6 foot 11

There was almost no work to do at work, which is OK — the pay's the same whether or not there's much to do. They’re rewiring the counters (desks) where we work, so people have been moved around, leaving nobody within easy earshot of Carlotta and me. 

She is flirtatious, and I don’t mind, and I guess/hope seeing that I don’t mind encourages more of the same. Being by ourselves seems to encourage her, too.

She was talking about the Warriors (basketball team), and how she’s drawn to tall men, and then she said, “My husband is 6 foot 11.”

"Jeez, really?” I asked.

“Yeah, he’s six feel tall,” she said, holding her hand over her head, “and eleven inches out,” touching her thumb to the center of herself and then out in front. I laughed, and probably blushed.

I don't remember what we were talking about, but she said she's strong, and flexed her arm muscle, asking me to feel it. Okay, I squeezed her muscle and said something stupid like, “Not bad.”

“Can I feel your muscle?” she asked, and because her jokes are all dirty and corny, I guess I knew what was coming. I flexed my arm muscle, which ain’t much, and she said, “Not that muscle,” giggled and walked away.

Later she talked about going swimming at a cousin’s house when she was 16, and discovering two friends, both girls, all over each other in the bedroom. Okay. Haven’t got a lot to say in response to such a story, so I just smiled.

Men talk like this all the time, when it’s just guys in the room. For all I know, women do too, but most women do not talk like that with me.

Toward the end of the day, she was speculating about who might be gay in the office, which is kinda silly since most of the gays are way way out. She wanted to bet me on Julio, one of the temps — is he gay or is he straight? — which is of no interest to me but for Lottie I am very willing to play along, and we bet a dollar. She asked how to find out, and since she was wearing a fairly short skirt, my suggestion was that she hike it up to her thighs to see if his eyes bug out like mine would. She laughed, but didn’t do it, damn it.

That was the only out-of-line thing I said all day, but Carlotta said a dozen things. I should add that it wasn’t non-stop, and only totaled maybe fifteen minutes of childish nonsense all day.

I am not trying to make this into a tawdry zine of stroke material, but the assignment is, I'm supposed to tell you what happens every day. Today, nothing happened except some PG-rated conversation, and it was one of my favorite days ever at the office.

From Pathetic Life #8
Wednesday, January 11, 1995

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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  1. I know this is a piece about flirting, not being 6'11", but one of the distressing things about the human body going to hell as it gets old is the deterioration of the skeletal system. I've had three back surgeries in the last 10 years, and I've lost something over four inches in height. I was a pretty short guy to start with, so, embarrassingly, tall, young women are frequently seeing me try to climb the shelves in the grocery store to get the "right" kind of cat food and coming to my rescue. It's not a cool way to start a conversation with females, and I don't have a burning need to talk to them anyway. I have a couple of places that burn, and at least one of them used to involve women, but it's been a long time.

    While I have you on the line (operator, won't you help me place this call . . .) I'm from roughly your origin part of the world. I grew up in Tacoma and spent a few years living and working in Seattle. I lived just north of the city limits for a year or so, then moved to the top of Queen Anne Hill, across the street from Queen Anne Elementary School on Boston Street. It was an apartment house (still is) whose residents boasted that it was the crappiest building of Queen Anne Hill. That was in 1973 or so. Google Earth shows it a little fixed up today, but it ain't pretty.

    I got to be good friends with the couple who managed the place, and think of those days every time I hear Tangled Up In Blue, which is more often than you'd expect.

    I lived with them on Montagüe Street
    In a basement down the stair
    There was music in the cafés at night
    And revolution in the air

    Then he started into dealing with slaves
    And something inside of him died
    She had to sell everything she owned
    And froze up inside

    And when finally the bottom fell out
    I became withdrawn
    The only thing I knew how to do
    Was to keep on keeping on like a bird that flew
    Tangled up in blue


    1. Prime Dylan, to be sure.

      "The aroma of Tacoma," we called it. It was the paper mill, I think, but eventually the EPA made them install stack-scrubbers, and last time I was there, Tacoma smelled great. Home of Brown & Haley, which I'm no longer allowed.

      I've lost about two inches myself, with no surgeries yet. How's your back now? Did the surgeries fix things, or just buy the doctors a better yacht?

      Happy memories from the top of Queen Anne Hill, under the television towers. I expected the neighborhood to be snooty, but found only minimal snoot. No movie theaters, though. We always had to go downhill to see a movie.

    2. There was a rendering plant within a mile of the paper mill, and the Asarco copper smelter upwind of both, so that all three combined to blow the essence of Tacoma across the Fife plain through which ran first, Highway 99, then I-5, both of which were major north-south routes between Canada and Tijuana, if that's your idea of a good time. The Tacoma Chamber of Commerce had a higher suicide rate than the WWII Japanese Kamakaze corps for a while there, but time and tide ended up closing all three of the smelly businesses, leaving Brown & Haley about half way between the first two on the Tacoma tide flats.

      It was the construction of the smelter stack that brought my grandfather to Tacoma in the very early 1920s. He was, by that time, a master brick mason, and usually got to work on the jobs he bid on. The Depression changed all that, but for a while there he was top-end blue collar.

      I dated one of the Haley girls, and we should have gotten busted for necking+ in the balcony of the old Sanctuary of our church. Maybe god was watching out for us or maybe he remains on an extended coffee break. She was a sweet girl, and visiting her at home gave me my first look at both a butler and a maid in traditional regalia. She didn't give a damn about all that stuff. She was more of a "Girls just want to have fun" teenager, and you'd never know her family had folding money or pulled more than their share of community influence.

      I actually found walking around Queen Anne Hill very similar to walking around the North End of Tacoma. Non-view houses just within reach (in the 70s) of Mom & Dad blue collar working families, friendly, happy people, and pretty good sidewalks.

      I walk like the guy at Notre-Dame, which makes me shorter still, but I had a genius surgeon, and I can sit down or sleep with little pain. Pre-surgery my SO had to drive me to the hospital once a week or so, so they could knock me out and get me a few hours sleep. It's much better now. Not much open-field walking, but with a cane or two I can make my way a few blocks across the neighborhood I grew up in. I typed this entire message pain-free except for the dangling modifiers, and I can live with them. Thanks for asking.


    3. I'm glad your life is relatively pain free, sir.

      You dated a Haley girl! I've never even seen a Haley girl, but I'm impressed. You must've had game, as the kids say these days.

      Man, I want a Mountain Bar right now.

      This is off-topic, I suppose, but I've never understood why Brown and Haley isn't world famous. Couple of years back I sprang for two big tins of Almond Roca, shared at my Wisconsin workplace, and not a single person said, "Ooh, Almond Roca!" Everyone just said, "What's this?"

      Rendering! I lived downwind of a rendering plant once ... very briefly. "Rendered me senseless" was the 'joke' me and my flatmate told each other for the whole month I survived.

    4. It was a long time ago, and I didn't date her for long. I think I was about 15, and, in retrospect, I think she managed to dump me without my noticing. If there was game to be had, the Haley girls had it -- not me. Odd, but Tacoma is such a small town that I've not mentioned this incident to anybody. Not everybody knows the Haley girls but everybody knows their confectionary products. And I do know that one of them had kisses sweeter than Almond Roca.

      Sometime after the Almond Roca kiss they tore the whole building down. It was a lovely building with a lovely sanctuary, but the church wanted to go upscale. I was sort of hoping they'd build the new sanctuary for worship and retain the old one for necking, but they said it was a fire hazard. It's possible the Haley girls could have ignited the place without combustibles, although distance enlarges passion.


    5. The Haley Girls sounds like it could be a good novel if you wrote it. Or maybe a good porno.

      Our church had a balcony, but services has such low attendance, nobody ever went up there, except me, exploring. No makeout sessions though, so I await your book.

    6. I left my church with little regret when I was about 16. My folks asked me to attend until I was a teenager, then make my own decision about how I spent my Sunday mornings. Of course I had no idea I'd won the parent lottery: I thought that's the way all families operated.

      My church population had included a fair number of well-to-do families from the North End. I think that's one reason the guys who really ran the church wanted to build the fanciest sanctuary/Sunday school/admin offices in town. Ten years after mortgaging the church's future, the families with dough had moved on to what would later be called megachurches, and the low-end folks were left with a building they couldn't afford to occupy. The sanctuary, with hardly any serious prayer-wear on it, has been boarded up for decades. The few dozen remaining congregants hold church services in the basement. They can't even afford to heat the fancy sanctuary on Sundays.

      Dad went back there in his 80s, after Mom died; he was looking for somebody to officiate at his funeral, but he never said so. He ended up really liking the minister: the guy played guitar well, and he and Dad could duet. Of course the cosmic joke kicked in, and the bastards who ran the church at that time fired the minister Dad liked on the premise that he couldn't stop smoking. And Dad made it to 92. So when the new minister showed up for the funeral, my sister and I took over and ran it ourselves. A pissed-off minister is always good for a laugh, and Dad really loved to laugh. It was a fitting departure.


    7. Man, I do love your stories. Tell me more. :)

      Raising you in the church and then leaving the choice up to you. Sounds so damned *civilized*. In my family you're damn well supposed to be a Christian for life.

      Reminds me, I ought to write about the church I grew up in. There's a story there, for sure ...

  2. It's a big country, but I wouldn't want to coup d'état it.

    Just in case somebody recognizes the last name of the "girls", I should make it clear that both of them, and their parents, were decent, egalitarian people. There was a lot of la-de-da in that church, but you wouldn't guess from these folks behavior that they had dough. (Is Almond Roca made from dough? Didn't think so.)

    They were just a couple of pretty girls who never mentioned that I wore the same suit to church every Sunday for years. That's one benefit of staying short. They behaved with the kind of decency that would be welcome from people with money today, but it rarely happens.

    Everything I wrote is true, but decency is always worth mentioning.


    1. Such dedication to honesty is appreciated. You still have warm thoughts toward that girl, and happy memories keep us alive.

      I've never known a person as rich as a Haley girl would be. In my very limited experience with even "successful" people, if they made the money they're 100% monstrous in their day-to-day lives — but their offspring have a reasonable chance of not being assholes.

  3. . . . and thank you, Doug for the kind words about my comments. You could have said, "Sounds like you have a big dick" and it wouldn't have made me feel happier. I think my writing is a little showy and wandering. So did my journalism advisor in college. He said something like, "John, when I ask for 200 words and you give me 800, that's not a bonus for me. It's a pain in the ass." Words to live by for a would-be news hound.


    1. Made me LOL, sir.

      I never took a class, but I've never written anything, ever, that wouldn't be better with pruning shears.

    2. You'd never know it from a few small looks at my writing, but my favorite writer is Dashiell Hammett. I supposed I've read other authors to completion, but I reread Hammett about every ten years. A simple declarative sentence is easy to read and difficult to write, which might be why Hammett stopped writing fiction 30 years before he died. To be fair, he didn't know it was 30 years before he was going to die: he had TB and thought he was running out of time which we all are.

      See how fat that sentence is? All it needs is the first sentence.

      If you've not read The Continental Op, or not read it in a while, please pick it up. Seven short stories with most of the fat trimmed. It's art, I tells ya. And San Francisco was the Op's home. Most of the stories are set there; the city functions as a character in much of his writing.

      I sometimes get carried away selling my favorite guy. Best stop now while I can.


    3. I've just placed a hold on The Continental Op, at the library. Ain't modern technology a marvel.

      I spent a year or so gobbling up pulp novels some time back, definitely including some Hammett, but Continental Op isn't familiar to me.

      For many years my favorite author has been B Traven, but my last few Traven re-reads were maybe too soon, or too many re-reads. Something new, like this Hammett kid, might be perfect.

    4. B Traven. I've not read him, although his name (or pseudonym) has come up from time to time over the years. He's there, then he isn't, like a fist when you open your hand. He has a face and a name, then just a smile, then that fades too. Now I'm embarrassed that I know my guy's middle name. Hammett took on Joe McCarthy and did hard time for it, which finally broke his health and his spirit.

      But with B Traven, everything is up for grabs: his name, his face, the language in which he did his primary writing, his personal life . . . everything except the quality of his writing which, in several languages, has a reputation of being impeccable. I'll place him on my "before I die" shortlist. Do I start with "Treasure . . ."?


    5. I know nothing of Hammett v McCarthy, but *anyone* who was v McCarthy goes up in my estimation. Details invited, if you're feeling chatty, but if not rest assured I'll look into it eventually.

      Much as I like him, B Traven's books are a mixed bag. He never wrote one I didn't like, but many or most can be a little brittle and stale in parts.

      By far his two best novels are The Death Ship (a parable about the worst job in the world) and Treasure of the Sierra Madre (his most famous work). Maybe start with his short stories, if you're not sure.

    6. Seconding everything you've said about B. Traven. I've not read all of his work, but four or five, and The Death Ship and Treasure... are both excellent


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