Tuesday, December 17, 2013


Before you reached your current state of working at jobs related somehow to things that have already been published or things milling about in hopes of being published, you had a varied, eclectic assortment of jobs, ranging from the physical to the more restrained.  

With one exception, when you managed a parking lot at the northwest corner of Dunsmuir and Wilshire Boulevard in the midst of the area of Los Angeles known as The Miracle Mile, these jobs were boring to the point where time seemed to hang like the June gloom overcast of the summer months.

The cut-off point was somewhere between your late twenties and very early thirties, when you were paid for something you had written or edited, or taught, and all the other activities, working for a carnival, a telephone soliciting firm, a house painter, an auctioneer, a carpenter, a luggage shop, a hot dog stand on Westwood Boulevard, the post office, the telephone company, a camera shop, a number of supermarkets, and a brief stint as an extra for live television dramas had fallen away.  These occupations were gone in the sense that even had you attempted to return to any of them, they were beyond you.

Many of the individuals you socialized with could, as a result of their job experiences, fix things.  One writer you admire much to this day, Daniel Woodrell, had been a hot tar roofer, causing you to think how, now wonder his narrative voice was so sharp and distinctive, appearing verbs and nouns to contest one another, paving inevitable paths to the drama of disaster and broken dreams.

There was a time when you were attempting to write yourself beyond and away from such television programs as I Search for Adventure, Armchair Adventure, Tarzan, and, for a brief spell, Lassie, which meant you were at least writing at and about subjects less likely to bore you or bring you into collaboration with the mischievousness of rebellion.  

The boundaries between work and mischief were gray then and in memory remain the gray of a particular year or two of seeming magic, where you were playing baseball with officers of the Writers' Guild, with actors, and publicists, reading dozens of novels, writing four to six hours a day, getting into profitable arguments with other writers about who mattered in literature and who did not.  

The magic was that you were somehow able to afford going to cocktail lounges where respectable jazz was being played, extending the literary arguments, and writing stories for a slather of pulp and so-called men's magazines.

You call those years magical because, after a few years of living them, the tide and directions of your career were shaped by enormous accidents, all of which moved you farther away yet from the Plan B jobs that kept you afloat. 

At this stage of your life, you began a strong process of identifying with the poet Emily Dickinson, who more or less lived her life in a house in Amherst, Massachusetts, wherein she wrote her idiosyncratic and probing verse.  You were by no means housebound, but you were in your room more than you were not, and your sense of connection to Dickinson came after you began to realize that a writer, in particular a poet of her depth and reach, travels great distances over the oceans and deserts of the mind, experiencing encounters with the explosions and ricochets of drama.

As you experienced your apprentice and magic years, before things turned accidental on you, thoughts haunted you that you could not fix things.  You'd changed a few flat tires, had some good luck with a plugged toilet, knew how to change the oil on the VW Bug you'd financed through the Writer's Guild Federal Credit Union.  But you could not fix things.  You could break them or wear them out, but you could not fix things.  

Stan Cook paid his way through UCLA Law School as a carpenter.  You had miserable experiences trying to hammer in nails without bending them.  At the McDaniels Market in Beverly Hills, where, as a box boy, you were not supposed to accept tips from customers, you were fired for accepting twenty-five cents from Lauren Bacall, and were suspected of being the cause for all of the Redi-wip whipped cream canisters being defective because the manager had heard you explaining to someone that the propellant at the time was nitrous oxide.

Gary Boren paid his way through law school by being able to sell things.  Jerry Williams somehow became a technical writer.  Michael Hurley, fed up with technical writing, was able to sell men's shirts at The city of Paris in San Francisco.  Jim Silverman had half interest in The Old Spaghetti Factory Cafe and Excelsior Coffee House.  Lee Cake could fix things.

Don Pettit could use a blow torch, and until he managed to turn a bulldozer over on its side, he had what you thought of as fixing hands. Ron Rolfe, who was going to be a doctor, said he liked the idea that he would be able to fix people.  "You have to realize," he told you before he died, "that no one can fix everything.  Some things aren't to be fixed."

A. Eric Haron, a moody Iraqi, outright challenged you.  "Why are you so determined to fix things?"

Sonny Criss, an alto saxophonist at the level of Charlie Parker, got you properly stoned, whereupon he counseled you to be patient.  "Soon,"  he said, "you will be able to fix sentences.  You will--"  and you still recall the moment, because he giggled so hard, you realized he was stoned, too.  "--you will be able to plumb the fuck out of them."

You are at peace with trying to fix your own sentences and paragraphs, accepting of having some skills at telling a story that, after a time away from it, still has meaning for you.

You can and have fixed your sense of being bored at the jobs you had before all the accidents got you to where you are now.  And you still think of Emily Dickinson and the incredible journeys she took from that frame house in Amherst while remaining in her room.

1 comment:

John Robinson said...

Did you know Jimmy Silverman? He was my wife's uncle.