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"I'm not going to die here."

At work, still smoldering over yesterday’s fire at the store, I wrote a polite but pointed e-mail to the Security Department, and CC’d my boss and her boss.

“We knew nothing about yesterday’s fire until we smelled the smoke. The building has a fire alarm system, as required by law, and we have drills every few months, so we know it works. Next time there’s a fire, we’d appreciate it if the fire alarm was turned on.”

Both Babs and Darla replied, separately, telling me my email was inappropriate. Darla said I should’ve brought my complaints to her, as this is “a management purview,” but I did bring it up with Darla yesterday, and all she said was that the Muzak would be turned on again.

Babs told me I should've gone through proper channels, and she sent a separate e-mail to Security, CC'ing me, telling them, "Please disregard Doug's e-mail." She said that Security would be hearing from her “within a few days,” which is probably supposed to put my mind at ease but does not.

Was my e-mail out of line? Do I care? No and no. Yesterday was a real fire, not a drill, and it showed that the fire drills are bullshit. It’s “a management purview”? Maybe, but management has fucked it up so it's also going to be a Doug purview.

I did not reply to Darla or Babs' responses to me, but I did reply to Babs’ e-mail to Security — the one where she told them to ignore my e-mail.

“I work here, do what I’m told and don’t make waves, but I'm not going to die here. My request for a working fire alarm is not unreasonable. If it’s disregarded, as Babs has requested, I will next contact the Fire Department and the Chronicle.”

No response to that, yet.

♦ ♦ ♦

In the mailbox, a letter from Stuart Mangrum, publisher of Twisted Times, with some compliments I don’t deserve, and asking me to write film reviews for his zine. Flattery will get you a movie critic, Stuart. I phoned him and said sure, asked a few questions about deadlines and formatting, and now I feel good all under. 

Nice letters are always appreciated, but this one made my week. Twisted Times is a major-league zine — it’s been around since forever, always well-written and thoughtful-slash-fun reading, has a deservedly great reputation (jeopardized by a new movie critic), and an improved format for the current issue makes it look almost slick, but not in a bad way.

I’ll be proud to be part of it, until Stuart wises up and kicks me out. You can get your copy of Twisted Times by sending three dollars to ████████, CONCORD CA 94527. 

♦ ♦ ♦

I was out front at the Pacific Film Archive, making eye contact with every youngish white guy who came alone, because that’s all I knew about Leaf Smith. He was already inside, though, approaching every fat white dude he saw, with similar un-success. When I gave up and went inside to buy a ticket, he approached me (“Fat and ugly, that must be Doug”) and we had a few minutes of light conversation before the lecture began.

Yeah, a lecture. Some literature professor from U Cal Berkeley had seen the movie before, and wanted to analyze everything about it, which sounds like something I might enjoy — but not before the movie, damn it.

The film, Dante’s Inferno (1935), wasn’t what I’d expected, though I'm not sure what I expected from a 1930s film of the hugely overwrought 700-year-old poem about the punishments of Hell. It’s Americanized and set in the 20th century, of course. Spencer Tracy plays a gruff ignoramus who gets a job as a carnival barker, for a sideshow called Dante’s Inferno. With a promise to “put Hell on a paying basis,” he makes this dodgy business so successful he’s soon creating a new Inferno attraction that could rival Disneyland. 

Some of this seems very dated, and time is crazily compressed — Tracy meets a woman, dates her, proposes, and they’re married with a child in about a minute and a half. The story draws you in, though, and the effects are excellent, especially a brief reading from Dante’s poem, stunningly visualized. The characters are vintage 1930s stock, caring about quaint concepts like integrity and honor and all that rot, but overall it still packs a wallop. 

Afterwards, Leaf and I walked to downtown Berkeley, and went into a bar so fancy that when I ordered Bud the waitress said, “Not here.” We sat in  the patio and talked for a couple of hours, drinking imported beers — same pissy taste, but more expensive. Whenever the conversation went quiet, I babbled about meaningless nonsense. I can babble, man, just look at the zine. 

Leaf is a likeable guy, not as immediately wide open in person as he is in his zine, but in life instead of on paper that would be difficult, maybe dangerous. We talked about a zillion things, most of it interesting, at least to me, and most of them forgotten, because I can’t drink two beers and remember much detail the next morning. 

What I remember is that I had an OK time, the waitress had a pretty smile and a tight sweater we left her a good tip, and I’m not sure but I think Leaf paid for the beers. I don't want to marry him and have his babies in a minute and a half, but he seems like a good guy. Any time you’re doing nothing, Leaf, feel free to dial my digits and I’ll do nothing with you. 

His zine is very good, and you ought to send a couple of dollars to Leaf Smith, ████████████████, BERKELEY CA 94704 for a copy. It’s written in a diary format, like this zine, and it’s honest, angsty, and smart, but without my annoying anti-social attitude.

From Pathetic Life #6
Thursday, November 17, 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.

Addendum, 2021: I don’t remember writing any movie reviews for Twisted Times, and I don’t remember ever seeing Leaf Smith again, after that night.

Pathetic Life  

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