Friday, August 11, 2017

Emotional Labor

I learned about Emotional Labor back in the mid 90's, after I had slunk out of grad school.

I needed work and found it in a hell located in the Herpes Triangle of Old South Lake Union. A friend of mine dated this guy named Jesse, a bartender at an Irish Sports Bar and he could get me a job with great tips. Dingus O'Tooles wasn't particularly Irish, and the clientele wasn't exactly athletic. 'Sports' meant sitting at a bar watching professionals on television.

The food was laced with salt, nitrates, generally fried and not very Irish. Let us consider the fried jalapeno poppers stuffed with cream cheese. I suggested adding flecks of pimento to the cream cheese so the white cheese, stuffed into a green pepper had a dash of orange to look like the Irish flag. My suggestion—one of the few times I slipped up and gave a damn there—was met with ridicule. Juan, the lead line cook was at least consolatory:
Ada, esta mierda es todo lo que hizo en el este de Newark y congelado. Acabamos de poner en la freidora
I was not about to suggest Dingus O'Toole's serve a Gorgonzola cheese sandwich and nice glass of Burgundy, although a carafe of Carlo Rossi went by the same name as a special on "Lady's Night."

We had to mind our appearance and appear 'fresh.' No tattoos and no piercings other than earrings. The uniform—what there was of it— was nominally Irish in that is had green and white stripes. I had to wear a padded bra, and Stu, the manager, made me wear flats even though all the other girls had to wear heels. "You've got the best gams here Ludy, but you're already taller than most of the customers who come here. It'll intimidate them." 'Ludy' was the diminutive nickname he gave me.

To rationalize this entire arrangement, I had strained my feminist principles to an absurd low through the casuistry of economics, Camille Paglia and Hegel. I traded emotional labor for money. It's what women have been doing for a long time. But I didn't realize it until my last night at Dingus O'Toole's.

It was a rough, busy night. The place was full of mostly white fratmen at various chronological ages, although since they are all about 5 to 6 years old in terms of maturity there isn't much difference. Put enough Jameson and Guiness and you have a level playing field of entitled loutishness. I had a couple of pints and basket of fries I was dropping off for Cindi when I felt a hand reach up under my skirt and grab my ass.

I turned. He had a blonde crew cut, and blue-grey eyes. Perfect teeth and a deep tan. He wore a short-sleeved Ralph Lauren polo shirt. His collar was popped.
"Is your pussy as tight as your ass, baby?"
It's hard for me to remember exactly what happened next. Most of it was overwhelmed with a moment of clarity: a walking nightmare that like most dreams did all its dirty work in a second.
Around the Ourbouroritic Compost Mill, the Mabta Python chased a tethered jackass around a circle. Eventually, the jackass stumbled and tripped over the tail of the Python. The python swallowed the jackass and its tail and in so doing the mill turned. 
Although, blood is difficult to get from a stone, tears are not because they are relatively cheap. The men of the city came forth with shits of all beasts. They threw it in the hopper of the mill and watched the serpent consume itself. Finely ground shit comes out of the mill for the roots growing around the mill. 
All day long fat men drink beer in a nearby shed. In between slapping and napping, they come forth and stagger to the mill and move in stumbling pavane and piss out their great quantities of urine upon the thirsty roots that grow and move with snapping mouths. 
The roots fasten upon bare breasted girls, the fat men, the serpent, and all is reduced beneath the monsoon to a bloody cesspool of moving roots. When the sun returns, a single bamboo shoot rises and this stalk is used to create a new boom around which a new jackass and new serpent revolve.
I dropped the beer and fries. That much I know.

Jesse told me I gave the fratman a right-cross worthy of Mark Trail. (Jesse was devoted to the comics in the old Seattle Post-Intelligencer). Unfortunately, there was no Irish-style bar fight. People just pulled us apart and the injured fratman wanted to call the police. Stu fired me on the spot and bought the men another round of beer.

I only wish I had glassed the fratman's fat face with one of the Guinnesses.

I went home and got drunk by myself and threw up. Two days later I was in a tattoo studio on Capitol Hill and… that's another story.

There is a lot of talk about Emotional Labor now, and I fear it's some attempt to normalize and hide it under the carpet of disregard, low wages, and contempt. This is why I always tip well. This is why I don't want someone to have to diaper me while I bleat in an Alzheimer's delirium. It's why I don’t date men who were ever in the Greek System or frequent Sports Bars.

But I still feel like nothing in the grinding mill.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

I alone

The only way you can escape a hearse is by a coffin bound for somewhere else. Or do you find such conveyance strange within this paradox we call a life?

Upon the sea I find myself alone again, to know that I was born to die, but not just yet. It's why my rafta case they made to lay my tattooed lover in—has much to say and do. A day has come and gone since all I knew went down beneath the waves, and Night—a respite from the Sun—has come to bathe me in a dark wherein I dream.

Not of my father who never really was the old and spiteful man who steered us here.

Nor of my mother who vanished within the deluge of career and life for which I was an inconvenient hand.

Not of my lover who's gone below with carpenter, the cabin boy, the smart-ass colleagues, the beaten desperate men, the fatalists and optimists, the faces in the light of burning oil carved and cut and tried from bloody work: a murder of the old, the weak and everyone in between.

No, upon this floating raft that looks fit for six feet underground I hear the water lap against the wood
and know that sharks are swimming by on business of their own. And so they pass this feeble snack of leathery orphan meat.

I dream of clouds ennobled by the Moon and seas that glitter on in pelagic symphonies. I dream of; hidden ears beneath the deep that know abyssal mountains and the cities made of shipwrecks.

I dream of her, approaching from that line of ontological perhaps, which we can never reach.

I dream of Rachel looking for her children.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


And after he had spoken all his words—they lay like hot dismissive stones upon the plaza of his familiar disregard—I walked across a bridge of years to August.

He’d said I had not changed a bit and this was what I did not understand.

My hair is grayer now. I understand how much I cannot know, but most of all I’ve learned to listen to voices in the sandstorm singing in excoriation of skin, flesh and bone.

And then it all became as clear as I had been to him.

How could I change when life—my frailty, my dreams, my love—was simply just the scope of all he would not, could not see? In shame I coiled in a circle and ate myself in hatred, until I drifted off across the desert in clouds of sand—bound for blood and ocean.

But now a lizard moves behind the old guitar and every thought is swollen like a tongue. The rain may come and fall so hard it stings me naked on the sand. The evening comes, derails the frail attempts to bend it into meaning—to give it love and mystery. The Gods of August have no such feelings.

And that is good, for once again I’ve come to August to be the someone else I always was but never knew.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Ressentiment & the Barb

This is the uncertainty of standing on a collection of frail planks cast upon water that is shifting with all the gravity of the world. And out there—fan-tailing as He always does—is someone else’s malice and hatred.

How am I to judge that? With a sharpened rod of iron? And what if I stick Him and He runs and runs forever. How many times have you been dragged out into the middle of nowhere by someone else’s Big Idea? One thing I’ll say for the angry one-legged old bastard in the stern: his provender is Spanish gold and a good metaphor.

I wonder if there are any crews out there I cannot see.

"Aye, at night you see ‘em" said the old Manxman. "When He gets tired, He lets the skeletons row him through the darkness. Just like we serve our captain." The water's calm for them and you can hear the regular clickety-clack of their bones crackle popping and the oarlocks screaking. Listen carefully enough and you’ll hear the crisp slips of the blades into the water.

But it's broad daylight now and we chase through chop and catch crabs with every other pull of the oars. I don’t want to get any closer. Time moves in waves upon the water where there are no straight lines. I see us pulled down in a whirlpool of circular reasoning and memory.
Laying in a puddle of blood and piss with your broken bone leg gouging at your balls in the darkness where the earth doesn’t drink you down in love like the ocean. You are unmanned and disclosed to everyone on that damned Island. No wonder you long for the hearse.
I understand. How much of my own face is reflected in the water so red that the sharks are biting at every stroke. We all heard you, old man. Most listened. Most dreamed. Most lusted. The first mate and I thought about it, felt about it a while. Our sin was saying to ourselves… “what else can we do?”

There, He’s going down again. I’ll sit down and break my back for a while at the oar and hope He comes from below and crushes us out of this consummative wet nightmare of yours.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


Look carefully. I have been here for a very long time.

At first you thought I was stylish. After all, I look good in black, I’m skinny but comfortable, innovative and designed in Germany.

Do you even remember it was the cool Germany of the Weimar Republic? When less was more and Berlin could freight a thousand dreams of sin and liberation?

Someone new who comes in to visit may say something about me, but you have forgotten. Now I hold laundry baskets or prop up a pair of broken skis. We chairs are furniture. We blend in until we get in the way and then we’re thrown away.

I don’t think you remember meeting me at Pine and Melrose—why should you? They destroyed that place a while ago, but you still haunt the bars around it to look for younger furniture.

Some people may remember chairs because an old irascible cat would curl within a sunbeam. Some may even remember such a chair as a place of suspense when the television came alive with Japanese ghosts. Or it was a place to make yoga posing love.

But here I am, unsat in save by baskets full of smelly underwear and a pair of broken skis.

And did you know you left that unread book by Ellison beneath me? It’s fitting really for I have had the time to consider all the words that tell your privileged tale of just how much you will not see.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Jumping from the Bridge of July

I remember watching them jump off the old bridge. The boys were not that high up, but high enough. It is Ironic that I am tall and skinny: I hated heights, and whatever was down in the dark water.  But I didn't belong with the rest of the girls who just watched the boys.

Rick waved me up on the bridge: gorgeous in only his cut off jeans. He told the others to quit shouting names.

"At least she's going to jump!" Rick then turned to me, "I'm a little freaked out too. I'll hold your hand but you have to jump with me."

We jumped out and up. For a moment, we were above the plunge without gravity or time. There was terror, and joy, both unwrecked by a future. And then we fell.

The water's cold shock became a texture and time flowed out into a forever beneath the water. We were small, unthinking circles in the bigger one around us.

Monday, July 17, 2017


The being of being out here is swimming. There is nothing else. I am present enough that I can barely recognize that I am swimming. I just am and that is alive for the moment, left here by the greedy, the impatient: those vindicated by the wealth of killing.

Like other forms of being, this one is not so easily done. One must learn to do it although we have skills innate and yet forgotten—gifts from those first watery globes in whom we swam before the Sun burned our eyes with something that resembled Truth. The gifts of infantile ontology are ones we grow away from and forget.

There is resistance in the water and this, my scientific mind remembers buoyancy—the water pushing back against the gravity of my muscles and my bones. And in this irony of strokes against the water, I live.

There is distance. It is so far to swim across the water—the universe is vast and there is no better teacher than the middle of the ocean. I understand him now, the boy who gibbered with the Gods. Remember that their touch is not embrace and abandonment their course.

Where else is there upon the vast azure—at the bottom of an ocean made of air, and on the out edge of a watery sky, each swell will carry me to insights hitherto uncharted: of what the pure horizon really means: to see the concentration of myself from all my time, and I, unmoving move upon the sea, where no erosion beats high mountains down. And for an epoch, mutability is lost—I am floating on undying change and wondering what all my thens and ifs could be.

The enormity of this revealed world, unfolding like a lily made of lobster shell, searches deep within my soul, until a wooden angel comes to me on reaching wings and a hundred mouths of ivory.