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.