Monday, September 29, 2008

Gone Postal - A Novel - Chapter 1

I remember the morning well, I hadn't made it to bed, woke up on the couch with my socks still on, half a beer gone warm clutched in my hand, which I viewed as a failure, not just a waste, but a lost opportunity as getting a little more drunk might have helped.

The wife came out of the bedroom as I was making coffee, she like me dreary and bleary-eyed numbed to face another day like the last one and the one before that stretching back months now to a time that may have been even worse.

She came over, put a hand hesitantly on my shoulder, and I turned, looked at her tired, broken face and said just as it occurred to me, "Let's get the fuck out of San Jose," not with any anger or volume but with a certainty that whether or not it was an answer to our current problems it was a necessary first step.

She just nodded.

There wasn't anything there for us anymore and I was sick of asking for it. Selling stuff I couldn't see to people I didn't know that did stuff I couldn't care less about. It was money, good money, for awhile. It wasn't there anymore, not for me anyway.

So we told our landlord we wanted our last month's rent and our security deposit and he came and looked around at the state of the apartment and said we'd get neither. I thought about fighting him for it, then looked around myself at the stained carpets and splattered walls, shrugged and gave up.

We packed what things would fit in the car we hadn't sold, ditched the rest and headed north. I decided to go over the Golden Gate Bridge one more time even though it made more sense to go east to I5, but north is the "free direction" and it seemed like the right thing to do, you know, to close the book.

About Novato, the wife asked, "Now what?" And I said we'd cut over to Vallejo, catch the 80 towards Sacto then head north.

"That's not what I meant," she said, which I knew, but didn't have a better answer, so just sat there in silence driving, watching small things in the distance get bigger until they went rushing past.

We just kept going north, stopping to eat and sleep when we were hungry or tired, until we ran out of north, well, American north, Lower 48 north, then we backtracked to Seattle figuring that was it for now.

Looking at the map we wasted $3.50 on at an Exxon station in Redding, I thought we should go west as far as we could, too, hit that last corner of the country at a place called Neah Point. It meant more money for gas and the ferry so we decided against it; however, I could feel myself there on a wind-swept promontory looking out over the Pacific imagining myself in those places so far west they're east. I've reached back to that made up memory so many times now I've almost convinced myself it's real, maybe making it more real than some of the real things that happened to me which are hard to believe in themselves.

We found a place in Green Lake much cheaper than what we had been paying in the Bay Area, but equally nondescript. I fought slipping into the same pattern of coffee/beer/teevee/sleep until I felt I'd exhausted all the employment opportunities available to me. Then I slipped hard.

The wife got a job as an admin, answering the phone and making lunch reservations for the CEO of a software company, which was kind of funny considering I'd been fired by one a thousand miles ago. It paid the bills, barely. We weren't going anywhere, spinning our wheels, hers more than mine. We fell into a sleep, wake, work rhythm, mine more syncopated than hers, less productive, inching slowly towards destructive.

I don't know if it was out of boredom, curiosity or shame, but one day I answered an ad for a job at the Post Office. For some reason they hired me. I joined the American Postal Workers Union and found myself sorting mail with big machines on the night shift. At first it was kind of cool, learning the Vsort, putting in the mail, creating order from plastic bins of chaos. It was like solving a puzzle every night.

Then it all began to run together in a long string of nights, knots thrown between when I'd sleep. The wife and I saw each other in passing. I'd come home and lie down in bed with her for a bit before she got up to go to work. For awhile I tried to get her to have sex with me, she'd almost always balk saying she was tired and had to go to work. Then when I started coming home drunk every night she would just get out of bed when I got in. I was her rooster. Her alarm.

I remember those days now with an odd affection completely at odds with how I actually felt at the time. Isn't that always the way, it can get worse and it usually does, so remember to find what's good now because it's fleeting. Of course, were that true and I was one to take my own advice I'd have to find the good stuff of where I am now. I can tell this story. Whether that's good for anyone else remains to be seen, but I can still tell the story and that's something I should be thankful for.

Over and over again: sleep, coffee, work, beer. It was money. Not a lot of money, just enough, as usual. Plus, it was something to do, but still we weren't going anywhere. The wife would come home and sometimes I'd have dinner ready for her. We'd sit and eat and talk about her day and mine. The conversations consisted of her relaying the day's offensive comments of her boss, who did sound like a real piece of work, but after a few weeks I got tired of listening, which, is just how the wife responded to me.

My work stories started getting better and better to my mind, and yet the wife didn't see it that way. She was embarrassed that I was working for the Post Office, thought I could do better, that I'd given up, "You're a college graduate for crying out loud." She had a point. I mean there's not much future in schlepping paper. What working for the Post Office did do, though, was get me in front of Max.

Max talked. We'd work side by side for hours and he'd go on the entire time. Mostly about politics, which, at first, I tuned out because I'd given up on politics. One white guy calling another white guy a liar, both of 'em taking money from the rich to get the poor to vote for 'em. I didn't see the point. Max knew a lot about "the system," all the details of ballot proposals and the local politicians, assemblymen (!), and even if he wasn't right he spoke about it all with such confidence it was hard to not pay attention to him. Plus, he was entertaining. When it's three a.m. and you're sober stuffing Penny Savers into sacks, some good bullshit is appreciated.

Max lived nearby the PO, so when I started giving up on the wife and going straight home, we'd head over to his place for a beer or two.

Others started to join us. It seemed we had regular parties nearly every morning. And always the bullshit, on and on, we'd prattle until it came to the point that we weren't just talking anymore. We were planning. The griping got specific right quick and it wasn't long before our group was actively recruiting. No one liked lugging the heavy bag, pushing carts full of junk. I knew enough about marketing from my days in the Valley to proclaim with some confidence that the return on direct marketing was microscopic. If a campaign got a one or two percent response rate that was deemed a success. I saw then how that was. Cheap distribution of paper on the backs of mail carriers. None of us were happy. You can imagine. So, it occurred to me that at one or two percent return most of those mailers wouldn't notice a difference if one PO stopped delivering that crap. And we were certain our "customers" wouldn't care.

The question then became how to get rid of it, and, of course, how to not get caught. It made things interesting. We had to corrupt the higher-ups, plenty of the old-timers had done a bit of this over the years. The mail carrier who hadn't tried to lighten his load at one time or another was a rare breed.

Gun Money

Military Industrial
busy busy boys
Complex yet simple
very big toys
prima facie reason
bald faced lie
peace is treason
buy buy buy
funding war
and bombs galore
not another trip to the grocery store
D o D
why oh why?
why can’t we diversify?
space-based missiles, tanks, and planes
components of the same refrains
if the goals are defense and protecting us
we’ve paid our tolls so let’s discuss
new levees, and schools, a bridge or two
we understand that’s not what you do
with all the billions we give to you
but if you could spare a few
pennies for more pedestrian places
rather than funding political races
we might solve the real problems that face us

Friday, September 26, 2008

Campaign Pain

Hundreds of millions
Hillians and Billians
Campaign financing
The cash flows around
Dining and dancing, wallet romancing
Writing checks makes hardly a sound
Compared to the cries of the fiscally bound
Two thousand bucks is a mort-gauge payment
We can’t afford this extra rent
Disposable income already spent
Us vassals pay an automatic tax
Stretched to the limit we can’t relax
The war is funded on our backs
Money for networks, CNN and FOX
The cozy circle: donation - an ad buy - the expert talks
Tracking the horse race as the rest of us watch
Complacent then choosing like Goldilocks
Too high or too low or right in the crotch
They kick us and trick us
The show goes on
Til the first Wednesday in November
When the politicians are gone
Then we hope they remember
And this wasn’t a con.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Reagan Kragen

This engine now might never start money motors fall apart and sad old farts are hoping still to play big parts when those roles they stole were mucky plucked from waters muddy and, yes, we'd prefer the understudy. Bedtime for Bonzo to AG gone Gonzo, the casts change and rearrange, yet the stage is set and we're the fools breaking legs on broken rules, listen closely as they sing their songs turning righteousness into wrongs, the beat goes on drumming strumming thanks for tanks and financial slumming. Across the nation they go dishing meanwhile we continue wishing an extra tax won't snap our backs, not exactly favored sons we're caught looking, backwards Ks, book cooking 401s deep in debt under water, our payments go to pay for slaughter and so the system runs and I have to ask, taking the entire crowd to task, if we don't give you cash in tons, who gets hurt, Republicans? They've stalled us all nothing's getting overhauled.

The Cost of Doing Business with History

I take that post title from Tony Judt’s excellent book “Postwar,” but it is an accurate representation of what this administration is comfortable with, the belief that the atrocities they commit now will be justified by magical results in some undefined distant future. It’s a callous calculation and runs contrary to public opinion, what historian extraordinaire Howard Zinn outlines so clearly in “A People’s History.” So, where are we the people?

At 29% this President’s approval rating is not only low, it’s been consistently low. Nixon quickly cratered, Bush has been under 40% for more than two years, and under 50% for more than three The lingering distrust (if not outright disgust) of Bush has contributed to an air of impotence, that what the people want does not matter, what laws say does not matter, what basic human decency demands does not matter.

I’m not sure where I read this, but Bush’s “protection” of us, put in stark terms, is like the following example: Imagine you are in the Oval Office and Bush sits behind his desk with a hammer poised over a kitten. In order to protect you, your family, your country, he must kill that kitten. What do you say? Say you let him hammer that kitten to death, then all around him you see countless cages filled with kittens, and he plucks out another one and asks the same question. At what point do you tell him to stop killing kittens, that you don’t think it’s worth the price, and you don’t think it’s an effective way to protect the country.

Now imagine we’re not talking about kittens, but Iraqi children. How many Iraqi children must die before we demand an end to this senseless war? Yet, we sit here and wait out his last months while the killing goes on, and they continue to scare us with Iran, and they prolong this war making another callous political calculation, ie that the next president will have to deal with the mess and if that president is a Democrat then they can revive the canard that Democrats caved too soon, that like Vietnam, had we the will, had we the stomach to push on in the face of the American public’s opposition (and all reason) we would have surely prevailed. This is doing business with History. Will of the People be damned, they tell us they know best and they will continue killing kittens until ousted from office, and then blame their successors for failing to achieve a victory which was right around the corner.

The salient point here is that Judt was talking about Communism, about Stalin. He was commenting upon what one Party, consolidating righteousness and might under the umbrella of an unassailable ideology is capable of doing, what horrors they feel justified to commit based upon some imagined future idyll.

This describes Communism under Stalin and it describes America under Bush. They, those cold Cold Warriors, have become what they fought.

Please, Don't Make it a White One

Losing houses is merely a symptom
Keeping track is simply past him
Here’s the recurring theme
that should be our meme
the man’s a hypocrite
He’s sold his soul to Rove et al
Four years after a racist hit
Now he’s got colossal gall
to play off the same old fears
Save us please from four more years
Denounces swiftboating now looks away
As the same scum print scurrilous lies
It’s an attack book, so they say
Even libel is OK
Vacuous phrases leak from countenance stony
The hypocrisy turns my stomach
The empty man’s an unmatched phony
Here it is, the Republicans one trick
It’s a horse race, but somehow they win with a mental pony

Artichokes and Cavalcades

When the shooting stopped and ragtag veterans straggled home, the politicians took over, cementing in history and a gelatinous future, the Western States of America. There comes a time when institutions previously considered unassailable must bow to change, when in the course of human events, holding truths self-evident and all that shit. The fact is we were tired of getting kicked around, tired of having people far away tell us what we could and couldn't do, tired of them taking our money and spending it on things we didn't want it spent on, like killing people.

The formerly united states of America will survive, as England has. Natural borders exist for a reason, rivers and mountain ranges signify more than arbitrary lines on a map. Western Americans are different, we exist in a different space, we share a different history. Aleutians and Russians, Snohomish and Asa's girls, Utes and Mormons, the Hopi, Anasazi, Mexicans fighting French, Richard Henry Dana and California Dollars, Baja to Bear Flags, Whales, Great Whites, Orcas, Mammoths gone and the Giants live on, refusing to bend to the will of the distant weak, feeble in spirit, poor souls gathering riches once too often, gone to the well over and over without so much as a how do you do. Screw your electorate, we've got the college majority so we've got the authority to do whatever we like with what we steal from you. Tommy Paine was pissed.

Extended tours, army in disarray, economy shattered by banking scandals and Asian governments calling in chits, the field was ripe, revolution wasn't a vacuous ad slogan anymore, we took to the streets then the hills. No one knows the back alleys and backwoods better than locals and if our forefathers and the Lakers, our Mesopotamian and Algerian and Vietnamese friends taught us anything it was home court advantage counts big time.

Not to diminish the lives lost, bodies shattered, families forever torn apart, but it was surprisingly easy. Take a navy base and a few missile silos and people start to pay attention. Foreign diplomacy, Bennie Franks in Paris, no coonskin cap, no, a Reyn Spooner and flipflops and we were California Dreamin' in Tokyo, though. Sole Superpower the biggest poppy to lop and the community of nations stood in line to take their swipe. Hell, this wasn't Kosovo we were talking about, this was the sixth largest economy in the world.

That's how it came about, that's how I found myself standing astride bots dots on a shut down Highway 1, the glistening Pacific on my right, the artichoke fields of Watsonville on my left, the cavalcade of conquering heroes marching slowly in the distance fresh from the battles of LA coming home to Santa Cruz and Gilroy, Milpitas and fucking Bolinas. Not even bothering with cars or trains, taking their sweet goddamn time reveling with the locals night after night as they took their roving party north, dropping off fellows in their hometowns, kissing newfound friends and long-suffering warrior kin goodbye for now. There was tomorrow, oh yes, always tomorrow, as Scarlett said, we'd fought for it and it was ours forever.

Alternative Energy

Whale farming approached economic viability as oil prices skyrocketed, but it wasn’t until massive krill blooms, acre upon acre of biomass, clogged waterways, that the leviathans could be profitably rendered for fuel again. A new breed of tanker, floating factories, part nursery, part oil rig, part research vessel, wind-driven, road the waves.

Those remarkable ships, and the roughneck scientists who manned them, grew and managed herd populations using advanced fertilization techniques and daring whale-herding trickery that made a terrestrial cowboy’s bareback riding stunts seem like guppy jumping. Damn near permanently at sea, they moved liked Melville except the beasts’ staggering numbers made long lookouts obsolete. Anytime they wanted to tap a sperm whale for another ton they could, the only challenge filling holds as close to port as possible.

The severe resource scarcity that lead to whale oil’s resurgence as a power source meant diabolical competition, herders fought herders, each fought poachers, all of whom were subject to the treachery of pirates, Ambergrisians the most nefarious. Rogue waddies swiping a fish or two found themselves trapped in the middle, the Scylla of major oil harvesters on one side, and the Charybdis of the maniacal piratical Ambergrits on the other. For some the temptation was too great, a mid-sized bowhead was a floating fortune what with oil approaching a grand a barrel.

Technology worked against the small-fry in more ways than one. GPS chips embedded in the flesh of each branded beast meant back at base Cetaceans formed schools of electric lights on massive screens displaying for the energy titans exactly where their oil swam at any moment.

Low-tech countering tactics were deployed by the Ambergrits, coordinating their dodgy network of sailors and slicers who could move in and take a healthy chunk out of a herd before even the fastest crew could come to the rescue. By quickly skinning and rendering the first blubber layer they could filter out the chips and reattach them to other whales in the pod, leaving their thieving trail untraceable.

As breeding methods improved whales could be tagged at birth, devices woven into growing bone made the skeleton itself the identifier, soon to be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of dollars of precious oil. The game went on. The more paranoid deployed dirigibles, fleets of airships to criss-cross migration routes as the jetstreams intersected them, the preordained paths of air and water ridden by man and whale, ship and balloon. Skirmishes erupted into full-blown battles that often left crews of airmen and seamen in the deep.

The landlocked were sadly beholden to this brave assortment of energy mavericks. Every inch of arable land was needed for food production, bio-fuels were a bust and hydrogen-based technology was still years away from fruition. Mobility had long-ago become a luxury of the rich, automobiles albatrosses to the poor who could only afford to live in them, rusting hulks off silent highways. There was a desperate need for heating oil, and as power outages went from intermittent, to frequent, to forever, whale oil was in high demand for its illuminating properties once again. Children grew up in crumbling homes wondering aloud what outlets were, funny slender eyes stared powerless, their utility gone.

Walking the tightrope, cold and starvation below a thin thread of tenacity, mankind moved on, surviving off land and sea as it had for millennia.