Cash on Hand

When I finished my dissertation on Henry James and got a Masters, I was eligible by virtue of having gotten a Masters to teach at Community Colleges, although they were called Junior Colleges at that time, even though I had never had a single class in the fine art of teaching.  Apparently, if you teach pre-college you need to take classes on how to teach, but if you are teaching college you don’t because as they say, in college, you teach the subject, not students.  500$

That tells you a lot about the general theory of college teaching.  You talk about the subject, and it doesn’t really make any difference whether any students are there or not in the room with you.  In fact in many college lectures most of the students aren’t there because the teacher is not teaching students but the subject. So it all sort of works out in the end.

I applied for work at community colleges and I got interviews at 3, some close by, but one up in Monterey took some driving.  And I didn’t get a job.  But the fall before, just in case the junior college thing didn’t come through, I had applied to graduate schools for a PhD.  Also, having flunked out of UCLA, I wanted to prove to myself that I could get a PhD if I wanted. I was accepted at three graduate schools, one a pretty good school back in New York, one a sort of experimental college in the UC system, and the one I ended up at and where I have been as student and then teacher since 1976—30 fucking years. Who knew?

The chair of the department at the experimental university wrote a letter—hand written no less—saying I was there absolute number one candidate, and would I please come.  I mean the guy actually wanted me to come and was trying to convince me.  BUT (huge BUT) they would have not money to give me or TA job for the first year.  Gee Whiz!  Thanks a lot.

 I would have liked to have gone there.  But I had about 500 dollars, a few pairs of jeans, some work shirts and a Volkswagen…After that first year, they would find some money.  BUT… I just didn’t see how I could do it—go to a new place, find a job that paid something, take graduate classes, and keep my sanity.  I needed more structure than that so I went to the place I still am because they offered me a full TA ship because, as I later learned, they decided to bring in grad students that particular year that had previously taught so they wouldn’t have to spend money training them.  I fit the bill to a T.

Money has played a significant role in my career choices.  I supposed I could have borrowed some money some where for that first year at the place that had no money.  But what did I know from borrowing.  I had a great dread of debt and managed to get all my higher education, 10+ years of it, owing $1000.  What do they call that now, a Pyrrhic victory?

Club 94

When I had my mental collapse, I do believe my brothers were somewhat concerned that I might go completely insane or off myself.  Though I don’t believe we talked about it any.  But one brother I know did try to look after me a bit, and I think it might have been my first quarter working for the mounthelixPhD, and I was down to Casa De Oro to pick up some books and he made a strong point of my showing up for a drink at the local Club 94.  So I went when he said, thinking I might not see him otherwise.

I came into the bar to find him and behind the bar itself a youngish woman with large breasts accentuate by a somewhat tight t-shirt.  She had red hair, like me, so immediately a narcissistic thing was at work, and then I realized that I knew her—and said so—and well you might, she indicated, since she had been a cheer leader when I was at high school.  Whereupon I made a roundabout libidinal connection, remembering I had sat watching her breasts bounce up and down while sitting on the bench at a basketball game.

She was quite friendly and I sensed that my brother had set me or, or should I say, attempting to set me up with Jane, let’s call her.  And she allowed, upon inquiry, that just possibly that was the case.  I felt awkward though drinking a good deal helped with that, and we established some sort of connection, so that when the bar closed down at 2 she asked did I want to come over to her place.  Sure, I said, and she drove since I was a bit inebriated.

Her place was an apartment about a mile away, and upon arrival, she shoed out her sister, maybe it was, fast asleep on the sofa, who left still rubbing the sleep out of her eyes.  And then Jane said she would going to check on her son down the hall and would be back in a little bit.  I said, could I smoke, and she said yes and gave me an ashtray, and I sat there feeling sort of vaguely depressed and unlibidinal, smoking one cigarette after another, until she returned attired in come-hither night gown and not much else.

While I am generally completely stupid about such matters, the signals in this situation clearly indicated that were I to engage her in amorous activity I would not be met with resistance.  She reclined Cleopatra like on the sofa, and we began to talk a bit about people we had known in high school, and when I mentioned this one guy, she just launched in calling him an asshole and a mean mother fucker, etc.  Whereupon, we moved briefly to the subject of her husband, also a major league asshole.   And something about the way men general treated women lead her to tell me about how her brothers would push her down to the ground and pinch her breasts till they were black and blue.

I guess I talk too much because whatever remained of my libido was just a shadow of its former self.  I sat there paradoxically full to the point of breaking with a sense of emptiness.  I lit another cigarette, and noticed that she had gone to sleep.  I sat a while longer, got up, and covered her against the morning chill, kissed her on the forehead (as I remember) and left. 

Outside the sun was coming up and I found myself standing opposite the old Junior High.  I had not seen that place in years having no occasion to go down the street it was on.  I walked over to the steps of the Junior High and looked back from where I had come.  Once, looking where I was looking, there had been a big empty field and on the opposite end of it the Catholic church and school  But now the whole area, filled with apartment buildings, was just unrecognizable.

 I walked back to my car but it was only as I said about a mile away parked in front of the Club 94.


For a while, during the time I was living in the hole, Roland and his brothers lived in a place right next to the freeway over in Lemon Grove, the place with the big lemon by the railroad tracks.  This place had to have been a migrant workers shack at one time because there was nothing to it.

guruI found Roland and his brothers interesting not just because they were clearly strange and thus accepting of a perpetual stranger like me but because they were all smart and had thoughts on things.  True, these were strange and aberrant thoughts but they were thoughts.  For example, Roland and I are talking one day sitting on the wooden floor of the migrant worker’s shack, and he says, have you ever thought about the concept of no man’s land.  I said, no.  He said, well think about it.  So I did and concluded that it was a strange concept.  Yes, he said, like a place nobody wants to live because nobody owns it.  I feel like I live there some times, he concluded.

They also thought a great deal about religion, mostly Eastern religion.  I sort of put up with that.  When they started talking about levitation and pulled out books with pictures of people levitating I wanted to say, this is crap.  Back then I was pretty cocksure. I still don’t believe people can levitate, but who knows for sure.  I did get upset when they joined a cult led my some guy from India.  Roland and his brothers called the guy Babu or something, and I think he was a guru named Sathya Sai Baba who had a pretty big cult and performed miracles of various sorts.

This was awful fishy to me.  These guys had no money at all to speak of; they never made any effort to hold down a steady job.  And here they were giving their money to this cult guy who came over from India now and then just to drum up some money as far as I could tell.  One day they were talking about how much they could give because their guru—whoever the fuck this guy was– needed a new carburetor for his Lincoln.  In mean at a recent gathering of the faithful, the guru had actually asked for contributions for a new carburetor because he lived over in India where the roads were dusty and he needed a special carburetor to keep it from getting jammed up.

This time I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut and asked if they had ever thought this guy was not a holy man at all but a charlatan who just wanted to take their money.  They looked at me like I was stupid.  Of course, they had thought about it.  How many people would follow Jesus Christ, I asked, if he came down and asked for a carburetor for his Lincoln?  They said Jesus Christ was not a guru.  They said a guru was not about other worldly stuff.  A guru could drive a car and have sex and eat fruit or whatever just like anybody else.  So how the hell then did they know if he was a guru or not, except that people gave him money when he asked for it.

I had no effect on them on this guru issue.  Part of having a guru seemed to involve questioning whether the guy was a guru or not and when he didn’t act like you thought a guru was supposed to act you were supposed to find some guru like message in the action and if you couldn’t find that to question whether you had the right conception of what a guru was supposed to be.  They were with this guru a long time, and at one point to show their allegiance to this guru they all changed their names.  Roland became Ezekiel and since he didn’t seem to have any of his usual sense of humor about this I started calling him that.  He wouldn’t settle for Zeke either.  It had to be the whole thing.


One day when I am living in the hole under the house, we get a call from a relative.  I believe she was the daughter of one of the brothers of my grandfather, William Berner Tingle, Sr.  She wasn’t calling from Georgia where she lived; she was already here and on a terrible mission.

easyriderIt turned out her son had been in the Navy and had served a year or so over in the area of Vietnam or the water thereabouts, and while he had been over there everything had been fine.  When he got back he still had time to serve and maybe too much time on his hands because he got into drugs as they say and also joined a motorcycle gang.  

I never did get clear on the detail, like what happened exactly, did he hit a wet spot or whatever, but he was rounding a corner and the bike slid out from under him and he hit his head on the curb.  That was about it.  He was in a coma in the VA hospital near Balboa Park and it did not look good at all. 

 But she, his mother, had come out to sit by this bed.  The father didn’t come.  I don’t know why, but I think the whole thing might have been a financial strain because my parents talked me into going to pick her up several times at this cheap motel where she was staying and drive her to the VA hospital.  It was the family thing to do.  

So I would park out in the back lot behind this big old, depressing, 10 story building that was the VA hospital while she went in.  I never went in.  She didn’t invite me and I didn’t invite myself.  I never knew how long she would be.  Maybe an hour usually, sometimes more.  Then she would come out and I would drive her back.  What could I say?  I don’t remember having spoken with her, but I must have because one day she said she was upset because the members of her son’s bike gang had come and hung their colors all over her son’s room.

I would sit there smoking one cigarette after another staring at that big depressing building.  I would try to read something.  I remember, maybe it was just the circumstances, but one day I read some of Nietzsche’s Will to Power.  I remember trying to figure out why he said Buddhism was nihilistic.  Because, I guess it was so other or unworldly, maybe.  Because I associated religions with morality I hadn’t thought of them as being nihilistic exactly….but of course Nietzsche was arguing that some so-called moralities, especially the Christian slave morality, is nihilistic.

So there I sat smoking one cigarette after another, waiting for my relative’s son to pass on, as he did after a couple of weeks, in my beat up 59 Plymouth station wagon, with springs that came up right through the front seats and would stick into your butt if you didn’t watch out and thinking about nihilism.  It was all pretty fucked.

The son’s mother gave me the bike because they never wanted to see it again.  It was a Harley, a hog in fact, with those long old extended forks up front and a tiny, dinky little handle bars.  I sat on it once, started it, and the damn thing scared me to death.  So I sold it to a friend who, at that time was driving a trash truck, and he fixed it up quite nicely.

Disco Days

So I get my MA with a dissertation on Henry-the fuck-James and I go to work to get out of the hole by applying to jobs at community colleges.  I get a couple of classes to cover for a professor who got cancer and I get another job at a federal program, I think it was, working with the sons and satniteeveredaughters of migrant workers.  I am acting you know optimistically like something positive is going to happen and I will get my ass out of the hole in the PU’s basement.  So I am working to get a bankroll in case I have to cover moving expenses and first and last months rent.  Because at that point about all I have to my name is a few pairs of jeans, some blue work shirts, some pretty crappy looking underwear, a typewriter, and a Volkswagen.  A pile of books and no credit.

So these are disco days and people do happy hour.  A bunch of us working at the sons and daughters of migrant workers, men and women, on Fridays would go out and get a little wasted and move on to a disco place or some bar somewhere or other where they had music and dance.  Now, I am not a natural born dancer.  Along with all the other social stuff I missed in high school I missed all the sock hops and such, and even in college I didn’t do the mixer thing.  Looking back I see I had missed the central ingredient for experiencing such social occasions and that was a good bit of alcohol.  But once I figured out the drinking part, the dancing stuff wasn’t all that hard.

There were three or four women who worked at the sons and daughters of migrant workers thing.   And to say that I was looking, after seven years of no company but my good right hand, doesn’t quite describe my state of mind.  This was something deeper than simple horniess.  If I may recapitulate, I had a nervous breakdown and had a whole bunch of pretty odd jobs and slowly, very slowly I began to emerge from the hole.  There I was—or here I am—nearly thirty years old, with no money, living in a hole under my arents’ house, not exactly stylishly attired, and at moments looking like I had crawled out from under a rock, and the idea that a woman might even look at me with some interest was like a fucking miracle.

What do you know but I sensed just some such interest on the part of one co-worker.  Mary, she was.  Although I guess to get my attention she nearly had to hit me over the head with a rock.  I won’t say she threw herself at me, but something nearly knocked me over.  She was my age, and looked sort of like me in a general sense.  She was a woman of course, and I wasn’t but she was thin and boney, like me, and white, and had beautiful auburn hair that was prettier than mine.  And she liked to get drunk and laugh.  She had a good sense of humor and a good laugh that was sort of a burbling giggle.  Well, I liked it anyway.

So assisted by generous quantities of wine, as they say, one thing led to another, and seven years of wondering whether I would ever have sex again were over and I thought damn I am back on the road to being a normal human being.  I was wrong of course, but the delusion felt pretty good at the time.


Naturally not being able to go off to war and kill people as well as my failure to have sexual intercourse (with another person) during my seven years of living in the hole lead me on occasion figleafto doubt my manhood.  This whole manhood thing is a terribly mixed up mess, and in my despair at being unable to reach, wholly introspectively, any sort of conclusion on the matter, I am ashamed to say that on one occasion I attempted a more objective assessment and measured my putz while it was erect.

This was difficult since I didn’t have a proper tape measure but only a straight edged ruler and the putz in an erect state tends to curve upwards.  Trying to make it lie flat on the straight edge rule required force and concentration and a concurrent loss of the erection itself.  Also how long it was in actuality seemed to differ considerably depending on whether one measured it from below or from above.  If from below, determining the exact point where it started or stopped was rather difficult.

Overall the exercise was singularly unrewarding especially as my putz seemed unremarkable either way.  Just an average putz in short.  But because it was unremarkable in its magnitude, I was able to torture myself by feeling, that, though average, it was shorter than it should be, were I to take the measure of it as a measure of my manhood.  I had to admit that my putz, or dangling modifier as I sometimes called it more grammatically speaking, was not a particularly awe inspiring sight.

Such was the lack of my self-esteem that I could take no solace from my knowledge that what was considered a properly masculine dick was, as they say, a social construct and had varied across the ages from culture to culture.  The ancient Greeks for example are on record as having preferred your more diminutive “package” as an indicator that the possessor thereof was less under the control of the animal passions and more a creature of reason.  

But as I said I could take no solace in this abstract knowledge especially since I was not an ancient Greek living in an ancient Greek culture but in one that seems to feel a truly manly man has a dick as big as that of a horse or thereabouts.  That I—a person of high intelligence—should attempt to measure my manhood by the measure of the “little man” suggests how primitive all of us still remain.  How primordial indeed.  Especially in this age where the package and packaging seems to count more than the thing packaged, where appearances count for much more than realities, and one can tell a book my its cover.

Women of course know about this probably more than men.  I had a lady friend over six feet tall, and according to her sworn testimony small men pursued her in droves.  When I asked why, she said, because she looked like Mount Everest and they all wanted to prove something by climbing her.  When I went to my 40th high school reunion my wife asked the women with whom I had gone to school if they had found me attractive.  Yes, they said, because I was tall.  And according to sociologists the average western woman prefers to date and wed a man about four inches taller than herself.

The Worst Thing

When I was back there in the hole under my parents’ house, I didn’t just sit around on my butt.  milkywayWell, I did sit around on my butt, but I did so while reading a great deal.  I couldn’t say I had learned a whole lot in college—excepting one class—the History of Civilization (sic)—that went on for two years, but I had managed to compile a pretty decent list of must-do reading.  They had assigned us a bit of Nietzsche, for example, though from that wretched “Thus Spake…” but enough to wet my whistle, so I read more of him.

And I continued existentialism with background reading in Kierkegaard, and Heidegger’s Being and Time, and on phenomenology in general, especially Merleau Ponti.  And, of course, more and more Sartre.  I am probably one of the few people in the world who read Being and Nothing “just for fun.”  Sartre says that the self arises from or rather is “anxiety.”  I sat around worrying about whether I was authentic or not, and concluded I probably wasn’t or even if I were, I wouldn’t know it.

But Sartre, along with Camus, gave me a ready supply of rationalizations for my depression.  Now, I was not fucked up precisely.  Well, I was fucked up precisely, but that was because the world in general was fucked up. Not the world precisely, but the very nature of being qua being and as such.  So during my first couple of years in college Camus afforded me a ready formulation for my state with his claim that the first and most important philosophical question—the asking of and by which one might claim to be a philosopher, however ephemerally—was whether or not to cap yourself.

People would ask me how I was doing and I would say, “I feel like fucking killing myself today.”  I said it just like that too, flat out.  No wonder I was not Joe-popular, and after a while 98% of the people around stopped asking me how I was doing, and I found myself relating with the 2% that like myself, deep down, were also thinking about killing themselves.  This was not a happy group and being able to relate only to people who were thinking about killing themselves tended to reinforce my perception that existence was pretty shitty.

Had I been born in another time I might have made a pretty good monk.  I could have gone around reminding people that they could die at any second and that the yearnings of the flesh were the path to nothingness in an official capacity and they would have had to listen to me whether they wanted to or not.  As Saint Augustine said, something like, the yearnings of the flesh lead us “to lick after shadows.”  And Buddha said, the worst thing that can happen to a human being is to be born.

But since I don’t believe in reincarnation, I would have to say that it’s not the worst thing; it’s the only fucking thing.

The Void

During those seven years that I lived in the hole under my parents’ house, I had three sort of metaphors for my existence.  First, I called myself a “walking abortion.”  Maybe I felt, having been graduated from college and then having a “nervous breakdown” that the arch of my life had been aborted.  Like sort of when they shot up a rocket and it starts to go crazy and they abort it.  Or maybe like I had been aborted, thrown into a trashcan, not yet dead and somehow I had crawled vortexout and lived.  Which may have come from the sense that I wasn’t really wanted.

But I also thought of myself as a rocket that had not been aborted.  I had been launched off, out of control, and souring into the void.  The void is a particular place.  You can visit it though why the hell anybody would want to go there, I don’t know.  Artaud went there and did some good writing about the void—especially when he was in the lunatic asylum.  The void is beyond emptiness; rather it is the perpetual ache of emptiness or emptiness aware of itself as such.  The void is like a vortex that draws you more and more deeply in.  Or maybe like Nietzsche said, when you stare into the abyss, it stares into you.  But the void is hard to put into words.

I met a cook who had been raised in South Carolina and had done some heavy duty drugs in the 60s.  We were talking about something, and she said, “You know about the void?”  Which she said—“void”—dragging it out with a soft southern drawl.  Sure, I said.  She had been to the void too.  Whenever we bumped into each other, we asked how the “void” was that day because once you step into the void you can’t ever get rid of it completely.

Artaud said, “Where there is a stink of shit there is a smell of being.”  My kind of guy.

But he’s right of course.  Because my other metaphor was that I was a walking “biochemical experiment.”  The more I read about brain science and the more drugs I took of both the under and over kind, the more I felt I was a body and no more than that at all.  Just a bunch of biochemicals, an interweaving of genetics, aging, and whatever the hell was going on in the immediate environment.  If I wasn’t dead yet or hadn’t committed suicide, that had nothing to do with me—my body just wanted to live was all, and I was along for the ride.

So one day you feel better and you want to take credit for that, like you had done something to make yourself feel better, so you think maybe it was a movie you saw or doing yoga or something, and you try to repeat it but nothing happens.  Because what you felt had nothing at all to do with the puny conscious mind but was he result of some weird-assed shift in your biochemical being—some sort of interconnection between the cells of the brain and the particular light of the sun, on that particular evening, as it arrived at a precise and unrepeatable angle.


 So while I was working on Henry James I bumped into a woman who had gone to my college.  I said, hey aren’t you…and then I couldn’t remember her last name, but that didn’t make any difference because in the four or five year interim she had married and had a child and so her last name was different.  I don’t think I had said even two words to her at college.  She was not in my turkeycrowd, though I didn’t have a crowd exactly.  She had been heavy duty into the sorority-fraternity scene that dominated the campus, and she was very popular and home coming queen material.  I say that because she was like the runner-up to the home coming queen one year or something like that.

We hung out some and had coffee and I was a year or so ahead of her with the TA gig and showed her the ropes.  One day, she asked me who I thought she had been back in college and I said, I really didn’t know though I thought she had been part of the fraternity and sorority crowd.  And then she asked me who I thought I had been, and I said, a hippy, I guess.  And she said, crap, because she was pretty direct.  I had been, she said, a “turkey.”

Turkey was a sort of pre-cursor term for nerd.  It meant I was a “gobbler,” or studying kind of person, and as usual the study type person, the person who goes to college to learn something, is cast in the negative maybe because they make it rough for the people who don’t study.  I had to allow though that she was right.  The beard and long hair hadn’t fooled anybody. I mean Rasputin had a beard and long hair and he wasn’t a hippy.  I wasn’t either though I didn’t think I was a turkey as much as I was fucking troubled.

We struck up a sort of friendship.  A couple of times she called me, and nobody called me, and I would come up from the basement and she would read something and say, Now, guess who wrote that.  And I would say Henry James since that was who it was and you knew it was Henry James even if you hadn’t read it before.  We would chat a bit and I began to figure that a person, even though she was a sorority person and her husband was making good money, who would call a guy living in the basement of his parents’ house to cheer him up a bit couldn’t be all bad.  So once I even called her and I don’t call anybody, unless my battery is dead or something like that, and got her husband, who didn’t seem too friendly, and read a bit to her:

 “The dream of acquisition at Weatherend would have had to be wild indeed, and John Marcher found himself, among such suggestions, disconcerted almost equally by the presence of those who knew too much and by that of those who knew nothing. The great rooms caused so much poetry and history to press upon him that he needed some straying apart to feel in a proper relation with them, though this impulse was not, as happened, like the gloating of some of his companions, to be compared to the movements of a dog sniffing a cupboard. It had an issue promptly enough in a direction that was not to have been calculated.”

Henry James, she said laughing.  Now how did you know that?  I said.


Hamlet says, “For Hecuba!/ What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,/
That he should weep for her?”  That’s a good question. I have asked it in different ways in different contexts.  What, for example, was Henry James to me or me to Henry James that I should have narcissusspent so much time reading and trying to make sense of his stuff?  But nothing at all but contingency.  A desire to understand what I hadn’t understood, a teacher who liked what I wrote, being unemployed and having the time to write it. Or was there some elective affinity.

 But that’s what I wrote my Master’s Dissertation on.  Of course I had to do it the hard way and wrote about a hundred and 120 pages of ill-organized philosophical rumination and turned that in and the Professor, god bless his heart, just said, go to the library, check out a dissertation, and see how they organize these things.  So I did that and found that usually people would write a chapter on this novel and a chapter on that novel and so forth with an introduction and conclusion.  I was a bit relieved; I was making it out to be harder than it was, and so threw away my 120 pages and started over.

 But what was I doing with James and his hyper-refined, super-subtle fry, as he called them.  Suffocating and suffocating people.  I got the feeling that if one of them could just curse, or yell fuck, or hit somebody, or maybe even a wall or just plain fart or have an attack of gas that James’ whole fucking novelistic universe would deflate like a balloon.  But maybe that was the point and one not unrelated to myself, his people lacked bodies, horribly repressed one might say, but more epistemologically to be one of his detached observers one has got to pretend one is not there and has no influence on what one is seeing.

So the hero of the Ambassadors is shocked to find his nephew, I believe it was, and this super-suble French woman are having an actual physical liaison.  It’s not that he is horrified by that but that his actual being there himself, in the flesh, may have caused them to change their movements, to go out of town, as it were to get it on.  His just being there got in the way, and had they really known him, they would not have hidden, but lacking any sense of his influence on people, he didn’t know how his “innocence” would affect them or, to add insult to injury, even that they saw him as innocent and tiptoed around trying to protect him from himself.

So maybe that’s the elective affinity since I too have always had trouble understanding my influence, if any, upon other people.  Maybe that’s why I like to make people laugh because when they laugh I do know, but other than that I mostly don’t and never have, mostly because I didn’t have room just to be or maybe became I pretended not to be, like a fly on the wall, to stay out of range of the yelling and screaming and general psycho-violence of the family.  Sometimes when the mood really comes over me, I will tiptoe around my own house because I am afraid the neighbors will hear and know I am there.

When you build a fortress around yourself sometimes you can’t see over the walls.