four on vacation, the adulterous couple, the relocator, the lost, the looking, the hiding. The first place we pulled into because Sylvie liked the name: Motel In Vino Veritas. But the beds had coin operated boxes on the nightstands – for 50 cents you could make the bed vibrate for a couple of minutes – and Sylvie refused to stay in such a place, said such a bed forebode bad dreams. (4 Oct 20)

Morning Motel Coffee

Every day now followed a similar pattern, beginning with a walk for a cup of coffee I would bring back to our motel room for Sylvie, who slept on, from a nearby cafe or coffee shop, where I might sit drinking my first cup at the counter or a small outdoor table, my little pocket notebook for company, giving every man Jack the impression I was productively occupied, not that any Jack would care, but some mornings I had to settle for the coffee brewed in the motel lobby, or, last resort, made from a rickety electric drip coffee maker in the motel room, using the premeasured packets of coffee and water from the bathroom sink, the coffee poured from the carafe into plastic or foam cups, the foil wrapped mints left by the housekeeper intended it was my guess to smooth the bitter oily watery edge of a coffee made with dirty equipment, water heated only lukewarm, with beans ground to dust. But when I got back to the room with Sylvie’s coffee from abroad, she might still be sleeping, or the television would be on, and she would catch me up on the local news, weather, and road conditions. Check out time was usually 11, though most motel guests were out and back on the road by then, as we often were, too, the noise of a neighbor’s flushing toilet, pipe gurgling shower, slamming doors, the awakening road rush of 18 wheelers, motorcycles, family vans loading up, delivery trucks coming and going, or a squealing housekeeping cart preventing further sleep in any case. (5 Oct 20)

Missing Persons

Going north a sign indicated the last thing I remembered before awakened by Sylvie groggy from road sleep parked in a poorly lit motel space outside Room 3. Dark out and Sylvie said let’s just go in and sleep and sort our stuff out in morning, but she handed me my cowboy kit and she grabbed her backpack so we might complete our nightly personal ablutions before entering the torpor of little brown bats. Late morning I awoke and went in search of coffee. I was away about an hour, wandering up the road until I found a coffee hutch, and when I got back to Room 3 Sylvie was missing, her backpack too, the yellow Hummer also, the parking space in front of the door empty. No note. I waited, finished my coffee then finished Sylvie’s coffee. Check out time neared. The housekeeper knocked. At the desk in the lobby I was informed the bill for one night had been settled, and that’s all they knew. I started walking back up the road, retracing my coffee search steps, passed the little coffee hutch, and kept walking. Then I went back to the coffee hutch and asked the baristas if they’d noticed a yellow Hummer that morning, described what Sylvie looked like to them, her blue eyes, round cheeks dotted with a few freckles, straight hair, thinking maybe she’d stopped for coffee. No. Sorry. Maybe I was headed in the wrong direction. I wasn’t even sure where I was, what city we had wound up in. I kept walking, surrounded by local business minding its own business as usual as far as I could see, the main street a typical two way affair, one side leading out of town, the other into town, ending in a turnaround, and the other way around. I walked around the town twice, once stopping for breakfast at a small cafe, the big yellow Hummer noticeably absent from anyone’s morning as I asked around, in the cafe, at the two gas stations, the old grocery in the middle of town, the newer stop and go at the end opposite the motel. Down a side street I passed a church and a small graveyard. On another street a grade school, the yard empty. Little houses with big porches and big yards, a vegetable garden gone to seed, garages with no doors, bicycles and toys strewn about, a swing set, a tire swing hanging from a giant maple branch, two women talking over a fence, an old man in a pickup truck making deliveries, a feed and supply store. A building with a tall flag pole out front, not exactly the county seat, but I might have considered a missing person report. A single police car in the driveway. But who was missing, Sylvie, or me. (6 Oct 20)

Call Pinch

Of course I had tried Sylvie’s cell, but the signal was dead, or least very ill. I was staying now in a rooming house in a small town on the outskirts of a bigger town, up north, in vineland, a couple of hours out of San Francisco, friendly place, if you didn’t ask too many questions, like where people came from or where they lived or what they did for a living or where they might be on their way to, if you didn’t ask any questions at all. I took a job washing dishes in a local tavern, three hours a day, an hour after the breakfast rush, an hour after the lunch rush, and an hour after the dinner rush, not that any of the rushes was much to write about, short of a filler in the local weekly (Lots of dishes to wash yesterday at Taberna’s Tavern said local dish washer Glaucus, hired to handle the meal rushes during the annual month-long Taberna Jazz-Grass Fest), and one night, after the dinner dishes, sitting out on Taberna’s western style wooden sidewalk, raised a couple of feet above street level, drinking a beer and watching the passersby, tourists mostly, and flipping or flicking through the pages of the little pocket notebook Sylvie had given me for my writing but in which I’d yet to write a single word, a habit I’d picked up, the flipping of the empty pages, I espied something written, a scribble that passed by in a flash, and I had to thumb slowly through the pages again to find it. Call Pinch, it said, in Sylvie’s handwriting. How had I missed it? When did she write it? What did it mean? Who or what or where was Pinch? (7 Oct 20)

In a Pinch? Call Pinch!

Flying high over grape vineyards, hills of oaks, and country roads, Neder Pinch handed me his joint, which I declined to a shrug of his shoulders, and he took another toke himself. We reached the private airfield where Pinch had found the yellow Hummer, parked in the field near the short runway. Neder Pinch works out of a two room office scabbed into a defunct one room schoolhouse in a small town in wine country. In the front room Pinch’s receptionist and secretary mind the store. In the back room Pinch spends most of his day on the phone or in discreet meetings with individuals at large. Pinch provides, according to the sandwich board in the school front yard, for financial and other services requiring license or expertise in the field, including high risk insurance, bail bonds, notary public, realty (rents and sales), payday loans, civil marriage, used car sales, air-taxi, private investigations & missing persons, copies faxes and photographs, post office, city and county utility payments, and plumbing repair. His helicopter pad was in the back school yard. We landed unceremoniously in the private airfield, disembarked, and walked over to the Hummer, which was unlocked, empty, cleaned out, keys in the ignition. We climbed into the Hummer and Pinch advised we now wait patiently for the plane to land. It usually came in around what he called his sit-out time, and he often watched the plane’s landing pattern coming in over the town and school house office as he and his staff sat out in the school yard with a beer or wine drink, chomping on fried carrots and mushrooms, cheeses and bread chunks dipped in oil and vinegar, while chatting up the day’s business and the plans for the morrow. In a Pinch? Call Pinch! his ad in the local paper read, and I had called him, pursuant to what appeared to be Sylvie’s direction. We rolled down the windows in the Hummer and waited for the airplane to come in, Pinch falling asleep sprawled out in the back seat, his feet sticking out a side window. (8 Oct 20)

Pick up and Delivery

Quickly but gently Pinch said and the three of us downloaded a dozen boxes from the plane into the yellow Hummer. The work done Pinch and I stood between the Hummer and the helicopter and watched the airplane take off and swoop west and over the hills. I was to drive back to the schoolhouse where we would unload the boxes. Pinch would follow me from the air in the helicopter. What about Sylvie, I asked. What about her? She said you’d be a good delivery man. The boxes were all the same, the size of a case of wine, and weighed something like six bottles of wine each, I guessed, but they must have been packed exceptionally well because I didn’t hear any glass as we shifted them from the plane to the Hummer. Unmarked, tightly taped, thick cardboard boxes. Was there a black market for wine? I asked myself. I was on a country road, the helicopter visible, crisscrossing above me, but when the road narrowed and curved and passed under a canopy of trees growing near the river I pulled over and cleanly cut open one of the boxes. Bottles, labels taped to each with handwritten numbers and letters and dates, not commercial labels, but coding that might have been winery production information. I removed one bottle and stuck it under my seat and pulled back onto the road and saw the helicopter again above and ahead of me. At Pinch’s place I pulled into the backyard and he was waiting and we carried the boxes into the covered back porch and he told me to put the bottle I’d taken back in its box. It’s not wine, he said. It’s medicine. You don’t want to drink it. Or talk about it. (9 Oct 20)

The Fall

Clouds crept over the north beaches and the vintners celebrated the annual crush in fog and rain and wind blowing inland across the coastal ranges and into the interior valleys and bunching up against the big mountains and emptying and running into streams and rivers and lakes as fall developed into a long and wet run-on sentence. Sylvie returned to Central America with her baseball team for fall and winter practice and play. No hard feelings, she said, she had just suddenly come down with an allergic reaction to my company, and when she ran into Pinch who offered her a flight out of Dodge she jumped. That was understandable, my company often giving off toxic pollins venom and dander, and Sylvie loved the sunny outdoors and adventure and felt the fog and fall in the offing, and I left Pinch to his medicine and made my way farther north up the coast and then over into Portland, increasingly hard on the road to maintain any kind of outdoor living or working in the deteriorating weather conditions. I had traded Pinch the yellow Hummer for a more practical and economic wagon I could sleep in and he threw in a bicycle and surfboard and camping and fishing gear to balance out the exchange. The surfboard wasn’t much use in Portland where I took a room in a hostel in the Hawthorne District, but the bicycle was keen and I traded the camping and fishing gear to a couple on their way south for a used Gypsy jazz guitar. And I thought I might kick back and do some writing in the little pocket notebook Sylvie had given me. I joined a workshop at a local writing school, but I wasn’t much interested in plausibility, page turning plots, credibility, memoir type stuff. Still I felt the urge to write, pencil to paper, inky fingers, daily exercise. I was interested in the rules and ways and means of writing only to the extent I could experiment with syntax and grammar and style and, in a word, language. I didn’t have any particular reader in mind, though I hoped Sylvie might be interested in getting her notebook back full of words. And around the same time I started thinking about fate, how Sylvie had said fate is the decisions you make, and about the gods, the old gods, the ones that make mistakes, as humans do too, toys of the gods, lives so full of mistakes and griefs and all the seven deadly sins oozing and piling up like oily rags until spontaneous combustion and rages erupted all around, but it was time to relax, to take it easy, to consider not just the deadly sins but the works of mercy and grace. Easy to say of course for a guy living on an annuity funded by the temporary borrowing of someone else’s capital such that he no longer needs to work, even as work is what, he’s learned in passing, most fulfills him. But the gods these days, one to ten percent of the population, it is estimated, continuing on much as the gods of yesterday, co-mingling with and catching their standard human wannabe-gods unawares in the snares of their own cravings, for attention, for respect, for a nice big piece of the plutocratic prosperous concentric pie, for publication, for a post, for stage time, minutes and hours and days and weeks and months and years of fame, terms of fame, concentric circles, and round and round and round we go, and where we stop, nobody knows, amateurs as we all are, for the wages for being human are nil on the open market. (10 Oct 20)

Workshop #1

Anais was the first to go, of the nine of us, in the writing workshop, to introduce ourselves, briefly, Solo said (no need to ramble – we could save that for our writing), and share something of the project we’d be working on. Anais lived on a houseboat down on the Willamette and was working on memoir. Sam was a bartender working on drama. Hilda and Djuna were adjunct instructors, poets both, and partners, and they were now working together on a graphic novel, Hilda doing the writing and Djuna the drawing. Matilda was a student and waitress working on a novel. Joyce was a personal essayist and declined to say anything more of himself. Then it came my turn, and I did a show and tell, held out my little pocket notebook and said I wanted to fill it with words, but I wasn’t at all sure which ones. No one laughed. Tough crowd. Penelope was writing a novel, worked at a printing shop, supported two kids and an effete husband. Virginia was a single mom, counselor at a non-profit, working on memoir. Solo then talked for awhile about workshop etiquette and about expectations and assumptions and how preconceived ideas can ruin both writing and reading. Some of what Solo said Anais said she found liberating. We were out on the sidewalk taking a break from the workshop. Anais I guessed was in her 40’s, dark eyes buried in bushy eyebrows and thick wavy black hair she kept pushing back behind her ears, to both see and hear better I assumed. She asked me if I was joking about the little pocket notebook being my writing project. (11 Oct 20)

500 Words

Each workshop should feature a theme, Joyce declared at the beginning of Workshop 2, but Solo bristled no, keep organic with the works in progress showing the way, lighting a path of discussion. Yeah, Matilda said, I just want some response, anything, comment, you know? Writing is wandering alone in a wilderness, Joyce labored on, somewhat aphoristically, and the writing workshop is bumping into others in that backwoods. All lost, Virginia quipped, or I thought it was a quip, but I was the only one to crack a one off barking smile, and Virginia gave me a puzzled look as if to say we are not in this together, but that was just my read, which could have been off by a mile of woodland. We were, for Workshop 2, to have come up with 500 words describing our project, and another 500 words of our project, typed onto a single sheet of paper, which we passed to our left, reading and commenting in written notes, in the margins, on those passed to us, and passing them on, until our page circled back around home, and we read silently the comments written for us, scribbled in margins, side top and bottom and overflowing to the backside of the page, some, that is, others I noted had fewer notes. We then took a break, allowing us to count to ten, as it were, Solo said, before reacting. The comments could be signed or not, but I signed all of mine, no worries, trying to be helpful, focussing on how the writing made me feel. Oh, feelings, Joyce scoffed. We were breaking up now, talking in pairs or across the table. Yes, Anais came to my defence, sentience, taste and touch and smell. Nonsense, Joyce snuffed, we can’t taste words. These you might be able to, Djuna said, holding up the ink drawing that accompanied her and Hilda’s submission. Sam was the first to put his page down and move toward break, followed by Penelope. Others checked their phone for whatever, news from the sitter, texts from the other, posts from friends on the outside, out of the wilderness area. I went out to the sidewalk and breathed deeply of a fall breeze kicking up a mushroom thickness into the air, thinking of heading over to the pub for a quick beer before the second half of Workshop 2, but Anais stopped me, saying she had counted my words and noted there were exactly 250 each of both analysis and project. Had I counted them? Did I know that I’d come in right on but half the assignment money? 250 words was about the max I could fit onto one page of my pocket notebook, and that’s writing crimped. Besides, it’s only one workshop behind us and here we are supposed to fork out 1,000 words? Did you count your words, Anais asked again. Sure, why not? We watched a bus stop then went back inside. I did feel like I was probably a few words short. (12 Oct 20)

Organ Tics

Universe alive meaning what, Joyce talking again, a twitch of his head my way as I came in late to Workshop 3, the others already seated, each now having found their preferred place, on the couch, or in one of the overstuffed chairs, the easier to remember names, Soto said, the personality of the chair, the seat revealing the person. Joyce seemed to prefer the straight hardback chair in the corner by the bookcase. From there he could look out the window down the street or pay attention to the circle of writers working on their craft, honing their craft. Honing, to hone, was a word I noticed came up frequently in Workshop, like robust, another one of Workshop’s key words. And craft. I hadn’t realized what a craft writing could be. A robust honing of craft, I thought. A honing of robust craft. A craft of robust honing. Words have meaning, Joyce, excited now, head tics my way impatient I’ve not sat down yet, but where had I put my pocket notebook. Don’t tell me I forgot it. Words have meaning, Joyce said, stretching the long e as far as it could go. You people don’t seem to feel that, and a deep quiet settled, writers staring at the floor, backs rigid. To be part of a people, even if mistaken, surely something to that, I thought, stopped fumbling around looking for my notebook and sat down, now part of the silence. Then someone’s stomach gurgled, a rumbling burble audible around the room. Oh, my, Penelope said, patting her hand on her tummy, organics, and everyone laughed. I have some apple, Virginia said, did you not eat before class? I haven’t eaten all day, Penelope said. I’m on a roll. Quiet again, as we seemed to contemplate the meaning of Penelope’s fast. Then Matilda with a suppressed burp, and she begged Workshop’s pardon. Then came a big bang. It wasn’t me. Was it a mistake? Excuse me, Sam said, be right back, and he got up and left the room, Joyce staring out the window at a shout in the street. The minutes ticked quietly and reliably by, the room now a vacuum, the writers floating out of their chairs, weightless, bumping into one another, like pool balls, bouncing off the cushions, changing trajectory. Nothing dead, Sam said, reclaiming his seat. Inert, perhaps, but the organ, so persistent, shells another life. Inaction impossible, Sam continued, something in his voice a simple invitation to listen. The whole, Sam said, this thing, this idea, near and far, all organ, all organic, sprawling sleeping energy here and there, nothing inorganic possible, all alive, on the move, on the make, daresay, and of dark matter, we have sleep, as one life spills into another. (13 Oct 20)