Blog of literary hijinks and the dudnering whirl of expatriotic vitriole.

7.21.2006

Old man sells candied-peanuts singing “five for one peso”
He may or may not have a beard and dark eyes
And the strap around his loppy neck
might just as easily be rainbow as solid grey
But for sure, there is an armpit-charred undershirt, greasy suspenders
Ballooning his pants, a decrepit clown

The dangling children, known locally for their frank cruelty,
Tug at his clown pants, though he does not lash about in anger as they briefly flee
Like a swarm of flies, having long ago discovered the Lord of the Cathedral, as the pigeons fly from him and it
Like a poet rushing into a room full of pigeons

His candied peanuts spill onto the squares of the plaza
Gathering up the treasures, grubby little mouths stuff themselves laughing
Their importunate mothers scald them, demanding the digesting smiles return
But quickly, readily give up, make the sign of the cross instead

6.06.2006

There was the story of the lost dog. Tommy the chef would tell such stories during the twilight zone of mid-afternoon, the no-man’s-land between lunch and dinner shifts, after the cooks had eaten, when only the rarest thin man, the most ghostly of customers would dare step foot inside the restaurant, didn’t they have jobs?, when the food in the buffet pans had grown a hard and colorless skin and you had to wipe down the hardened drips on the serving spoon and plunge it back in, churning up the steamy bright underneath which had coagulated somewhat, to bury the top crust in the faint hope that somehow this process would revitalize the food, give it a new life or at least the appearance of doing so. He thought of this process as illustrative of the greater Earth cycles of mantle radiation and plate tectonics, and also as a microcosm of the restaurant business itself. People don’t want to see or ask to many questions about what they’re being fed because they know that, just beyond the swinging doors that lead to the kitchen, something dirty from the floor is being heaped in with the meat patties that are being stuffed into the potstickers they enjoy dipping so much in that sauce whose composition they don’t know. This not-knowing is an important part of any business. People do not understand what it is to be an industrial sauce-maker or a chef or a waiter or a dishwasher or a soft-ware engineer because they have never done those jobs, and even if they did, they would soon forget what it was like, what they were like, in favor of enjoying themselves. People want to be served because they too have to serve and want things to be equal and fair and consider it so by making the distinction between server and served, that a precious balance is being preserved which is beneficial for the country and makes the whole damn thing run like it does. They do not want the separate spaces of business and pleasure to intermingle in any way and that balance is the essence of good service.
Anyway, Tommy would laugh raucously tell bawdy stories of former waitresses and how much money he had made as a software engineer and how good of a job it was and how much of a sacrifice he had made to help his family out. Though he would carry on doing so in a mood of self-affirming glee, most of the time, he was the only one laughing. This fact did not seem to bother him. His brother could not stand to hear his voice, let along the stories it might tell and, as he spoke in English, mama was paying no attention. The intended audience was the staff. Clearly, he wanted to show us, apart from his temperamental and authoritarian manner during busier parts of the day, what a funny and interesting person he could be, which, in a way, he was. These stories were also like little lessons which were supposed to benefit the less experienced or more idealistic of his crew, to sort of put them in their place if they did not already know it.
The way he remembered it, the senior waitress, not senior in age but in the sense of height on the food chain, was chatting with Tommy about a puppy she had seen wandering around her apartment complex, listless and whimpering and hungry, which she subsequently decided to take in and feed. As she described the cute, furriness of the animal, bending her head to her raised shoulder and cooing, a dark cloud of disbelief passed over Tommy’s face. He could not…understand…why…listen. He asked the waitress why she gave a shit about that little puppy when there were people starving in his native Taiwan. She was stunned at first and did not reply. He could not understand why these Americans felt so sorry for the stray dogs, for the cats in tree, what was this? He explained that in Taiwan, there is no problem of stray dogs, no problem at all. “You see a little, cute, puppy dog in the street and you say, “Come here, little doggy doggy, come here.” And then you chop that dog and have big feast. Feed your family. Ha. Ha ha.” And he began to laugh and everyone looked at each other and did not know what to do. But the waitress was no fool and had a quick response. “Christ Tommy, you are like, the living stereotype! The Chinese restaurant serving dogs and pets!” And it was true, we were all living stereotypes and we all laughed, even Tommy, though he looked confused and a bit hurt by her remark. “Yeah, stereotype? Well, you are a waitress in a Chinese stereotype! Ha ha!”

5.24.2006

There was the story of the rice. The rice was the center of activity and the rice pot, the sun around which the restaurant revolved. It was made to last at least four days, provided you kept the lid shut. Threatening this lifespan in any way was a stab into the very heart of the Mayflower, and therefore, into the heart of mama. In the madness of lunch hour rush, the busiest time of day, or dinner, the lid would stay open and the rice would begin to dry and turn yellow and hard as little stones, sticking irremovably to the sides of the pot. It is well known that the Chinese use a paste made of rice and water that can hold a bamboo hut together for a hundred years. Mama would give you this look of ageless exasperation like, “Don’t you see what you’ve done? Are you going to be the idiot to clean it off the dishes everyday for the rest of your life?” She would linger over the inedible rice, raising her eyebrows accusingly to her sons who fled from view, as if to say, “At last, it’s come to this.” And for a second the tremulous sadness locked up inside her would break loose and her opaque eyes would melt, turning as transparent and tranquil as a glacial lake, the detritus of her perpetual labor and exile visible far below the ruffling surface, her anger and distrust of this incredible life and its ridiculous language, her longing for the lands of her family and friends, to hear the dipped, washing sound of her real name in Cantonese, smell frying duck skin and plumb sauce wafting in the daily market air. Strangely, instead of feeling ashamed as the others had, he had been comforted by watching her in these vulnerable moments, to follow, one by one, the tears drip down her cheeks. He had felt briefly like an insider, as if he shared somehow in the secret trials of this strange family. But soon, the tears dried and the meanness returned, along with the usual barrage of husky shouts and exigent orders, as if nothing had happened, or at least, only the most natural thing, like the sun coming up, which was beautiful for a moment and which seemed to go on and on, because of its beauty, and had now only risen into the sky to light the ordinary workings of the day and was no more.

5.17.2006

People live to brand the ideas they trade, referring to them as their ideals, and also love the brands in and of themselves, and can not bear to part with them. They carry them on their necks and in their hearts, remember them with the fuzzy glow of childhood oatmeal morning, mom close by, slide them on their fingers and feet so that others will see and be forced to ignore them or to watch on the sly, forced to not want to watch. They purify themselves in the brands universal promise: an identity with a certain euphoric quality that diminishes that identity over time, requiring larger and larger does for the user to perpetuate his euphoria. Each stage leads to a higher communion with the symbol of freedom. When you open the box and the inside shimmers from the glare of the new packaging, an image of the new you transmigrated; the slightly toxic, plastic smell of ownership like paint drying on a fence surrounding your new house in the afternoon breeze. The thrill of it comes rushing at the senses like a carved out vision of heaven. Everyone knows and sings along. People of the factory need a brand like a child needs a name. That factory is far away and its service manuals are written in a language whose symbols have never been deciphered. A word will suffice. Wavy works, and so does geometric. The brand is the replacement for all those euphoric feelings of wholeness, a genetic inheritance from the troglodytes, in having made something yourself. It is as much a part of your ontology as say, a sibling. The brand is who you are, emerging from a single god-like source, ultimately, speaking for you even before you speak, even if you change your mind later, it will recommend a place for you in the land of perfect health, perfect wisdom, and total freedom.

4.29.2006

those kind of jobs.

I take the second to last number nine, down ashland, so as not to wet my library loans. Today has been on and off, the rain, but mostly on when I am off, work.

There are two of us, the busdriver and i. I sit near the front because, secretly, I want to read this book aloud, if he would like to hear.

We could chew bubble gum and spit into the aisle and laugh until our eyes burn, until the third shift is over, until the end of the line.

He takes a transfer card from the trash and uses its lateral edges to wipe the beads of rainwater, amber and trembling, from the sideview mirror.

The city is having trouble breathing. The pigeons are huddled beneath the underpass. The disjointed doors open clatteringly and I descend

through the wordlessness,
without turning to watch
the wake close behind us.

4.22.2006

One.

There is a thermos filled with coffee between us on the bench seat. I had been standing out on the corner in the half-light. Two number twentytwos had passed, their disjointed doors clattering open, sucking up and spitting out weary passengers. I had pulled the black wool cap down over my ears and hid my neck between my shoulders. It is not that he had been late, but that I had been early. With one hand, ungloved, he fishes a crumpled soft pack of Newport’s from his coat chest pocket, extracts the lighter from the cellophane and brings a single, slightly bend cigarette to his lips. I open the window a hair. He hasn’t said anything, neither have i. Through the cracked windshield, he stares at the city. The city stares back. I think to myself that he is a part, a part and apart.

Two.

The street, in an area between the residential and industrial districts, isn’t really a dead end. Anyone can see that it stops at the tracks, at the cottonwoods that line the tracks, but few know that, there, it turns and continues up to the underpass. The neighbors agreed, for once, to put the sign up. The swelling, of traffic, has been reduced. Nobody has said anything. At the corner of the gravel lot in front of the employee entrance of the warehouse, we park beneath the two words, dead end, not one next to the other but stacked like the bunk beds.

Three.

There is time enough for another cigarette standing at the loading dock. This time he offers me one. A carpet of leaves hugs the pavement, concealing the city’s shatteredness, perhaps in a similar way that the three days’ growth covers his face. The moment of smoking is a softening, a softening of focus maybe, also obscuring the edges. A veil. Avail. The threads of smoke, lingering about our faces, braiding and tearing, are the words that we do not speak.

Four.

Door, coat rack, punchclock, in that order, because the company does not pay you to take off and put on your coat, is that clear? The morning light is starting to cascade through the barred windows, slits at the top of the wall, casting stripes upon the shelves and packing tables. The aisles are dark. Opposite, the wall between the office and the warehouse, with its two way mirror. Being seen without being able to see.

Five.

The trucks are late, the orders are backing up. The mirror between the door to the office and the warehouse shelves, with their shadowy aisles, is silent. It watches. Without blinking. The punchclock also watches, growling inaudibly. We have learned not to pay attention, like actors. We are playing ourselves.

Six.

He sifts through his pockets for the coins that he feeds into the breakroom vending machine, one by one. Pressing the worn button, he feels the resistance of its gritty springs in his fingertip. After some wheezing and sputtering, a Styrofoam cup descends onto the metal tray and fills with a muddy brown liquid. Leaning against the sink counter, he sips the coffee foam. Newspapers from other days of the week are scattered across the folding table. There are no windows here. He decides to work through lunch, to get out at a decent hour, he says.

Seven.

The radio, high up there on the sill of the small window, coated in dust, with its cord hanging down against the wall, within our reach, within the reach of the plug, is screaming for attention. Since nobody is listening, it grows desperate. Its monologue punctuates our routine, plugging its holes, taking whatever silence is left over, reaching us alternately, sometimes up close, sometimes distant.

Eight.

The hours are tapering. They get shorter when it gets busy. It seems too early to be late. But, we are standing on the fringe, in the aftermath of every day. Tape guns hang from wall nails. Box cutters gather on the packing table. The dollies line up at the receiving door. Look busy. Somebody grabs a pushbroom, somebody feeds cardboard to the bailer. The silent mirror watches us watch the punchclock, the coat rack, the door, yes, in that order.

Nine.

He is standing in the doorway, his silhouette is holding the door for me. We are expelled into the ashy parking lot, into other air. The pickup is waiting patiently where we left it. the coming darkness feels heavy like wet wool, like limbs after work. The city is having trouble breathing. It is expanding and contracting at the same time. Its eyes do not rest.

Ten.

This is where today starts being different from yesterday and tomorrow. We know that it is only a remainder, the little of what is left of the light. He puts his arm upon my shoulder and says,
“I will walk home
now we can breathe,” and eases the keys into my coat pocket.

4.11.2006

The burrowing Plata snake, renowned for its luminescent epidermis, its profound blindness and its uncanny ability to move through the Earth, as if it were swimming in the fold of a tranquil pond, effortlessly, beguilingly sinister, began as a legend. The townspeople feared it terribly, calling down violent imprecations on its behalf. They did not realize that another animal, the Patagonic goat sucker, had been the one terrorizing the children, digging holes at the edge of their garden fences. It was an understandable mistake and one that would wind up making all the difference.
The snake with a hissed lisp surreptiously asked, “is a duty ever also a crime?”, and fled without leaving a wake other than its interlocking scales, its shed mail, as an only testimony. But, the kudzu still strangled the lightposts, still wrapped the curbside lindens, still padded the red mattress wire fences. Nobody thought to look. The streetstones no longer fit together. The sunlight no longer reached the pavement, the buildings had grown far too high. The children swore not to tell what they knew. From moldy highrise corridors, under the pretext of playing distracting games, they spied the city spying them.
The Patagonic goat sucker, after all, was not unknown to them. Out on the edges, away from the heart of the town where the buildings grew taller and taller with their windows like mirrors protecting them from view, where the broken down little shacks of the farmers stood under the shade of the old Oak trees, planted by their ancestors, a new breed of settler that came from the East in ships with their squares and parallelograms and paisley ideas of order, with their dreams of rows of maize like columns of the Kings army that disappeared into the line where the sun broke into disks, and further beyond, the open graze lands for their cattle which chewed dumbly in deep meditation and where, on occasion, they met their unfortunate and untimely demise at the fierce, swiping claws of the green-eyed Patagonic goat sucker. In fact, the moniker was a misnomer. The Patagonic goat sucker did not like goats at all. Hated the taste of the gamey, stringy meat. At first the goat sucker had remained at the far extremes of the wire perimeters for the cattle, which apparently posed little difficulty for them to traverse. Each day, each year, their hunger seemed to grow, and along with it, their bravery. They inched closer through the fields to the gardens and then, at the edges of the town where the children played their games in the warm afternoons until small groups of them could be seen, at dusk, their eyes flashing like little green suns between the corn stalks and their long, sharp claws glinting in the rising moonlight as they waved them at the cattle whom they gravely approached. Though the situation had grown worse through the years, it had not become anything more than a nuisance as a greater importance had been placed on the harvest from the children’s gardens.

This is a work by Jim Young, copywright protected.

She was the violence-honed woman I needed, but she was too dumb. She
envied and admired me for my great palace goodness and calm, hating the
impotence which, however, she refused to help me get rid of. She just
admired my calmness and great good mind without thinking it encumbent
on her to help me bring it to action.
Then we met a very hardened, incredible man whose violence was
accompanied by an intelligence equal to mine. He could see what our
situation was at once, and I could see that he saw it. I almost dared
not ask him what he would do. He scoffed at us, yet it was my pride to
have held him, not quailing away from the violence he had ready for me.
And the contempt.
"I've had a thousand girls like Rennie," he finally consented to
admit wearily. He hated taking time to instruct me. It was not fair:
I had had the privilege, whereas he had earned his way. Also, he was
uncertain that my mind did not contain some kind of magic he had not
thought about.
He is caught up with a very well-established, intelligent woman and
does not want to jeopardize that by helping me with Rennie.
"I could fuck her for you, would that help?" I looked away in angry
embarrassment and despair.
He took pity on me, but warily; I could see he was worried that,
should I snatch his ability deceitfully the way the powerful and
privileged had snatched everything else, I might forget about him
altogether.
What did he want? To become powerful, smug and blind, like me?
Living among the technologues and mechanics, who coddled you, told you
there was no need for violence from a guy like yourself, so talented
you were in running the numbers, arranging the pieces and parts.