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$2 plastic pinchy picker-upper

At work, the conversation with Carlotta took a few unexpected twists. Before telling that story, though, you need to know that she’s a major babe. I haven't mentioned that before, because it’s irrelevant on days she’s fully buttoned up, but Carlotta is 25, I’d guess, with a pretty face, Playboy bod, chic clothes, etc. I appreciate the view but try to ignore it. We’re at work, and she’s married, plus just look at me, so saying anything would be ridiculous.

Today, though, she was talking about dirty jokes. Not telling dirty jokes, but she wanted my advice on who in the office would be receptive to dirty jokes, and who’d be offended. I told her I’d be receptive, and Kallie when she’s back from vacation, and Peter if no clergymen are involved. Definitely not Jennifer, though.

And then, Carlotta said she thinks she might want some of those new female condoms, and she asked me if they're prescription, or over-the-counter. “How the hell would I know?” was my answer. Why was she asking me? I’ve never seen one, never, uh, ‘used’ one, and probably never will. All I know is, I saw an ad for female condoms, and they look very un-sexy, like something for washing dishes.

It’s nice that Lottie is comfortable enough to talk of such things around me, but I’m not. Dirty jokes I can handle, but talking about birth control with a beautiful married woman — that's on the other side of whatever line I’d draw for workplace conversations.

♦ ♦ ♦

I wonder what I don’t know, from two weeks without buying a newspaper. I know of no news since late October. 

San Francisco’s two papers aren’t anything special, but they're far better than the shallow newscasts on TV or NPR. I am glad the papers are back, and the regular staffers have returned. Based on their coverage of themselves, it sounds like the strikers got most of what they wanted.

This morning’s Chronicle was thin like bulimia, though. The sports section was only two pages, which would be one page too many for a sane society. A blurb on the front page apologized for the paper’s skinniness, because “some production facilities were damaged in the strike.” Teamsters, buddy. Don’t mess with the Teamsters.

♦ ♦ ♦

Went shopping at Woolworth after work, with a dual strategy for eluding the awful ads they drench shoppers with. At a store in Chinatown a few weeks ago, I’d purchased a $2 plastic pinchy picker-upper. I don’t know what else to call it — it’s a stick two feet long, with a C-shaped slaw at one end, and a handle at the other. Squeeze the handle, and the claw closes at the other end. 

The TVs at Woolworth are mounted too tall to reach with your hands unless you’re Wilt Chamberlain, but with my pinchy picker-upper, reaching up and turning down the volume for every Woolworth infomercial down every aisle, serenity and tranquility transformed the store. Soon the only sounds were the quiet murmur of shoppers, the squeak of wheels on the carts, the beeps of the cash registers, and the benign background muzak, which was frequently interrupted by ads via “the Woolworth Shopping Network.” 

Short of hacking their computers, those ads can’t be stopped, so retaliation was called for. Every time The Voice said, “Hello, Woolworth shoppers,” I destroyed something. When The Voice started its first sales pitch, I was in frozen foods, and they’re not frozen any more. Well, a few items, anyway. Next time The Voice came on, I was in the kitchen and cookware area, and folded some Rubbermaid lids so they’ll never “seal in freshness.” When The Voice spoke next, I opened three cans of cat food and left them on the shelf.

When I’d finished shopping, I paid for the forks and popcorn and mayonnaise I’d needed, but my visit cost the store triple what they rang up. I’ve never been a more satisfied customer.

That was childish, you say? Yes. Irresponsible? Yes. Illegal? Call a cop.

This is western civilization — each of us is a collection of fears and phobias and emotional bruises and rusty miswired synapses, and for any of us, it could all come unraveled at any moment. Maybe you don't notice, or don't care, but to me endless ads like that are an attack on my fragile mental health. Everything I did was in self-defense.

It’s a swarm of gnats buzzing at my ears. What do you do in a swarm of gnats? Just stand there? I slap at ‘em.

♦ ♦ ♦

At the back of the zine every issue, I’ve been saying, “Give me a call if I sound like someone you’d like to meet.” Well, someone's finally taken me up on it.

Got a phone message on my machine from Leaf Smith, who writes What Is the Meaning of Human Existence?, a good zine with an unwieldy title. He told me to go to hell — Dante’s Inferno, that is. It's a movie based on the book/nightmare, and it’s playing Thursday night at P.F.A. We’ll meet before the show, and see it together. If he’s half as open in person as he is in his zine, and if my conversation switch is “on” Thursday night, it might be fun.

My conversation switch is unreliable, though. It's one of those rusty miswired synapses. Sometimes it doesn't let me say much, even when I want to say something, so Thursday night might be no fun at all.

Either way, it costs the same five bucks to see the movie, and the movie looks good.

♦ ♦ ♦

“Do you seriously urinate on your silverware? That’s not just hygienically unhealthy and an invitation to disease, it’s also mentally unhealthy…
                    —Gary Randall

Whoa there, Dr Randall. Read it again (October 6). I don’t pee on the knife before spreading jam. I simply stack dirty dishes in the sink til I get around to washing them. And, since the toilet is a long walk down the hall and I might not be wearing pants, I piss in the sink. If anything, peeing on the dishes is an incentive to wash 'em even more thoroughly, when eventually they’re washed — so it's excellent hygiene.

If it bothers you, by all means don’t drop by for dinner. And if you call me “mentally unhealthy” again, I swear I’ll kill myself.

From Pathetic Life #6
Tuesday, November 15, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

Pathetic Life 

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Always on the balcony

Leftovers & links
Click any image to engorge.

♦ I’ve been at it for 60+ years but I’m still unsure how to go about being human, so please tell me whether I’m kooky about this.

My room is on the first floor of a two-story apartment complex. There’s a tiny balcony over the building’s side door, big enough to hold two men. Among the dozen or so tenants who live on the second floor, there are two men who live in two different apartments, but they’re buddies. And they’re almost always on that balcony.

When I leave for the diner on Friday morning, one or both of them will be up there. When I come back, one or both of them will be up there.

When I go to the library, the store, the post office, or just to take a walk around the block, one or both of them will be up there. When I come back, one or both of them will be up there.

If it's daylight, one or both of them is up there. Sometimes they're up there even when I go shopping at four in the morning.

They’ll say hi to me, and I’ll say hi to them. There’s no overt hostility, but I am beginning to hate them. 

I’d like to exit and enter my apartment without an overseer, but one or both of them is always up there, smoking a cigarette or just standing, looking at our boring residential street. They're creeping me out.

Yeah, please tell me whether I’m kooky about this. 

A letter to a discouraged young writer, from Cory Doctorow.

♦ Dora Hall, queen of the vanity records.

♦ Steven Spielberg has remade West Side Story, and it doesn’t look bad. It might even be an improvement. The original had a glaring problem — Natalie Wood played a Hispanic girl, in a film ostensibly about racial unrest and injustice, but Wood was just plain white, not Hispanic. It didn't quite defeat the purpose of the story, but it stuck out like an ear on your forehead. Spielberg has cast an actress who's half-Hispanic, to play Maria.

♦ Remembering Norm MacDonald.

♦ From the expense and unavailability of health care, to the lackadaisical response to climate change, lies everywhere on corporate-controlled social media, pick any outrage — whatever’s against us is backed by the wealthy.

American politics is not a battle of Democrats vs Republicans, Good vs Evil, or Compassion vs the Uncaring. As the right-wing grows more and more untethered from reality, it’s tempting to see it as Thinking vs Stupidity, but that’s not it, either.

It’s the rich against the rest of us, same as it’s always been. 

♦ Does everyone have a magic poop button? After pooping all I can poop, I bidet and wipe, but the action of wiping, gently nudging my anus, is like pushing a button for more poop. Suddenly I need to sit down again.

Here’s an interesting documentary on the making of Ridley Scott's Alien, and here’s a longer and less interesting documentary on the making of its militarized sequel, Aliens.

The first doc reminded me that I'd like to see Alien again. The second doc reminded me that James Cameron makes good movies but seems like an ass.

The Intercept has been around for several years now. I hear they do good work, but I wouldn’t know. Never yet read an article there, and probably never will. Every time a link takes me to The Intercept, there’s a pop-up instantly begging for money. My rule, quite firmly followed, is that a pop-up before seeing any content means I’m gone.

Journalism needs funding, obviously, but I’d need to read an article or two, to see what I’m buying, before buying it, and The Intercept won’t let me.

Also, Wikipedia tells me that “The Intercept is an online publication of First Look Media, an American non-profit company founded by the billionaire eBay co-founder Pierre Omidyar.”

Started by a damned billionaire? Then he can sign up to send twenty bucks a month. I won't.

♦  Mystery links  — like life itself, there’s no knowing where you’re going:


Sincere tip 'o the hat to:
    • Becky Jo
        • Dave S.
                Captain Hampockets
                    • and One of the Butt Sisters but definitely not the other.

🧁 ☕ 🍩
You’re always invited
to add anything below,
about anything at all.

🍩 ☕ 🧁



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Carlotta cries

The newspaper strike is over, I’ve heard, but there was still nobody in the newsbooth on my walk to work, and the only newspapers in the self-serve box are the same papers that have been in the box since before the strike. I’ve read that headline a hundred times: Doomed plane fell ‘like a black streak’.

OK already. I get the idea — airplane fall down, go boom. I’m ready for new headlines, and a new strike-free newspaper. Maybe tomorrow?

♦ ♦ ♦

I was showing Carlotta some of my brain-dead morning duties, since she’ll be doing them while I’m on vacation later this month. Somehow we got to talking about job interviews, and she ended up crying, just a little. It’s a long and maddening story.

When I started temping for this evil corporation, Carlotta sat three chairs from me. She was one of only two people in that department with any brains, and the other one wasn’t me. Now I’m an actual employee, no longer a temp, and working in a different department, where Carlotta recently transferred and became my “teammate” again. So she’s “new” here, but she's been here longer than me, and we’re already work pals.

We were talking, and she told me that to transfer to our group, despite already working for the company, she had to apply and interview. When Darla offered her the job, Carlotta had to go to Personnel to file some forms. So far, so normal.

While she was at Personnel, though, an executive there tried to discourage her from taking this job. He said it might be too complicated for her, that she’d have trouble understanding the high-tech work we do.

Which is an asinine, racist thing to say. We do work any 8th-grader could handle with a few days’ training. There is nothing "high-tech" about it, except that we use computers. A TRS-80 would probably be "high-tech" to that exec. And also, Carlotta could handle brain surgery — she’s smart. Smarter than that executive in Personnel, for damned sure. 

She told me she was speechless, unsure what to say, so she didn’t say anything, simply filled out the form and left. And then, before the transfer could be finalized, she had to interview a second time, with Babs, boss of all bosses in our quadrant. That’s peculiar, too — when I applied, I interviewed only once, with the boss who was my boss before Darla.

During this second job interview, Babs asked Carlotta, “Are you accurate?” Carlotta told me she thought for a moment about how to answer, but before she said anything, Babs said, “Do you know what accurate means?”

As if, because Carlotta has an accent, she can’t speak English?

And then Babs’ phone rang, she said “Excuse me” and took the call, turning around, looking out the window to talk. Carlotta had a view of Babs' desk, and could read an e-mail that had been printed out — from that same exec in Personnel — recommending that Carlotta "not be hired, due to her deficient English.”

Bastards. Beyond bastards. Carlotta is Asian, and she has an accent. Big deal. This is San Francisco, not Oklahoma. We have people from all over, more colors and accents than the United Nations, and Lottie’s English is not a problem. Maybe once or twice a week I ask her to repeat something, because I didn’t understand it the first time, but so what? She understands everything.

Carlotta got the job, obviously, but after the ‘accurate’ question and that e-mail on Babs’ desk, she's wondering if she only got the job because Darla, our boss, has an accent, too — she’s Filipino. That’s when Carlotta reached for a Kleenex and started dabbing her eyes. She was crying, and said she’s had no self-esteem since that second interview. 

“Self-esteem comes from here,” I said, pointing at my forehead. One of the rare moments when I’ve almost/maybe said the right thing at the right time. She smiled, but it was a sad smile. I wanted to say more, but what? I was and still am utterly jarred sideways by the whole story. I knew this company was a terrible place to work, but thought at least it was an equal-opportunity torturer. 

Carlotta said she’s thought about calling the city bureaucracy that handles discrimination complaints, but she’s afraid the store would retaliate. And she’s probably right. “Anyway,” she said, “I got the job, so I don’t think I have any legal grounds for a complaint.”

I should’ve said something more, but I was speechless at all of it. Saying the right thing once is all I have in me, and anyway, what does a white dude know about discrimination like this? Nada. All I know is that this company has some astoundingly stupid executives, which I already knew, but now I know they’re even stupider than I’d known.

"Forget about it," Carlotta said, and we went back to talking about the work stuff I was showing her. But no, I won't forget about it, and neither will she.

Maybe it’s time to get off my plump rump, update my resumé, and look for a better job. Which would be any job.

From Pathetic Life #6
Monday, November 14, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

Pathetic Life 

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Whale caroms

Ten minutes ago, at 6:29 AM, just as I was unhooking April’s lacy frilly white brassiere in my dreams, a horn honked from the street below and into my open window, again, and then again. Someone’s an ass, and good morning. 

Whenever traffic wakes me up, I think about switching to a different room in the rez hotel. I want a room with a window overlooking the street, so I can reply to the honks with eggs or tin cans.

Do I want my vengeance enough to talk to Mr Patel about changing rooms? Maybe. Do I want vengeance enough to pack up this mess and schlep it all to some other room, where my neighbors behind either wall might be louder than the neighbors I have now? Nah.

♦ ♦ ♦

Whale caroms. Don’t ask me what it means cuz I do not know.

When something pops into my mind while I’m away from home, I write a quick note to myself, to remind me to write about it later. It's the only way this zine could exist.

Here's a note, found in my windbreaker pocket this morning. It’s my handwriting, and it's on a piece of letterhead from where I work, so I must've written it at work. It's legible, so there's no mistaking what it says, but it's too quick and cryptic. It says:

Whale caroms.

♦ ♦ ♦

Kallie asked me to help her get packed for her vacation, so my afternoon and early evening was with her. Not that I have any muscles or rippling biceps or anything, but she has a bad back, and can easily wrench it if she lifts something wrong, so like Mighty Mouse, there I came to save the day.

BARTed to Kallie's house, said her flatmate, Janey or Jilly or something like that, opened the door but then thankfully disappeared. Kallie gave me a hug, and we lunched at Happy Palace, same place where we ate last month, and this time we both had the squid — chewy, yummy, but it’s on the plate alone. Everything else — we had fancy fried rice and oysters — is ordered separately, so the tab was twenty bucks for the two of us, not counting the tip. Wowzers. I’ll stay with the Sincere Cafe, where a $5 lunch is so big I sometimes can’t finish it.

Back at Kallie's house, I hoisted a few things — her sleeping bag, a blanket, a load of laundry — and carried everything to her van. She showed me her vacation’s worth of weed, which was more marijuana than I’ve ever seen in one place that wasn’t a movie, and she offered to share a bowl, but again I declined. 

She keeps offering me drugs, and I keep declining. I'm not a teetotaler, but anything that muddles the mind is a rare treat for me, not a habit. Can't find the words when I'm high or otherwise impaired, and being wordless strikes close to the heart of me.

It was nice seeing Kallie, though, and then she was gone. Hope she has a nice vacation. I’m secretly hoping for a post card.

From Pathetic Life #6
Sunday, November 13, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

Pathetic Life 

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Denise at 22

Denise Louie was a young woman I worked with, at an office job in the mid-1970s. She wasn’t a friend, but she didn’t annoy the hell out of me, and that’s rare at work, so I liked her. She was Asian-American, and bright, I remember, and funny, I assume — I don't like people who are never funny, so she must've made me laugh.

We talked, but it was only workplace chatter. She mentioned classes at the university, so in addition to working full-time, I vaguely knew that she was also attending college. I never asked what she was studying, though. 

She once recommended a movie to me, playing only at an old theater in the International District, in Chinese. It was the first subtitled movie I'd seen, first of hundreds. It was a documentary about building a subway — strange movie indeed for a lady at work to recommend, I thought, but it was fascinating.

Denise often mentioned the International District. Just south of downtown Seattle, it's a sector that includes the city’s Chinatown, Japantown and Little Saigon. Most of Denise’s happiest events and stories took place there, or so it seemed from our quick Monday morning “How was your weekend?” conversations.

What did she really care about? I never asked, and didn't much listen. She mentioned politics a few times, but I wasn't political yet, and wasn't interested. When Elvis died, she was the person at work who broke the news, but few other memories of Denise come to mind.

She was somebody, like most people are, but I never knew who. We spent 40 hours a week within fifteen feet of each other, that's all, and then one Monday morning she wasn’t there. My co-workers and I assumed she was out sick, but at 9:30 or so, we were all called into our boss’s office, and somberly told that Denise had been killed the night before.

She’d flown to San Francisco for a sweet weekend with her boyfriend. While eating a late dinner at a restaurant in SF’s Chinatown, shots rang out, five people were killed, and Denise and her boyfriend were two of them.

September 4, 1977. Commonly called the Golden Dragon massacre, the murders were gang warfare gone awry — none of the people killed had any connection with any gang. I’m not a fan of the “true crime” genre, so I won’t say any more about that.

Denise's death flashes across my mind every time there’s another mass shooting, which is often, because this is America. We love our guns, and our right to kill people quickly whenever we're offended.

All the shooters were caught and convicted. The first to be released was Curtis Tam, in 1991 — his sentence was short, because he’d cooperated with police, and identified everyone else who’d been involved. Tom Yu, who was 17 at the time of the murders, was paroled in 2015. Three others remain behind bars, near as I can Google, but I’d be fine with letting them all out, unless they pose an actual threat here in the 21st century.

Golden Dragon

In my on-line searches, I found this photo of the restaurant where Denise died. The building's distinctive yellow criss-cross pattern was instantly familiar to me, so I’m certain that my wife and I ate there. Unknowingly, of course.

In the San Francisco Chronicle's coverage, I learned that Denise had been studying urban planning, which probably explains why she'd enjoyed that documentary about subways.

A daycare in Seattle's International District was named in her honor. At their website, I learned a tiny bit more about Denise, and what she'd cared about, and I stared at her photo for a while. I knew her, barely, and remember that smile, snuffed out at just 22 years of age, 44 years ago.



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