Tales of the L-Shaped House on the S-Curve Part 2 (Summer Vacation)

The L-Shaped House

The L-Shaped House

Not yet to the age of emancipation from my father’s wallet, I went back home to Milwaukie about a week after finals completing my sophomore year at OCE. Fred and Varney resolved to remain in the L-Shaped house for the summer. Jacki offered to cut the rent in half, as Monmouth emptied of any potential tenants after June fifteenth anyway—better to make something from the immense space during those months than to have it sit empty. Besides we had been easier to work with than most of her renters.  I believe it fell to Fred to tell her that the rider lawnmower “quit working.”

Apparently now a retirement compound

Apparently now a retirement compound

Fred was our official Jacki emissary, as he had an inexplicable, winning charm with females of all ages—possibly because he radiated East Coast self-confidence, an earnest directness, uncommon to the region. Many males in town found his temperament too aggressive and felt threatened by him. But women didn’t sense Fred to be the least bit dangerous. They loved his engaging candor and sense of humor. He was harmless.

With Fred and Varney securely holding down the fort, Tom, Doug and I felt safe in returning to our respective homesteads in the outside world. The boys headed back to Bend—Doug back to Don the optometrist and loyal wife and mother Marilyn. Don and Marilyn generally frowned on Doug’s activities, whatever they were, as they frowned on their other four boys’ activities, and daughter Denise’s activities, and the activities of a large part of the population of the City of Bend.

Tom went home to Chuck and Evelyn and younger brother Chuck Junior, and the pale blue split-level over near Pilot Butte. I don’t remember what line of work Chuck was in, maybe something timber related. But he was a real square, upright guy—perhaps somewhat bewildered that his son and all the boy’s friends looked like damn hippies—but tolerant. I think the Schiffers were always a bit relieved that Chuck Junior had turned out all right.

No longer butter yellow, but still cheery

No longer butter yellow, but still cheery

Gypsy and I returned to my childhood home, the cheery, butter yellow, two-story abode on Firwood. And again the entire family was reunited: my parents, two brothers and sister. Gypsy added to the household animal population, which consisted of Yeller the canine patriarch, his young son Earl and their distant cousin the puffy, tufted orange incongruity that was known to be Wally. Wally was a cat of very insistent habits, several of which grew to be quite annoying, none of which I will enumerate here—sparing us all a needless ordeal.

Very much Wally-like

Very much Wally-like

Among his abundant peculiar behaviors—when outdoors in winter Wally liked to curl up under the hood of the cars in our driveway, especially if one had been recently driven. However that was not a prerequisite. He found such spaces to be adequate shelter from the elements under most conditions. It was dry and out of the wind. But he was still available, in case any of the other cats in the neighborhood wanted to conference with him. Even though he’d been fixed, he was a known playa.

Late for work one morning, my father dashed from the house to his prized Impala in an abrupt rush. He no sooner turned the engine over than orange fur began to fluffily float all over everywhere. Something of a home mechanic, Dad immediately recognized that to be quite an unusual condition for his car and shut it right off.

Eventually Wally wandered out from under the car, dazed, a bit close-cropped in places, but otherwise none the worse for wear. As cats go, he wasn’t particularly stupid, though it must be said that Wally did not learn from that incident, but continued with his practice—and thus was occasionally wounded in a similar fashion—never critically. He seemed to know enough to stay the hell away from the blades, belts and pulleys. So after a rude shearing he was always good to go—even though to see his fur flying around when trying to start the car was oftentimes quite a jarring experience for the operator.

Gypsy with neighborhood kid Matt

Gypsy with neighborhood kid Matt

Gypsy soon fell in with the pack and my family accepted her readily. She was a good dog and rarely barked. The same cannot be said of Yeller and Earl.

Earl-like. Don't be fooled.

Earl-like. Don’t be fooled.

Earl, especially, being a Golden Cock-a-Poo-Terr-Retriever, had quite a chip on his dewlap. It was because of his size, I think. Earl wasn’t nearly as sincere as, say, Rinnie. Earl didn’t much give a shit what you thought. Still, he wasn’t as indiscriminate as Wally. Wally lived on the edge.

Soon after my return, I reconnected yet again with Evie Neville—with whom I had an on-again, (mostly) off-again relationship. She had just graduated from high school and was anxious to strike out on her own, though in which direction and as to how such a thing would be accomplished had yet to suggest itself to her. Still she brimmed with ambitious confidence essential for a pretty young woman who thought maybe being a model might be fun.

She was tall and slender, with pale, dollar-green eyes and fine, long, light blond hair—so she certainly looked the part. By that point in the career of her life Evie had taken to wearing all black, all the time. Black, silk, long-sleeved blouse—or, for more informal occasions, a black leotard. Black silk maxi skirt and knee-high black leather boots. Her fashion ambulance bore no casual attires, nor a radiator of anything but cool. It was truly amazing that she had managed to achieve her own quite distinctive style among a sea of maroon and gold cheerleaders (such as herself). She played it both ways as no other girl could.



Most of three summers worth of chronicles involving Evie are in another of my “fictional” third person accounts of those real events. At some point I will probably link that up here. But it is a somewhat long read and would be a distraction to these particular stories. However, within those pages is the parable of the liberation of Jesus from the Humane Society pound on Columbia Boulevard in north Portland.

What’s not in there is how I eventually ended up with Jesus down at the L-Shaped house on the S-Curve the first week Jeff and I moved in that previous fall, nor how Evie absconded with him one night, about a month later, while I was away from the house—leaving no note of explanation.

If not for William’s account of the mysterious appearance of some shadowy woman all in black, evincing an air of confident certainty, coming to take Jesus (who apparently offered no resistance whatsoever, the bastard!) away, I might not have ever known what happened to him. I never found out where Evie took him—she couldn’t keep him at her family’s house, so who knows? She never once spoke of that dog again, nor would she allow me to bring him up in her presence. She would always awkwardly change the subject, sometimes ridiculously.

I’m not at all clear as to why I unfailingly let her off the hook for that sort of behavior—a desire for approval, I suppose. Maybe the sense of intrigue she brought to any occasion. Her skilled unavailability. But, one thing I will say for Evie: she was consistent. And so was I, for that matter. She always took advantage of me and I always let her.

Once I had finally settled in back at home it became readily evident that I needed to get out there and start earning some money. My dad reinforced that to be something of an imperative. I believe he’d had his heart set on my being clear of the nest once I graduated from high school. So I was already two years behind schedule, hence a substantial mote in his vision of freedom from the shackles of familial encumbrance. He had been a father for twenty years, nearly half his life, and I think he was growing weary of the day-to-day requirements of such a position. He didn’t get a lot of time to himself.

Not Evie. She wouldn't be caught dead in that get-up

Not Evie. She wouldn’t be caught dead in that get-up

So, off to work I went (half-heartedly). Perhaps thinking two half-hearts might make one fully operational component, Evie and I teamed up in our search for gainful employment. First stop: the fields of bountiful produce. We worked beans and raspberries. There wasn’t any bending over with those crops. Evie was concerned that her black wardrobe might be more easily soiled if she were forced to kneel in the dirt of a strawberry field.

Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill: Elixir to the Gods

Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill: Elixir to the Gods

After each morning of hard labor, we would purchase a pack of Kool menthol cigarettes and a bottle of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill wine as a reward for our efforts. It’s true. I had begun smoking and drinking—proof positive that marijuana is indeed a gateway drug. I never would have turned to alcohol and tobacco if I had been at all able to procure weed.

Though it was far inferior, smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol was the closest Evie and I could legally (well, neither of us was twenty-one, but Evie had fake ID and knew how to use it) come to reproducing the grass experience. I did grow a few plants in the flowerbeds in front of the house. However they yielded no material of real consequence. And I made a few trips down to Monmouth over the course of the summer and there picked up a lid when I could. But possession was sporadic, acquisition unreliable, at best.

Next stop: lights out

Next stop: lights out

It soon became too hot beneath the June day sun to be doing the field hand deal for very long. I nearly passed out one sweaty afternoon. Sitting in the car outside a Circle K where we bought it, Evie and I downed the better part of a bottle of Boone’s Farm, while chain smoking several menthol cigarettes. I thought I had sunstroke.

Part of the problem was that I had not learned how to properly smoke a cigarette (nor did I know how to properly consume alcohol in any moderation, for that matter) like most kids had in high school. Untrained in the art, I would suck down a major hit from one of those Kools like it was a joint, holding a lung full of smoke until my eyes rolled, lips went numb, and all became black and still.

We turned from berry and bean picking toward a professional career of sales—door-to-door—peddling some kind of discount coupon books of dubious value, whose participating merchants may or may not have been aware of their contributions to the promotion. The operation was being run by low wattage KUIK-AM, a radio station broadcasting out of Hillsboro, which supposedly lent an air of credibility to the campaign, although it was unclear as to why that might be.

1959 Hillman Minx

1959 Hillman Minx

In an effort to perhaps subtly encourage my permanent relocation, Dad had acquired a car from somewhere—I think from Uncle Norm (not really a relation, but so designated as part of a family custom). It was a 1959 Hillman Minx whose ability to run on a consistent basis far outweighed its boxy British plainness. It had that in spades. The only thing the Hillman really had going in its favor was that it was the precise vehicle that the Beatles used in the Bahamas chase scene in their film Help!. The one I had was two toned, white and salmon. As far as I know Ringo was never stashed in the trunk of that car. There was a dead cat back there once though.

Along these lines

Along these lines

The vehicle certainly did come in handy for transporting us to various locations at which to hawk our incredibly valuable bargain booklets, only ten dollars. Hundreds of dollars of savings. Buy one get one free at Tastee-Freeze. A free Rub-a-Dub carwash with oil change at Bernard’s Garage.  Free wash with a perm at Della’s For Hair.

We were to receive a dollar for every book we sold. Our leads were generated by people who for some reason actually called in to the radio station in response to advertisements for the coupon books. It was a well-run operation for being utterly fly-by-night and more than likely a scam. In most cases potential customers were at least anticipating our arrival. If our client was a male, woe to he, as we’d turn Evie loose on him and she would close the sale typically within five minutes. As I have attempted to illustrate thus far, she did not take kindly to being told no. And she was incredibly gifted at ensuring that the situation rarely arose.

We generally generated sales of twenty booklets or more per day between us, the twenty dollar commission from which was not much—less than we were hauling down out in the fields. But Evie and I found it far more preferable to drive around smoking cigarettes with the windows rolled down and the radio blasting than to be standing out in a field somewhere sweating under the hot sun.

Each home we visited served as a portal into another world. Some of those places seemed vaguely familiar, resembling our own. But others were as incongruously divergent as black holes and rainbows. One particularly colorful black hole was Reverend Tom Phillips. He lived up on the side of Mount Tabor around Northeast 60th and Burnside—considerably outside our territory.

Our crew chief was a greasy little weasel named Vince, whom, with his bleach-blond girlfriend Randi, managed five or six of us “teams” from out of a stodgy motel room on McLoughlan Boulevard at the north end of Milwaukie. Vince told us we’d be doing him a really big favor if we’d take care of the guy. He promised he’d make it up to us big time if we’d cover the call.



We knew that was probably a load of hooey. Vince’s reputation among fellow teammates was low and falling fast. Some had taken to calling him Ratso when he was out of earshot, for his striking resemblance to Dustin Hoffman’s character in Midnight Cowboy—which had won an Academy Award earlier in the year. Vince’s ability to scrounge and cajole seemed quite comparable as well.

Reverend Tom Phillips was a crusty old barnacle, with a fusty, slicked-down gray comb-over and misshapen wire-rimmed glasses. He lived in a decent looking brick duplex in a good neighborhood and answered our knock at his door aswoon with rapturous expectation. Wearing a dingy white undershirt and worn brown slacks, as a prospect for a sale, he looked pretty dismal. He eagerly invited us into his home, where we discovered (too) many florid tapestries and paintings of naked people Adam and Eving in paradises of golden suns and blondness. Old Tom eyed Evie hungrily, as if she were a glazed ham.

Heaven as according the Reverend Tom

Heaven as according the Reverend Tom

As to the denomination of Reverend Tom’s fervency, one would suspect Church of Soft Biblical Porn—Old Testament. For before we could even begin to deliver our sales pitch about the fantastic savings our coupon books could provide the Reverend Tom for all of his gustatory and car care requirements, he launched into a hare-brained hallucinatory depiction of his version of Heaven.

From what we could gather, as he was (a little too) effusive on the subject, there’s a lot of sex in heaven. Everyone runs around naked with big boners and bouncing boobs, and the sun shines all day, every day—that’s important. It appeared, from the Reverend Tom’s description anyhow, that Heaven was being operated by junior high school boys.

At some point it dawned on me that, among other things, the Reverend Tom was also probably a bit of a multimedia artist, and had himself created the abundant art by which we were surrounded. I don’t think he got out much. And my guess is that his church’s congregation numbered one.

You can call me Doc

You can call me Doc

Familiar with the procedure, I had received my own ordination from the Universal Life Church, and was hoping to come up with enough spare cash at some point to obtain a Doctor of Divinity degree. It was a popular thing to do at the time. I had the intention of becoming the next Reverend Doctor Billy Graham D.D., though I can’t remember why. But one would assume the good Reverend Tom was, first and foremost, attempting to use his home church as a tax dodge.



So, while Evie made a sincerely valiant attempt at enticing the Reverend Tom to purchase the damn ten dollar coupon book we had been sent there to sell him, the spry old guy was on his own mission to entice Evie to remove her clothes and pray with him there in the living room next to the coffee table. He didn’t know Evie nearly as well as I did—well enough to know that she had no desire to be the sort of model to shed her clothes. She wanted to put them on and prance around in them.

Just the same, that pitch must have worked well enough for the Reverend in the past that he felt comfortable making the attempt with her. The picture of some ancient dame kneeling naked with him next to that coffee table is a false memory I still cannot flush from my mind. However, the Reverend Tom’s proposal did manage to light Evie’s fuse, so we emerged post-haste from the church before she could blow up on him. Lord knows what that might have provoked! Well, I have a pretty good idea, but why go into that here?

Frustrated, Evie and I headed back to the motel. It was Friday afternoon and we were due to be paid our commission for two weeks of sales: over two hundred dollars. We walked through the door of the motel room office, and Vince was sitting on the edge of the one of the double beds, with his hand matter-of-factly extended in anticipation of the ten dollars he expected to receive for the sale he’d sent us out to secure.

lit-fuse-bombInstead Evie flung the coupon book at him with considerable force. It glanced off the bed and fell to the floor. Vince bent over to pick it up, mockingly complaining that “the help” needed to take better care of the merchandise. Unaware that Evie’s fuse had never been fully extinguished after our encounter with the Reverend Tom, she replied unambiguously that he could go fuck himself, and give us our money. Now, asshole!

Vinnie found something about her demand rather comical. Chuckling under his breath, he smirked arrogantly and sneered that Frank wasn’t “gonna make it over tonight,” and we’d have to “wait ‘til tomorrow to get paid.” Evie had plans for her portion of our commission, and for that matter, so did I—as she was going to buy a lid of grass with some of her money. I also had plans for my own share as well.

Vinnie pissed

Vinnie pissed

But I was a bit more conscious of an element of menace about Vinnie that Evie either didn’t perceive or didn’t give a shit about. So as I began to say, yeah okay, Vinnie: well, see ya’ tomorrow, Evie unleashed a fury of threats unheralded among any I had previously witnessed—and those had been monumentally torrential in nature. The threats she was making then and there had to do with calling the police in right away. She was prepared to report that Vinnie had raped her and that he and Randi were running a prostitution ring.

I stood stark stunned by the words I heard coming out of her mouth. They were so expertly delivered, that it did not seem to me as if it were the first time she was running through that particular script. While she raged at poor, helpless Vinnie, my mind was struggling to conceive of a situation where she might have used that piece of drama in the past, but I was at a loss. There was a lot I didn’t know about that girl. And it’s probably just as well.

Vinnie soon found it imperative to get a hold of Frank right away, in order to just shut that bitch up. So he called over to the radio station, where Frank was ostensibly conducting important broadcasting business of some sort (possibly mob-related), and pleaded with his boss to bring over two hundred and forty-eight dollars right away. Hearing the obvious desperation in his young charge’s voice, Frank said okay, he’d be over in half an hour.

Drs. Steve Hardy and Phil Hardy of General Hospital

Drs. Steve Hardy and Phil Brewer of General Hospital

Upon receipt of that assurance, Evie snapped on the TV that was sitting on the dresser at her side, and primly plopped down on the bed opposite, Vinnie. She directed an icy glare at him, while patting the space next to her and signaling with her head for me to join her. I wasn’t going to cross her either. Vinnie and I sat watching General Hospital petrified at the prospect of displeasing the girl any further.

Frank possibly

Frank possibly

Fortunately, for all involved Frank arrived just as Dark Shadows was coming on. Frank was a large, imposing figure. He had the voice and bearing of Orson Wells, but he looked more like Broderick Crawford, with a broad, round red face and thin hair combed straight back. Frank entered the motel room with a check in his hand, prepared to impart a stern lecture about common courtesy or whatever—of which Evie was having none.

She nudged me sharply with her elbow and in one motion unexpectedly lunged. Snatching the check from Frank’s fingers she sprinted past him out the door. I hadn’t even managed to stand up yet and I had the distinct impression that Frank and Vinnie meant to do me harm, or to at least advise me as to how my girlfriend should oughta learn to show a little more respect and all, and maybe this’ll help me remember to tell her. So, with a similar jolt, I busted past Frank and out the door.

It wasn’t yet five o’clock, so there was still time for us to cash the check. We never returned to our positions with KUIK radio, although I frequently referenced mine for many years on subsequent job applications. Once the station changed it’s call letters, after not more than a few years—I was free to pad the length and import of the job into something rather impressive on paper. It may have even helped me to later get hired by the Postal Service. Better hire him, he worked in radio.

By then it was late July and any summer jobs that might have been available earlier in the season were long gone. I had no intention whatsoever of heading back out to the fields to pick zucchinis in the August dog days deciding instead to lay low, and avoid at all costs interactions with my Dad. He was more than a reasonable chap, but I believe that after twenty years he was just generally sick of me. Sick of me sitting on his sofa, in his home, eating his food—playing guitar and singing shitty songs in front of the TV while he worked his butt off all day.

Communing just over there

Communing just over there

For my part, I only hoped to make it through the final month of the summer without tangling with him. I tried to be out of the house by the time he got home around four in the afternoon, staying away until ten or eleven when he would hit the hay. I would go visit friends, or take my guitar up into the wilds of Washington Park, to write songs or poems or letters while communing with nature. And of course, Evie and I got together regularly.

Early one warm evening, while the sun was still shining brightly, Evie and I decided to ride our bicycles from her house on Lake Road out Oatfield Road toward Gladstone. That was a fairly pastoral journey back then, as the area was not nearly so built up as now.  It was the perfect time of day to be riding—no traffic, and a cool breeze blew through the trees.

Mama Possum

We rode south on Oatfield past Evergreen Avenue near the house where my family lived when we first moved to Oregon. That was the place where I was attacked by a possum and experienced the beams of light when I was just a young child. We cycled slowly down the narrow road another mile, passing Ray and Jean’s old house where our clan had briefly stayed when we initially arrived from California.

Evie and I continued down Oatfield, leisurely pedaling for several more miles before we finally decided to head back. As we returned the way we had come, we passed an old man walking on the shoulder of the road along side the steep sheer embankment on our right. He had white hair, and wore a faded, blue cotton shirt and fraying gray work pants. Even from behind he seemed strangely familiar. As we cautiously steered around him, a vague shudder rippled over me when he paused and grimly glowered at us coasting by.

We had ridden no farther than fifteen or twenty feet when I jammed on my brakes and turned to look at the old man. But he had vanished. I asked Evie if she had seen him. Yes. I asked her what became of him. She didn’t know. Maybe he took a path off the road. Not without climbing gear he didn’t. There was no way such an old man was going to scramble up the tall cleft of dirt next to which he was walking. Nor was it likely that he was capable of jumping from the pavement on the other side of the road, as the drop down from there was nearly vertical. No. He had simply disappeared.

Old man at the side of the road

The ride back was quiet, while I tried to recall where I had seen that old guy before. He looked very familiar, but no telling from where. He sort of looked like Carl Sandburg. The image of Carl Sandburg brought to mind the old man from childhood, whom I’d occasionally seen walking on Oatfield. The one who would evaporate into empty air whenever we drove past him in the family car.

ghost1Stopping abruptly at the recollection, I exclaimed to Evie my certainty that the old guy was a ghost! She felt it far more likely that he had simply rappelled forty feet up or down a precipitous cliff. That made more sense. For whatever reason, she seemed entirely unwilling to consider the idea that the old man wasn’t real—as we understand reality, anyway. It seemed to me that the realm of the supernatural would have been right up her alley. But she never wanted any part of it and that instance was no different. We made our way back to her house without saying another word.

In that final month before returning to school I made a couple of pilgrimages to Monmouth to convene with Fred and Varney at the hacienda, and to visit Jilly—who had stayed in town in an attempt to sort out her relationship issues (to which I was contributing). She had just moved from the house in the alley she had been sharing with Karen and Julie over to a place on Monmouth Avenue, on the other side of Main Street from the college.

Truth be told, her “place” consisted of a mammoth room on the second story of a big, old, pastel green house that had been a boarding house, most likely since its construction in 1883 by the Whitman family. Five young women shared the house. All of the bedrooms were upstairs, four on Jilly’s floor and one more in the spacious third story attic. They shared the kitchen, the cavernous living and dining rooms and several anterooms on the first floor, as well as a full basement.

wallpaper1Jilly’s room was decorated with the original eighty year-old wallpaper, white, aged-to-golden brown, extravagantly ornate with flowers and vines. It had begun to bubble up and peel in places, exposing vintage one-by-ten wallboard underneath. Since her landloard was planning on remodeling the premises at some point in the near future, Jilly was allowed to do what she pleased with the room. Her first order of business was to yank down all the wallpaper.

I turned up at Jilly’s one day to find her atop a stepladder carefully scribing a line with an Exacto knife along the edge between the wall and ceiling in her room. She was almost finished with her task, a perfect scroll of stale wallpaper trailing behind her, curling to the floor. The walls were bare. While the old wood slats lent the room a rustic look, her intention was to adorn them with a new covering. For her purposes she selected burlap, because it was inexpensive and apparently fit the potato famine motif she had in mind. She had several rolls of the stuff, four feet wide, leaning in the corner.

Wallgrade burlap

Wallgrade burlap

It was high quality burlap with a very dense thread count. It’s not clear what was meant to be done with the stuff if not to cover walls. Probably not the best material for sheets. And burlap clothing went out as a fashion statement at the end of the Great Depression. But Jilly was nothing if not original. She was doubtless well ahead of the interior decoration trend arc of the day with the concept of burlap wall covering. And it was cheap!

Because of my greater height and assumed expertise with a hammer, the task of fastening the burlap along the top border fell to me. I began with the inside walls, carefully affixing the fabric with carpet tacks. We painstakingly doubled the material at all the seams, so the resultant covering looked surprisingly good. I know I was surprised.

It took us about four hours to get around to the final, long outside wall on the south side of the room. I had been hearing a subtle, low hum while doing the west wall that for quite a while I attributed to nearby construction. It remained steady, though hardly audible. Nothing seemed to come of it.

Until I began hammering in the uppermost corner where the west and south walls converged. The hum began to grow louder, and the pitch rose a minor third. I glanced at Jilly with a puzzled look on my face, as a couple of bees began to crawl through the cracks between the planks. Heartlessly, I smacked them with the tack hammer and went about my business. But the hum kept growing louder.

Suddenly the burlap I had just tacked down began to bubble and bulge with a certain fury that did not bode well for the completion of my undertaking. Bees began crawling out from the unattached portion of burlap, spilling from all of the gaps between the boards, crawling across the ceiling, and flooding onto the floor. A cloud of angry bees began to gather and some were coming after Jilly and me. We ran screaming from the room, slamming the door behind us. Jilly retrieved a towel from one of her new roommates, using it to block the space beneath the door.

Angry honey

Angry living honey

We sat on the floor beside the entry to her room, bewildered and befuddled. The hum inside continued to grow in intensity. Cracking the door open slightly, we peered inside to see that a thick swarm had formed on the bare wall. They were terribly agitated—the wall swirling wildly, painted with angry living honey.

bees 3Seeing as neither of us were beekeepers, that was that for our workday. Jilly’s landlord was surprisingly understanding about the episode. Fortuitously he had a friend who happened to be an apiarist—who came over the next day and extricated the little bastards. No bees were harmed in the incident, but for those I squished with the hammer. Jilly had completed her project by the time I returned to Monmouth two weeks later to embark upon junior year. The walls looked very nice and her room smelled like a big stack of gunnysacks.

gunny sack



The Bible XIII

Three angels came back
From Sodom and Gomorrah:
Gave a bad report.








Tales From the L-Shaped House on the S-Curve Part 1

Picture 4

The L-Shaped House Today

The compound really was L-Shaped. The curve was maybe more accurately a variation of a Z, as the two sharp corners were at right angles. I believe we referred to it as the S-Curve because there was a yellow warning sign erected by the state up the road from us indicating just such a thing. I think it was the sign that designated the curve as being an S, rather than a Z. These concepts didn’t arise from out of nowhere. We didn’t arbitrarily make such grand proclamations.

Birds-eye View of the S-Curve

Birds-eye View of the S-Curve

And it may be true, too, that the corners weren’t exactly at a tight ninety degrees, but were maybe a bit soft at the shoulders and banked slightly, most likely serving as a means to buffer Chief Shellenbarger’s house from oncoming drunks leaving Monmouth and failing to negotiate that first turn in the road over to Independence—where they would be heading, no doubt to buy beer. Imagine our good fortune. We at the L-Shaped House on the S-Curve were availed of the protection of Independence Police Chief Harvey Shellenbarger, who lived just across the little side road on the east side of our property.

It would seem that our house, situated in Monmouth, Oregon, twenty miles from anything even remotely resembling civilization would not have required the amount of security we were afforded. For, living to the other side of us, on the west side of the house, was Monmouth Police Chief Ron Miller. Chief Miller had a small gentleman’s farm of a few acres behind his property and ours, where sheep grazed peacefully and the skies were not cloudy all day. We never spoke to either of those guys, that I know of, but kept a respectful distance—although at some point they must have become aware of our presence there.


Missourian Sight-seers

Monmouth was a dry town at the time. I think that finally got voted out about ten years ago. Monmouth not selling alcohol was the raison d’etre for the town of Independence. Actually, truth be told, Independence was out there first, when the wagon loads of sight-seers from Independence, Missouri first hit the valley back in the 1840s.

About ten years later a crazy religious faction (who could have seen that coming?) from the Independence party, headed by some guy with a chunk of property, broke off and moved the (then) considerable distance of a couple miles west to found a college and a town, or vice versa. They named it Monmouth—after someone’s hometown back in Illinois.

And, in order to form a more perfect anomaly in the region, the land for the college was deeded to the town with the wild-assed stipulation that no demon alcohol would ever slip the lips of some mid-19th century coed trying to bust out of his or her petticoats. I guess the deed was secured for a thousand years or something, because it took a city-wide vote to finally get booze (legally) into Monmouth—even though the law had never stopped anyone before anyway. I bet that when they legalized booze in Monmouth, the Independence City Council had to have an emergency budget meeting. Gnashing of teeth.

Tap Room Conviviality

Tap Room Conviviality

So, at that time, there was a near constant modern-day wagon train trekking to Roth’s Foodliner for beer and wine, or to the liquor store in downtown Indep for the hard stuff. The Cooler was the first available tavern, about a half a mile from the City Limits sign as you entered from Monmouth. But the Tap Room in downtown Independence was the preferred destination for most OCE students, prices being the key variable, one would suppose—that and perhaps the perpetual atmosphere of alcohol and hormone-fueled conviviality that forever foamed from their doors.

And, as these drunk minions eventually found their way back to their dorms and apartments, and classes the next day, the first structures they would encounter upon entry back into the City of Monmouth would be, from left to right: Chief Shellenbarger’s ugly, landlady green bastion, our white haven of sweet surrender, and Chief Miller’s stately sky-blue pleasure dome plumped upon a little artificial hill, sheep passively foraging about the grounds.

Prior to the arrival of Tom and Doug into the household, the L-Shaped House on the S-Curve was just an ordinary innocuous ‘50s ranch house of oversized proportions. The house itself was a massive drab white, rectangular structure, with a doublewide drive-through carport that adjoined a workshop area that was the size of a small Italian restaurant.

The Pioneer Family Living Out in the Workshop

The Pioneer Family Living Out in the Workshop

Our landlady, Jacki, lived in Salem and had a bunch of stuff stored out there from after the divorce, so we used the space for storage too, as much as was necessary given that there were, after all, college students living there with little more than a pot to piss in. Just the same, empty, that workshop could have comfortably housed one of those pioneer families from the 1840s. It was considerably bigger than the “apartment” Masa, Jeff and I had shared the year before.

Tom and Doug moved in the day after Fred showed them the room—about two hours after Jeff had cleared the nondescript remainder of his belongings from the space. Packing his 1968 Austin Healey Sprite convertible with that last load, Jeff lovingly encouraged his shiny precious red beauty in the driveway to a final, orgasmic wail. And in one effusive burst, he sped off in a spray of gravel with a hearty hi-yo go fuck yourself.

Comparable Ford Van

Comparable Ford Van

The two new roommates arrived presently in a boxy, nondescript pale-green Ford van. The first thing they loaded into the sizable room they were going to share was an enviable record collection. In an instant the ambience within the residence metamorphosed. There were officially four hippies living there­—or hippies by Monmouth standards, anyway. Free thinkers, with crazy notions. Possibly subversive. In a dry town. Four hippies and a tennis bum who was rarely around.

They were from Bend. Doug Sherman was a year older than Tom and I. He had spent his freshman and sophomore years attending Portland State University, working on a Geography major. But, instead of continuing with the program, he impulsively opted to join Tom in Monmouth to become a History teacher. Doug was of moderate height, slouchy, a little mushy. He wore wire-rimmed glasses and had a scraggly beard, with thin, dull brown, shoulder-length hair.

A transfer from Central Oregon Community College, Tom Schiffer was very handsome. He had a close-cropped full beard, with long thick, wavy brown hair that reached his collar. Sturdily slender, nearly six-feet tall—as with so many other guys in my circle, he too had been a wrestler in high school and, built such as he was, probably wrestled in the 170 lb. weight class. He had indelibly blue eyes and a model’s grin. And he happened to be a pretty nice guy, though clearly crafty-sly and quite intelligent.

Doug, of course, was immediately identifiable as a 99.9999 percentile proto-genius. He spoke. In. Biting. Clipped. Clenched. Phrases—which typically concluded with a sarcastic summation and a wry, rattling chuckle, more often than not expressing an ambiguous sense of hopeless futility couched within his dim worldview. His encyclopedic knowledge on practically any subject often came in handy. Valuable and entertaining. He was a footnote factory. A human reference book.

In an apparent attempt to ingratiate us with our neighbors—once they had settled in Tom and Doug conspired with Fred to launch a kegger of titanic proportions. Since I did not imbibe, I had no real skin in that game. However the twist came with Doug’s unique idea to charge three dollars for entry into the affair and maybe make a profit to be put toward rent and bills. For that I was more than willing to chip in fifteen bucks in order to secure a keg from the Cooler, reasonably sure I could make my money back. And anyway, I was just going to stay in my room, so what the hey, let the beer kegs roll!

Kegger: L-Shaped House Style

Kegger: L-Shaped House Style

And that’s precisely what happened. I stayed in my room as well-nigh one hundred people showed up to drink beer in our living room, dining room and kitchen, with the stereo set at volume: stun, and weed enough to keep the magic happening. And there was plenty of room for all of it. That’s how immense just that portion of the house was.

Lonnie Mayne with Frank Bonnema

Lonnie Mayne with Frank Bonnema

It was Saturday night and things were really rolling by nine or so, by which time I was safely ensconced in my bedroom with a quart of Royal Crown Cola and a bag of Doritos, preparing to watch Portland Wrestling on Channel 12. I had taken a liking to the new announcer Frank Bonnema whose cheeky sarcasm and knowing suspension of disbelief suited the inane behaviors of the participants. While pointlessly strumming my trusty 12-string guitar in time to the Hamm’s, the beer refreshing, commercial that preceded the commencement of the program, a rap came at my bedroom door.

I bade entre and in wafted a tall, spare woman in a long, pale blue, flower print dress. Wild, raven, witching hair flew about her face, a country sunny face, with frightened hurt brown eyes. She introduced herself as Mary, whom I surmised to be Tom’s girlfriend, Mary—whose description he had given me on several occasions and she fit.

Hesitantly, she asked if she could hang out with me. She had caught a ride from Bend with a friend earlier in the day to pay Tom a surprise visit at his new domicile. But she was the one dumbfounded by the chaos she encountered upon her arrival, and like a frightened doe sought refuge far away from the frenzied din.

Having always been sympathetic to the plight of miserable panicked creatures, I reluctantly acceded— despite the fact that her presence created an intrusion upon the personal space I so dogged guarded, and was disinclined to frivolously relinquish. But she seemed pretty desperate. So yeah, okay. Sure. C’mon in.

Mary sat down on Varney’s bed, which hadn’t been slept in for weeks, taking stock of the mostly empty room. Like all other aspects of the house, it was grandiosely spacious, with just our two single beds pushed distantly apart to opposing mucus green walls. A ridiculously massive closet lay at the far end of the facility, across a great, yawning canyon of gray-carpeted floor.

A small, sunflower yellow wooden table was situated beneath the window wall between us, upon which I had placed my enormous black, reel-to-reel tape recorder (with its own built-in amplifier and speakers). Next to it, Varney set his portable Philco stereo with turntable and detachable speakers. He had about fifty albums stacked on his side of the table. I had maybe double that many on my side.

As we took in the preliminary matches, Mary gave me a bit of her version of their back-story (I had heard Tom’s, of course). They had gone together in high school, but started to drift apart when they both began attending COCC. During winter term Tom unexpectedly elected to transfer to OCE and move in with Doug in Monmouth. I knew they were on again off again. According to Tom they were off again. But from what Mary was saying she was under the impression they were still on.

The Incorrigible Von Steigers

The Incorrigible Von Steigers

We watched the Von Steigers take on Tony Borne and Lonnie Mayne in a match for the Northwest Tag Team championship. The Borne and Mayne team won on a blatant disqualification: the Von Stigers seemingly incapable of containing their contempt for the rules of the sport. Meanwhile, Mary told me about her childhood spent in the desolate southeastern Oregon desert town of Burns—our conversation seeming as tawny gray and windblown as the days of her cheerless formative years.

That one being an unquestionable success, there were other keggers to follow, each better attended and more efficiently managed than its predecessor. It was a very tightly run operation, in which I participated in the preparation before and the renewal efforts after those events, but in the interval of their duration, I remained safely secreted in my room, secure from any unnecessary inane interaction. And for enduring that occasional imposition, our rent and bills were paid for the entire spring term. What’s more there were residuals, which were used to purchase large quantities of top-grade marijuana. So it was a very happy household, indeed.

With Varney AWOL and Fred spending the preponderance of his time at Campbell Hall making things, Tom, Doug and I pretty much had the hacienda to our selves—the Three Musketeers. We spent afternoons after class smoking weed, watching TV with the sound off, and turning each other on to our favorite albums.

sabathDoug was drawn to the harder, heavier or more primitive bands—MC 5, Steppenwolf, Deep Purple, Sabbath and Vanilla Fudge, the Velvet Underground and the Grateful Dead. Tom was a Zep fan. He loved the Who, Cream, Hendrix, and the Doors. Beginning at the Beatles, I was more of a pop man myself, with a bent toward folk rock. I held Simon and Garfunkel in high esteem and had become quite enamored of the Moody Blues, and the likes of Nilsson, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Bee Gees, and especially Jethro Tull.

So, between the three of us and with what Fred and Varney had—there were well over five-hundred albums in the house, as well as a wide selection of 8-track and reel-to-reel tape recordings. Our rock and roll audio library was comparable in breadth and scope to that found at Alexandria, though there is little doubt that we had the superior selection of Rolling Stones albums.

In the interest of scientific inquiry and my never-ending quest to rediscover the Land of Cartoons, I devised an experiment undocumented in the annals of all recorded music. Quintuple Abbey Road. Others may have attempted to summit that illusory musical mountain in the past. But it was I who had the inspiration, the stamina, the dedication and the abundant free time to conceive and accomplish such a lofty goal.

Abbey Road

Abbey Road

You may well ask and I might be inclined to tell you: what the hell is quintuple Abbey Road? And just such a question would immediately set you apart from the typical American who walks through life unencumbered by such weighty concerns. The simple explanation is this: Quintuple Abbey Road is an inter-dimensional jaunt through the crack in time. Sure. That may sound simple enough. But just try it.

Obviously, five sources with the capability of reproducing sound will be required. And five identical recordings capable of being played on those apparatuses will be essential as well. In my case, I chose the Beatles’ Abbey Road, because I had a vinyl copy, as well as a reel-to-reel version. Doug, Varney and Fred had the album in the vinyl format as well. It was the only album in the house of which we had that many. We had four copies each of Bookends and In Search of the Lost Chord. But, for reasons unknown, five seemed to be the proper number and the Beatles’ Abbey Road seemed to be just the right recording to do the job. And thus it was so.

Inter-dimensional Speaker placement

Inter-dimensional Speaker Placement

Conceive if you will, the notion: sound sources in various locations within a structure simultaneously playing the same album. And you might logically reply: Well that’s not so difficult to do with speakers. Simply intersperse them around your site and voila! Ah, but what I was suggesting was not a single sound emanating from a single source via an array of speakers. I proposed multiple sounds operating from separate sources—invoking the fourth dimension: Time, and the fifth dimension: a perpendicular to that. A definitive audio hologram.

And so I set about accomplishing my task. I equipped each of my sources with their specific versions of Abbey Road. Then, beginning in our room with my reel-to-reel tape recorder as the control mode, I began the process by playing Side Two. “Here Comes the Sun” was the lead track. As George Harrison’s acoustic guitar began to chime through the speakers of the recorder, I set the needle down on Varney’s copy on his turntable. After some effort I synchronized the tracks so that they were essentially in unison. Then I sprinted into Tom and Doug’s room and got another version in sync there on Doug’s modular stereo.

Quintuple Abbey Road

Quintuple Abbey Road

By that time the three recordings had begun to fall out of synch slightly, at varying speeds, so jogging back into my room, I got the two versions coordinated there and dashed back to Doug’s stereo and got that matched up. Then on to Fred’s room to get a fourth copy started, before rushing back to the start to re-synchronize everything. It was like one of those stage acts where the acrobatic entertainer keeps plates spinning on poles.

Finally, with four Abbey Road’s emanating from what sounded like a quartet of separate dimensions, I sped to get my vinyl copy of the album started on Tom’s big stereo system in the living room. And, after another circuit of synchronizations, they were all more or less coordinated. The heavenly choir of “Because” radiated a thousand proclamations, resounding throughout the house. It was as if Abbey Road were beaming from all facets of the entire planet.

I lit a righteous celebratory doobie and strolled the grounds in a state of profound awe. The vortex of sound indistinctly shaded and shifted and faceted with every step. Time itself slowly unspun through the course of “You Never Give Me Your Money,” creating a gaping rip in the fabric of the universe. And, as the various recordings ever so slightly fell out of sequence with one another, massive clouds of sound were slung into the silent void—the sun casting strands of molten plasma into the depths of space. In other words—Cartoons realized!

Dali Pancake

Dali Pancake

It was in that precise moment of matchless rapture that Tom and Doug happened to walk through the front door after a hard day of classes. Except for me, the house appeared empty. Yet the mayhem and bedlam were biblical in proportion—Abbey Road brimming and spilling deluge all over everywhere. The Jericho horn of Joshua pealed thick sonic syrup, which dripped upon the Dali-esque pancakes of all humanity. The boys headed straight for the communal weed basket. Gold-old-old-en-en-en slum-um-um-bers-bers-ers….

After great deliberation I subsequently determined that quintuple Abbey Road was the maximum number achievable in our world. I became convinced that sextuple Abbey Road would cause universal consciousness to collapse in upon itself, becoming a black hole of excessively heavy musical gravity. In addition, there was a new deterrent.  A prohibition had been enacted by the household preventing me from conducting further experiments in the realm of multiple source sound generation. So I sought my kicks elsewhere.

Beyond my own arcane weirdness, that sort of behavior was indicative of a communal penchant for the peculiar that would play itself out in many manifold and myriad ways in the days and months to come. My experiment only served as inauguration to the festivities. Our appreciation for the absurd was boundless, and we never ceased to find new and unique ways to express it. In fact that became our mission in life.

We started slowly. It was a natural progression. We didn’t force things. As a result of the regularly occurring keggers, the L-Shaped House on the S-Curve quickly began to acquire something of a reputation. In a town of seven thousand inhabitants, that wasn’t so hard to do. Especially when approximately eight percent of that population had been to a kegger down at that very L-Shaped House on the S-Curve.

As the impossibly perfect spring unfolded, we determined that we wanted to take the party outdoors for some fun in the sun. Because we had been severely neglecting the maintenance of the extensive grounds, the grass had soon grown to two-feet high beneath the hot daily sun. Even though Jacki had provided us with a rider lawnmower, none among us was much interested in taking the thing out for a spin to knock down some lawn.

So, rather than to tamp down a clearing in our fields, we decided instead to conduct informal afternoon parties on the roof of the house. It was a very wide roof, of course, capable of accommodating twenty or thirty people up there comfortably. We typically shot for a three to one ratio between women and men whom we invited up, with the intent of lending an air of exclusivity to the affairs. Hence, given those parameters, there was always an abundance of scantily clad young women frolicking about the property, a condition to which there were never any objections lodged.

Roof Party Here

Roof Party Here

To enhance the surroundings, we hauled Varney’s stereo speakers up there. With my tape deck hooked up to his system, I’d put extended reel-to-reel tapes on to play all afternoon. And we’d sit up there, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes—but no weed (we weren’t that brazen)—listening to tunes and waving at friends as they drove by in their cars, honking their horns.

Sadly, in early May, Doug thought he detected a bow in the roof, as if a huge load of snow had weighed down upon it for an extended period. After due consideration, we deemed that it would be improper for us, as mere tenants after all, to destroy Jacki’s roof (further) and we were forced to discontinue the roof parties, after throwing maybe only ten or twelve of them. We would have to search for other things to destroy.

That opportunity fell to us a few weeks later, when Jacki asked us to please knock down the grass. She was receiving complaints from the city. So the household, en masse, circled the rider mower with a sense of wonder and fear. None of us were particularly mechanically inclined. Just getting the damn thing started proved to be a challenge. But between the five us, we roommates managed to get it running.

mowerWe alternated at first. Tom captained the maiden voyage, navigating the perimeter of the property with great difficulty. The mower kept clogging with grass and stalling. In the end we ended up setting the blade as high as it would go, with the new plan of making two passes. We determined that in the long run it would save time and it did. The rest of us followed with our own opportunities to operate the machine. After a couple of circuits each, we became rather matter-of-fact about the process, performing occasionally reckless maneuvers in order to impress the others, or ourselves. Somebody.

zamboni2Once the first course was run, the grass was still eight inches high, but manageable at that point, so we prepared for the second tour. Confident that we had the process well under control, and to stave off boredom, we began to devise various gymnastics to perform atop the machine as it mowed the remainder of the lawn. Varney was the first, striking an awkward pose. With one foot planted upon the seat and one hand guiding the steering wheel, Varney hoisted a leg behind himself, and an arm pointing straight ahead, most resembling an ungainly ice skater riding a small Zamboni.

So the horse was out of the barn at that point and the game of one-upsmanship was by then fully engaged. Teams were formed, each creating an ever more farcical spectacle. The coda came with all five of us clustered on top of the poor tin beast. It did its best to bear up under the weight of a half ton, but as we made the final turn, it stopped abruptly, belching a big black cumulus cloud. It wouldn’t restart. Actually we couldn’t even get the motor to turn. It was obviously seized. Uh-oh. Jacki…

hay 3Well, we didn’t tell her about it right away—if we told her at all. But in an effort to ameliorate in advance any effects of our delinquency (if it were to become revealed), the five of us scrupulously raked the yard, gathering the grass into a great six-foot tall heap of clippings right in front of the house, clearly visible to cars making the turn on the S-Curve. When finished, we took turns making flying leaps into the mound. When all was said and done, we reconvened the haystack into a perfect pile.

As a gesture of good faith, I crafted a sign out of a section of wood and a two-by-four. Upon it, with letters ten inches high in bright, day-glo colors I wrote “Free Grass,” and posted it at the top of Mount Lawn. As far as I recall, there were no repercussions with that, other than the Monmouth fire chief coming down from town a month later to tell us we had a fire-hazard on our hands. I think we ended up spreading that straw in the rhododendron beds.

There was a real fire in the neighborhood one day, at a house down Davis Street, the little lane that extended south from Chief Shellenbarger’s house. Jilly Bing was visiting, maybe waiting for Fred. We were still just becoming acquainted at that time—his friend then, in my mind. We were both being hesitant and shy and eccentric. She was sitting on the kitchen counter vacantly staring off into the ether, when suddenly a couple fire trucks went roaring down the tiny road, bells and whistles lit up officiously.

fire1A house located near the very back of our property was aflame and sustaining moderate damage. From the patio we could see a half-dozen heavily protected firemen, drenched with sweat, laboring under the hot sun, as they trudged fire hoses from the trucks in the direction of the fierce blaze. They were making every effort to quell the persistent fire before it could spread over to Chief Miller’s grazing fields behind us.

quikAs she witnessed the swelter of their toil, a pang of compassion suddenly befell Jilly. She sprung to action with the aim of rewarding the fearless firemen. Quickly searching the cupboards, she set about the enactment of her plan. We had to make hot chocolate for them—as according to some tradition I had yet to ever hear about. But, I was not about to question Jilly’s motives when she was undertaking such a selfless cause, I directed her to Fred’s big can of Nestle’s Quik. He loved chocolate milk.

nesbitts1She grabbed the can and ran to the refrigerator in search of milk. Nothing. All we had was one can of evaporated milk, and the remnants of enough powdered milk to shake out about a cup of the stuff. Unless she pulled a loaves and fishes style enhancement of the milk supply the firemen’s hot chocolate was going to be pretty damn watery. Fortuitously, to her way of thinking anyway, someone had stashed a couple 28-ounce bottles of Nesbitt’s orange soda in the refrigerator.

Without hesitation, she snapped up the Nesbitt’s and scurried over to the stove. She filled Fred’s big stockpot with the soda, the milk products, cocoa and a quart of water, heating it to a simmer. Noticing a bag of marshmallows on one of the shelves, she snatched those up and threw a handful of them into the pot to enrich the flavor and texture, as she lovingly stirred the ingredients. Meanwhile I scrounged up every coffee mug and cup we had in the house, grabbing my fake-antique Coca-Cola serving tray somewhere along the way.

cocoa2In an expression of genuine gratitude toward the firemen for their heroic efforts in the face of indeterminable odds and empyrean danger, Jilly very carefully set out eight cups of boiling cocoa, placing marshmallows in each full cup. It was as artistic as it was touching.

By the time she had all that together, the men had put the fire out and appeared to be in the wrap-up stages of their operations. As they were gathering up hoses just next to our driveway, Jilly, with great caution, very earnestly carried the tray of hot chocolate out to the profusely perspiring firefighters. Honestly, they looked at her like she was crazy or high, but I knew her well enough to know she was neither. She was uncommonly special.

And she was pretty. So the guys were more inclined to humor her and cut her a little slack—even if she was pretty weird. One of the braver among the firefighters took a sip of the concoction and fiercely spit it right out, asking what the hell was in that shit anyway. Jilly nonchalantly riffed through the list of ingredients, the orange soda in particular stuck out. Yeah, that’s probably what it was. Orange soda.



All the activity brought Rinnie out to see what the commotion was about. Rinnie lived under the neighbor’s disabled Plymouth station wagon at the house directly across the lane. He was a strange looking little dog—a longhaired German shepherd trapped in a Dachsund’s body. Because he clearly had received no attention other than to be fed periodically, and smelled of axel grease, and probably because he was keenly aware of his unfortunate circumstance in the scheme of all things, Rinnie was slightly anti-social.

He got overly excited in crowds and considered any living entity other than himself to be a crowd. I was the one to christen him Rinnie, after Rin Tin Tin (I don’t know what his real name was, or if he even had one), in hopes of elevating his desperately low self-esteem. It seemed he had internalized several critical issues from puppyhood regarding his stature in the world, issues which had manifest themselves in adulthood as a bad habit of acting out in a negative manner, barking and growling. Lashing out and such.

But he responded well enough to the name Rinnie. I let him come in the house occasionally and he always behaved himself like a little gentleman. He loved government-issue American cheese cubes and crusts from Fred’s home-baked bread. For the most part, he seemed to mean well, despite himself.

So there we were, Jilly and Rinnie and me, standing with the firemen who were holding coffee cups full of some gawdawful substance they wanted to dump on the ground, but were too polite to do right in front of the pretty little lady. But as the inevitable lull ensued, the fireman who had spit out his chocolate unceremoniously dropped his cup on the tray Jilly had cradled in her arms and hied the other fellas: time to head on back to the station.

Heading Back

Heading Back

Seeing that as their opportune sanction, the others respectfully bent over and emptied their mugs on the ground, as subtly as possible, returning their cups to the tray. One of the guys put his hand on Jilly’s shoulder and thanked her little too soulfully, in my opinion. But, eventually, off they went and peace was restored to the valley.

Only a few weeks after that, Jilly who didn’t drive, effortlessly convinced me to borrow Fred’s big Dodge truck so we could rescue her cousin, who was stranded in Lincoln City where she had been abandoned by Rainbow Bob—not the first time he had pulled a stunt of that nature. He was kind of a rat. I wrote a fictional (though true) account of that event and and it’s linked here. It was at that time into which my beloved dog Gypsy entered the picture, there to remain for the next fifteen years.

After the adventure to the coast to save her cousin, Jilly and I bonded and became much closer, spending nearly every day together until the end of June. Several afternoons a week, I would join her as she babysat for a favored instructor, Ram Dosa and his wife Bridget. Professor Dosa was of Indian origin. He had a dark complexion, with very blue features and a sparse black beard. A Hindu, he wore a turban, his forehead thumbed with a white ashpaste smudge.

Liv Ullmann

Liv Ullmann

Bridget was a beautiful blonde Swedish woman, tall and slender, with glacier blue eyes—a dead ringer for the actress Liv Ullmann. She was a teacher’s assistant in the Ed. Department at the college. They were wonderful people. In their mid-thirties. They had one child, a delightful young boy, age four, named Christian. Christian was the most beautiful little boy who ever lived.

His skin was the color of coffee cream, hair honey brown, with a radiant array of golden streaks. His eyes were unbearably limpid blue, wonder wide lagoons that peered out with an air of naïve wisdom that was oftentimes quite unnerving.

With both of his parents at work most days, a sitter was required for little Christian. Jilly had met Bridget in an Ed. class somewhere along the line and they hit it off instantly—undoubtedly because they were both very much alike in their bearing and demeanor. Jilly could have passed for Bridget’s younger sister.

Jilly was selected among only a few other students to be allowed to stay with Christian for five hours or more, while his parents were gone for the day. I knew Ram Dosa well from an Anthropolgy course I was taking from him that year. He was a wise, deeply spiritual man with incredible insights into mankind and the cultures of men around the world.

clouds1Eventually, once his parents had become comfortable with my presence in their son’s midst, I was permitted to babysit Christian a few times. Typically we didn’t do much, staying around the family house, reading books, watching Sesame Street. Or we would sit in his play area in the back yard and confer on matters. When outside, our sessions were more creative. We would identify shapes in clouds, or try to hear what that butterfly over there said.

There were protracted discussions on a host of topics. I regaled the lad with various tales of my feats as a youngster. Seeking to impress him I related to Christian my matchless childhood ability to identify any of our neighbors’ cars simply by hearing the sound of one passing in front of our house. He told me that Jerry’s car made a sound. I gathered that Jerry was a neighbor, but I was uncertain as to whether he was a child or an adult. I inquired further. He replied definitively: “Bunker-tia quink. That’s the sound Jerry’s car makes.”

I could hear that car’s suspension in my mind’s ear. Worn shocks and struts, no doubt. When I was a kid, it never occurred to me to phoneticize the sounds I heard. I just identified our neighbor’s individual cars and found a certain reassurance in those reverberations. On one of the other occasions I stayed with him, I heard the very sound Christian had described. Shushing him, I raised a finger in the air, whispering conspiratorily: Jerry’s car! His eye’s widened and he put his hands up in glee. Yeah, Jerry’s car!

The afternoon before the last day of classes, Jilly appeared at our door, sobbing uncontrollably. Leading her into the living room, I sat her down on one of the couches; wrapping my arms around her in an unsuccessful attempt at consolation. Trying to draw from her the cause of her distress, I kept massaging her shoulder and asking her what had happened.

Brokenhearted, she groaned emphatically. “He’s dead. He died. He died this morning. There was an accident.” Then she burst into tears again. That didn’t sound good at all. I thought maybe Buzz had gotten in a wreck. He drove back and forth between Corvallis and Salem a lot. Shit.

I tried my best to comfort her, but she was moving toward a state of catalepsy. Making every attempt to maintain my own composure in an unaccustomed position of frazzled counsel, I basically had not the slightest idea what to do. But little by little Jilly relaxed. I asked her as gently as possible, who died? She began to sob again, bawling “Ram Dosa. He was in a crash. In Woodburn. He saved Christian’s life.”

strawberriesRam Dosa had taken his son with him over to Woodburn that morning to pick a few crates of fresh strawberries, hoping to surprise Bridget, who loved the fruit with abiding ardor. On their way home, around noon, as they were headed south from Woodburn on Highway 99, an oncoming car suddenly lost control and headed straight for them. Christian’s father’s final deed was to thrust himself in front of his son, who sat in the passenger’s seat beside him—sparing the boy’s life as he sacrificed his own.









The Bible XII

Tower of Babel
Was meant to reach to heaven.
But plans got confused.








From: Jobs I Once Held That Now No Longer Exist

I’ve been devoting a lot of thought, of late, to the myriad-stranded, convoluted web that is my employment history. As I pointed out last summer, the job at Small Egg Roll turned out to be the worst—and by far the most disappointing—of all of them, which is especially disheartening in the respect that it was the one job among all of them for which I actually had considerable aptitude and interest, and for which I was best qualified. In most instances, that wasn’t so much the case.

Reflecting on the “early days” of my nascent career as an adult, I can summon to mind several dubious instances of on-the-job experience, which subsequently afforded me very little in the way of applicable real world skills. What has happened to the call for fir cone dryer workers, for God’s sake?

The Sun

The Sun

Yes. Fir cone dryers. For eons of millenia the job of drying fir cones was left to the sun—always the most efficient at such chores, what with having nothing better to do than burn for billions of years and all. A heat source is, of course, at the core of any drying operation worth its seed.

But then mankind came along. And, as has long been known, mankind is always in a hurry—in a hurry to make the sun burn faster, hotter, longer, stronger, and with better air circulation. Thus the fir cone dryer was born. What would be the necessity of drying a fir cone in the first place you might very well ask?

There was a time when there was no cloning. I know that is very difficult for some to conceive. But it’s true. There was no cloning. Well, technically, Nature has been cloning all along, but for this particular postulate we need to leave things like the sun and Nature out of the equation. It is Man’s endless quest to duplicate these natural devices that have led Humankind to invent important apparatuses to duplicate Nature’s weaponry, just in case we destroy the original model. Hey, it’s happened!


It was probably going on before he came along, but you can blame Gifford Pinchot for implementing the concept of reforestation on a National forest level. Reforestation allowed the big timber companies to feel okay about clear cutting every last stick of original growth timber in the country. It’s okay folks, we’re replanting! It’ll all be replaced. We’ll plant little babies around the stumps of the great giants we cut down. What a system!

So, back in the days before there were clones, seeds were required in order to propagate the species. In the summer, fir trees produce fruit in the form of cones, which bear inside of them the seeds for creating little baby trees. As the cones mature, some will open while on the tree, allowing their seeds to fly upon the breeze, to land where we know not.

Fir Cone

But, as is often the case in life unfortunately, other cones fall from the tree unopened, as yet still fettered full with the seed which they are mandated to scatter. So, down they go, whereupon the sun will continue the process it began when the cone was still attached to the tree. The sun will gently heat the fallen fir cone so that, eventually, after not long at all in sun time, the cone will dry and open, and the seeds will fall out onto the forest floor. Many creatures of the wild (squirrels and rats especially, I might point out) consider fir seeds to be something of a delicacy. But, as these things go in nature, some seeds remain behind to sprout into seedlings and eventually grow into significant bodies of wood.

Such a process, of course, requires a great deal of time by our standards. According to the rings on the trees we’ve cut down, it can take hundreds of years for one to get monstrously huge. Here again, while hundreds of years doesn’t mean shit to a tree, humans are an impatient lot and they want everything yesterday, including their trees and the seeds required to get the ball rolling on fulfilling that desire. Fellas, we need a fir cone dryer!

Main St. Dallas, Oregon

Main St. Dallas, Oregon

Now I came to the fir cone game through the back door. Sally and I had recently quit school and moved to Dallas, Oregon ten miles and a world away from the comparative collegial world, which lay in the Monmouth and Independence vicinity to the east. We chose to move to Dallas, I guess, to find new opportunities, though what opportunities those might have been were apparently not particularly well defined, as I don’t remember. It is the Polk county seat, so potentially there was some allure in that fact, though I doubt it. That doesn’t seem our speed.

Well, we did move out of the house in Independence because, as a newly founded couple, we felt the need to strike out upon our own—leaving behind my college roommates Tom and Doug—to forge in the smithy of our souls the uncreated conscience of our relationship. So, that and the fact that—as was customary in a household with Tom, Doug and me in it—there were at least three (actually five, I believe) dogs and an indeterminable number of cats, in that specific instance, jammed into a little two-bedroom bungalo. So, I suppose the motivation may have been weighted toward Sally’s perspective. It was a long time ago. We relocated.

We moved into a sad little dollhouse in Dallas, which was fine, as we had no belongings to put in it anyway. It wasn’t like we required spacious quarters. I believe the biggest bone of contention (as it were) was that the backyard was fenced, in order to corral Spider and Gypsy, who were wont to roam when given the opportunity. They were themselves a young couple, wild in their ways.

The place was on Southwest 10th Street between Birch and Cherry on the hill overlooking Fairview Avenue by the A&W at the western edge of town. I’m not sure what we did for money at first. I believe rent was $85 a month and bills amounted to about $25, so we cobbled that together from leftover student loan money, I would imagine. Allen moved in for a time into the cubby-hole room in the converted attic, second-story plywood affair. I’m sure we charged him a princely sum to maintain those luxurious quarters. We were merciless.

I don’t think it took very long before it became apparent that a job or two might be required somewhere along the line. My only previous job experience was a mostly failed experiment in the construction trade the summer following my senior year in high school. The only benefit that came of that experience was the fact that it could be noted on subsequent job applications. More about construction adventures another time.

Filberts, For the Pickin'

Filberts, for the Pickin’

At first we tried “picking” filberts (hazelnuts) at an extensive orchard out toward Pedee. That’s a terrific job if you like to be bent over in the autumn dew rooting through fallen leaves for the husk-y little suckers like a truffle snuffer. I think we made like two or three dollars in four hours or so, before it started raining so hard that we quit for the day. We never went back there again, I assure you.

Some Town's Country Inn

A Country Kitchen Kind of Place

Sometime not long after that, Sally found a job at a little restaurant on the other side of town at the Country Kitchen (everything out there is named “Country” something. Hell they ARE out in the country and they are mighty damn hickily proud of the whole damn deal). The place was about the size of a double wide with similar ambience, if you were to fill it with a counter and three or four booths, thirty smelly guys and a palpable layer of cigarette smoke.

I think the only job requirement was to get the orders right and to battle the indefatigable, degenerate advances of the horde of misfit and misbegotten males, relentlessly bent on converting trees into some unrecognizable form. Sally was capable of contending with that sort of bullshit without a lot of undue duress, therefore the job was hers and one aspect of her personality was in its element. She held court.


Waitin’ fer Breakfast

She worked the morning shift at the Country Kitchen, four-thirty to two in the afternoon, serving greasy breakfasts and bestowing endless cups of coffee to loggers preparing to ride the crummy out to the woods of the nearby Pacific Coast range to denude any remaining pristine patches of forest. No sooner was that clan gone, around six, than the guys who worked at the Willamette Industries mill at the south end of town would trundle in. They’d leave around seven-thirty and all the construction crews would show up, seeking fortification before they headed out to their various job sites. It was a regular eco-system. The fellers, the planers, and the builders. Nothing left but saw dust and fir cones.

Stumpy, Three-Finger Bill, and Lefty--Lucky in the Foreground

Three-Finger Bill, Stumpy and Lefty–Lucky in the Foreground

Oh yeah, fir cones. So Sally had her finger on the local employment pulse at the Country Kitchen. She knew too of my limited job history, lack of any real proficiencies, and my incredible phobia for losing digits and/or appendages—a fear that in the community of Dallas was widely scorned and ridiculed by the likes of Lucky, Lefty, Stumpy and Three-Finger Bill. However, despite her diligent efforts, Sally was unable to immediately generate any satisfactory leads for my narrow occupational skill set. Still, I persevered.

Falls City, Oregon when the Town was Thriving

Falls City, Oregon when the Town was Thriving

Through a friend (one of like ten guys named Mike I knew back then) who lived out in the tiny coast range timber dimlet of Falls City, I had occasionally found labor (the term “work” seems so formal), picking Douglas fir cones. Commensurate with my resume, it was a low expectation job, to be sure, one that in many ways bore a distinct resemblance to filbert picking, an occupation for which I had demonstrated some limited capacity, though that was perhaps coupled with a distinct lack of ambition and enthusiasm.

The job responsibilities of a fir cone picker were few. One was encouraged to fill a burlap sack with the things, picked up from the ground by the novice, or expertly plucked from the boughs above by veteran fir cone pickers, such as my friend, Mike. Were one to successfully fill a bag with fir cones—which, while similar to filling a bag with filbert clusters, was considerably easier and less time-consuming to accomplish—an opportunity was thus created for the prospect of fair recompense for the effort. There was the reasonable expectation to get paid a couple of bucks for a filled sack at the fir cone dryer loading dock.

A Fine Fir for Pickin' Cones

A Fine Fir for Pickin’ Cones

Soon I was scaling forty or fifty feet up young fir trees, climbing to the upper limbs where the cones were easy picking. Filling several sacks with cones was easily accomplished up there, especially if one didn’t mind heights. Among my other disinclinations in life, heights ranks chief among them, just behind loss of limbs. However, Mike taught me how to ride the outer boughs, gently sliding down on the furthest limbs from the top of the tree to the ground, assuaging to a great degree my apprehensions in regard to gravity, as encountered from a lofty perch among the firs.

That endeavor went well, as far as it went. But I longed for stability, a future. I longed for permanence. I longed for warmth. Winter was approaching. As it so happened, one day while delivering our load of sacks to the fir cone dryer dock, where we got weighed up and paid. Wild Bill, the boss man of the entire dryer operation, made it generally known that they were hiring. Eureka! I didn’t need to be told twice. It was under cover from the rain. It was warm. It required very little extended effort and even less consistent thought. There was a lot of down time, passed in countless intoxicating ways.

Not long after I was hired, Allen got hooked up working there too, most likely of his own initiative. It wasn’t like I had any pull with Wild Bill or anything. The fir cone dryer lay fixed upon a rolling hill, about a mile out of town on the Kings Valley Highway. It looked like an old, weathered barn—which may very well have been one of its former incarnations. I never asked.

Most likely it was always some sort of dryer. There are plum orchards abounding in that green region of the mid-Willamette Valley. Lots of cherries. Filberts too, of course. All might require a dryer in some instances. I can’t imagine that a fir cone dryer differs very much from something like a prune dryer, the process and preferred outcome being essentially the same.

A Prime Barn for a Fir Cone Dryer

A Prime Barn for a Fir Cone Dryer

The design of the structure thoughtfully utilized the lay of the land. The dryer itself was a segmented wooden shaft enclosed inside a two-story barn. The shaft was about twelve feet wide—divided by two partitions that formed three compartments—and it was six feet high. It descended from the top story to the lower, twenty-five feet in length, at a gradual declining gradient. At the bottom, an oil furnace was mounted in a smaller structure abutted to one side of the barn, with massive air ducts leading into the shaft.

Just off the “highway” at the front, there was a small gravel parking lot. The loading dock and storage area adjoined the building on the town side. There was a cramped office with a door out to the dock and a door opposite that opened into to the work area at the top end of the dryer. Beneath the window between the office and the exterior entry doorway at the other side of the barn, sacks of cones were stacked and served as an impromptu row of seats.

Rookies primarily tended to remain in that vicinity. That’s where you learned the ropes. The demands of the position were few. Those there were involved some occasional moderate exertion and plenty of waiting around—which I was pretty good at, as occupations go.

Somebody's Idea of a Fir Cone Dryer Operation

Somebody’s Idea of a Fir Cone Dryer Operation

The action portion of the day was spent cutting open the twine-sewn burlap sacks of (usually) wet cones and distributing them upon the drying screens. Once the cones were evenly spread upon those trays, a guy would feed each one down into one of the dryer via slots at the sides of the each compartment wall. Five screens could be slid down per slot, and the slots were spaced about a eighteen inches apart, horizontally—so that the hot air of the furnace could circulate among the cones. Altogether there were three chutes twenty-five feet long, with four planes of five trays. A lot of cones! Forty or fifty sacks at a crack.

Typically it took the better part of a couple of hours for two guys to perform the task. One guy would cut open the sacks with a curved knife, dumping the cones on a screen. The other guy would spread them out evenly, and then slide the trays down the shafts.

Each row had to be addressed from top to bottom, as extending too far laterally on any one level would create certain future regretful acrobatics in trying to slide the other segments of screens into place. It was hot work. Even in the chilly, wet late fall, the place was toasty—and fragrant. It always smelled of musty balsamic forest and Christmastime around there.

It could take up to four hours for the cones to bake sufficiently enough for them to open and drop their seed to the floor of the drying shaft. It was a hiatus during which “work,” such as we knew it, would come to a complete halt and “break time” would ensue.

Workin' Hard? Or Hardly Workin'?

Workin’ Hard? Or Hardly Workin’?

Around six-thirty the early birds would arrive to convene the Royal Order of the Fir Cone Dryer Friars social club for yet another evening of merriment. Most came packing a bottle of something stiff or at least a six-pack. Several guys would show up with guitars. Rick. Mike (another Mike) played guitar. So did Allen. Me too. So did Lee.

Lee was a wistful wisp of a man, prematurely old, with a jaunty black moustache and a permanent five-day growth of salt and pepper stubble scattered on a gaunt, hollow-haunted visage. He had a sweet, pudgy, wife with glowing roseate skin, who was very plain; and two cherubic blue-eyed young daughters. The four of them lived in a small, ramshackle yellow rental on Ellendale Loop at the far outskirts of town.

That's Lee in the Back

That’s Lee in the Back

Whenever I read Carlos Castaneda books, I would always picture Lee in the role of Don Juan. He was a restless lonesome wind, sonambulently ambling the dryer premeses like a persistently distracted ghost. I was never absolutely sure of his position there. I thought he might be some sort of watchman—as we worked the swing shift, from four to midnight, and probably needed security—though I can’t imagine what for. Maybe he performed some other function in the grand scheme of things, I don’t know. He just wandered around.

Artist's Depiction of Wild Bill

Artist’s Depiction of Wild Bill

Allen remembers Wild Bill looking like Lee Marvin. I remember him to resemble a red-faced Patrick Dennehy. He probably looked like James Coburn. He was in his late thirties, broad, with sandy graying hair and a certain larger than life quality. We agree that his chief feature was that he popped open a can of Oly at any available opportunity—which was most of the time. Wild Bill served as host when the festivities would get under way. Eventually he would head out to his pickup and down a succession of beers, blankly gazing out the windshield while listening to Charlie Rich and Donna Fargo on the radio.

Yer Everyday Lift Carrier

Yer Everyday Lift Carrier

The Social Club served as a refuge for old-timers and misfits—castoffs from the slowly dying timber industry. With few forests left to fell, or logs left to mill into boards and beams, work had become scarce. It was true they were hiring at the Caterpillar plant and Towmotor. Those two operations pretty much kept Dallas and much of Polk County alive. But most of the Clubbers were too decrepit or inept to be retrained for a position so sophisticated as D2 bulldozer assembly or the manufacture of lift carriers.

Many of the old farts would come by just to get away from the little woman bedeviling them at home and to get a snoot full without her knowing about it. The younger guys turned up to hang out (as well at the dryer as anywhere else in Dallas), get a free buzz on and jam. It was pretty much a nightly affair.

Bucky and his crew of two from down below, didn’t participate in playing music. They’d come up at break and pretty much keep to themselves. They sat bunched together on a row of sacks along the side wall next to the office, chain-smoking cigarettes, staring vacantly into space. Bucky was in his early 30s, round-faced, effusive curly blond hair stuffed under a dirty black Greek fisherman’s hat. He was a typical country clyde, nice enough guy, with a ferrety face and big, wide, buck teeth. He maintained and operated the furnace and oversaw his seed sacking crew of two down at the bottom of the shaft.

So we’d sit around for the better part of four hours getting smashed and playing guitars. There might be as many as twenty guys sitting around doing nothing—although only seven of us were getting paid to do so. Allen was by far the best guitarist. Allen always was the best guitarist in any situation, under any conditions. Mike played with a sort of bluesy, Dead-y, country flair indigenous to the region at the time. I’ve always been pretty much of a strummer, rhythm guitar guy.

Rick was a rhythm guitarist too, but he had a voice that was as big and husky as he was. He was blind in one eye and it had a tendency to wander, so that sometimes its gaze might follow you around while he was looking in a completely different direction. It was often quite unnerving, especially if you had never before witnessed the phenomenon.

I would guess that it was that eye (or the general regional malaise) that prevented Rick from meeting with great success. He wrote wonderful songs. The lyrics were typically meaningless, but the words always sounded very nice together. In most cases something about his “old lady.” “My old lady has green eyes, as green as emeralds in the sea.” I’ll never forget that one.

So, anyway, when he came around. Rick was the song guy. He could get something “formal” going, like a real song with actual structure that everyone could more or less play together on—rather than each of us just showing off the licks we knew in endless jams. But, after a few drinks, even those pointless jams got very interesting.

Merle Travis

Merle Travis

Lee had a very unique guitar style. He wasn’t a good player at all. And he was rather shy as a performer. But he had a distinctive manner of playing that I had never heard before, nor have I since. I would say that it had its roots in Travis Picking (think “Wildwood Flower”), or whatever style it was before Merle Travis popularized it—a certain bluegrass feel—with vague, Arkansasian overtones.

Allen says the music Lee played sounded like Hank Williams retreads. I don’t remember it that way at all. Whatever Lee was up to, his guitar playing was very unique and he probably employed the same technique that Hank Williams and Merle Travis heard and imitated when they began to create their own music. It preceded them. It was an old, rural style that probably doesn’t even exist anymore. I remember his music fondly. Or, perhaps more accurately: I remember being quite fond of Lee’s music.

Eventually, the cones would actually dry and we would have to go back to work. I don’t even slightly recall what my tasks were at that point in the procedure. It’s all a sloshy, dim blue memory. I faintly recall the guys from below sweeping the seeds down the chute with wide push brooms (or maybe that was us from the top). But before that could happen, all the de-seeded cones needed to be dumped from the screens into bags that would eventually go to the bark dust facility, wherever that was. And the trays needed to be collected and placed back on the hand truck up at the top of the shaft. I have no idea how that happened.

wreckThe job at the fir cone dryer didn’t last long—maybe six months. I remember my last night there Bucky didn’t show up. Bucky never didn’t show up. He was always there. He was the most paycheck-motivated character I’ve ever known. But the night before he had tried to drive back home drunk from Salem and he got in a wreck out on Highway 22 near Rickreal. The other driver was killed and Bucky ended up doing seven years in prison for vehicular manslaughter.

When spring came, Allen took off to go live with Juanita in Monmouth. Sally and I moved out of the house on 10th about ten blocks east to the cool, old two-story house on the corner of Clay and Hayter. Tom and Terri moved in to the lower half of the dwelling and it wasn’t long after that Tom and I got jobs doing construction with Mike (yes, a different Mike). Those Days of the Golden Homes were a story unto themselves.




Well, the past year has been full of chaos and turmoil and I’m hoping for things to settle for a while so I can get some work done. I re-edited Unreal Gods last winter and took out three chapters. So now it’s under 600 pages, at least. I think I’m pretty much the only one to read the new version. I think three people (including me) have read the original. The hell with trying to get editors to read the damn thing, I can’t even get my friends to read it. Which brings us to our next installment of biblical haiku.


The Bible VII

Matthew, Luke and Mark

Had an argument with John

The pissed apostle.


I Found A Rock

Preparing to mow the lawn last Saturday, I parked the car out in the street in front of the house. Our street hasn’t been re-paved in at least forty years and we have no sidewalks or gutters, so water tends to run down the steep hill above us in well-defined rivulets off to the side of the street. In the summer I like to park in those channels, as they are off the street, but not part of the yard.

Exposed aggregate,regular view.

There is a lot of gravel in that section of the street, most if it washed down the long hill, a slow migratory sluice. The gravel in front of our house has been compacted by car to the extent that it mostly resembles exposed-aggregate concrete. Pretty solid stuff.

That particular day I parked the car with great care, methodically maneuvering close in next to our grass, while getting as far out of the street as humanly achievable—back and forth several times, eventually placing it in precisely the prescribed position.

Exposed aggregate, close-up

I exited the car and moved toward the back, I’m not certain why. Looking down as I reached the rear bumper, my eye caught sight of a flat rock.  Not that big, it was perhaps an inch and a half in length and maybe three quarters of an inch wide. Black (well, in direct sunlight, a very dark olive green with a faint golden sheen). Though flat, it stood out from the other tire-polished stones. It was smoother, with a different luster. Something attracted me to it.

Flat side

It’s not like I keep a lot of rocks, but I occasionally keep rocks I’m attracted to. Don’t get me started. It’s an element of my extended OCD. The rock in question appeared to be a keeper. The perfect flatness of its exposed surface was quite appealing. I picked it up and headed into the house.

Shaped like Nevada

Upon closer inspection, it soon became apparent that this was no ordinary rock. For one thing, it gave off some sort of benign vibe. Nothing intense, just a mild cosmic warmth. The rock was vaguely shaped like the state of Nevada—if there is any sort of significance to be found in that fact. The surface opposite the flat side is contoured, as are the edges.

To look at it, the rock appears to be nothing special, rather ordinary, but for the antique gloss of its velvety patina. However things change when you hold it in your hand. It takes a while, sorting it slowly between your fingers, to find the proper alignment (there are actually several). But eventually a certain celestial conformity takes place, as one cradles the mysterious object. Its pleasing curves and satisfying roundness perfectly tapered. It’s a stone that demands to be rubbed.

That’s it! It’s a worry stone. But not like any other I’ve ever seen. If you google the term you find a real array of various pieces. All created with a similar intent and purpose, but perhaps, for the Irish wishing stone. Although, who is to say what is to come from any sort of talisman upon which one places a great deal of concentration and energy?

Worry stones

From what I gleaned in my scant research trying to figure out the whole worry stone game, it became readily apparent that the objets have been with humankind for quite some time. Only slightly less older than dirt, I’d say. However this does open for us an important philosophical question. Which came first, the dirt or the rock?

The Argo by Lorenzo Costa

It’s been said that the ancient Greeks kicked off the craze—most likely because their advanced culture was more worrisome than most and they had a lot of free time. The first worry stones are purported to have been smooth sea rocks. Given their seafaring ways (see the Odyssey and Jason and the Argonauts) it’s easy enough to understand that they might have seen an alluring sea rock or two in their time. I mean, check out Jason’s run-in with the Symplegades. But a smooth river rock would probably do you just as well in a pinch.

Now available at a worry store near you

These days, judging by what one is likely to find online, most worry stones are pretty simple affairs: oval-shaped, semi-precious gemstones polished to a glassy sheen, with an indentation in the center. Most of them look like stone re-workings of a half-sucked Original Werthers hard toffee.

Irish wishin’ stone

There are variations. An Irish wishing stone appears to resemble more an outright rock than the other samples, most likely requiring some sincere effortful wishing in order to erode and abrade the hollow to conform to the shape of the thumb and fingers.

Cunningly contrived contours, oh my!

T. (for Tuesday) Lobsang Rampa (oh, we’re not going to get into him right now: http://www.skepdic.com/rampa.html) referred to them as TouchStones ™ claiming— “In far off China, in Tibet, in the holy temples of India, and in the great temples of the Incas, the Aztecs, and the Mayas, priests laboriously shaped stones by hand, stones whose cunningly contrived contours (?) comforted the human brain, and by flooding that organ with comfort and pleasant tactile sensations calmed the whole of the human mechanism.”

Maybe a tad grandiose, but I think what the good plumber monk was referring to was that the things are damn good stress relievers. That seems to be the consensus among all the hierachies of worry stone lovers and aficionados in the Wiccan and pagan communities as well. So the upshot here is that the rocks are fully sanctioned in all the corners of the new age universe—if, indeed, it is possible for the universe to contain corners.

Rounded smooth

While adhering to all ordained worry stone standards, the one I found is far superior to all other examples I could uncover. For one thing, not just the thumb groove but all edges on mine are perfectly rounded—all surfaces maintaining a sublime camber. Rather than by machine, it is obvious that the soothing curves and arcs were all worked by human digits over time. Over a long time. A lot of energy went into the shaping of my stone.

Nagging questions remain: How the hell did the rock get out there in front of the house in the first place? And how long was it lying out there before I discovered it? How does the possessor of one lose a worry stone? If you had it in your hand and were to drop it, you’d certainly pick it up. Was the person standing in front of our house when he inexplicably decided to empty his pockets or try to fish some change from his pocket. Or what? And what was he doing standing in front of our house anyway?

Native American relics and artifacts

We live at the very end of a dead-end street at the bottom of a very steep hill. We don’t receive a lot of passersby. So then, perhaps erosion unearthed the relic from decades of quiet slumber. It bears the quality of a Native American arrowhead or some other such artifact. My imagination prefers this theory. The stone feels old (well, of course it’s old, it’s a rock, fer crissakes!). It feels as if the human energy it stores is old—antique, from another time, long ago.

But some residual guilt persists. I’m not sure what I should do with the thing. Is it wrong to keep a found worry stone?  And what are the ramifications? Will it confuse the stone if I were to worry on it too? I don’t know the rules on such things. Perhaps it deserves a proper re-burial? I don’t know what protocol is in these situations.

I suppose I could go door to door around the neighborhood to see if anyone lost a valuable, semi-precious “object.” Make the possible owner describe the item in specific detail. The other option is to put an ad in Craig’s List or something. That seems like it might be casting too big a net, given our home’s somewhat remote locale.

Nested comfortably between distal interphalageal crease and palmar digital crease

Whatever the case, something needs to happen soon, as I am beginning to become attached to the stone. There is great pleasure in stroking its smooth coolness. The notch on the left edge perfectly fits the distal interphalangeal crease on my right index finger. The slight hollow on the right edge of the stone nestles against the palmar digital crease as if carved specifically for my grip.

But there is no right or wrong way to hold it. Cradle it in either hand, slab side up, or contoured. However it may be held, the special stone finds folds among the fingers and quickly comfortably conforms. See? I’m already developing a fetish for the thing. Why do I feel like this is a mystery that will never be solved?


Novel Publishing Update:

I recently received my twentieth rejection letter from a reputable literary agent for Unreal Gods. I feel like a salmon swimming upstream against the current. I have revised the book, cutting four early chapters. (which I’m not even sure is such a good idea)- but I’m trying to make submissions of the first three chapters or one hundred pages move faster (I’m not sure that is a good idea either). Honestly, writing biblical haiku is easier.

The Bible VI

How Leviticus

Came by such strange ideas

Heaven only knows

A Lesson in Class

My girlfriend, Sigone (Significant One), was fired from her job the other day. It was a 21st century job: part time, contracted, no benefits, no taxes withheld. The pioneering, “do it yourself, because we don’t care,” entrepreneurial paradigm so keenly prevalent in our brave new workaday world. This isn’t your parents’ US of A, folks. They had jobs and unions and benefits and retirement packages. We have tasks. Every man for himself.

Sigone working from home.

Hers was one of those new-era work-from-home, writing positions of which you see an abundance posted on Craig’s List and elsewhere. It’s all about SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Most of these outfits pay you, like, two bucks to write three hundred words about hair salons in Durham, North Carolina, or whatever. Really innocuous. I don’t know who performs those tasks, but it ain’t anyone in this household.

Sigone’s assignments were a little more sophisticated than that. She worked for an organization that produced “biographies” for professional types–all eager to come in at the top or at least on the first page of a Google or Bing search, with the sort of content that they can tightly control.

The clients came from all walks of life. Some were merely trying to increase their visibility in the marketplace. Others were attempting to outrun certain notorious internet entries, by loading five or six different bios (from “separate” sources, of course) to crowd out the offending motes and beams onto page two of the search.

How the editor sees herself.

Since signing on last October, Sigone had written several hundred of those bios. The company for which she was working have editors (forty or so apparently) who routinely check all bios for grammar, spelling and content. They are especially sensitive to “plagarism.” By today’s definition of plagiarism, it is quite unlikely that the Bible ever would have taken shape. But that’s a horse of a different blog post.

The realm is so specialized that outfits like the one she wrote for employ sophisticated software that detect not only outright unattributed copying, but also grey-areas such as paraphrasing or rewriting. I don’t know how a term paper gets drafted anymore.

Our heroine.

As to what transgression got her fired? We’re still trying to piece that together. She had written a bio about an architect whose professional credo drifted into the neighborhood of Ayn Rand’s John Galt–relentlessly committed to his architectural principles and ideals. Sigone’s subject employed very technical terms in the information he provided.

Hearth and home.

He was all about chimneys and fireplaces, hearth and home, or some such. Go ahead. Thesaurus me that. Chimney. Hearth. To make things worse John Galt donated technical bon mots–yer fascias and chimney pots.

Let’s see. What’s another word for this thing?

Corbelling. That’s a good one. What’s another word for corbelling? Oh, don’t go there. You don’t even want to know what a thicket that is! These words are the resultant distilled crystalizations of years of tribes of architects wandering in the verbal desert attempting to give name to undefinable concepts. Fascia. Corbelling. Cornice. Amen.



Now, Sigone’s only previous run-in with an editor in all the time she had contributed biographies was with a woman named Kat. She accused Sigone of plagiarism. It should be pointed out that Sigone has impressive credentials of her own. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa in Religious Studies from the University of Washington. She attended Oxford. She holds masters degrees from Northwestern University in History and Creative Writing.

It would seem that if she were to have exhibited any sort of propensity for kyping the work of others it probably would have been discovered before her entry into the oh-so demanding world of  biographies designed to increase Search Engine Optimization. Good lord! How much is there to say about most of these people in the first place?

Anyway, it just so happened that Kat was patrolling the plagiarism front that day, diligently calling out all the little word thieves out there in her temporary domain. She sent back Sigone’s bio for corrections with offending passages shaded in yellow. Rather than to quibble, Sigone merely deleted the offending passages, thus ending any conflict. But hearth and corbelling and fascias remained.

How the contractor sees the editor.

The next thing Sigone knew, she had been terminated. Apparently Kat felt compelled to report to management whatever gross violation she had detected. Sigone had stolen copy. Beyond a shadow of a doubt. Hearth. Corbelling. Fascias.

And Sigone was gone. She wrote an impassioned plea to management that her job was very important to her, vital financially, and she asked for another chance. She did not receive the courtesy of a reply.

Corporations are people too, Captain Willard

It’s internet work. All employer/employee business is conducted online. It makes it easy to be impersonal, one would suppose. An email and you’re hired. An email and you’re fired. Clean as a snail crawling along the edge of a straight razor. No responsibility toward any sort of human exchange. It’s all business, you see. Corporations are people too, my friend. But they’re not very good at interpersonal relations. There’s no profit in caring.

Yes,sir. Corporations are people too. Can I get you anything, Mister Koch?

Corporations may be people, but that doesn’t make them persons. And, in the end, the people who are persons end up being consumed body and soul by corporations that are merely people, my friend. No moral accountability, our accountant handles all of that. But, hey–we’re the job creators.

And it’s so convenient  for purported human beings to hide behind the corporate veil of anonymity, affording them the luxury to freely express themselves without fear of discovery of the little man (or woman) cringing just on the other side of that curtain.

Excuse me. Uh. Help?

This is the climate that many if not most of us must endure in order to remain employed. Cynical? You bet. Cowardly? Surely. Just do as you’re told, take what you’re given, and keep your mouth shut. Don’t rock the boat. And don’t expect anything from your employer. They don’t care what happens to you.

Oh, you think I’m leaning a little hard on the vitriol? Let’s see. How can I tell this tale? The very few of you who read my blog know that a few months back I wrote a piece about the shameful joy I felt upon hearing that my former employer was experiencing financial problems. Just scroll down a post or two and you can read the rest. “20 Years of Schoolin’…”

I had my fun with Small Egg Roll and that was pretty much the end of it for me. From everyone I spoke to, I’d struck a blow for the little guy; pip-pip, hip-hip and all that. But, because of my Luddite-ness (also explicated in greater detail somewhere below this entry), my Luddity, if you will, I was not aware that another chapter was unfolding.

Riff McWingo

Yeah, I’d heard about the post-blog email Brendan had received from Riff McWingo telling him that he was dead to Small Egg Roll for spreading the word about the corporation’s financial misfortunes. Brendan was, of course, crushed. It would have been more crushing for him but for the fact that he no longer worked there. I think they were dead to him before he was dead to them.

No, what I didn’t know was that I had received an email of my own. A comment on that particular blog post had appeared. Buko, my web administrator, found it. I never would have. I don’t even know where to look for comments on my website. That’s still a long way away in my realm.

How can I put this?

But I received a comment from one “Superchick 474” regarding my blistering Small Egg Roll blog. It wasn’t a very nice comment. Downright hateful. Buko didn’t even want to tell me about it. I reminded him that I had been a music “critic” in Portland for over thirty years. I’ve heard it all. Really. Even this:

Ahh, Scrooge McOldAsFuck, I see you’re whining as always. Haven’t you died yet? How your pathetic excuse of a heart and cynical outlook haven’t killed you yet, I have no idea.

The letters I get!

My guess is that you were let go for your continuously shitty attitude and inability to get things done. It is true that if you don’t like your job, someone else will. Nothing is more toxic than a shitty attitude and you still seem to have a copious amount of that.

When the good Lord does take your life, and hopefully soon, I can only hope that a homeless man with AIDS pisses on your grave to give you a taste of all the venom that you spread.

Rest in peace, Old Balls.

Well that was bracing! Honestly, and I may be biased here, but that seemed rather spleeny and mean-spirited, don’t you think? I didn’t wish any misfortune on Small Egg Roll in my blog. I’m quite aware they can bring that on themselves with their own dark karma without my help. Schadenfreude? Well, yes, maybe.

And schadenfreude, while certainly not an admirable sentiment, seems a damn sight better than expressing disappointment over the fact that someone has yet to undergo greatly anticipated hardship (death). That seems downright nasty, though, in this instance, not totally unanticipated.

L’amé McWingo

The prevailing thinking among members of the Wasted Talent Pool is that this piece of work came from the desk of daddy’s little nepot, L’amé (like the shiny shiny fabric) McWingo. It is certain that it came from inside the walls of Small Egg Roll, as Brendan and I and several Talent Poolers recognized the IP address. Buko was able to confirm this fact, tracking the address back to its source.

Whether or not she was sharing the corporate (family) sentiments, I cannot say. Nor is it clear if she was acting in an emissarial capacity for the firm. I mean, lesser men might read all of this as a veiled threat. Without doubt not a wish for well!

And it’s so poorly written. Good Lord, here’s your chance to really smoke it to me, to really tell me off, put me in my place, and that’s the best you could do? What sort of college education did your dad finance anyway? You didn’t even say “bitch slap.” Cranks always say “bitch slap” to/about me. I don’t know why.

McOld as wha’?

The ironies begin with the salutation: Ahh, Scrooge McOldAsFuck. What thuh?  I worked for notorious tightwads and their ambassador is referring to ME as McScrooge (the rich grandfather in Donald Duck comics)? Oh, that’s perfect! It was I withholding wealth from the corporate maw. How dare I? It was all my fault. Coulda called me Mister Selfish and just cut to the chase.

It’s a textbook example of deflection: the patently Republican ploy of blaming one’s adversary for precisely the trespasses for which they themselves are culpable.

I guess to a recent college graduate, working for her dad, I would seem old as fuck. Apparently the company sanctioned this assessment–although I’d never heard anything of the sort while I worked there. I’m not sure how to take this pronouncement, as heretofore I had not yet thought of myself as old, let alone “old as fuck” (which, according to Wikipedia, is pretty fuckin’ old)

And then the whole Mc thing. In my blog I called her family McWingo and now she’s calling me McOldAsFuck. I think this shows an appalling lack of originality. Probably a Business Admin major. Whining as always. I bitch. I complain. I object. I question. I beg to differ. But I don’t whine. Not particularly well thought out, I’d say.

Haven’t you died yet? How your pathetic excuse of a heart and cynical outlook haven’t killed you yet, I have no idea.

Many have wondered if this line was some sort of veiled threat. She seems awfully attached to the idea of something killing me. It sounds malicious. Disappointed. Like, “Aren’t you dead yet? Why aren’t you dead yet?” What does she know and when did she know it? As if she can’t figure out why the poisoning hasn’t taken effect yet.


Why, L’amé? It’s because my father was Rasputin and I know how to hold my poison. That’s why. But, I will admit to being cynical. Fifteen years at Small Egg Roll would make a cynic of a saint. Although saints work at a better pay scale, I’m told. Cynics have to take what they can get. Obviously.

Saint George the Dragonslayer

I have a rockin’ patron saint, but not a patron cynic. Although if I were to have a patron cynic, it would be Saint George Carlin, the Dragonslayer.

My guess is that you were let go for your continuously shitty attitude and inability to get things done.

Where would you like me to put this?

“Let go.” That sounds so diplomatic. “Set free” would have been nice. “Allowed to leave.” Shitty attitude and inability to get things done doesn’t ring quite true somehow. You’d think the braintrust would have sussed that out within the prior fifteen years of my employ–over the duration of which I managed to dump into their coffers 30-plus million dollars in sales lucre, while the company’s fortunes grew sextupally. Just sayin’. The empire’s attitude got shitty long before mine did. My wealth sure as hell didn’t grow sextupally.

It is true that if you don’t like your job, someone else will.

Atlas preparing to shrug.

Well, in this case, that isn’t altogether true–since my accounts were given to the other members of the sales-staff to quell their rampant disapproval for having their commissions slashed in half (Field General Guppy J. Lapdog, VP of Sales, told us we’d “come out ahead” with the new configuration–yeah, right. The “royal” we). So, no one likes my old job. There is none to like. Small Egg Roll “discontinued” my department. Whatever that’s supposed to mean.

When the good Lord does take your life, and hopefully soon, I can only hope that a homeless man with AIDS pisses on your grave to give you a taste of all the venom that you spread.

This is God speaking.

Now, this is so full of confused thinking it’s difficult to fully ravel. But the sentiments are again clearly Republican in nature. In their world, the “good lord” takes the lives of the people they don’t like. And hopefully soon. There you go, brevity is next to godliness–the good lord apparently receiving directives from L’amé via the red phone hotline.

I can only hope that a homeless man with AIDS pisses on your grave to give you a taste of all the venom that you spread.

Here’s the deal. After I’m dead, I’m hardly likely to “taste” any venom at all. But it’s really not within my control nor of any concern to me who pisses venom on my grave, as there will be none upon which to piss: after my cremation. My first wish was to have my carcass left in the woods for the scavengers to devour, but apparently that’s not legal. Otherwise, I suppose it would be easier to just dump my corpse in front of Small Egg Roll and let the scavengers there do the job.

Venom pissing applicant.

And then, to drag a poor homeless man into this and to give him AIDS, no less–while he’s pissing venom on somebody’s grave (’cause it ain’t mine). Girl, you read too many graphic novels in school when you should have been studying and attending class. Or maybe it’s all that trashy Japanese video product you’re forced to promote for your corporate family overlords.

Rest in peace, Old Balls.

Old balls at rest.

Well, that’s a nice sentiment. When I have rested in my life, it has always been in great peace, owing to the fact that my conscience is relatively clear at this point in the procession of my days. I have been more generous than selfish, which is more than I can say for Small Egg Roll.

And how did you know my porn name is Old Balls? You’ve been peeking again!

Today Sigone came home from her volunteer position at a non-profit clinic, to which she devotes a couple of days a month. She does this because she loves the emotionally challenging work and she is extremely talented at it. It fulfills her. She remarked as to how everyone who works there seems happy and glad to be there. They’re all supportive of one another. They treat you with respect and act like they’re glad to be there and glad that you’re there with them.

Will Work For Justice

I thought about it for a second and I couldn’t recall any job I had like that–except being a musician, which no one considers a job anyway.  Musicians play music, they don’t work it. Okay. The good ones work it, but that’s a different blog.

Actually, thinking back, Riff McWingo did present me with a very gracious card of appreciation for all my efforts. That was back in 1998. From that point forward–for the subsequent thirteen years–it would seem I was no longer appreciated (word to the wise, L’amé).

A lot has changed since 1998 when Bill Clinton was president and life seemed okay. Life is not okay anymore. If it wasn’t okay for me alone, then I would be willing to deal with that. But it’s not okay for just about everyone I know and everyone they know.

AIDS venom of a homeless man on my hands!

As the prospect of corporate personhood grows, the state of humanity declines exponentially. What will life be like when corporations are the only acknowledged “people” and real humans are mere inconveniences to be dealt with like cows that need a morning milking?

Fortunately, according to some timetables, there will be a poor homeless man with AIDS pissing venom on someone’s (Peter Graves’?) grave that he thinks is mine, and I won’t have to worry about any of this. But lots of luck to the rest of you in your brave new world. May the corporation be with you, my friend.




Ever vigilant, duly diligent Mister Buko rightly noted that I had forgotten to include my regular installment of Biblical Haiku (copyright pending, all you crazy-assed editors out there).

The Bible V

If Revelations

Should end up turning out true,

Me and you are screwed.



All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


20 Years of Schoolin’ and They Put You on the Day Shift

I’ve been reflecting upon my work history this week. “History” sounds so formal. Like there’s some rich succession of events. One must ask: Does a tornado have a history? What is the history of the wind? But I do have one–a work history that is.

And to call it checkered is an affront to all self-respecting checkerboards everywhere. It is a trail of tears. If jobs were food groups, then I would say I have a very full plate. Jeez. I’ve already burnt through four analogies and I haven’t even gotten this thing off the ground yet. Better get rolling here.

It started this week when Brendan sent out an email with the heading Schadenfruede. That word has crept into the vocabulary of all of us expatriates, of late, in watching the slow deterioration of our former employer’s business. We are all taking great delight in the misfortune of that company. That joy is not misplaced.


We’ll call the company in question Small Egg Roll. Small Egg Roll is a distributor of compact discs and, increasingly, DVDs. They represent music labels and artists from all over the world. All kinds of music. I had been working there for fifteen years as a sales rep, when they dumped me at the side of the road in March of 2011. It wasn’t that I hadn’t been productive. I brought in more than $30 million in sales over the years. They did okay by me.

No, they got rid of me because they could. Small Egg Roll is owned by a trio of brothers–the eldest, Cloyd McWingo, and his younger twin brothers Riff and Biff. They know plenty about business and absolutely nothing about music. They know even less about humanity. But, hey. When you’re raking in the cash by walking all over people, who needs a soul?

Yeah, we sell CDs. How many you want?

That is pretty much the story of the entire music business, actually. A bunch of innocuous businessmen screwing over the artists who generate the income. Ever wondered what kind of singing voice Clive Davis has? No, me either. Ever wondered why Lester Chambers of the Chambers Brothers is penniless after not having any royalties paid to him for over thirty years? Ask Clive Davis.

Hey and Clive’s a real prince compared to the boys at Small Egg Roll. To them “employees” are expendable chess pieces. That these “employee” chits might represent someone with a life and a family is not part of their equation. Why should it be? Their only concern is the bottom line.

We all worked in service of their bottom line. I got booted (I think) because I made the most noise when they arbitrarily cut the sales commissions in half. Either that or because I was inflating severely the cost of their employee health insurance plan. No, it wasn’t like the company was having trouble financially. They were making money hand over fist at Small Egg Roll.

Field General Guppy J. Lapdog VP of Sales

They cut our commissions in half because they knew they could get away with it. It’s an employers market. If you don’t like it, you can head on down the road. There’s fifty people standing behind you wanting your job. Eat it. 

VP of Sales, Guppy J. Lapdog was the perfect field general–his only directive: to bully the staff into working twice as hard for half the pay. No excuses. Difficulties wth an account? No big deal. We’ll give it to someone else. Problem solved. Health issues? Surgery? Right. Can you still make the Monday morning sales call? We need your numbers.

It’s all about moving the product, you see. This is the fallacy in the public’s perception of the music industry. They think it’s about music. Puh. It’s about $$$, baby. Dinero. It’s about product and units and how many units of this product can you dump on that account?  You said they’d take fifty and they only took forty. What’s up with that?


If you’re not actually sitting there in the room at the moment with your jaw hanging slackly, you don’t fully comprehend the absolute inanity of these weekly conversations: “Well, why didn’t they take fifty units?” “Because they only needed forty.” “Why didn’t you sell them fifty? You said you’d sell them fifty.” “I guess I over estimated by ten.” “Why didn’t you say forty, then?” “Actually I did say forty and you put me down for fifty.” “Then why didn’t you sell fifty?” Etc. Those were usually the high points of our absurd get-togethers.

Monday morning sales call (a re-enactment)

And it wasn’t as if these interogations were limited to the sales force in the field and the two or three people who comprised the home office sales staff. Hell no. General Guppy J. Lapdog had to drag in the Product Managers and their assistants. Web Sales. Special Markets. The Promotions manager. Data Entry (don’t ask me). Running the numbers, I guess. Hell, it was like a party in there every Monday, all of us crowded in a little conference room.

Except you had this little asshole weasel on the other end of the speakerphone chewing your ass out in front of all these bored, apathetic peons, because you only sold forty units when you said you’d sell fifty. None of this pertained one whit to anyone else in the room and it wasted valuable man hours by the man days. It was, more or less, a weekly public excoriation. Sort of a ritual.

But I said forty units and you wrote down fifty.

Yeah, I know. No wonder they cut our commissions!

Constant pressure. Never good enough. It was a “corporate” attitude. Trickle down. Treat ’em like shit. They’ll love it, or someone else will. Yadda, yadda. Needless to say, what trickled down was an acidic cynicism rife with black humor and outright hostility (a good chunk of it mine, I admit–I had been there the longest).

What did we sell? Gee, all kinds of junk, along with some really solid music, interspersed with the occasional nugget. A lot of back line stuff. All genres, you name it. Opera, Classical, Jazz, New Age, World, Indie rock. We had our own distribution lines set up to be the contracted conduit for hundreds of labels, coming in from all over the world. It was our mission to put units of their product in all the retail outlets among our various account bases. From Borders to Starbucks. From Silver Platters to Downtown Music Gallery and every place in between.

And you might justifiably ask, so why the hell did you keep working at the place if it was so damn terrible? Well, it was the music business! My entire adult life has been steeped in music. That’s all I know. It was the perfect job for me. My accounts were all the independent retail music stores across the country.

Typical independent record store

While the other sales reps took care of the Virgin and Tower Records chains and the like, my accounts consisted of little independently owned stores across the country. Those stores are run by people who genuinely love music and they support the artists in any way they can. They care. And they are not getting rich caring. A lot of them are going out of business because…well, I don’t have to tell you about downloading music from the internet.

Prototypical independent record store owner

And that’s the part of my job that I loved–working with guys like that. They really know music, revere it with a passion. Each one is a specialist. I received such a great music education from each of them. They had all become friends to me, even though I only knew most of them as voices on the phone. And I miss them. I never got to say goodbye to most of them. I was just gone one day, after fifteen years.

But that’s how the gentlemen at Small Egg Roll roll. To them class is a seating arrangement on an aircraft. The amount of genuine talent they allowed to sift through their empire, potential fully unrealized, could fill one of those aircraft. Seriously. I have dubbed us the Wasted Talent Pool. We represent all facets of the Small Egg Roll office experience. For, Small Egg Roll is nothing if not indiscriminate when it comes to the indifference extended to their office staff of approximately fifty.

And we were treated like kings compared to the treatment warehouse workers received. And it was only getting worse. I spent a lot of time out in the warehouse, gathering information from this CD or that, or checking on critical deliveries, or tracking shipments.

One thing Small Egg Roll expected from all it’s employees was abiding loyalty and devotion–inexplicably, given their cavalier attitude toward those same people. Of the forty or fifty who worked in the warehouse, there were several contingents of immigrants: Hispanic men and women, Asian women and Russian women. In all cases English was a second language. The remainder of the warehouse workforce consisted of an array of tattooed young outlaws who could obviously never find any sort of employment outside of a music distributor’s warehouse.

Hey, hey. No standing around. Time is money. My money. Get to work!

For that and other cultural reasons, the various factions typically tended to keep to themselves. I was cool with the punks. I got along very well with the the Hispanics and Asians, but the Russian women were baffling to me. Still, they all worked very hard. Very diligently. They were quite serious about their jobs. The income was of obvious extreme importance to the well-being of their families.

At one time Small Egg Roll was relatively generous toward its employees. When I first started, management gave out year-end bonuses, but they discontinued that the following year. I don’t know why. It seemed like profits were growing. We moved to newer, larger facilities twice–the second time into a massive space. That was four years ago: when things really began to change. The McWingos used to stage wonderful company picnics in the summer time. It served to manifest real camaraderie among the troops. Softball and hotdogs, games for the kids, and all that. And even more impressive was the annual Christmas party, which, while never lavish, still reflected a vague sense of communal sharing in the bounty of the year’s harvest.

But, as the company grew, that died too. The summer picnics were discontinued. The Christmas affairs became a quick lunch at the Country Kitchen. They’d give out a few “Awards” and celebrate this anniversary or that and back to work everybody. The last few years, it became bad juju to get an award for anything. Salesmen of the Year and celebrated long-tenured employees often seemed to get terminated sometime soon after the Christmas “party.”

I celebrated my 15th anniversary with Small Egg Roll at the 2010 Christmas party. I sat next to General Guppy J. Lapdog. He slapped me on the back when I received my award: a framed CD. Maritza from the warehouse received her ten-year commemoration at the same time.

It did seem a bit odd when they let Maritza go two weeks later (I probably should have been paying closer attention). Apparently someone in management (probably Biff the Tinkerer) must have read a magazine article and promptly instituted a new algorhithm as to the pace of work conducted in the warehouse. Maritza had fallen beneath standards and had to be let go, for the betterment of the company. Word was that others would be laid-off as well. They were. All the older Asian women were given the heave-ho.

You know, we’d had a pretty good year in 2010. Right after Michael Jackson died we were able to ship out a huge buttload of a DVD of dubious origin–a live Jacko Japanese concert (pretty good, too)–before we got the wholly anticipated cease and desist order from Sony. We’d had a release from the Meal Ticket Orchestra, around which the company’s entire fiscal year orbited. That album alone raked millions into the coffers.

The efforts of the McWingo’s employees had helped Small Egg Roll to thrive. The brothers were free not only to invest in a newly built home for the company headquarters, but to acquire several smaller, niche music distribution “one-stops” for the customary fire sale pittance. Little junior McRomneys there. Small Egg Roll was on its the way. Players! In addition to the acquisitions, lucrative distribution channels had been opened and secured with favorable long-term contracts. The boys were rolling in assets. An empire. “Alistair, bring me my Ferrari. I’m in the mood for high-speed touring.”

But, as we all know, an empire is only as as strong as its weakest bottom line. By eliminating any duplication of sales and administrative duties between the various acquired distribution channels, cutting commissions in half and streamlining warehouse operations productivity, Small Egg Roll was positioned to vastly improve profits the good old fashioned way. They squeezed it.

The serious migration of talent out of Small Egg Roll began about six months before I got the boot. Many more left after I did. In a year’s time twelve of fifteen key sales and marketing positions had turned over, some twice.

In that time the pressure there only grew more intense and more insane. We were selling CDs and DVDs, not vital organs–or weapons. Something had changed for the McWingos and for General Lapdog. Maybe it was retirement looming on the horizon–the desire to feather one’s pillow and re-tool the leather on the saddle. Going for the gold and all that. Who the hell knows?

But whatever it was they had totally lost it.  They weren’t just sucking time and effort out of us, they were going for the very marrow of our humanity. They wanted it all. I had a sign on my cubicle wall that said: “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.” You know, it really did feel like the ninth circle of hell.

Liberty left not long after I did. She’d been there six years or so. Brendan bailed last month, after even longer than that. Even Lydia got out of there and she’d been there twenty years–since the place opened up. I got “laid off.” Those guys quit outright. They just couldn’t take it anymore. None of us could.

Although, as I told some members of the Wasted Talent Pool recently, I have had some really terrible jobs and terrible employers (oh yes, more about them in the future), none nearly managed to combine irrational greed and selfishness with bizarre, mind grinding, tedious tension in a way as needlessly oppressive as in my experience at Small Egg Roll

Cloyd McWingo, President,       Small Egg Roll Industries

Increasingly, this is the landscape of working life in the United States. All of these poor hapless serfs toiling in servitude to the whims of overpaid thug lords. There was no reason for us to be flogged psychologically and emotionally at Small Egg Roll. No one shirked. We all cared about our jobs. And we would have cared a lot more about the company if the company had cared about us. The whole situation was unnecessary and counter-productive. There are some aspects of performance that can’t be measured or quantified.

We were unfortunate victims of a few horrible individuals who found some strange sadistic gratification in bullying their employees. Brittle egos so delicately inflated they constantly had to convince themselves that they were true captains of industry, gifted with insight and prescience not available to normal mortal men, steering their ships of commerce through rough economic waters. This from three brothers who didn’t even like music and wouldn’t know a tom tom from a tuba–or care, really. And here we are back to product and units. And this is how we live our lives. In increments and equations, divisible by bits and bytes, zeroes and ones.

So, with all this in mind, around came the email from Brendan with the heading Schadenfruede. First of all, his replacement in the Classical Music Whipping Boy position, abruptly quit after only a month on the job, citing Cloyd McWingo’s boorish behavior as the primary motivator. If you knew Cloyd, this would come as no surprise whatsoever. I had another sign on my cubicle wall that read: “Sidewalk of the Salted Slug,” a description of Cloyd’s solipsistic morning trudge through the office (on those rare days when he was actually in the office).

That revelation alone would have been enough to brighten any former employee’s day. But then thursday the news came down that Small Egg Roll lost a key component in their product line, when a long time supplier elected to have their high-margin product distributed elsewhere. So sad. What’s more, everyone in the Small Egg Roll organization was going to be compelled to take a 10-20% reduction in pay to stanch the bleeding, even management (!).

I feel bad for the regular employees there. That pay-cut will hurt the ten-dollar-an-hour wage slaves in the warehouse a lot more than it will the McWingo boys. You can be sure they’re looking out for number ones, and have their money socked away all over the place. But just the same, as someone whose life, going forward, has been irrevocably and royally screwed by their indiscriminate hateful piggery, all I can say is: good riddance.


As a brief update, I recently sent off my first query letters (emails actually) regarding my novel Unreal Gods to three legitimate literary agents. I haven’t heard back, nor is it reasonable for me to expect to, as emailed queries are not even given the dignity of rejection notices.  But, as some may recall, the original assignment was to write a haiku describing in vivid detail the plot of the Bible. Here is my third installment.

The Bible III

Adam called to Eve

Baby, pick me an apple.

And that’s all she wrote.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.