Unemployment

During my seven year stretch in the green hole, I had various jobs and also collected unemployment.  That was after I got laid off from the brick layer tender job.  And because that was a union job that paid maybe seven bucks an hour, collecting the unemployment, $65 a week, was invisible manworth it.  (How much you get from unemployment is based on how much you earn)  I didn’t try to collect unemployment when I got laid off from the Newberry’s Department store because the pay was so low that the 30 or so bucks a week I would get wouldn’t be worth the agony of getting it.

You had to go to the unemployment office on a particular day of the week and sometimes the line would stretch clear out into the street.  You could stand in that line for hours as it slowly moved into the building and toward the three or four clerks, I guess they were, that stood at the their posts behind the counter.  And then you had to wait in suspense since it was a single line to see which of the people behind the counter you got, and that did make a difference because one of them, at least, made me feel like shit when I walked up to the window.  When he asked me if I had been looking for work and where I had been looking (which I hadn’t been doing), he made me feel like a lying thief.

I had enough problems in the parasite department as it was.  I had gone off to college to stand on my own two legs and flopped instead.  I paid my parents, when I had some extra, for my roach infested room and the food I ate.  But I didn’t pay them regularly and mostly used the money I made to pay for gas for the car and insurance and to buy cigarettes and some clothes now and then.  They never asked me for more money which was good of them, I guess, but I still felt like a parasite and a loser of the first order.  And my parents sure as hell didn’t do anything to assuage that feeling.  They didn’t speak once about or ask questions about my so-called “mental” problem.

But collecting unemployment I sure felt like a parasite   I was a cigarette smoking parasite that, at times, looked pretty much like a derelict, with my untrimmed beard and my hair sticking out every which away.  And I had real bad BO and also terrible dandruff both in my hair and my beard.

So I was a chain smoking parasite with real bad dandruff.  The appearance situation was made worse by my inability on occasion to go into the barber shop because if I did the barber would know I had come in for a hair cut.  I guess you could say that the barber made me self-conscious, but it wasn’t exactly like that.  I felt he could read my mind maybe, or see right through me, as if I were made out a very thin plastic, to my real intention which was to get a hair cut.

So I felt real shitty collecting unemployment and I guess I looked pretty shitty too.

Human Blood

When I was starting to plow through that list of the 101 greatest books, I was taking biology.  I don’t remember finding many science books on those lists.  Maybe Darwin’s Origins or Newton’s Principia.  But that was about all.  I couldn’t have said it then but what I was studying by reading frenchpancreasthose 101 was human beings; or in a round about way, I was studying myself as a human being. I didn’t think of myself as studying culture; I didn’t feel uncultured or decultured.  Those books were a great bounty, an overflowing of the human spirit. Gifts.  That’s how I saw it.  Manna from Heaven.

I liked biology because it too was mostly about human beings, at least the biology we were taught.  We had the beginnings of some ecology stuff and that was interesting, but what we had mostly was the human body and its diverse and intertwined parts.  How could one not be interested in the pancreas since one had one. Or the liver, with its intrequing name.  One cannot live without one’s liver. So I studied hard and it was easy and interesting to know the names for the parts of one’s body.

 And what do you know but the teacher—he did know his stuff–, an ex-military little punk with the vestigial remains of a flattop in his thinning hair, said, “Well, one of you got a 100 percent on this last test.  So I guess I am getting soft and that test was too easy.  Maybe I will make another and have you take it.”  Well everybody knew who had gotten that hundred, and for a second, I felt really put on the spot by the idea that my success would make everybody take another test.  But he was joking.  If you can call that a joke. Kind of sick military humor, where whoever you might be you have got to be the toughest, especially if you are boss or a teacher.

And we had to write a research paper on some biological topic for the class, so I decided I would research blood.  Human blood, I mean.  And I enjoyed looking into it; blood was a happening place.  Lots of shit was going down there.  But I rapidly ran out of good sources.  I must have been inspired because I called a guy at the state university that one of my neighbors knew and asked him if I could visit him and get more information on the blood.  So one Saturday I rode my bike clear over to the university and the guy showed me all kinds of periodicals stacked up there in his office.  He asked me a bit about what I knew and gave me periodicals or copies of things he thought I might understand.

And I whacked out an organized 15 pager on human blood.  I had a hard time in spots understanding what they were saying.  But I cut out what I couldn’t understand or put in some quotations when I couldn’t understand what they were saying enough to put it in my own words, though I did think I understood it in their words, or let’s say I understood the need for their words at this particular spot in the paper.  I worked about as hard as I ever worked on a paper in high school.  And I can remember getting it back and slowing opening the cover to see I had gotten a fucking B+ and the single comment: “You could not have understood what you wrote here.”

Now what the fuck was that about?  I’d really like to know.  Had he accused me of plagiarism that would have been one thing?  But if it had been plagiarism that shit-heel would have given me an F, so what the fuck was he saying.  I couldn’t have said–and I knew it–that at the moment I got the paper back I understood everything I had written in it.  But at the moment I had finished the paper I did.  It had taken him a fucking month to return the papers, so sure I had forgotten some stuff.  That’s the nature of biology.

That grade hurt in a bad way because I tended to idealize my teachers, and felt maybe he was right rather than the fuck didn’t understand what I had written so he had decided that I could not have possibly understood it given his nature superiority.  What a fuck!  Completely lacking in any generosity of spirit.  Had I received a paper from a kid that looked like he had written what he couldn’t understand and I couldn’t understand it either I would give the kid a break and give him an A.  Why the fuck should he be knocked down for my ignorance.  Not my biology teacher.  Since he as teacher was superior to any student in that room, he couldn’t admit he didn’t know something.

Every body should be required to read those 101 books.  It doesn’t take long to know that you don’t know shit.

Ab Ovum

We were visiting one of my wife’s old friends from back in her college days.  She was married to an FBI agent.  We went out for Chinese food and I remember it seemed like a damn long drive for Chinese food.  But this was their favorite place where the Chinese food was real Chinese food, I guess.  Anyway, on the way back, their kid, Katie, who was maybe 4, started asking questions.  She had been listening to my wife and her friend talking about the good old days back in college, and cracked eggKatie piped up, “Where was I?”

The other adults seemed a bit confused; they wanted to know what she was asking exactly.  Me, though, since I can regress at the drop of a hat am usually in tune with children and knew what she was up to.  “She wants to know where she was back when you were in college.”  “Honey, you weren’t born yet?”  But this kid had her teeth into something.  “I know but where was I?”  I tried to joke, “You were a gleam in your daddy’s eye.”  But she wouldn’t have any of that, so finally I just said, “You weren’t anywhere because you were not yet.”  “OK,” she said and seemed satisfied. Kids can be pretty logical philosophers; apparently she wasn’t freaked out by her metaphysical question.  She just wanted an answer.

What she was asking really wasn’t where she was but how the hell was it possible for anything to be going on before I got here.  Kids assume that they “create” everything; mommy and daddy didn’t really start until they get there.  Maybe we outgrow that idea at some point.  Maybe not.  I think I see lots of adults around who think the world did not exist before they got into it.  These people hate the idea of a past or if there was a past the present is a fuck lot better than back there in the past, whenever the fuck that was.

The idea of “progress” is a psychological defense mechanism against the idea that there was a past that might have been better than our present.  I once sat through a series of lectures in social psychology for undergraduates.  The professor was really pretty good, energetic at least.  She gave three lectures on the Freudian theory of aggression; and then she started lecturing on the modern sociological theory of aggression.  Before she did thought, she said Freud was mostly wrong.  “Shit,” the kid said next to me, “then why did she lecture on him three times?”

Good question, Dude.  My answer would be that modern academics believe in the progress of their so-called disciplines.  If Freud was right, then somebody back there in the idiotic past might have got it more right than a bunch of sociologists in the present.  Modern and post-modern academics kill the past by pretending they have got the answer and all those dumb fucks before them were looking up their assholes.

So this pretty much reams history.  The question isn’t really whether Freud was right or wrong; but what can we learn from what he says about when he was and what can we learn about what he says about when he was that might help us to understand better where we are.    

101 Greatest Books of Western Barbarism

After Crime and Punishment, I decided I wanted to read more good stuff.  Up to that time I had been reading stacks and stacks of science fiction when, unlike today, stacks and stacks of science hobbitfiction were not available.  So I bought and read some of those science fiction magazines made out of some grim grey paper that paid their writers like 2 cents a word.  I had sort of dipped into the “classics” like the Deerslayer—Fenimore Cooper stuff–; but from that I had moved to more popularized juvenile versions of Fenimore Cooper stuff and read a whole series of novels that seemed mostly to involve Indians chasing white persons or white persons chasing Indians through miles and miles of forest  for days on end. Guys back then could sure run.

But after C&P I decided to go for the real thing; but since I didn’t know what the real things were I started checking out books with titles like 100 Greatest Books of The World; or 100 Greatest Books of the Western World; or, maybe my favorite, 101 Greatest Books of the Western World.  That extra 1 seemed to acknowledge the futility of making a list of the 100 Greatest books of the Western World. But I needed guidance and having none I did the best I could with those books; I went down the list and started checking out the ones that looked most promising.  I planned to read the whole fucking lot and to come to know all that there was to know about everything that might be known.

Now of course the “canon,” or any sort of consensus about the 100 greatest books of the Western World is probably out of the question, unless you are one of those persons that likes to list things.  The “canon” has been all busted up.  Voices not previously present are.  Plato is an old dead white guy.  Obviously back then I was mislead in my reading materials by those lists and read stuff that some now consider merely testimony to the stupidity of a society dominated by white dead men.  I acknowledge the stupidity of that society.  But honestly, I don’t think the world is necessarily better off when one can go on line and find lists of the 100 greatest books of the western (as compiled by newspapers responding to the voice of the people) and find the that the Lord of the Rings listed as the number one greatest book of the Western World.

The Lord of the Rings was popular back in the 60s too.  My girlfriend read it and recommended it to me.  I read a bit and decided it was pseudo profound mythological claptrap, though I didn’t say that to my girlfriend.  Those lists I read back in the early sixties didn’t have Harry Potter on it either (as some of the web lists do) and I maintain that Harry Potter is also pseudo profound mythological claptrap.  I make this judgment not as a protest against the breaking up of the canon or because I oppose the vox populi, but on the basis of my having read an awful lot of the work of those dead white men who represent the western tradition of informed barbarism.

Vets

Viet Nam vets are now old and gnarly.  They are a sort of passé cliché.  But back then they were young.  They were my age and coming back from the war.  I was working at a Broadway Departmentswift boat Store unloading the trucks and doing other odds and ends.  We got there early and all the guys on the dock as well as other people who worked there would gather by this one door and wait to be let in.  

We would knock on the door, or bang on it, or kick it, and start hollering and eventually this really old guy, with a belt of keys, would come down the aisle, about as slow as he could go and let us in.  Joe waited there with us.  He had been in Viet Nam, had long dirty looking dark hair, and looked like he was wasted a lot; he worked somewhere in the store, but not on the docks.  For some reason, that old man just got on Joe’s nerves and he would start to cussing the old man when he took his time getting to the door; Joe would cuss him every step the old man took down that long aisle.

 One day, out of nowhere, Joe didn’t cuss the guy but reared back and before anybody could do a thing kicked the fucking door with his steel tip work boot and broke it to pieces.  I didn’t know you could break a door like that, but Joe did.  He had strung telephone wires through the bush in Viet Nam.  He would creep along in the bushes with the wire so that people up at the front fighting could phone back.  One day he got shot and his left forearm was shattered.  Somebody said he was shot in two places, but I never saw the other place.

 I was a dishwasher at restaurant in a shopping center.  We had three cooks.  One big fat guy, an old lady who passed out from the heat a couple of times, and a young guy, who was mostly American Indian, who had a fine sharp featured face and thick black hair brushed back in an Elvis pompadour.  He had been back from Viet Nam for almost a year, and sometimes when I was washkng dishes, I turned around and he would be going like ack, ack, ack with a broom like it was a machine gun at me.  And once he stuck it right up to my asshole and did that and I almost jumped out of my skin. 

 He had been on one of those boats that go up rivers like in the movie, Apocalypse Now, and one day they got off the boat and were checking things out, and he said he saw the guy who shot him up in a tree, and he was hit in the stomach.  But, he said, somebody on his boat had got the fucker.

He had married this white woman who, from the picture he showed me, looked like she was maybe 300 pounds.  He had a child by her, and then they had split up.  She said he had emotional problems; he said she had cheated on him and he had emotional problems.  He wouldn’t pay child support, so most weekends he would check into the county jail and put in time for failure to provide child support. 

He asked me to go out drinking with him a few times, and in a way I sort of liked the guy.  But I am not a drinker.  And he told me that he had been in jail because he had been in a bar room fight and poked out a guy’s eye with a bottle, but they had put it back in. So he really couldn’t understand all the fuss. Really the guy scared me.

The New Math

I liked the sciences pretty much.  I liked biology quite a bit.  I saw a TV show about a guy who traveled all over checking out the health of the world’s bat population.  I thought that was a pretty sputnickgood job.  But my career in the sciences was screwed up by the Sputnik.  The Reds sent this up in 1957, an unmanned satellite that in pictures looked out as big as a basketball.  The Reds had got a jump on us.  We were behind in the technoscience race. And you’d have thought the sky was falling.

Somebody got the bright idea that the reason the Reds had got the jump lay with the backwardness of America’s school children.  So the experts got together and decided to cook up a whole new science curriculum based, no doubt, on the most advanced principles.  This new curriculum arrived at my school, not in the form of books, but copied manuscripts tacked together with humongous staples. 

The first time I got one of these books was in geometry.  We had a pretty good math teacher, but that whole year of geometry I never knew what the fuck was going on because the teacher didn’t know how to teach that stuff.  To scare us into trying, he told us our final grade for the course would be based on an exam the government was going to give us.  I got 28 right out of a 100 and was sure I had failed my first class.  But it turned out 28 right was pretty high and I got an A- for not understanding a damn thing the whole year.

Next year in chemistry was even worse.  We had another of those Xeroxed books and the teacher couldn’t make heads or tails of it.  All I remember about that class was staring at the periodic table above the teacher’s head.  At least in geometry I had learned about triangles and obtuse and acute angles and such, but chemistry I got nothing out of.  That’s too bad because now I understand, at least remotely, that the bridge between the animate and the inanimate, the living and deadness, consists of blind biochemical reactions and reductions.  I mean it could have been interesting.

 And my senior year trigonometry class—well, it didn’t have one of those new updated books.  We just had an idiot as a teacher.  We had maybe 15 people in that class; and again I struggled along trying my best to understand, but the teacher only seemed interested in telling us about what he had done the last weekend. 

I guess even back then the world was getting smaller because something the Reds did fucked up my possible career in the sciences.  So when it came to college, I went with my strengths, with what I thought I could do well at, and became an English major, not having the slightest idea what that was, and did not become, like a number of people at my high school, an engineer, a sensible thing for a working class student to do.

12 Caesars

The old lady said that in polite company three things were never discussed: religion, politics, and sex.  I guess we had an extremely polite family because none of these things were ever discussed; sex especially was not discussed.  I assume the old lady knew her four sons came equipped with penises.  But I don’t remember the word penis ever used.

12 caesarsBack in SC lacking bathroom facilities, we had a bath once a week whether we needed it or not.  In the summers, I remember we were lined up and one after another would step naked into a big wash tub and the old lady would more or less hose us down.  I can’t remember if she washed our male members; I am sort of glad I can’t.

When I arrived at the age of growing sexual interest, I knew I believe accurately how babies were made but that was about it.  And at that time, magazines and books on sexual subjects were remarkably absent.  “Playboy” magazine started coming out in the 50s, but it was kept in a special place in the drugstore and was covered with a plain brown paper wrapping.  Additionally, practicing safe sex could be awkward for a shy boy since condoms were not displayed out in the open but were locked up somewhere in the back and one had to ask the druggist for them explicitly and openly.

Being literarily inclined, I did more or less by accident lay my hands on Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, even though both were banned at the time for obsenity.  The latter was hard going, sort of murky, and hard to find the good parts.  Also there was stuff about sticking flowers in pubic hairs and the male figure had a number of names for this penis.  The book seemed a bit artsy-fartsy.  Personally, I have never named my penis.  Cancer was considerably better, clearer, more vivid and direct and I even liked reading some of the parts around the good parts.

But mostly I got my sex Ed. I think from taking Roman.  I mean Latin, but I like to call it Roman because learning Latin led me to learning about Rome.  You can learn a lot by learning Roman.  I came across Grave’s I, Cladius in the high school library; I read that and found it remotely titillating.  Unfortunately, the old lady who refused to recognize we had any right to privacy happened to pick up the book, read a bit of it, and got it banned from the school library because largely of its mention of Spanish Fly.

 This pissed me off.  In my edition of Claudius, Graves mentioned some of the sources for his book, so I went down to the public library and checked out a copy of Suetonius’ “Lives of the 12 Caesars.”  It had Latin on one page and English on the other, so my mother thought I was studying Roman.  Extra credit, I said. 

I get the feeling Suetonius’ was sort of an early gossip columnist and spared no smut or filthy details in his biographical treatments.  Nero, for example, was a pig of the first water.  He killed his mother I think.  He raped women regularly and married boys.  He liked to dress up at night in the skin of a bear, prowl alleys, and commit sadistic acts of sexual violence upon both sexes.  This might not seem very arousing, but then lines like “he fondled and kissed her breasts” could send me to fantasy land.  And I learned a hell of a lot about other stuff from Suetonius about politics, and just plain murder.

I think in the Bible somebody says nothing is new under the sun.  The Romans ruled by panem et circenses.   The same as today, I think.  We’ve got so much bread people are getting bloated, and as for circuses there’s no end of them.

Miss Tuttle and FDR

If a person thinks he can write that’s probably because somebody in the family does or somebody tells him he can.  In my case, it was the latter and the culprit was my 8th grade English teacher, Miss Tuttle.  She was young, dark haired, skinny and energetic, and she wore makeup in a way that you noticed  Also, I remembering the girl’s giggling at how she dressed; that was because they said she went to France every year and bought stuff over there.  

sentencediagramShe read something that I wrote and told me I had talent as a writer and that I wrote like Winston Churchill.  Given my mother’s England background, I knew who he was, though I didn’t know he had written any books.  Miss Tuttle’s way of encouraging my talent was to make me come in at lunch and diagram sentences on the blackboard to get my grammar down.  It did help, I guess, though I really learned grammar by taking Roman.  Years later I learned that Miss Tuttle was a graduate of Columbia Teacher’s College and had for much of her adult life an ongoing correspondence with Bertrand Russell.

 Who knows? Maybe Miss Tuttle was a “leftist” because she was the only teacher I ever had—aside from a couple of lectures as an undergraduate—who lectured to us and had us read stuff about the labor movement.  She told us about the Haymarket Massacre and how our government had held a show trial and put to death perfectly innocent anarchists.  Really pretty heady stuff for me; maybe brick layers had a sort of history too and perfectly appropriate stuff too to teach the kids of working class people, which we were really.

But I think we all thought we were middle class, or middle class in the making, like those people on TV.  So issues of class that have become more important to me as I have aged were pretty much written out of existence, just like Orwell says in 1984.  The people in charge write the histories and the histories that suit the middle class and their employers, the elite capitalist class, are middle class histories, human interest histories, when most of human history has been of inhuman interest only, about goddamn forces that squash people like bugs.

I was reading a labor history and I find it amazing that as recently as 60 years ago or so an actual president could run for office and say stuff like:

For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor-other people’s lives. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.

That was FDR talking in the 1930’s; and in light of today’s politics of delusion and denial, you have to wonder how anybody running for President today could fucking talk like that and still win.

Draft Dodgers

I was in my green hole on May 4, 1970 when I heard four students had been killed at Kent State by the National Guard.  Usually, I think about such things and then swallow it, but that day I felt like I just had to talk to somebody, so I drove 15 miles or so to this gas station where a guy I knew was pumping gas.

tiernamen squareWe weren’t really friends.  But we had known each other in high school.  He was a year behind me and when he graduated he went off to Harvard.  He was real bright, the son of a postman, and had red hair like me, but more orange.  He had heard about the Kent State thing, and while I went on about it, he didn’t seem much effected.  Finally, he said, leaning up against my car, “You are fucking innocent.”

That sort of stuck in my like a burr.  I don’t know what he had seen at Harvard, but he had seen stuff I had not seen and guess I never will.  I guess he had seen with his own eyes how people at the top act and talk about people that are not at the top.  For years after, he worked with an international leftist, marxist, trotskyite, union movement; he lived in a commune and worked in factories so he could organize workers.  When he applied for a job, he never put down that he had been graduated from Harvard because if he did, they were sure not to hire him.

Somebody back then said, he had learned more about politics from resisting the draft than he had ever learned or would ever learn from any political science class.  I had learned as I think Max Weber said, Society is God.  Or as Sartre said, Society decides who lives and who dies.  And politics is about the use and distribution of power with that society.  Or as Mao said, power comes from the barrel of a gun.  I had learned that when push comes to shove society doesn’t give a flying fuck about the individual, at least not about individuals who have no power and can’t defend themselves.  For such people there is no recourse.  They are like that kid in Tiananmen Square.  The tank just rolls over them and you’re just a red spot on the pavement.

Maybe at Harvard my friend had met the people who drive the tank, for whom the draft and the war was a matter of inconvenience because they had doctors and lawyers and connections and ways to get in the National Guard with no sweat.  And not like it was for so many a ball crushing major mother of a titanic fuck up that altered their lives in significantly destructive ways.

At Harvard I suspect, he met the real draft dodgers.

 

 

Modern Art

Everybody in high school complained about going to summer school.  “I am going to fucking summer school,” people would say and I would say it too.  Grumble, grumble, grumble.  But really I was quite happy to go since going got me out of the damn house for about 4 hours each day for sixmondrian weeks as I recollect in the summers, and it was a sure fire way to get all my “solids,” as we used to call them back then–the courses needed for most colleges.

 One summer I took world history.  A guy I had never seen before and never say after taught it; I think they must have brought him in for the summer.  Three to four hours a day for six weeks—that was a lot of world history for a class that really had no interest in it.  So at one point, he divided us into groups and gave each group a part of the large cork bulletin boards that went all along one wall, up to the blackboard, and then with another piece after that.  Each group was supposed to decorate its part with some “theme” about world history.

My group was all guys, five us that sat together on the far right side of the room, all guys in some sport or other. We got a lonely piece of bulletin board stuck off to the right of the blackboard.  The guys really didn’t have much interest and only one idea, “Hey, Nick, what should we do?”  So I said I would go home and think about it and bring something back to put up there.  They were OK with that.

So the next time, we got together to work on the bulletin board, I pulled out all of these pictures I had cut out of Time or Look magazine.  “Modern art,” I said to these guys, “and this here is Moandrayon.  He uses like these lines and colors.  So we will use this one here and use exactly the lines and colors he uses up there on the bulletin board; and like, here where he uses nothing but white, we will stick one of these pictures.” 

And I pulled out a bunch of abstract expressionist stuff in bright, and dark, and murky colors.  And I pulled out a tape measure I had brought alone.  And they set to measuring and cutting up strips and tried it this way and that and figured out how wide the black strips should be, and a couple others starting cutting the letters to spell out Modern Art.

 And the next time we just stapled up what we had, stuck pictures in the various empty spots and we were done 1, 2, 3, way before anybody else.  The guys really didn’t know what to make of it—the other groups were like painting pictures of pyramids or cutting out covered wagons to go across the plains, and what we had was a bunch of bright color.  But Buddy, my catcher from Little League, eye balled it, cocking his head this way and that, and said, “Our’s the best.”

Later in the summer, I noticed the teacher had brought a camera and he was standing in the back taking pictures of our bulletin board.  And later he got the Principal in to show him the bulletin board.  And then when the class was over, the teacher asked if he could have the stuff we had made our project out of, and we said sure.  And then I heard from a guy who went to the principal’s office a lot that our bulletin board was up in the main offices.  So I went in there and walking down a hall saw they had stuck it up a bulletin board way too small and cramped it all up.

The fucking rubes had no feel for modern art.

I know people who say that when they are feeling down or at wit’s end or at the end of their rope they perk themselves up by thinking of good things that have happened and they get a little warm glow that makes me feel better.  I don’t have any memories like that; but if I try I can almost feel warm about that bulletin board.  Things just sort of fit.  I got to use my brains and they did the work.  We did it and we all got an A for doing it.

That was cool.