Odds and Evens

oil embargo

Probably the best car I have ever owned was a 1953 Buick Roadmaster.  By “best” I mean it was the best used car I have ever owned at the date when it was first sold, back in 1953.  Howard Hughes owned one so it had to have been expensive.  Mine had a straight 8—eight cylinders in a row.  It had a radio that didn’t work, and a bunch of buttons across the dash that were supposed to adjust the suspension hydraulically for the kind of surface you were driving on: rough, smooth, bumpy road.  Those didn’t work either.

 I got the car from Roland. He had been busted for pot and was going to the county work farm for six months.  I asked him was there no way he could get out of it, and he laughed and said he was caught red handed and dead to rights having sold directly to an undercover cop.  He was parting with his earthly possessions and he had some debts he said to pay off before going in and ask did I want the Buick, owned he said by an old lady.  I drove it around, no black smoke came out the pipe, and the oil was pretty clean.  So I offered him 100 dollars—which I thought was low—and he said, I’ll take it.

 One day I was out front working on something on that car and the next door neighbor, Mr. Hunter, came over and said mighty nice car and started talking about the cars he and his buddies had back in Hattisburg, Mississippi.  Yep, he knew that car because it had a special suspension.  He and his buddies would get on the ends of that car and get it to bouncing clean off the ground, and one night he had his buddies bounced one of those cars into an alley sideways.  You should have seen the owner’s face he said.

 And he had a car like that too, not that one exactly, but one like it, and to save on gas he had figured out how to turn the engine off more than a mile away from home.  He would get up speed and top this hill, and shut off the engine and it would fly down the hill passed the Miller place, and passed the old abandoned gas station where as a child he bought Nihi Grape Soda, and down a gulley and up the other side, which was always a bit touch and go, and the car would roll right up the drive and stop right in front of the house without him even putting his foot to the brake.  Damn amazing, I said.

Mr. Hunter worked down at the zoo taking care of the gorillas maybe because he was about the size of one.  He was 6 feet six and maybe 330.  He still had the thick southern accent.  And I was sitting around maybe two hours later when it came to me like a bolt out of the blue that he had been jerking my chain with that car story.  What cued me was that last bit about not even having to touch the brake.  Mr. Hunter liked to spin a yarn.  I doubt the backbone of the story was original, but he filled it up with so much local color as he went along that you pretty much suspended disbelief without knowing it and maybe his being six six and 330 helped too, because I wasn’t about to call him a liar had I any suspicion he was pulling my chain.

I drove that car for a year during the time I worked as an assistant manager in training at a Newberry’s Department Store.  But then towards the end of 1973, the Arab Oil Embargo hit and the price of gas went from 25 cents a gallon or so to a dollar or a dollar and a quarter.  I hadn’t paid any attention till then but that Roadmaster got 11 miles to a gallon.  And it wasn’t easy to get gas either.  Cars stretched around the block to get gas and then they went to the odd number, even number license plate system where people with odd numbered license plates went on odd number days and people with even numbered license plates went on even number days.

So I had to park my luxury vehicle down back with the other wrecks, and I went back to driving the 59 Plymouth Station Wagon.  Eventually, one of my brothers sold the Roadmaster to a car collector for 400 dollars.

The Egg Factory

When I was getting low on money, I would go down to the unemployment office and look for a day job or temporary fill in work.  Once I got a job driving around and administering medical questionnaires to people out the boonies, and another time I got a job at an egg factory.  Many, many eggs and not a chicken anywhere in sight.  But the eggs were brought in on racks in big trucks.  Then they were cleaned because they had chicken shit all over them.  Then they were candled to make sure the eggs weren’t bloody or didn’t have a little chicken in them.  These eggs were sold to people who make cookies and stuff like that, so who knows, maybe every now and then a person gets a little ground up chicken embryo in a cookie.

Uuuummm, uuummm good!

Then the eggs were packed in big brown boxes because these particular eggs were being sent to feed the troops in Viet Nam.

The chicken factory was pretty far inland and hot.  I wasn’t there long enough to get to know the people; they were mostly women and Mexican Americans.  The main topic of conversation in the coffee room was how nobody could eat chicken any more.  Somebody would say, “I drove by this barbeque place and it smelled good.  But then I remembered it was chicken.”  Or:  “I haven’t touched a piece of chicken in a year.”  Or: “Even thinking about chicken makes me want to gag.”  I couldn’t quite figure it since there were no chickens there; but as I said the place was hot and was rank with the smell of chicken shit.

The other topic of conversation was the woman, who quite recently, got her hair caught in the conveyer belt and was scalped.  Contrary to popular belief, the act of scalping a person, though quite painful, does not kill a person, though I supposed if one remained scalped for very long infection would set in and one would die.  But they saved this woman’s scalp and they eventually got it back on her, though she had not returned to work.

I worked there for a couple of weeks I guess for minimum wage doing whatever they told me to do.  I helped unload the trucks.  The eggs came in flats that were stuck in racks that were about six feet high and had wheels on them, so you could push them around to where they had to go.  And I did a lot of sweeping and washing stuff down with a hose to keep down the stink.  I wanted to do the candling where you stood at the end of the line and a bright light would make the inside of the egg visible so you could tell if it had blood or not.  But I never go to do that job since it perhaps required an expertise I did not have.

One day, they had to move a truck away from the dock for some reason, and as they pulled it away, the truck went up a slight incline in the blacktopped lot, and all of a sudden rack after rack after rack of eggs came falling out of the back of the truck.  Somebody had forgotten to refasten the restraining chain.  Man what a mess.  The whole lot turned into a giant omelet and within a matter of minutes, it seemed, every fly within a square mile had gotten the message that plenty of food was available.  So I was sent out to hose and started to wash down the lot.

 I never saw the owner of the place.  It was run by the “foreman,” a skinny white guy who went around telling people what to do and how to do it.  When he saw that omelet, he went berserk.  He started swearing at the top of his lungs.  Spit came flying out of his mouth.  He picked up things and threw them.  H jumped up and down and pounded his feet on the pavement. He got red in the face and I thought he was going to have a fucking convulsion.  I had never seen anything like it.

I had heard the phrase “straw boss” and really hadn’t understood what it meant.  This guy was a straw boss; he gave orders like he was the boss, but the orders, whatever they were, really came from his boss.  He had no power but what his positioned conferred on him, and if things got fucked up, like with the omelet, he could scream and curse and maybe fire somebody, but he would be the one that ultimately got the shaft from his boss.  His fury arouse from his impotence.

Me, I hadn’t been anywhere near that particular truck.







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.

Sore Feet

As assistant manager in training, my beat was the basement of the Newberry’s Department Store.  electroshockvpBy basement, I mean we were underground, not a window anywhere.  Above florescent lighting, below linoleum over concrete.  As a non-union, salaried, administrator I sometimes walked that floor, if they needed somebody to fill in, for 12 hours at a time.  Back and forth, up one aisle, down another, straightening this and organizing that: towels, bathrobes, pots, pans, wash clothes, draperies.   For ten, twelve hours at a time, with breaks running the cash register if we got backed up, which was very rare, or arguing with somebody who wanted to return a dress with huge sweat stains in the armpits (this was in the day before the consumer was always right), or going around with my trusty sticker gun and putting prices on things, or chasing around after a customer to tell him his fly was down because one of the worker ladies said it was down, and he should be told, or running a credit card and saying to its owner, “Onan, your name is Onan!  My that is an unusual name! Onan, I mean.”

I mean who the hell would name their male child “Onan.”

 And one night when I was going to do the late shift, the real assistant manager sidled up to me and said that the Manager had said that I should fire Suzi, the young woman who worked from 4 to 8, because she wasn’t doing her job.  So keep your eye on her, he said, and when she is screwing up, fire her, OK.  I thought that was pretty crappy.  I didn’t know if Suzi was a screw up or not because I didn’t usually work her shift.  The guy was passing off the nasty firing stuff to me, I expected.

I walked around all evening, circling Suzi like a vulture, looking for a moment when I thought she was really screwing around.  What the hell constitutes screwing up in a nearly empty store?  There weren’t any customers to be rude too and the stuff in her area was straightened up and neat.  Was I going to fire her for standing there looking so bored she had gone gaga?  So I didn’t fire her, and felt that right there my career in retail was over because I didn’t have the right stuff for firing people.  I was cool though the next day when the guy asked if I had fired her, “No,” I said, scratching my head, “I mean I never could find a time when she was messing around. I just couldn’t find a moment to pounce, you know.”  And made a little pouncing gesture.

One morning the crazy woman over in draperies and shades takes out two little American flags on wooden sticks and begins to wave them around and to blow one of those kazoo things like on New Year’s Eve when the ball comes down, and she launched into a version of God Bless America.  She had a little storeroom where she hid a lot and had a radio back there and had heard that they had just signed the Paris Peace Accords.  The war was over.

I didn’t know what she was going on about.  I guess she figured we had won that war although I couldn’t see how anybody could believe that.  But many people think we won the cold war and I don’t see how anybody can believe that either.

I was learning though.  In the fall, I was one of a couple of million Americans who voted for McGovern.  What did he win?  One state?  I sat in the break room with the old ladies who worked there, most on Social Security, so they could work only limited hours and still get their government money.  I was outnumbered.  They seemed to hate McGovern and the only reason they gave that I could understand was that he had a squeaky voice and sounded like a preacher.

I mean, good golly, gee whiz, but when a guy’s got a squeaky voice who gives a shit about his views on foreign policy?

A Big Yellow Streak

In the fall of 68, while I was trying to go to graduate school, I room with my best friend.  He was from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and like myself a working class kid who was ill-equipped to be a working class kid.  During the course of the quarter, he was drafted and reported.  He got through boot camp ok and was made an MP, though I can think of few people less physically imposing.  He was assigned to guard a missile base, in Arizona, I think.  24 hours on, 24 hours off.  He became “catatonic” and the army let him out with the stipulation that he did not claim medical reparations.

Another friend, also a working class kid and much more suitable to be one, since he worked out regularly and was very strong, decided not to endure the suspense, and joined the Marines voluntarily.  He thought it would be the event of our generation and wished to be present for it.  At that time, to get volunteers, the Marines were lopping six months off the tour either at the end or up front.  My friend chose up front, and during the six months fell in love and had a car accident that screwed up his knee.  The Marines would not take him.

Another friend, the son of a car salesman, became a marijuana salesman and decided when the war came along to go underground.  He stayed with me for a month maybe longer right before I dropped my groceries in the parking lot.  He was jailed once for weed and the FBI came and he said he would report as soon as he got out of jail, but he didn’t.  He was at Woodstock.  And drank very heavily.

Another person, less a friend but respected, decided not to step across the line at the draft board.  Funny to think of being arrested for NOT do something.  He was immediately jailed for not doing something first in a minimum security prison, and after he led a food strike there, a maximum security prison off the coast of Washington State.  He said that later somebody approached him about making a “movie of the week” out of his story.  He was the son of a philosophy professor who had been a CO during WWII.

These people, along with John Wayne and my father, both of whom said cryptically, “a man has got to do what a man has got to do,” constituted my moral compass as I agonized and tried to understand what was wrong with me, why I didn’t so clearly want to do what a man has got to do.  Being tough, sucking it up, following orders was a good deal of what my working class heritage was about.

And those Southerners seem to go off to war at the drop of a hat. I was not a real man like John Wayne, but instead a coward with a yellow streak a mile wide down my back.  And a coward in two directions, for if I truly objected to the war itself and was not just a coward with a yellow streak a mile wide down my back, I should go to jail like my other friend but I couldn’t do that because the idea of prison scared me pissless, making me a coward with a yellow streak a mile wide down my back.

One might here begin to sense the depths of my inward conflicts although these remarks do not do justice to them.  It would have helped greatly had I been sure in my heart that the war was morally wrong in some absolute sense.  But I just couldn’t reach that conclusion.  Now it’s easy to say, oh yea, Vietnam was morally wrong.  Indeed, it just trips off the tongue. But back then the best I could do was to characterize it as a major “fuck up” and in that way another dimension of life as perpetually “fucked up.”

A Career Move

As long as I was draft eligible, no employer with what might be called career jobs was going to look mission valley2at me.  I could be snatched by the US Army at any moment.  No sooner was anxiety about being drafted relieved, than it was replaced by an anxiety about what to do with myself in an ontological and economic sense.  I wanted money to get out of the hole, and I wanted a job with prospects.  I didn’t think about going back to school because that cost money and my recent endeavors in the realm of higher education had proven a bust.

I didn’t turn to human resources because I had been there already during my period of unemployment.  The unemployment office seemed to have notices only for the unemployable.  “Real” jobs were advertised in the newspapers.  But I wasn’t an engineer and I wasn’t in business; and men were not yet frequently hired for secretarial work.  I turned hither and thither and found nowhere to turn.

 My father had “contacts” only in the world of concrete, brick, and block.  We had further no family in the area that might have pointed me in a particular employment direct.  My mother, who did not drive and was a possible illegal alien, had zero contacts having not worked a paying job since WWII.  We had no family in the area. I knew that the children of some wealthy and influential people had gone to the college where I had gone, but I had failed to meet any of them.  They all were in fraternities and sororities; and I wasn’t.  They all went skiing; I never have.  I had gone to a tiny school.  The names of everyone in my graduating class could be put on the back of a t-shirt, and I had apparently only met a hand full.

In an act of desperation, I went to one of those places that finds a job for you and then takes all of your salary for the first two weeks.  I filled out the forms and within a week they called to say I had an interview.  This threw me into a panic.  I figured that I should wear appropriate clothing for the interview but I had none.  No suit, no dress slacks, no dress jacket, no tie, no shoes.  Underwear? Yes, I had that, as long as I was not required to strip and pee on demand.  So I borrowed stuff from my father, my brothers, and shoes from somebody that pinched.

I cut my hair; shaved my beard, and feeling about as awkward as a person could in my assembled ensemble did the interview.  A week or so later, I got a call saying I had been hired as an assistant manager in training at a Newberry’s Department Store.  I would get a salary and be set on a career track towards becoming one day the manager of my own Newberry’s Department Store

Knowing what I now know about myself, I can only think that I must have been still severely mentally disturbed when I said,  “When do I start?”

The End of Reason


I don’t know if it was Nixon’s idea but, in what might easily have been an extension of his benign neglect philosophy, the first lottery went off on Sept 1, 1969.  The politicians seem to be saying they were going to wash their hands of any attempt to intelligently or thoughtfully administer the draft.  Instead, we will exercise a complete lack of reason and let luck make the decision for us.  The lottery decided I was number 9—a dead certainty to be drafted.

I think I had five physicals.  But I never again had to strip or pee on demand; instead I followed a different colored line that took me to the room where they took excuses.  This was like a different world.  White people every where—hardly any black or brown people—carrying letters of all sorts from doctors, and copies of prescriptions, and x-rays  Proof of any sort of any serious or oddball thing that could get them to let you go.  One friend got out because he had a varicose vein on one testicle.  My brother got braces and flew to a place that he had researched as having a very high reject rate.  He walked in, smiled, they saw the braces and he was free.

I don’t know. Maybe I was just worn down, or had given up, or resigned myself.  I don’t know what, but I had stopped taking the meds, and when they called me up for another physical, I had no excuse in the form of an updated prescription.

Actually, I did have one—an excuse, I mean–but I was afraid to use it.  When I first saw the psychiatrist, I had taken the MMPP, the most sophisticated and accepted instrument for determining extent and type of mental illness.  But I had been reluctant to use the results because they said: A) That I suffered from a massive reading defect, or B) I was malingering or C) I was a danger to myself or others.  The report went on to detail this last finding in three or four single spaced pages.  I figured they would look at the reading defect part, see I had a college degree, conclude I was malingering, and not even read about my homicidal, suicidal, homosexual, apocalyptical tendencies.

But I took it with me because it was all I had.  I also took a good number of the various psychotropics I had on hand.  I was determined that I would not, on the long bus ride up to the LA draft board, feel a fucking thing.  I was pretty loopy by the time I got there, though not so loopy as not to notice they had redone the place, that there were now three shrinks in three offices where there had been just two.  One of them was my bald headed nemesis from previous occasions and another—I could not believe my eyes–was a black man.  A long line wound its way towards those doors—one line for three doors, so you had no idea which shrink you would get.

In one of the bolder moves of my life, I did not go to the end of the line.  But stood in the middle of the room, and when the young man then in the black man’s office starting getting up, I marched right into the office and sat down.  I slid my papers across to him.  .    There I was with my red curly hair rising up like a nimbus around my head, my thick beard over my Adam’s apple, my glasses so dirty my eyes were scarcely visible, and stinking like I had not washed my clothes in a month (which might have been the case).

He asked how I was feeling at the moment. I said, fucking shitty, that I had felt fucking shitty for some time and did not know when I was going to stop feeling fucking shitty.  He read my papers, filled out a form, and handed to me to be taken to a secretary for typing up.  I couldn’t believe it; he had let me off for a whole year.

I would not have to report for a physical again until January of 1972, and I would not have report for that because I would be 26 years old, too old to be drafted.

Go figure…But fuck it, I was free! In a specific sense.

Sisyphus Chokes the Chicken

I had to make some money for college stuff, so the old man got me my first paying summer job with Buzzard’s Brick and Block at minimum wage, a buck twenty-five an hour.  I drove forty minutes both ways in my 50 Plymouth station wagon to an abandoned brick plant on the side of a canyon not far from the Pacific.  I say abandoned because there was nobody there but me, the plant, and piles and piles of brick stacked more than 20 feet high.

My job was to unstack those brick and to restack them on pallets of a thousand brick each.  Trucks came and picked these up and took them to the main yard for sale.  I don’t know how I stood it all alone there stacking one brick after another that whole summer.  But I had a little radio I listened to; the Stones were singing, “My, My, My said the spider to the fly.”  And because my brain was still saturated with hormones I could sustain sexual fantasies for a good while, sometimes topped off by an assisted, open air ejaculation.

One day though I was told to start up the dump truck, load it with rock, and back it down to the gate and dump the rock to one side of the gate where it was still possible for a car to drive through.  They must have been worried about some sort of liability thing with the abandoned brickyard.  I was 19 and had never driven a dump truck; true, it was not huge, but it was a dump truck.  And I had failed my driver’s test twice.

But I loaded it with rock and broken brick and backed it down and got the truck to dump right where it was supposed to.  I guess I got over elated because when I tried to pull away from the gate, I lost control and the truck backed into the metal pipe to which the gate was appended.  I bent the pipe pretty severely with the result that the gate stuck up in the air at about a 45 degree angle, so while a person could not drive around it, a person in a small car could drive directly under it.

I figured my ass was grass.  But when one of the trucks came out to pick up stuff, the trucker said he would fix it and did by backing down his rig and pulling the metal post almost back to an upright position with a chain.  The fork lift battery gave out.  It was not a minimal forklift; seated in it I was a good six feet off the ground and I needed it to get down the highest brick so I could stack them on the pallets.

They sent out this weasel guy they used to do all the little bitty shit work.  But failing to bring jumper cables, he decided we would push start the rig with his truck, even though the forklift was an automatic and I swear I have never heard of a way to push start an automatic with a dead battery.  But there we were banging along over the rough ground hitting maybe 20 miles an hour when the ground just ran out and I had to make a turn.  But I hit a bump and went flying, as the fork lift went on over the edge and sunk its blades completely into the opposing embankment.

I have gone flying a number of times, mostly head over heels over my bicycle handles, and each time, it’s funny.  When I realize I am flying, I just sort of give up and go limp.  I swear that the three of four times I have gone flying, including the fly from the forklift, may be among the most relaxed moments of my life.  In any case, I was not injured.




Gold Tooth

The last job I worked as a brick mason tender was right on the beach by the blue Pacific.  On an empty stretch of sand the Navy was building garages for amphibious landing craft.  They would be able to drive the craft straight out of the water, across a little sand and right into their garages.

unioncardThese garages were big.  Almost forty feet high.  I was given the job one day of getting all the planks off the scaffolding.  Usually I would just throw the 2 by 6 planks–what were they? 12 feet long maybe–onto the ground.  But if you threw a plank that heavy from forty feet up you could crack it pretty easily.  So instead, you had to walk out to the last layer of planks, bend over, pick up a plank and balance it on the two 2 by 6 that were left for you to walk on.  After this naturally, things go more intense because you had to go out, bend over, pick up a plank, and walk back to dry land, on ONE 2 by 6 while balancing a 2 by 6.  And this was forty feet up going straight down to the concrete floor of the amphibious craft garage.

I did ok for a bit.  I would go out and pick up one and walk back on two.  Then I would go to the scaffolding right next to that, pick up one and walk back on two.  I did this for a bit and you can see I was avoiding the part that involves walking back on one and yet it was impossible to avoid because I was running out of scaffolding that had three planks (except for the part of the scaffolding where we were stacking the planks to be lowered down by fork lift).

Finally I steeled myself and went out to the very end of the scaffolding where there were only two planks, bent over and picked up one, leaving myself with one, which I slowly pivoted across my body to balance it and myself.  Whereupon I completely froze—too much aware that I was standing about 40 feet off the concrete on one 2 by 6 while attempting to balance another one across my body.

Fortunately, there was a black guy there who had been picking up planks from the other direction.  He saw me and said, “What’s wrong.”  I said I couldn’t move.  “Drop the plank,” he said.  So I did but I still couldn’t move.  “Get down and crawl,” he said.  So on wobbly legs I got down on my knees and crawled.  He gave me a hand up and began to talk about a job he had in Chicago working forty stories up and one guy was pushing a wheelbarrow full to the brim with mud along a two by six and the wheelbarrow started to go and the guy struggled to straighten it and losing his balance tumbled to his death.  “Always let go of the wheelbarrow” the black guy said.

He had an interesting grin because he had a gold cap all around one of his front teeth, and a piece of the gold was punched out in the shape of a star, so that the white enamel of what was left of his front tooth filled in the star.  I hadn’t seen that before and I haven’t seen it since.

At the end of that week, I got a pink slip.  I had been laid off.

Green Room

By a couple of months or so after I got home, my parents got the idea I wouldn’t be going any place soon.  I had no prospects and had apparently gone insane.  In the south, there’s a tradition of taking care of insane relatives.  Joe, who came back from the war addled in the head because he had seen all his colleagues fried like so much chicken when their tank blew up, would be stuck back in a room someplace and pretty much left alone, until he died or blew his brains out with a shotgun.

 space organizerMy brothers had the rooms in the house, one just a kid, and the other in high school.  So the old man decided to build me a room outside the house under the deck that extended from just outside the screen door to the dining room slash tv room.  The deck was kept aloft by block on four sides.  Down below there was a door that went under the deck.  You entered and saw dirt and all kinds of crap thrown under there.  The old man had in any case been thinking of putting in a bit of basement.  So we dug out the leche and poured a footing on two sides and built up walls out of block.  Then because the roof was a bit low, we dug out dirt from the bottom and poured a concrete floor that we painted with a green water retardant paint.

That was my room from the winter of 69 to the fall of 76.  Seven fucking years in the hole, as I like to say.  Seven fucking years like a fat slab of meat ripped straight out of the middle of my life as I lived in a hole with a two windows and a green floor.  The old man never threw anything away.  So I got an old dinner table, stuck my Smith Corona on it and it became my desk. I got a box springs and mattress from the shed out back and that became my bed.  I managed to drill some holes in the block and set up a couple of levels of boards for books shelves.  For closet space I used the room itself and a steamer truck I got for nearly nothing that had shelves and hangers in it for clothes.

I had privacy too.  My door opened out on to the great outdoors, meaning the strip of dirt and fucking ice plant between the parent’s house and the house next door.  If I needed to take a leak I could go down back or through a door in the room to an area under the house with nothing but dirt and junk lying all about and piss in there.

Seven years of piss produced quite a fucking stink.

Lights out, I could hear the mice running around in the rafters and the cockroaches would spread like a hoard down the walls.  These were big, black suckers, long as your thumb and about as thick.  Sometimes, when I was sleeping they got in my hair.  Usually that would wake me up and I got so I could grab them and throw them hard so that in the morning there would be bits of dead cockroach hanging there on the wall.