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.

“The Fall” is episode 76 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

Turning Down

Housekeeping. The Right on Moving Company. 

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.”

“Turning Down”
is episode 27 of
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)

Wheels Within Wheels

Canvassing. Jobs. Day Labor. Off the Grid.

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.

“Wheels Within Wheels”
is episode 25 of
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)

Walter and the Panhandler

The gods and one's nature. Metamorphosis. Unhuman. Inhuman. Panhandling. Gold. Plutocracy.

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.

“Walter and the Panhandler”
is episode 13 of
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)

Sylvie’s Dream of Counterpoise

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
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)

Bells

Manual typewriters contained a bell that rang to signal the coming of the end of a line. The typist could adjust where along the line the bell might ring. Shorter lines…Longer lines. The faster typist increased the frequency of the bells one heard. When the bell rang, the typist had but a few strokes left before reaching up with left hand to push the typewriter carriage return lever to the far right to reset the type guide at the left margin of the paper to begin a new line.

I got a new job, in a large, corporate office, flying paper airplanes. During the day, the three story building housed around 500 employees sitting at grey metal desks. There were a few managerial secretaries with typewriters. The rest of us used the typing pool. All you had to do was pick up your phone, dial the typing pool extension, and, when you heard the bell, begin dictation. Finished, you could let the piece fly, or ask that it be delivered to your desk via the office mail to proof and return to the pool or place in the outgoing mail.

There was a procedure for just about everything. New procedural bulletins arrived regularly. Some updated older bulletins or clarified procedural details. Others introduced new procedures. Sometimes, a section meeting would be devoted to reviewing a new procedure before its effective date. In short order, most procedures were memorized, but employees also stuck notes around their desks to remind themselves of key procedural steps. For procedures that never became part of routine, one referenced a procedural manual, which was an encyclopedia of procedure bulletins, collected by category and number. Employees also made notes in these manuals, and flagged the most frequently referenced pages.

The mailroom was located in the basement. The mailroom employees were also heavily burdened with procedures. The cafeteria was located on the top floor, and afforded views of the surrounding area, which included a freeway interchange. There was a patio on one side of the cafeteria, with tables with chairs and umbrellas, where one could take a coffee or sandwich and enjoy the fresh air.

There were procedures for evacuating the building, in case of emergency, initiated by the ringing of signal bells over the public address speaker system. These bells also controlled the start and end of the work day as well as the start and end of break and lunch periods. The workday started at 7:30, signaled by the single ring of a bell. Employees were expected to be seated and working at the bell; otherwise, they might be considered tardy. This was explained in the Personnel Procedure Manual. Employees took breaks in shifts, so that no section or department was ever completely idle. Morning breaks ran from 9:30 to 9:45 and from 10:00 to 10:15. A bell signaled the beginning and ending of each break. Thus four bells would ring at fifteen minute intervals. Lunch break was 45 minutes, and ran from 11:30 to 12:15 and 12:15 to 1:00. An efficient three bells sufficed. In the afternoon, four bells rang again for breaks, beginning at 2:30 and ending at 3:15. A final bell rang at 4:30 and the building quickly emptied, faster than for a fire drill.

By procedure, the secretaries placed dust covers over their typewriters at the end of the workday.