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.

“Used to It” is episode 48 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

Behind the One-way Mirror

Accident. Mistake. Agency. Transaction. Mirror. Comments. 

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.

“Behind the One-way Mirror”
is episode 11 of
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous view of all episodes.)

A Noir Comics

a noir comic
a noir comics

ire & furry
ire & furry

"Oh, Lord"
“Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town?”

Belly Buttons
“Mine’s bigger than yours.”

NIghtfall
Nightfall

Haircut
Haircut

Rain
Rain

Noir Street Choir

Purple plaque plugs these rose drowsy lines
Cowled slugs slow tunes wet needed nibbling speech
Crawls to neck to nip & gnaw ear snack signs
Where moons have placed your pierced panache.
One day we’ll dance this sonnet for Monet
Gather green garden bonnet bright flowers
Moist morning your sweet toes curled sachet
& place feathers in quick fallen embrace.
Breathless word sighs don’t keep us paced spoil
Rhyme misalign pillows cockeyed up side
Down marigolds spill orange & yellow roil
Lemon grass whispers timed noir ride:
Crimson lisps smear across smoke screen gloss
While robed within plush toilet rinse & floss.

Grapes

A Plumber’s Noir

I was up late last night, twittering through “The Late Show,” the best way to watch Letterman, and awoke past the dawn to discover a delightful missive, a kind of plumbing noir note, left inside the TP wheelbarrow, placed atop the closed loo. The empty wheelbarrow was a first clue to the mishap that must have unfolded in the wee morning hours. The note, pictured above, elegantly written, including exclamation points fore-and-aft a cap rigged Danger, follows, in its entirety:

! DANGER !

NOT FLUSHING

VERY WELL,

? ?

Plumbers are not usually prescriptivists, recognizing options. I called in Long and Shorty. Shorty did the trick.

The note, marvelously ambiguous, understated in its use of only two question marks, where a more excitable writer might have been inclined to exaggerate with three or more, though not if they were in a hurry, now sits on my desk, offering no apology to William Carlos Williams:

…so much depends upon, this is just to say, notes, fore-and-aft

There is much danger inherent in plumbing and poetry, fully suggested by the writer of the pink bordered note.

Poems referenced in this post: “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This is Just to Say,” both by W. C. Williams.

Related Posts: E. B. White and the plumberThe Postman Always Rings Twice, the Plumber Rarely More Than Once

The Postman Always Rings Twice, the Plumber Rarely More Than Once

I read a book this week, “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” There is no postman, but plenty of rings. The title page of my copy is stamped “WITHDRAWN,” and below that, “CIRCULATION STORAGE,” and above the publisher info., “SIERRA MADRE PUBLIC LIBRARY.” When a library “withdraws” a book, perhaps some helpful librarian might add a note of explanation as to why the book is being withdrawn. My copy, a casual gift from an old, steady friend, is still in decent condition, 187 pages of hardback, hard read, not to be confused with hard to read, but hard in the deadpan noir sense, where none of the characters are likeable, not even the so-called good guys, and all are static characters – no one changes from beginning to end.

I also repaired a toilet this week, having to drive to the hardware store only twice, which is par for home repairs in my neck of the woods. To drive to the hardware store only once in the process of a repair job like fixing a toilet is a hole in one. A real plumber rarely requires more than one trip to fix a toilet. A real plumber is a master of the hole in one repair job.

A cat plays a prominent role in the “Postman” book, illustrating the randomness with which animal nature creeps about, often spoiling plans with ironic gifts from the cosmos, like Flannery O’Connor’s grace (the cat in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” comes to mind, too, reading “Postman”). The lead prosecutor in the “Postman” case, Sackett, calls the anti-hero, Frank Chambers, a “mad dog.” Frank Chambers is an interesting name, a formal place of serious purpose. There is also rank in the chambers, and, in the tradition of the Naturalist writers, one cannot change the rank into which one is born. There’s only one murder, but two attempts, perhaps the twice ringing of the title. I found no evidence that a cat played a role in the toilet failure business mentioned above, but I wouldn’t have been surprised. Meanwhile, I was also thinking ahead to Flannery’s “Good Man” anti-hero character’s name, “The Misfit.” The Misfit would be a good name for a cat.

“Postman,” by James M. Cain, was originally published in 1934. My copy is a tenth printing, October 1945. Edmund Wilson thought that perhaps it was the hard times that seemed to call for some hard writing. But some are born into hard settings, others into easy chairs, and the postman seems to ring indiscriminately, without regard for regal versus rough. And he can find you on Route 66 just as easy as out on Highway 61. My copy has library markings on the inside back cover. There are two sets of 5 vertical lines crossed diagonally left down to right in the upper left corner. Under that, vertically down the inside back cover, 82 with 4 hash marks, then 82 with 1 hash mark, and so on: 84, 4 hash marks; 85, 2 hash marks; 89, 1 hash mark; 90, 1 hash mark; 91, 2 hash marks; 92, 2 hash marks; 93, 3 hash marks; 94, 1 hash mark; 95, 1 hash mark; then, a new column: 98, 2 hash marks; 99, 1 hash mark; 02, 1 hash mark; 03, 1 hash mark; 04, 3 hash marks. I’ve added, below the 04, 12, and 1 hash mark. If someone else reads it, I’ll add a second hash mark under 12. Maybe I’ll start my own library of library discards, “The Used, Used Library.” We find ourselves in hard times for libraries.

I don’t know if Cain was ever at the Sierra Madre library, but maybe he was. And if he was, I wonder if he checked out and read Theodore Dreiser’s “An American Tragedy,” which came to mind as I was reading “Postman,” later in the book. Dreiser’s book, published in 1925, also tells of lives and plans of deception all gone awry thanks to chance occurrences but that result nevertheless in crime and punishment. Dreiser, though, filled his book with background and foreshadowing, motivations and cross-purposes, not to mention long sentences. Cain’s book is terse, devoid of metaphor. But what links “Postman” to “Tragedy” is the notion of Naturalistic purpose, helpless humans trying to create some sense of reason in a reasonless and unreasonable world, and of the influence of chance in ruining the seeming reasonableness of planning for something, for anything. Camus’s “The Stranger” also comes to mind, particularly given the parallel scenes with a priest at the end of both “Stranger” and “Postman.”

If “Postman” is good, it’s because it accomplishes its purpose. Whether or not that purpose is good is another matter.

I discovered the problem with the toilet had to do with the overflow tube, which was higher than the critical level mark on the filler valve. Thus when the float stuck, the water spilled out the handle hole before it reached the overflow tube. The toilet never even had a chance to run. I replaced the filler valve and flapper, and took a hacksaw blade and cut the overflow tube down to 1″ below the CL line on the filler valve, which, I discovered, is code. The toilet had been out of compliance. Then I had to make the second trip back to the hardware store, to buy a new handle, which is what broke to begin with – there were two problems at once – but I had so focused on the sticking float problem that I had forgotten about the broken handle. This is how noir plots are constructed.