The essentials get hoarded by the rich, the fluff, and the oofy, the pantry stuffed with truffles and beans and such, starch and flour, coffees and chocolates, the hall closet full with bamboo bathroom tissue, the library stacked with first edition hardbacks, clean copies dust covers intact, and a few handmade porcelain jars and a cast bronze abstract sculpture catching some sunlight through weeping glass, the boudoir walls dressed with formal wear and evening gowns made from wet fly wings, the garden roamed with roses, wisteria, and a cherry tree, and three peacocks playing near a pond. Others make do with equivalents, pink flamingos made from plastic, for example. The necessities of life change slowly, and vary from place to place, person to person, time to time. What profits youths to join jobs where like their mothers and fathers would have made happier children? Predicament is everything. And connotations take us away. White, blue, or pink collar? What’s behind door number four? The privileged get on the job training. Someone cleans the privy, the house of office, wash the washroom the washer person. The human path is littered with exuviae, as one’s growth outstrips one’s capacity for change, “a nine-hundreds-year-old name” not a gift but a curse. When any name or experience will suffice, a number, a meal, a drink, or its equivalent.
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.
“The Fall” is episode 76 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
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.
“Deconstruction” is episode 42 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
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.
“An Air of Bad Ease” is episode 41 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
Desultory. Defunct. Deconstruction. Debunk. Defunct. Deride. Decide. Depot Bay.
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.
“Sylvie’s Dream of Counterpoise”
is episode 12 of
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)
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stand dulled lard, aunt tie, ear merge, knit knot, sullen wullen, negligee ant
puss swill, hog wash, bass inn, trump pet, your bane, miss aria, melon cafard, old gourd, nouvelle vague vouge vaudautomobile, sue dough
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We lived for a time on Oak Street, in a courtyard lot of four houses across from the high school. The two sets of houses faced one another and were connected by arched walkways. All four kitchen windows looked into the courtyard. Each house was the same: a small white stucco square with center front door into rectangular living room with door to bedroom with closet, bathroom with porcelain tub and two doors, one from the bedroom, the other to a back porch with back door, kitchen nook, kitchen with door to living room, so that we could walk in circles around the inside of the house. The cat loved this circular house.
I had just got back from Active Duty, and was driving a VW bus that I left parked on the street under the trees out front, even though there were four garages attached to one another but separate from the houses, in the rear of the lot. The houses were clean but rough stucco with red clay tile roofs. In the time we lived there, about a year, we never closed our kitchen window over the sink. The cat came and went through the window, and over time the flowering plant outside the kitchen started to grow through the window over the sink. The house was well-lit, four windows in the living room. Ours was one of the houses in the back of the lot, in the northeast corner. It was a swell place. We had no phone service and no television. We did have a stereo system: a receiver, turntable, and two speakers.
In the house across from us lived Ms. Palette, a frisky old lady who grew tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, herbs, zinnias, and marigolds, and she was visited once a month by a son who checked up on her and brought her provisions, including cigarettes and wine. When she was not in her garden, she was inside watching her television. Early one evening, we were startled by police, paramedics, and firemen rushing into the courtyard, taking up positions outside the doors, but their focus was on Ms. Palette’s house. She came to the door and let the police inside. We gathered with our neighbors in the yard. Apparently, Ms. Palette had experienced some sort of break in and thought she was having a heart attack and had called the police to say she needed an ambulance. As it turned out, she had been watching a cops and robbers show on TV, and she confused what she was watching on the show with the reality within her house. On the show, someone was breaking into a house, frightening its occupant, and Ms. Palette grew confused, thinking someone was breaking into her house and that she needed an ambulance. We tried to contact her son, but no one knew his name or number. The police suggested we take turns checking up on Ms. Palette daily. The emergency responders left, and we went in to say hello to Ms. Palette, who was sitting on her couch looking stupefied. The television had been turned off.
We used to walk up Main Street into town to the grocery. Not long after Ms. Palette’s confused television experience, we were walking home from the store, each carrying a bag of groceries, and we passed the realtor’s office, and in the window one of the photographs caught my eye. It was my VW bus, parked on Oak Street outside our courtyard houses, and the houses were for sale, and they had, apparently, already sold. When we got home, we called our landlord. Yes, he’d put the property up for sale, no sign, no notice. A developer hit it like a raptor. Our landlord was waiting to tell us, not wanting to disappoint us. We were momentarily stupefied. Soon, we received eviction notices. The four houses were destroyed and a modern apartment building erected on the lot, sans courtyard and garden and trees. We moved on, not looking back, growing less stupefied with each move.
A moon rose pure placebo the day
the dismantlers came to The Eidolon.
A puppeteer hidden in a hard hat
worked sticks and wires from a crane,
his rude yellow wrecking ball
a scraping bald knuckle
the yore tony a la mode pink marquee:
They hadn’t seen a movie there in years.
Instinct drove to the location
now hairy with graffiti and wounded windows
boarded up. “Turn left there,” she pointed ahead,
and here in the V of what used to be
a local lemony clichéd Hollywood and Vine
hung the vertical sign of rainbow chasing lights
popped and glum, now a moon at noon.
The wrecking crew worked amid yarns,
a thrilling tale of piracy, or chivalric ennui,
beach tar and feathers and a damsel tied to a rail.
Though no one was actually tied down,
back in the days of pretend, when make-believe
waved sun and sea of the bottle bags of beggary,
and kids danced to the possibilities of being free.
They drove across town to watch the razing
crew with crowbars and heavy metal
tear down the slumping palatial playhouse,
where teens once held hands,
listening to rock and roll bands,
and before them, kids spent summers in buttery
fingered and fizzy toothed afternoons
matinee rapt in spinning film,
a veteran vaudeville player changing reels.
Nothing could save now the last-gasp plight
of this episodic imperilment, and the moon fell.
The two cold cats sat on the bus stop bench
across the street from the deconstruction,
a couple of stoned Cupids deprived of sleep,
sagely reminding one another to be brave
and behave, lest they be kicked out again
like the day they adlibbed Beatles
and lit bee dough up in the loge.
Derrida seems satisfied if not happy with his contradictions, with having learned finally to live with them unencumbered by any implicit criticism. His primary concern in his last days appears to have been what comes after the final act of writing. After all, “there are, to be sure, many very good readers (a few dozen in the world perhaps, people who are also writer-thinkers, poets)” (34). Were he a blogger, would Derrida be thus assured of 36 followers? Jesus had only 12, but even they were not always reliable.
Can a writer ever finally trust any reader? Part of the problem seems to be that readers do have an unconditional freedom to read from their own particular singularity, always peculiar. It’s all they can do, as general readers, apart from the 36 carefully selected followers, who must leave their families behind. It’s not that whatever you say will automatically be misunderstood, but that conditions of freedom vary among individuals. But Derrida says at the same time, “You don’t just go and do anything with language; it preexists us and it survives us” (36). For Derrida, deconstruction was a form of “self-critique” (45). Before “learning to live finally,” one must deconstruct oneself.
In his idea of “The University Without Condition,” Derrida wants “absolute claim to an unconditional freedom to think, speak, and critique” (48). The presumption is there are conditions set by “political or religious power” (48). Kant’s solution that scholars be free to say whatever they want as long as they keep it in the University was not enough for Derrida. But the philosopher who leaves the University becomes an outsider, a blogger, as opposed to a scholar. Not that it matters, because
“…you do not know to whom you are speaking, you invent and create silhouettes, but in the end it no longer belongs to you. Spoken or written, all these gestures leave us and begin to act independently of us.” (32)
Jesus spoke to a general audience, asked for similar unconditional freedom wherever he happened to be located, but he was ready to give to political power what belongs to political power, while Christianity too often has turned into a University that, like the University of Kant’s that Derrida points out, is only free on its own grounds.
Any notion of finally can only be fantasy; life goes on with and without us. What happens finally is the words stop coming, we stop thinking with words, and must figure out some other way to deconstruct.
Learning to Live Finally: The Last Interview [with Jacques Derrida]. Melville House, 2007. 95 pages, including a 27 page selected bibliography of works by Derrida published in English.