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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Buckminster & Amber - 24

A Failure to Communicate

It’s Bucks again. Now what? “You woke me from a nice dream.”
“I’m surprised that you have time for naps with all your blogging.”
“You’re always blogging. You’re a blog hog. Sheesh! You’ll probably be on Facebook next, telling people about your exciting trip to the litter box.”
“What is your problem?”
“You’ve been taking over our blog. Just look. Scroll back . . .23, 22, 21 . . . .
“Well here’s an idea. Why don’t you write something?”
“I was going to, but you hid my notes.”
“I what?”
“You hid my notes . . . or moved them . . . or something.”
“And you’ve looked all over I suppose.” He’s such a twit sometimes.
“Of course I’ve looked. I’ve gone through that whole cat pile on the desk. They’re gone.”
“When did you see them last?” He’d lose his tail if it wasn’t glued on.
“I don’t remember. Week or two ago I guess.”
“Two weeks? It takes two weeks to write a hundred words for your Buckminster blog?”
“It’s complicated,  Amber. And I need my notes.”
“Where did you leave them?”
“On the desk, right next to your stuff and I’m pretty sure you moved them.”
“Bucks, I did not move your precious notes. Come on. I’ll help you find them.”

I admit there’s quite a lot of papers  here . . . lawyerly stuff, agreement papers . . . escrow.
“What’s this paper? ‘Fear Fur Flying,’ has been cat scratched at the top.”
“That’s it! Where was it?”
“Underneath some legal papers. What’s this ‘Flying’ thing about?”
“It’s complicated and I need to do some more research. It's not easy getting information.”
“Right. Whatever. Do you mind if I go back to sleep now? There’s a sun beam coming through the window . . . nice and warm.”
“You’re going to think warm in a month or so,” he tells me. Wonder what he means by that? I’m curious.

Monday, January 28, 2013

On Leaving America - Part 38


Holy cow it’s almost February, short month coming up. The time is going by so fast, and I feel like I’m running in a swimming pool. Unending, these last days. Appraiser came and looked around our place, no problem as we’ve sold for less than what it’s worth. Amusingly another offer has been made. For more money than our current would-be/ might be buyer, offered. We learn we can’t jump to the higher offer . . . one of those papers we signed. I think I have signed initialed and dated over fifty papers now, the latest an agreement with the new offer. The house will be theirs if the first offer decides they don’t want the place, can’t get the loan . . . or whatever. This took another fifteen pages, over fifty signings, dating, swearing to: ‘Yes. I have read this.’ Signed and dated.
            “You don’t need to bother reading,” we are told. “It’s just the same old boiler plate. Initial here and date.” Our agent points to a blank space, and I fill it with my signature. “Initial here,” she shows a handmade + someone has penciled in the margin. I put my initials in the top right corner. Lou puts hers in the left. The might-be buyers will initial the bottom quarters.

I remember the story of a jet pilot about be lunched from an aircraft carrier’s deck. Being hooked up to a catapult that would hurl the plane off the deck at over 100 miles per hour. Kind of like a slingshot. The pilot looks into a steel framed window some distance away and makes eye contact with a lowly corporal . . . an enlisted man, nineteen or twenty who will throw the switch when the pilot signals he is ready to go. If the switch is thrown even half a second too soon some very bad things will happen to the plane and pilot. A moment of totally trusting someone you don’t know. You hope they know what they’re doing, and are not having a bad day. I remember an Arab proverb: “Never put your trust in the hands of a Stranger.” Good advice, but sometimes there’s no choice.

            Agents are interesting, and there are several kinds. 1. The average hard working lady, with her following of might-be buyers. She is simply dressed, nothing fancy, homey. 2. The well dressed lady, good clothes, big diamond ring. 3. The the sexy lady . . . twenty . . . maybe thirty something. Wearing knee high boots and well made up. Good looking , sharp. A barracuda. Almost everyone looks young to me these days.There are also men of course, but not that many,
            4. There are Asian agents who bring Asian clients who are almost sure to ask if there are other Asians in the neighborhood?
            “They’re everywhere,” I tell them. “Over there, across the street, and right next door . . . Korean.” We’ve got everything: Three whites, two blacks, Samoans and Dominican Republic. We’ve got ethnic covered. It’s a good neighborhood, with housewives who keep an eye on things. Years ago there were old ladies who sat by the window and watched the street most of the day. “Who’s dog is that?” My aunt once asked, with a pair of high powered field glasses in her lap. “I ain’t seen him around before.” 

            Grandmas are mostly in the old folk’s home these days. Watching TV and waiting to die. Our modern housewives don’t have time to sit . . . stay on the move but always watch. They keep an eye on their kids, and an eye on the street . . . and the neighbors. I trust them to pick up my mail when I’m gone on a trip. They come over to feed the cats when we’re gone, and come call to tell me I’ve forgot to close our garage door. They call police if anything looks funny, and they e-mail goings-on, things neighbors should know. As good as it gets. We might be that lucky again. All Swedish of course and not many of them, maybe a dozen houses. on a semi cul-de-sac.  I’ll be the immigrant, the new guy who can’t speak the language. What will that be like? What are their feelings about Americans?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Lost In Seattle


It’s almost 4 a.m. Three hours of clean-up left to go. Lunch time’s about to end, but I can’t eat. I’m totally exhausted, covered with white flour dust and stink of lard that we’ve been wiping off the ovens, ductwork, and conveyors. It was a mistake to take this temp job—an act of desperation, but who knew? It’s hard to find a decent job at my age. I turned fifty-three last April and regaining my once middle-class existence won’t be easy, but I will. I’ve got to. I slug down another cup of weak machine-made coffee.
Roger pokes his head into the bleak, white-latex lunchroom flooded with fluorescent light. “Yo! George Hampton, Mister Brenner! Time for blow-down. Fun, fun, fun!” Roger’s the senior baker here at Grannies’’ Cookies. Grannies’’ is a part of the much larger Endorf Corporation. I once held some Endorf stock. Life is ironic.
I suspect Roger isn’t happy that I’m so much older than the other temporary workers. Probably worried I won’t work as hard or fast as they. He’s probably right. I’ve got a masters
—engineering. Roger might have graduated high school . . . might have.
Now the temp I’ve been paired with, George, is struggling to his feet. We get along okay. He’s an old hand at this—a big dude, taller than my own six-feet, an African American, well-muscled, and quite possibly on drugs. He won’t stop talking. I suspect he’s using uppers of some kind. Working with him’s like having a transistor radio beside me. There’s no way to turn George off, but I don’t mind. We follow Roger to another section of the building, passing by a white board listing lost-time accident reports: one fractured arm, a broken toe. George sees me looking.
“Got to watch your ass in here,” he warns. “Shit happens.”
There’s a stretcher fastened to the wall beside the board. My empty stomach feels a little queasy—should have eaten something.
We step through a metal door that opens to a flour storage bin some thirty feet across, about three times as high—a topless cylinder of stainless steel. It’s empty now. We stand in drifts of flat-white flour dust below a spider web of catwalks, pipes, and duct-work also covered with a layer of the fine, white powder. I begin to sneeze and wipe my nose onto a lard-stained sleeve. It’s warm and humid with an overpowering smell of flour, lard, and something I cannot identify.
Octavio shows up with yellow plastic raincoats. “Put these on,” he says. Octavio is one of five Hispanic “sanitarians.” That’s what they call the permanent employees working here as janitors. The sanitarians wear dark green coveralls with name tags sewn on. Now, another of them brings us matching hoods with plastic windows to look through. Air-filter cartridges have been attached, one on each side. I put mine on and find the inside has been wiped down with disinfectant that has killed the greasy odor of the cookie hell outside, replacing it with its own antiseptic scent. The hood and raincoat feel uncomfortable and claustrophobic.
I’m already sweating as we’re given shiny, flat-blade shovels. There’s a pile of large black plastic garbage bags for us to fill.
“Take us about an hour,” George tells me.
Squinting through my scuffed-up face-plate, I watch sanitarians climb ladders to a maze of narrow metal-grating platforms high above. They look like figures in an Escher drawing.
“Ready?” one of them calls down.
“We ready!” George calls back. “But you be—”
George’s voice is drowned out by the hiss of compressed air hoses that start the blow-down, and a blizzard of white powder swirls around us. We begin to shovel and the inside of my mask steams up. Sweat burns my eyes, but I can only blink. No way to get my hands inside this hood. Eight bucks an hour, for this.
I can see George, a blurry image in his yellow raincoat, shoveling hard and fast. It’s difficult to breathe inside this hood. No way I’m going to do another night of this. I’ve got to find a steady job.
Some twenty-five or thirty minutes pass before I hear a muted shout from high above us, seconds later a metallic crash that’s followed by a shriek of pain. A spray of red splatters the window of my hood. George screams a stream of muffled words from underneath his hood. I drop my shovel and run toward him, stumbling on a sheet of metal partly hidden by the flour dust floating down. Swaths of George’s blood begin to darken as they soak into the whiteness that envelops us.
I yank off my hood and yell into the chalky haze above us, “Stop the air!” Dust quickly clogs my nostrils. Shit! I doubt the Mexicans above can hear or even see me. Christ! It’s hard to breathe. George’s left arm is spewing blood from where his hand should be. I’m frozen for a moment, stunned by this surrealistic horror.
“George!” I grab him by the shoulders, lose my grip, then grab again. He’s big and heavy, slippery with blood and on his knees now, the grotesque appendage flailing, slinging plasma as I try to drag him to the exit.
“No!” he protests—wants to go the other way. His bloody stump beats on my legs.
“My hand!” he screams.
With strength I didn’t know I had I haul him back outside the bin, then stick my head inside again and shout to those above us.
“We need help! Godammit . . . HELP!”
Blood spurts from George’s arm. I tear his hood off. Jesus, God . . . what can I do? His mouth’s wide open with a gold tooth gleaming as he howls and writhes on the now blood-slicked concrete floor.
“Hold still!” I rip the raincoat from his body, then remove my own. “We’ve got to stop the bleeding!”
Someone dressed in white comes running as George moans. “Ohhhh, God!”
A pool of blood expands around us.
“What happened?” asks a baker who stays back a yard or two from where we are—afraid of AIDS, I guess.
“He’s lost his hand! Call 911!”
The baker takes a cell-phone from his pocket and a moment later red lights spin and flash above us; now a siren wails. The air compressor shuts down, leaving us in eerie silence as a crowd of voyeurs gather; most are dressed in baker’s uniforms. I drag George to a concrete column and then lean him up against it.
“Shit!” I don’t know what to do. Nobody’s offering to help. I look at George. His face has turned an ashen gray as tears clean narrow trails through flour dust on his face.
“My hand,” he moans. “You got to find my hand! Go find my hand!”
“Lay him down flat!” one of the female bakers shouts. “I’ve had first-aid,” she says. “Make him lie down.”
“Okay.” I make a pillow for him with our raincoats.
“Find my hand,” George moans as I take off my belt and make a noose around his injured forearm.
“Hold this tight.” I shove the end into his right hand. “You’ve got to stop the bleeding!”
“Yeah. I got it, man. Go find my fuckin’ hand.”
I run back into the bin. The dust has settled—ankle-deep . . . blood spattered everywhere. I find a soft depression where we struggled, and a broken shovel handle. I squat down and rake through the accumulated flour with my hands—no luck. A nightmare. I begin to work my way out in concentric circles. Here! The hand is cool and clammy, lifeless meat. I stand and start to leave but trip on something. Damn! The shovel I was using. I get back onto my feet and run outside to George.
“Get us some ice!” I’m yelling at a group of bakers who have gathered, gawking at us. “And a plastic bag!”
I kneel at George’s side to show his severed hand. I don’t know what to do with it.
“Good man,” George says. “You okay, Willie.”
“They can put you back together, George.” His right hand’s shaking but still holds the belt tight as two guys in green come with a stretcher. Octavio hands me a plastic sandwich bag filled with crushed ice, but George’s flour-encrusted hand won’t fit. His fingers are protruding from the bag. Two more Mexicans get George onto the stretcher and I put the hand between his knees as they take off with him. I’m shaking, dizzy, nauseated.
“Better get yourself cleaned up,” one of the bakers tells me. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m okay.”
*       *       *
But I don’t look okay inside the restroom as I stand before a full-length mirror. I look like something from a horror film. Soap and warm water wash blood from my face and hands without much trouble, but my pants and shirt are caked with lard-soaked flour dust and dark, red stains.
I leave the restroom, heading for the cafeteria and find George laid out on a table. There’s a pair of medics with him. They’ve brought first-aid cases and a gurney. One puts George’s severed hand into a Styrofoam container as the other sticks an IV in his arm and then another in his right hand’s index finger. Something’s draining into him from two clear plastic bags. My belt has been replaced with a white cloth they’ve tightened near his elbow. The two medics hoist him up and plop him on the gurney. One asks questions. “What’s your name?”
“George Ham . . . pphhh . . .”
“Hampton,” Roger tells them.
“What’s your name?” the medic asks again. I guess he’s trying to see if George is conscious, or to keep him that way as the other medic turns to Roger. “Is this guy on any kind of medication?”
“I don’t know. He’s just a temp.”
I wonder if I ought to tell them I suspect that George is on amphetamines . . . might be important. I decide against it.
“All of you, go back to work,” says Roger to the vultures who have come to watch. Myself, the medics and Octavio remain.
“What’s your address?” the medic asks George.
“Ummmm . . . Seattuuul . . . uh. . . .”
“Wake up! What’s your address?”
There is no response. The medic looks to Roger for an answer.
“I don’t know.” He shrugs his shoulders.
“You should call Max,” Octavio suggests.
“Already have,” says Roger. “Max is on his way.”
A paramedic turns George on his side and rifles through a billfold found in one of his hip pockets. “2215, South Yesler.”
“Good enough.” The other medic writes it down, then makes a cell phone call. “Give me the trauma doctor,” he commands. “Yes . . . Dr. Harwood? This is EM-405. We’re on our way in with a severed hand. Our ETA is fifteen minutes . . . right.” He puts the phone back in his pocket. “We are good to go,” he tells us. “Taking him to Harborview.”
They wheel George out and as they leave, a man I haven’t seen before appears in street clothes: clean, white shirt and tie. He’s got a clipboard in one hand.
“I’m Maxwell Evens, nightshift manager.” He peers at me, but doesn’t get too close. “Who saw the accident?” he asks.
Octavio just shrugs.
I tell Max, “I was with him when it happened.”
“And your name is . . . ?”
“Brenner. William Brenner.”
He writes down my name and address.
“Brenner’s temping here,” says Roger. “His first night.”
“Okay then. Roger, you can go. I only need the people who were on the scene.” He turns to me. “What happened?”
“We were inside a bin, shoveling flour dust into bags.”
Es blow-down,” says Octavio.
“Then something fell,” I tell him. “And a sheet of metal tore through his left forearm—broke the shovel he was using.”
“Did you have protective gear on?”
“Yes. We both did.”
“Umm.” He thinks about it for a moment. “Guess you really couldn’t see too well then, could you? So much dust, the mask and all?”
“I could see George in his yellow raincoat. And I saw the silver flash of something coming down,” I lie. I’m pretty sure George Hampton’s going to need a witness . . . if he lives through this. I tell Max how I got George out and found the hand.
“Were any others there?” he asks.
“The bakers came, but they just stood around. The sanitarians brought us a stretcher and a plastic bag of ice to put the hand in.”
“Right.” He jots down the information.
Octavio steps forward. “I should go back now?”
“No, not yet. I need to get your statement. Mr. Brenner, you can leave. Go home and get yourself cleaned up. We’ll be in touch. You’ll need to sign an accident report.”
*       *       *
Five minutes later I step out into the cool, pre-dawn fresh air of this October morning—almost 6 a.m. My pants are falling off. Forgot to get my belt, but I’m not going back. I need a drink, but only have three dollars with me and I can’t go anywhere dressed in these blood-and grease-stained clothes. I climb into my van and start the engine, roll the window down and breathe in deeply, savoring a breeze that sweeps away the sickeningly sweet smell of Grannies’’ baking chambers. I’m completely wired and wide awake. What now?
I cross my arms on top the steering wheel and rest my head on them a moment before trying to find a station on the radio. Nothing but early morning news and silly wake-up broadcasts. Might as well go home, clean up, and try to get some sleep. I’m missing Laurie, my ex-wife, and having someone I could tell what happened to. What’s my daughter, Mary, up to now, I wonder. I assume she’s still ensconced inside that Buddhist monastery up in Nova Scotia or I would have heard . . . I think. God, how the time flies. She’ll turn twenty-three in June. She doesn’t write or call.
Lonely as God, an army buddy once remarked. We were in basic training, his first time away from home. I didn’t understand the comment then, but I do now.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Buckminster & Amber 23

Amber Cart Youga 1

I'm in the middle of my cat-yoga program when Bucks comes storming in.
“He’s going nuts!” He tells me.
“House-man of course. He’s losing it.”
“You’re tripping, Bucks. You’ve probably been inhaling that flea stuff they rubbed on your head. But I admit, he seems a bit uptight.”
“Uptight? I’ve played with harps that have less tension.”
“You have never played a harp,” I tell him.
“It’s a metaphor,” he says. “I have a poetic license.”
“You should write another poem for me. I like those.”
“I’ve got too much on my mind.”
“Like what?”
“Just things . . . beyond your female comprehension—worries. I think something’s going to happen, and I’ve seen the servants dusting off our cages.”
“Do you think they’re getting ready for the silver bird?” I ask him. Now I’m worried.
“I suspect another doctor trip,” he says. “If I get one more chip they can use me for Wi-Fi access. Sheesh!”

“Go take a nap,” I tell him. “You’ll feel better in the morning.”

Sunday, January 20, 2013

On Leaving America - Part 37

20 January – Seattle

It’s raining of course, and cold in this house. Only 32 degrees outside, but there’s a never ending draft comes through both the front and sliding glass back door . . . somehow it gets past several windows. It’s now 22 degrees in Sweden, but if I were there--inside, I would be warm. Outside I’d freeze my ass off, but the houses there are airtight, windows triple paned. I’m looking forward to the inside part. Outside’s another story. Cold and dark . . . nine months a year, gives Scandinavians a predilection for madness and alcohol. I’ll have to change my entire filing system.

We were lucky with the house inspection and our home may now be sold . . . or not. I thought it was over, but no. There are details: escrow things, appraisal by the bank the would-be buyer hopes to borrow from. More papers to be signed, thousands of words written in legalese no one in their right mind would attempt to read. Today we used our agent as interpreter. 16 pages: 'Notice Regarding Closing Services, Certification For Information Re: Sale, Property Information, Borrowers Authorization, Homestead Information' - Homestead information? Are we in 1890's Oklahoma? No this is Seattle . . . Only in Washington. Next another couple pages - 'Request For Information.' Mind you none of this makes any sense whatsoever to anyone other than a lawyer or real estate agent.

In the meantime we continue to be kicked out frequently as new prospective buyers visit on some kind of backup plan, in case . . . whatever. Stress will go another notch when the place is finally sold. Our furniture will be shipped and we’ll be spending weeks in an empty house with a thousand dollar TV we will give away on final exit. It can’t be used in Sweden. They have a different kind of broadcast system . . . better than ours I’m told. It’s like the Betamax vs VHS format thing here. The U.S. system went in first and Sweden had the luxury of time to see results. They made a better choice. They were also clever enough to reject the Euro.

We will still have a mattress that we paid another thousand for.  I've that sold for fifty bucks. It will be taken away on the day we leave . . . in March we hope. The oven, fridge and wash & dryer will remain with paper plates and plastic flatware. Like a picnic, gee what fun! One of the neighbors will loan us a couple chairs and there’s a table I like we will also give away on exit. I sold my beloved 1911 Colt for less than half of what it’s worth. Still have the Browning shotgun that my father gave me for my sixteenth birthday. Lists for better that six hundred on the internet. I have been offered one for it so far and doubt I will do better. It's so hard to let go of things.

I’ve figured out what I would do if asked to go through all of this again. I’d buy a saffron robe, the kind those Buddhist monks use, then two gallons high test gasoline. I would paint over the For Sale sign with new words then give the house and myself a liberal dousing and throw a flaming Zippo lighter through the front door that leaks air. When things reached the inferno point I would go running in, screaming something profound. I haven’t thought of what last words would be yet, but it would be over. A moment of pain, then peace . . . the material world a memory at most, perhaps not even that.

As I write this the toilet has begun overflowing in the bathroom. Wife is screaming "Help!"
I can see water flowing down the hall and long for peace of mind that seems as far away than Sweden or perhaps beyond this planet.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Buckminster & Amber - 22

Buckminster & Amber –22

I’ve been hanging out with the houseman today. I like to snooze between his feet. They have a nice earthy smell. Bucks and I communicate a lot with scent. The bipods think I’m scratching when I rub my face against an object, but of course that’s where my scent glands are. I give the servants a shot now and then but they are totally unaware. Our sense of smell is many times more sensitive than theirs. It’s almost impossible to communicate with them. I can read and understand spoken English, but they are almost totally ignorant of Catanese which is mostly non verbal. The houseman knows Miaow means I want lunch and meuw means I would like to have a snack, but that’s about it.

I’m trying to tell him about Bucks and fleas, but it’s hopeless. He seems stressed out today. There was some conversation with the housewoman about an inspector coming to look at things. I’ve never really understood their relationship with things. I just don’t get it. Buy ‘em, climb on ‘em, sleep on 'em, smell ‘em and forget about ‘em; that’s what I say. Sooner or later you’re going to have to let them go, either by choice or not. At best you pay the rent and keep up maintenance, but of course I never have. I mean even way back, when I was in human form, in Berlin. The males always picked up the tab. I was, how should I put it, a good friend
. . . companion. A courtesan you might say. I always wore the most expensive furs and shoes. I’m barefoot now, that’s transcendental karma for you. I don’t mind. I’m still well taken care of, pampered, loved and petted.

            Now the housewoman's come in. “Bucky has fleas,” she says. “I’m pretty sure.”

            Well, duh. You think? It’s been so obvious!

            “We’ll get some flea stuff at the pet store,” houseman tells her.
            “Might as well leave now,” she says. “Inspector’s coming with the buyer soon. They want us to be gone three hours. “You want to see a movie?”

            Maybe it’s some kind of flea inspector. That makes sense. They’re probably everywhere by now and I refuse to get another haircut. This was last time. Do you blame me?