Saturday, June 1, 2013

Work Ethic

In some significant ways, the best job you ever had was managing a parking lot on the northwest corner of Dunsmuir Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, an area known as upper Miracle Mile.

Much in your life has changed since you held that job, starting with the general ambiance and architecture of the neighborhood, then extending to your own ambiance and architecture.  Directly across Dunsmuir Avenue was an equivalent of a fast food restaurant, Wimpy's, named after the hamburger-loving character in the now moribund comic strip, Popeye.  Wimpy was, in full, J. Wellington Wimpy, a man who thought more kindly of the hamburger than Popeye thought of spinach.

The restaurant, Wimpy's, of course featured hamburgers, as well as other grill items such as buttermilk hotcakes.  In a memorable quid pro quo, you accorded the manager of Wimpy's in-and-out parking for the occasional snack.  Such were the familiarity of ethics in those days that the transaction had the approval of your boss at the parking lot.

Dunsmuir and Wilshire was within an easy walk to where you lived, just off Hauser and Sixth, and even closer to an earlier living site on the six-hundred south block on Cochran, meaning there were any number of friends and acquaintances whose paths passed or ended in the parking lot.

Thus, company on some regular basis, including a frequent visitor who either went to Wimpy's to pick up your lunch or watched the lot for you while you dined at the window table.

Not far away was a first-class delicatessen, Woloshin's, where,  you could indulge a fondness for brisket or corned beef sandwiches on freshly baked kaiser rolls, slathered with deli mustard and accompanied by tart, barely pickled pickles or sour tomatoes.

You'd already launched yourself toward your intended career, which meant an immersion in as many different kinds of story as you could ingest.  This fact prompted frequent analogous comparisons between you and books or magazines and Wimpy and his hamburgers.  

You of course had no way of knowing you would be doing the things you are now doing, nor of any number of providential accidents or spontaneous decisions in store for you, nor did you even then believe in a sense of destiny where the future was pre-determined for you by some unseen editorial hand.

You had a girlfriend named Lita, whom you rather liked, and who was more than patient with her attempts at teaching you to dance in any way whereby she could dance with you.  You had a portable typewriter, which you often brought to work with you, in case you should happen to have attractive concepts for translation into story (although, truth about yourself to tell, you were not at the time able to distinguish between concept and story).  

You had access to books, which also migrated to the telephone-booth-like stall that constituted the "office" of the parking lot, and had some how come into possession of a Lone Ranger and a Roy Rogers thermos, relics of then-popular school lunch boxes.  For a logic now beyond your memory, the Lone Ranger was for coffee, Roy Rogers was for lemonade.

The pay was also of the kind of arrangement you've come to like, where there were no time cards or extensive documentation, rather a sense from you and your boss that you were both in a comfortable relationship.  

At one point, you were riding a smooth, comfortable California wave. Once you began being able to sell your stories, you'd be able to turn the parking lot into a collection of short stories, each based on one of the individuals who parked their cars for purposes that struck you as magnificent in their complexities.  (Were you to have told the customers that, they would have looked at you with some degree of wonderment.  And you'd both be right, you for imagining things about them and they for questioning your vision.)

In other words, you were in a happy, comfortable zone, where story and event seemed to you a combination of John Fante and William Saroyan, not quite magical realism, not quite cynicism or noir, either.

How filled with nostalgia and comfort those times and those agendas seem now.  You were not only living in an area of a magical city called The Miracle Mile, you were working on one of its corners, witness to the warp and weft of its fabric.  Small wonder you wrote and thought and believed as you did.  Small wonder you took in books the way Wimpy took in hamburgers.

One day, however, two men appeared in the parking lot.  One wore rimless glasses, combed his hair straight back over his oval face, and smiled at you as though he were already beginning to ease you out of your comfort zone.  His name was Hersch.  "You probably know my partner here," he said, indicating a man in his late forties with a neat, trimmed mustache.  "This,"  he said,  "is Max."

Max and Hersch owned a luggage shop at Hauser and Wilshire.  "We want,"  Hersch said, "to teach you the luggage business."

You had already seen what the luggage business did to your father.

"I have no wish to learn the luggage business,"  you said.

"We will teach you how to repair suitcases and trunks,"  Max said.

You explained how you were absent any wish to learn how to repair suitcases and trunks and that in any case, you were temperamentally and mechanically not coordinated to the point of being able to repair suitcases and trunks.

"We'll be back,"  Max said.

As you recall, they rode in a dark Buick sedan.

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