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Danny dollars

Same story as a year ago, or twenty years ago: I'm lying in bed, half reading zines and half simply staring at the skylight, thinking whatever I'm thinking, perhaps touching myself in an unwholesome manner, and all this nothingness is sweet indeed, but now it must end. My watch is nagging at me, telling time, and the time tells me to get dressed and get ready for work.

Twenty years ago I was frying burgers at a greasepit. A year ago I was data entry boy in an office. Today I gotta go sell fish. And as far as jobs go, selling fish is OK, but it's a job.

Gotta work. The arguments with the City of Berkeley cost me two weeks pay while the fish stand was shut down, and I haven't been working too hard at finding other work with "I'll do anything" flyers. Supposedly Sarah-Katherine and I are moving to New York City, and that won't be cheap. Staying here isn't cheap either.

Gotta work, so there I was, pushing the fish cart toward Telegraph Ave. Crossing a street, I was pushing the cart beside a homeless guy, thin and grimy. Sometimes I talk to street people, sometimes I don't, depending on their demeanor and mine. This guy was talking to himself, which everyone says is a sign of nuttiness but I disagree. I talk to myself all the time.

Anyway, I've seen him around, so I knew he was OK. He was saying something about money, something like, "... and I need five dollars to pay Palmeretti back, and enough money for a pack of smokes, but what the fuck is money anyway? I have a better way—"

"What's your better way?" I asked him.

He answered instantly but it took a few minutes, because he had a lot to say about money. His name is Danny, and I think he's a homeless genius. Get this: He wants to establish a Berkeley monetary system, which he envisions as a coin or a piece of paper that's worth an hour's time. "To buy a cup of coffee," he explained, "might cost 15 minutes, so you'd hand over a silver hour or an hour's certificate, and they're give you 45 minutes back."

"So you come back later and work for the coffee shop for 15 minutes?"

"No, see, that's the beauty of it," he said. "The wouldn't expect me to work. They'd give my 15 minutes as change to people who bought lunch, and the people buying lunch wouldn't expect me to work either, and the coffee shop wouldn't expect them to work, expect anyone to work. The promises get circulated, the same as dollar bill is just a promise of a dollar's worth of gold, but nobody actually redeems a dollar bill for gold, do they?"

"What about doctors and lawyers and such?" I asked. "Their hours would be worth more than my hours."

"Then they'd pay more," he said. "Everyone pays 15 minutes for a cup of coffee, and it's all the same. The doctor earns more, so his coffee costs more, but to the coffee shop it's just another 15 minutes."

"And everyone would be circulating your promises to work, but you'd never have to do the actual work?"

"Well," Danny said, "I'd have to make the coins. That's work."

"So you'd be the Federal Reserve," I said, and he laughed and said yeah.

When we got close to Telegraph Ave, he showed me the Berkeley Hour coin he'd designed, made of wood and with the mayor's face drawn on it for heads, and the mayor's butt for tails.

"Good work, man," I said. "How long did it take you to make that?"

"An hour, of course," he said. "It says right on it."

When I started looking around for the vendor sign-in sheets, Danny said, "Gotta go," and faded away. It was like riding in a carpool, without the car.

♦ ♦ ♦

Jay stopped by the fish stand in the afternoon, to tell me to bring the too-tall magnet display tomorrow, and set it up even though it's illegal. Remember, it's about a foot and a half taller than city code allows. Jay told me what I'd told her the day the city schmuck tape-measured the display, that several other stands are about the same height and get away with it.

I don't really see the strategy here, though. Jay has told me that she's in the midst of delicate negotiations with the city over whether they'll allow us to sell Darwin fish, so is this really the time to open a new offensive against them, by fighting for a taller display? I love breaking the rules, but this seems like the wrong moment.

As always, though, I only sell the fish. Jay makes the fish and owns the fish, so she's the boss, and she says to set up the illegally tall display tomorrow, so I will.

I did tell her, though, that if a city worker comes by with a ruler and gives me a ticket, or a warning, or tells me to disassemble the stand, I'll have to kill him. Insert theme from Psycho — stab stab stab, blood everywhere, and a city employee's tongue in my back pocket as a trophy.

I am not kidding, although of course I'm kidding, but I told Jay I can't stand any more of Berkeley's bureaucratic bullshit. It's making me cuckoo, can't you tell?

She said that if anyone gives me any crap, I should play dumb, pretend I've never heard of any height limit for vendors' displays. She promised to bail me out of jail if I murder an inspector, so tomorrow our fish stand will stand tall.

♦ ♦ ♦

Well, hell. The new issue of Lumpen has a review of Pathetic Life written by Steven Svymbersky, and it's not a complete dismissal, he likes the zine, but he badmouths the layout. "8½ x 11 inches just stapled together," is what he says. That's the lazy man's format I've used since the first issue. 30 or so pages, stapled together in the upper left corner.

Lots of zines come in the mail with pages in a half-size format, folded and stapled in the middle like TV Guide, and as a reader that's easier. Steven is right, damn it, so despite my public education, I'll try to figure out how to paste up pages that way, and I'll reset my typewriter's margins, and buy a long-arm stapler, and then maybe I'll raise the price for all my extra trouble.

From Pathetic Life #16
Saturday, September 30, 1995

Addendum, 2022: From that day to this I don't remember giving Danny's currency scheme any thought, but today it occurs to me that I've seen and participated in similar systems over the years since then. I wonder if all of them trace back to Danny's idea?

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.

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