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Terreson Profile
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Jobbing: a chronicle


Something Zakzzz5 said a few weeks ago incites me to start a new field note, one in which all can actively participate with their own stories.

I might have been 18 when I fully understood something: 'Man, you are going to have to job in order to support your writing habit and you are going to have to find the right balance between economic necessity, art, and reading.' What I got then is true, has always been true, but for the exception, what has always been a short-lived bubble in the market place. Stendhal worked for the French government. Melville worked as a customs agent. Ovid, until he was exiled, worked for a Roman emperor. The Medieval Goliard poets worked for monasteries. Crane worked for Madison Ave writing advertisement copy. Stevens famously was an insurance exec. working for the Hartford group. The list goes on. And, of course, there is the nasty little inconvenience concerning poets, these days, employeed by universities and colleges in order to support their own writing habits. And both Faulkner and Fitzgerald were on Hollywood's production company payrolls. Faulkner himself ending out his days in the employ of the U of VA. Go Cavaliers!

It's all just jobbing. Viewed from one standpoint, Caravaggio was a jobber. So was that other Michelangelo. So was John Singer Sargeant who made his high living portrait painting members of high society. For that matter, so were all the ancient artists working for one temple employer or another, from Egypt to Rome To Athens to India. The same would have been true for Incan and Mayan sculptors. I suppose it is true that some artists are luckier than others, maybe living in luckier, more favorable times to what their art offers. But for me jobbing is jobbing. It doesn't matter if you are making your art for bread, or if the bread you make is in spite of your art. Almost forgot the case of Baudelaire, arguably the first Modern poet, who eked out a living writing reviews of art, mostly hating the job. Jobbing.

So back at the age of 18 I realized something else: turn the jobbing necessity into an adventure, make of it a series of adventures, and, maybe most importantly, when the job gets boring it is time to move on to something else. I think this last is the big thing for poets, the killer of imagination.

Maybe I'll start off with picking fruit in Oregon and living in a migrant farm workers camp. I hope other poets and artists will join in as well describing their own jobbing.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Mar/22/2010, 12:25 am
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Re: Jobbing: a collective chronicle


Good idea, Tere. I've been thinking of trying something different. Might be this.

Chris
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Re: Jobbing: a collective chronicle


It is amazing how timely this piece is for me. So lucky for you Tere to have realized that when you were 18; I am just getting around understanding this jobbing thing.
-shab
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Re: Jobbing: a collective chronicle


Oh good, Chris and Shab. Maybe the idea will bring out some stories. And, Shabfriend, that long ago decision has made all the difference. It is a chancy way to go maybe. But worth it.

Tere
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Aug. 1970, age 17. I had hitch-hiked from Eugene, Oregon to Mt. Hood. I was near broke and I had heard you could make money picking fruit there. Arriving in town in the late afternoon I spent the night down by the tracks in a hobo jungle. Early next morning I was sitting in the so-called farm labor office waiting for a grower to come in to recruit laborers. Within an hour or so a grower came in needing a few men to cull bins of pears, taking out the bad and bruised fruit. I made enough money that day to buy food and cigarettes, spent a second night in the jungle. Next day back in the farm labor office a grower's foreman came in, I got picked again. So did an older man named Lui, himself a hobo who would spend his winters down in Stockton CA, living in the missions, and his summers working his way up the west coast farm labor circuit. I guess he figured I would be a safe partner. He immediately attached himself to me, saying we were partners. Lui and I worked and lived together in the one grower's orchards for the next two months. At first picking pears and then picking apples.

The work was piece work. You got paid for how much fruit you picked. Payment was $5.50 per bin of fruit. A bin measured 4 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet deep and it held 28 bushels of pears or apples. I could fill 3 bins a day. I always made sure I had a half bin filled by the end of the day. It was a morale booster for the next morning. We climbed orchard ladders, a very tall ladder with a pole that swung out so that it would put you in a tree. We had bushel bags hanging from the neck, resting against the chest. Up and down the ladder 28 times plus to fill the bin. The grower had several different orchards and we worked them all. One orchard had heritage apple trees which I recall were almost 100 years old. As fruit trees grow older, and if not pruned regularly of water suckers, they tend to make more wood than fruit. Or so I've heard. And so while it was almost glamorous to be working trees so old, the yield was not all that good.

Lui and I lived in a labor camp with the other fruit pickers. The building was long and narrow, made of cinder block, and divided into rooms by sheets of gypsum dry wall. Lui and I shared a room. I had a canvas, Navy issue hammock, which I strung up. Lui had the double bed. The window was just an opening and the door was thin. Our source of heat was an old wood burning kitchen stove on which we also cooked our meals. Mostly we ate hamburger meat cooked in with potatoes.

Migrant workers came and went. We were the only two to stay out the season with this particular grower. We did it for the bonus. Back then the complexion of the laborers was different. White men, mostly hobos accustomed to the winter missions. Some families who drove their campers from orchard to orchard and whose children also worked. Some few Hispanics. And then the prostitutes who also worked the west coast circuit. Let me tell the story of my one and only encounter with prostitutes, two prostitutes actually.

It was labor day weekend. Lui had hitched a ride to town and was on a toot. I followed him after he didn't show up one night and found him in a tank at the police station sleeping it off. So I knew he was all right. Returning to the camp I was met with two long lines of men, each line reaching from the adjacent rooms on either side of mine. The day before one of the ladies had propositioned me, she said it would be for free. I had declined. So all night long I listened to the commotion, the humping and the bumping and the bed springs and the "Okay. That's enough. Get off me." I forgot to say the women were accompanied by a protector who was ready to break in if he heard screaming. This went on until maybe 2 or 3 in the morning. Obviously I got no sleep. Then the two ladies joined in one of the rooms and started knocking on the wall, and calling out to me to join them. I think they sensed I was terrified, afraid they would come through my door, and were having fun teasing me. I can't remember how old they were. Probably not much older than me. I turned 18 that month.

I made enough money that season to get a bus back to Seattle, where I had been living earlier in the summer, and to buy a plane ticket to take me back to my then home of North Carolina. Lui and I rode together as far as Portland. He was on his way back to Stockton. When my bus was called we shook hands goodbye. The last thing Lui said was, "I wish you would come with me." But even as young and dumb as I was I knew I had job-adventured enough for one season. I wanted to get back to books, solid walls, and friends.

About Lui I should say, by way of giving him a person, he was Canadian, had served honorably, if a bit recklessly, in WW2, had married an English woman, returned to North America, prospected for gold in Colorado, and, because of his drinking, his wife had left him to return to England with their children. That was when he took to the hobo circuit and to the missions. He had no teeth, which was one reason why we ate ground beef with potatoes. I didn't mind. I miss Lui. He must be dead by now. I hope he ended out peacefully.

One more thing. There have been times over the last forty years, and none too few, when I wish I had followed him to Stockton. I think I've come to understand something of the allure in letting go, giving up, checking out.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Feb/27/2010, 5:41 pm
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Re: Jobbing: a collective chronicle


Ok Tere, terrific start. I'll be back.

Chris
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Sep., '71. Durham, North Carolina.

I thought I wanted to be a carpenter that season. It seemed like a good idea at the time. So with a high school buddy I took a job with a concrete forming crew working on a high rise on a college campus. Concrete forming carpenters make forms for floors, pillars and such into which concrete gets poured and the building goes up into the sky.

I think the idea struck me as romantic. Sort of like the old Tim Hardin song - working my hands in wood. While I kept at it for almost a year I soon discovered a congenital condition: I was constitutionally incapable of cutting or sawing on a straight line. Still am. This used to irritate the hell out of an ex-wife. And how can you be a carpenter if you can't saw a straight line? My buddy, on the other hand, went on to become a general contractor specializing in spec. homes, the custom built kind. He's still at it, but I imagine he is having a hard time making boat payments these days.

The crew I worked with was out of a small county in Virginia. All the men were related either by blood or marriage. And they were black. My buddy and I were the only white boys among them. And we were hired initially to do the grunt work. Keep in mind the year, 1971. And keep in mind that we were in Jesse Helms country. He wasn't a senator yet. But he owned a T.V. station and nightly gave its editorial, which is how he had his start in the public's view. Durham had its share of race riots. Back then it was a mid-size industrial city. Duke University only an enclave. Driving the streeets you knew immediately when you were in a black part of town. The pavement stopped and the road was dirt. During the riots Helms would nightly call out for the harshest suppression of any and all civil disobedience. In '68 I remember the armored personnel vehicles rumbling down city streets. I mention this because, again, the year was 1971. The black men for and with whom I worked were the only skilled black workers on the construction site. There was always tension. It never rose to the surface and played itself out. But it was there. And my buddy and I were shunned by all the other white men working.

The foreman's name was Henry. He had a controlled drinking problem. He would drive to his home in Virginia on a Friday and he would stay drunk for two days. five days a week, however, he kept sober. For some reason he took a liking to me. When I quit he was sad. He said he had wanted to make me his head carpenter. I remember once I was putting together a form for a column. I climbed up the outside to hammer in place the pegs that would fasten the sides together. We were about five stories up. Henry came by and said something like, 'Come down for a moment. I want to show you something.' I climbed down, walked over to him, and he was shaking. He told me never to climb out over thin air again. Oh so young and dumb.

Jack I remember too. Today he would be diagnosed with ADD. He would do really crazy things. Whenever a female student, invariably white, walked by he would go to the side of the building and start cat calling. It is a wonder some of the white men didn't lay in wait for him after work. But I think he did it just to taunt all the white boys there.

Jean and I became friends. He told me all his secrets. As I said the crew members were all related. Jean had once slept with the wife of one of them. Several of them ganged up on him one night and beat him badly. He said they broke his back in two places. But then he finally told me he had gotten them all back, one by one, and except for one whose time would be soon. Jean was a short man but as strong as a pit bull and as tenacious.

I decided that year it is no fun working in the wet winter cold. I still remember how cold I could feel. I remember something else too. I still have the hammer I bought for the job. And the right angle. And the fold out kind of wood ruler which I still use eventhough the numbers and lines are all but gone. And I've given up on cutting straight lines.

I got to where I worked four days a week and not five. I was reading novels that year and I needed more time. Turgenev, Stendhal, Hesse, Mann, Gogol, Dostoevsky. And I was reading Yeats. His Phases of the Moon fascinated me. As did his autobiagraphy and his folk takes involving the supernatural. Anyway, Henry never took me to task for not showing up on a Friday. He never once said anything.

When the job was finished the crew moved back home. Their next job was to work on a new drama building on the campus of U VA. I decided to follow them. I was tired of Durham. So with a woman whith whom I lived we made the move. Within a month of working on the new building I fell some twenty feet from scaffolding to the floor below. The fall amounted to an error in calculation. I was able to break the fall a little. And so I only broke a wrist. I was out on workman's comp while the wrist healed, living in a ratty old trailer parked behind a gas station. And when I wasn't reading I was sitting at the station playing chess with a Korean War vet. It was when the wrist healed that I told Henry I wouldn't return to work.

I would soon leave the county and the girl who, by then, was a grad student at U VA, and I would go home to FL for a few months. I would stupidly return to the county and to the girl and we would marry. That was when I decided to get a liberal arts degree by working in a textbook store and getting paid to read all the books enrolled students had to buy. A story for next time.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Feb/28/2010, 4:59 pm
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Goodness. I've been thinking about the next jobbing adventure. Were I to tell all the stories it involves I would need a chapter. I could probably make it the mis en scene for a novel. So many characters, young and old. So much of old Virginia.

A google search says there is a bookstore occupying an address I remember well. The name has changed but I'll err on the side of caution and assume the store is the same. It is a privately owned college textbook store just across the wall of the grounds of U VA. When I worked there it prided itself on being the oldest continuously operated textbook store in the country. Back in 1823 when Thomas Jefferson was building his university on the Piedmont and in sight of his little mountain home, he brought a friend down from Boston and asked him to make a bookstore. When I worked there it was in the hands of an old Virginia family and involved in a corporation operating several textbook stores. The president of the corporation was a governor maker. I'll not get into the politics. But even then I knew J.W. was powerful. He could get governors and senators elected. Nixon courted him. He could get people out of jail and he could get people put in jail with a phone call.

I worked there from Dec. of '71 until Jan (I think) of '79. But this is not entirely accurate. I would work there for a couple of years, sometimes less, then quit and go off on an adventure. Europe, off-shore oil rigs, Providence R.I. I was as romantic about being a book seller as I had been about being a carpenter. But I would get restless and have to break out from between the stacks. The store's manager was a middle-aged man. I think he understood my restlessness, having himself made life decisions leaving him in the shallows, not able to play out his big dreams. And so he always took me back. But there was another reason he kept taking me back. I made money for the store; to be explained later.

I suppose 8 years is a long time in which to get a B.A., or its equivalent, and with a major in literature. But that's how I did it. I didn't read all the textbooks, all the novels, all the poetry, all the physics, all the philosophy, all the histories, all the essential texts in the humanities professors assigned their students. But I made a serious dent in the canon. I got exposed to everything from the Babylonian epic about Gilgamesh to Einstein's relativity and Heisenberg's uncertainty. I remember something in particular about that jobbing adventure. I remember sitting at home, reading, reading, reading, and getting dizzy, a pure sense of vertigo, as all the literature kept pushing back timelines and my sense of horizon events. An horizon event is what physicists speak of when they talk about a universe more or less friendly and a Black Hole's gravitational, irreversible pull. That's what it felt like.

So for 8 years, at least off and on, I got paid to read. In return all I had to do was ship books in, put them on the shelves, then ship back to publishers texts unsold. And of course dealing with customers who wanted special books not easily found. I remember one older lady who wanted to order a book. Boy she was hard on me. Really hard on me. But I negotiated the moment. No sooner had she left the special order desk when my manager, who had been in ear shot, said: "It's a good thing she was dealing with you. I would have told her to take a flying F**k through a galloping pea." All these years later and I remember his poetry.

One more thing about that jobbing adventure. I wasn't satisfied seeing only to textbook needs. I wanted to develop a tradebook department. I wanted all the classics on the shelves. From the Loeb series of translations of Latin and Greek to Balzac to James M. Caine to Patty Smith. The store's manager gave me leeway. And damned if the classic stuff didn't make money for the store.

So many tales I could tell about those years.

Tere
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Re: Jobbing: a collective chronicle


Eight years is a long time, Tere. Tell a few more, maybe devote a post to each. Well, I'd like to read a few more.

Chris
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Chrisfriend, you twisted my arm. I'll tell two fun stories. All the principals are long since passed away. I'll protect their names anyway, but the stories are just too rich in gossip to let slip into oblivion.

An explanation about environment first. Charlottesvile was, and I bet still is, the epi-center of the Old Dominion, what includes the landed gentry and northern Virginia's southern aristocracy. I knew a few of the descendents of Thomas Jefferson and visited their estate, what would have been an original land grant made in colonial times by some British king. The town's surrounding county used to vie with LA county as the richest in the nation, the measurement tax based, and this in spite of being very rural. U VA back then was still a boys' school and the breeding ground for the commonwealth's legislature. It only admitted women in '71 or '72. Fraternities were not a way of life only, they ruled the social scene, at the center of which was drinking. The school had a tradition it called the long weekend. It would start on a Friday and end on a Tuesday, leaving two days to devote to education.

Mr. B is dead now. I know this because I attended his funeral services which took place in the university's chapel, the same chapel where I got married for the first time. He was the store's accounts receivable accountant. I knew him as an emphysemic old man and I always felt a fondness for him. He had the job because he was the brother-in-law of the corporation's president, J.W. He would sit at his desk, writing out statements, and, in mid-pen stroke, fall asleep sitting up. It was cruel but it was also fun to watch. Sometimes the store's assistant manager would take a thick book and, from a standing position, drop it on the wood floor. Mr. B. would open his eyes and without a start complete the pen stroke.

Back in his youth things had been different. He had come to U VA a wealthy young man. I think his parents, themselves wealthy, had died in a horrible train wreck. So his inheritance also included a significant insurance settlement. He was known for renting an entire train car with a sleeper car attached and taking his fraternity to New York for a long weekend. That kind of wealth in the days of the Depression.

He fell in love with a girl named Doodles. She was so named because on the day she was born her older brother had said she was as cute as a doodle bug. Her older brother was J.W. Her mother had put the word out that the man who won her hand would be the man who showed the most interest. This was a polite, perfectly understood and southern way of saying the man who showed the greatest pecuniary interest would win her hand.

So Mr. B. took a train to New York. On Fifth Ave. he purchased one of those old fashion trunks filled with crystal, and silverware, and settings which I was told was Limoges. He brought the trunk back, went to the family's doorstep, opened the trunk on the porch, and rang the bell. The family's matriarch came to the door, saw the proffering, and Mr. B. won the prize, Doodle's hand. I remember seeing Mrs. B. in the seventies. By then she was a blue hair, but a handsome looking lady nonetheless.

After marriage Mr. B. bought his wife a farm. I'm guessing it was a gentleman's farm. Somehow it seems, and in spite of the conditions of an arranged marriage, Mrs. B. managed to fall in love with her new husband. One hot August afternoon, with the windows wide open, they were frolicking in the bedroom. Hell, this all happened before I was born. Resting, Mr. B. was lying on his side with his derrier facing the window.

In that part of the country black angus cattle are preferred and bred. I have to say the meat makes for a good filet. Over the generations the cattlemen there have figured out how to best raise and feed steers, always toned with just the right amount of marbling for tenderness. Mr. B. had a favorite, prize winning black angus bull. He loved that bull and the bull so loved him he could respond to Mr. B.'s voice. On that fateful hot August afternoon, with the young couple in dally play, the bull got loose. He heard Mr. B.'s voice and he followed it and it led him to the open window. He poked his head inside and when he did he gored Mr. B. in the butt, drawing blood. Doodles started laughing. She laughed so hard she started convulsing. And she fell on the floor still laughing.

Mr. B., so mortified and feeling his manhood dishonored, got up, went to the living room, loaded a 12 guage, walked outside butt naked, went up to his favorite bull, and shot him once in the brain. Bull fell on the ground dead immediately.

Mr. B. would lose his wealth a little at a time, due to bad decisions or to bad luck. I've always wondered about that one hot August afternoon that transpired before I was born, or what it determined about his good fortunes. He was a broken down old man when I knew him. Corner gossip held that the blue hair Doodles had her own kind of late August paramour again in those years.

I've probably made all of this up. This one is for you Mr. B.

Tere



Last edited by Terreson, Mar/1/2010, 8:47 pm
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Katlin Profile
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Re: Jobbing: a collective chronicle


Mr. B., huh? Made it all up, you say? Well, I never. Interesting stories, Tere. I enjoyed the reads.
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Oh, I like this idea of embellished rumors...
venerable rumors. What family, community or workplace is lacking for that stuff, being passed down and around?

I've heard a few of those in my time.

Chris

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Tere,

Just read this interview with the poet David Baker, who has PhD and teaches poetry:

"I don’t think a poet has to have a PhD to be a poet. I don’t think a poet has to have an MFA, I don’t think a poet has to go to college to be a poet. A poet has to know poetry. But there are lots of ways to learn that. I do what I do because I wanted to be a teacher. And I feel lucky that I’ve been able to do that. In fact I think there are so many poets who are in schools right now that it’s a problem. I think there’s a danger of a kind of sameness, a kind of institutional security that can be complacent or same sounding. It’s less getting out as it is making sure that one lives a big, full life. That one’s sympathies aren’t contained entirely inside one’s job or inside the walls of a university."

http://www.bookslut.com/features/2010_03_015752.php

But then you knew that. It's what Bly said to Wayne Dodd 30 years ago, only now I guess the problem's even worse.
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"Oh, I like this idea of embellished rumors..."

Writers, especially fiction writers, are gossips at heart. I think the key is to improve on the gossip while passing it on. . . .
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Thanks for commenting, Chris and Kat. You both got to know it's true. No story teller can be a good story teller who doesn't love gossip. I hold that the same is true of historians too. They'll vaunt themselves and assure us they are social scientists. Really they are just gossips. And the first gossip was the village's wise woman who kept the village lore alive orally.

I got one more story involving the oldest continuously operated textbook store in the country, the one a friend of Thomas Jefferson's from Boston started up in 1823. I'll need to be circumspect here, as it involves a criminal act, and I am not sure how to proceed. Certainly the statute of limitations protects the principals. But, still, there is name-honor to take into account.

As said before, I would work trading in books and reading the same, get restless, go off on an adventure, come back, the manager would always take me in again. The fire occurred with in a month of returning for my last stint at the bookstore. There were interim things I couldn't have been aware of.

I was given a desk in the office space that overlooked the store. I could look out and see the whole store's operation, from back room to the front door. The space was long and narrow. I was put back in charge of the store's tradebooks and I was rebuilding its inventory. I'm remebering it was a late Friday afternoon. A book runner, a good man and a literate fool like me who was from the hills of Virginia, came wide stepping up the stairs and said to the manager, "Mr. F. there is a fire in the basement." For reasons I'll not explain here I hate fires, always looking to put them out. So I ran 3 flights of stairs to get to the basement, a long basement, filled with books and with store records of accountants. But the smoke from the basement allowed no entrance.

That was such a long afternoon and evening. Painfully long. The fire so intense it was like an in-fire sucking out oxygen. But it couldn't get much oxygen and so it burned even hotter. We were scrambling on the main floor, trying to get out the books we could save before the fire came up and through the wooden floorboards. I'm remembering. In armloads we kept taking books out to a sister store a couple of buildings away. Armloads and armloads and armloads of books we carried out.

All the while the fire company was frustrated. They got that they could not reach the fire. The water hoses did no good. There was only one entrance into the basement, a stairwell. 2, 3, 4 hours later, I can't remember, they pumped fire repellent foam (ABC) into the long basement and they filled it, putting the fire out. Finally they were able to squelsh the fire. Had they not made the decision they made an entire block on the Corner would have gone to flames.

My books got sacrificed.

It took a couple of months of investigation but the truth finally came out. Arson was suspected, arson was proved, but in the Old Dominion fashion arson was not prosecuted. An accountant,because of her bad math and embarrassed to face an audit that was about to come,stupidly started a fire in her account records that spread through a space occupying so many books. In effect she killed my books to save her ass. And officialdom never thought about my books.

One last note. A month or so after the fire I learned the store's manager, and from him, had been having an affair with the accountant who looked to burn down the store. He might have been the last older man I listened to. Back in '78.

Tere

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Terreson,
This is pretty good writing. It's raw, like field notes, as you say. Could use some smoothing out in a couple of places, but that's not the intent of the pieces here. So I think it accomplishes what it's meant to accomplish. I'm staying up late because I had some dental work done today and it's past ten and the throbbing pain is still there, though the massive pain actually stopped at 6 pm. I only say this because my thoughts may not be thoroughly worked out here.

There was one point that you made which is not wrong for what you were able to see, but which I can add to from my perspective. It's true that back then it was mostly whites that picked fruit. There were by that time Hispanics doing field work, but it was somewhat segretated: whites picked fruit, Hispanics did the field work like picking spuds, topping onions, that sort of thing. Later on, we would see crews of whites, mostly from the South, coming through harvesting onion seed and weeding beets in the fields. Then Hispanics started crossing over to pick fruit too. A little cross-fertilization, like with your bees. But there may have been different variations in different parts of the Northwest. I know that a lot of Hispanics were contracted to come to the Northwest during WWII, before our time. Apparently others were already there, having followed the railroad building, kind of like the Chinese. Boise had a section called "Spanish Town" in the 19th century.

The stripped down basics of living in a labor camp rings true, having lived in a couple of camps myself. Why weren't we born with silver spoons in our mouths. I do get the sense that you could have gone the more conventional route, but did it this way to experience life. Well partially that, an partially to make some money. Maybe that will become more clear as I read your other pieces. The pain from the tooth extraction is bothering me, so I'm signing off. And sorry if my writing here is a bit below part. I may come back and clarify things. I did enjoy it. Zak
----------------------------------------------
quote:

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Aug. 1970, age 17. I had hitch-hiked from Eugene, Oregon to Mt. Hood. I was near broke and I had heard you could make money picking fruit there. Arriving in town in the late afternoon I spent the night down by the tracks in a hobo jungle. Early next morning I was sitting in the so-called farm labor office waiting for a grower to come in to recruit laborers. Within an hour or so a grower came in needing a few men to cull bins of pears, taking out the bad and bruised fruit. I made enough money that day to buy food and cigarettes, spent a second night in the jungle. Next day back in the farm labor office a grower's foreman came in, I got picked again. So did an older man named Lui, himself a hobo who would spend his winters down in Stockton CA, living in the missions, and his summers working his way up the west coast farm labor circuit. I guess he figured I would be a safe partner. He immediately attached himself to me, saying we were partners. Lui and I worked and lived together in the one grower's orchards for the next two months. At first picking pears and then picking apples.

The work was piece work. You got paid for how much fruit you picked. Payment was $5.50 per bin of fruit. A bin measured 4 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet deep and it held 28 bushels of pears or apples. I could fill 3 bins a day. I always made sure I had a half bin filled by the end of the day. It was a morale booster for the next morning. We climbed orchard ladders, a very tall ladder with a pole that swung out so that it would put you in a tree. We had bushel bags hanging from the neck, resting against the chest. Up and down the ladder 28 times plus to fill the bin. The grower had several different orchards and we worked them all. One orchard had heritage apple trees which I recall were almost 100 years old. As fruit trees grow older, and if not pruned regularly of water suckers, they tend to make more wood than fruit. Or so I've heard. And so while it was almost glamorous to be working trees so old, the yield was not all that good.

Lui and I lived in a labor camp with the other fruit pickers. The building was long and narrow, made of cinder block, and divided into rooms by sheets of gypsum dry wall. Lui and I shared a room. I had a canvas, Navy issue hammock, which I strung up. Lui had the double bed. The window was just an opening and the door was thin. Our source of heat was an old wood burning kitchen stove on which we also cooked our meals. Mostly we ate hamburger meat cooked in with potatoes.

Migrant workers came and went. We were the only two to stay out the season with this particular grower. We did it for the bonus. Back then the complexion of the laborers was different. White men, mostly hobos accustomed to the winter missions. Some families who drove their campers from orchard to orchard and whose children also worked. Some few Hispanics. And then the prostitutes who also worked the west coast circuit. Let me tell the story of my one and only encounter with prostitutes, two prostitutes actually.

It was labor day weekend. Lui had hitched a ride to town and was on a toot. I followed him after he didn't show up one night and found him in a tank at the police station sleeping it off. So I knew he was all right. Returning to the camp I was met with two long lines of men, each line reaching from the adjacent rooms on either side of mine. The day before one of the ladies had propositioned me, she said it would be for free. I had declined. So all night long I listened to the commotion, the humping and the bumping and the bed springs and the "Okay. That's enough. Get off me." I forgot to say the women were accompanied by a protector who was ready to break in if he heard screaming. This went on until maybe 2 or 3 in the morning. Obviously I got no sleep. Then the two ladies joined in one of the rooms and started knocking on the wall, and calling out to me to join them. I think they sensed I was terrified, afraid they would come through my door, and were having fun teasing me. I can't remember how old they were. Probably not much older than me. I turned 18 that month.

I made enough money that season to get a bus back to Seattle, where I had been living earlier in the summer, and to buy a plane ticket to take me back to my then home of North Carolina. Lui and I rode together as far as Portland. He was on his way back to Stockton. When my bus was called we shook hands goodbye. The last thing Lui said was, "I wish you would come with me." But even as young and dumb as I was I knew I had job-adventured enough for one season. I wanted to get back to books, solid walls, and friends.

About Lui I should say, by way of giving him a person, he was Canadian, had served honorably, if a bit recklessly, in WW2, had married an English woman, returned to North America, prospected for gold in Colorado, and, because of his drinking, his wife had left him to return to England with their children. That was when he took to the hobo circuit and to the missions. He had no teeth, which was one reason why we ate ground beef with potatoes. I didn't mind. I miss Lui. He must be dead by now. I hope he ended out peacefully.

One more thing. There have been times over the last forty years, and none too few, when I wish I had followed him to Stockton. I think I've come to understand something of the allure in letting go, giving up, checking out.

Tere



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Re: Jobbing: a collective chronicle


Zakman, I am really wanting to see this thread balloon. You and everyone else willing to couph up the jobbbing. What say all of you?

Tere
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Terreson,

I'm working on a couple of projects, and to do this would steal hours away from that. Don't know quite how to approach this. I know that most of the people on these poetry sites are poetry directed, and not prose directed. Will have to think this through.

As for the tooth, it was an extraction to remove the roots and one came out easily and the other one took the remainder of the two hours to do. What an adventure??!@$! This morning I expected to feel ok, and instead felt like shiit warmed over. Getting better though. Thanks for posting your work. I will think on this. Zak
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Oh Zak,

Tooth ache is the worst pain I ever had. I just wanted to die. I'm hoping you get relief SOON.

Chris
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Coming back to Zack's comments of last night.

First off, Zakman, thanks for the clarification concerning migrant farm labor demographics. I am sure the situation was as layered as you mean to point to. I remember seeing some workers from south of the border. Mostly I saw them in those two long lines leading up to the prostitutes and having come from many of the surrounding camps.

As you say, the writing is raw, just field notes, and I am writing to the screen, which is the fun of it.

In terms of involvement, no pressure is intended. In fact, the project would work best conducted in the spirit of fun. At the very least, however, I do enjoy it when you play by way of commenting. You and everyone else.

Tere
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This post may require the add ons over time. Transworld 54. Transworld was an oil extraction company working for the major oil companies like Exon and Mobil. To us back then, back in the mid-seventies, she was called TW 54. She was also called the Marble Mountain. So tall standing out in the Gulf of Mexico you saw her, and approaching by helicopter, she was visible from 15 miles away. Those were the boon years for off-shore Gulf oil extraction. APEC had shut America's need for cheap oil down. America had to scramble to find friendlier oil fields. Gulf coast drillers responded by improving the technology needed to reach out further into deeper waters. It has all been superceded by now, with rigs capable of deeper waters. Back then TW 54 was queen.

(to be continued)

Tere
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Terreson,

I don't know what you'll do with these pieces you're putting out here. They are fascinating reading. Most of us will die and disappear. So the fact that you're putting the stuff here, even if it isn't published in hard copy is something. Two weeks ago, I took my wife to watch Oedipus Rex (by Sophocles, if I recall). The little booklet they pass out said he wrote over a hundred plays, and that only a handful survive. That even for a guy of his caliber, only a handful of plays would survive should tell us what will happen to most of our own material. So kudos for you for putting your memories here. Maybe some of this material will survive. Let's hope so.

On another note, you listed those great writers you were reading at an early age. Was that before you even went to college? That's a "heavy" reading list. How did you come to it?

On yet another note, in reference to your earlier piece, where you lived in the labor camp, where did you shower? When I did my stint in camps, some of the older men would actually go into town, it may have been Burley or Idaho Falls Idaho, to take baths in a hotel. I believe it was a hotel, they never really described it. Maybe there were public bath houses then. We had a coal or wood burning stove, and we would heat the water, one metal pail at a time until we had enough in one of those old cylindrical tubs. Then all three of us would jump in, one after the other. Only then would we throw away the soapy water. Needless to say, we didn't bathe that often, maybe once a week. I don't even remember if we took a toothbrush. So we didn't always live in the suburbs with our cable tv and the birdfeeder off the deck.

Keep writing. I'll catch up. Zak

quote:

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Sep., '71. Durham, North Carolina.

I thought I wanted to be a carpenter that season. It seemed like a good idea at the time. So with a high school buddy I took a job with a concrete forming crew working on a high rise on a college campus. Concrete forming carpenters make forms for floors, pillars and such into which concrete gets poured and the building goes up into the sky.

I think the idea struck me as romantic. Sort of like the old Tim Hardin song - working my hands in wood. While I kept at it for almost a year I soon discovered a congenital condition: I was constitutionally incapable of cutting or sawing on a straight line. Still am. This used to irritate the hell out of an ex-wife. And how can you be a carpenter if you can't saw a straight line? My buddy, on the other hand, went on to become a general contractor specializing in spec. homes, the custom built kind. He's still at it, but I imagine he is having a hard time making boat payments these days.

The crew I worked with was out of a small county in Virginia. All the men were related either by blood or marriage. And they were black. My buddy and I were the only white boys among them. And we were hired initially to do the grunt work. Keep in mind the year, 1971. And keep in mind that we were in Jesse Helms country. He wasn't a senator yet. But he owned a T.V. station and nightly gave its editorial, which is how he had his start in the public's view. Durham had its share of race riots. Back then it was a mid-size industrial city. Duke University only an enclave. Driving the streeets you knew immediately when you were in a black part of town. The pavement stopped and the road was dirt. During the riots Helms would nightly call out for the harshest suppression of any and all civil disobedience. In '68 I remember the armored personnel vehicles rumbling down city streets. I mention this because, again, the year was 1971. The black men for and with whom I worked were the only skilled black workers on the construction site. There was always tension. It never rose to the surface and played itself out. But it was there. And my buddy and I were shunned by all the other white men working.

The foreman's name was Henry. He had a controlled drinking problem. He would drive to his home in Virginia on a Friday and he would stay drunk for two days. five days a week, however, he kept sober. For some reason he took a liking to me. When I quit he was sad. He said he had wanted to make me his head carpenter. I remember once I was putting together a form for a column. I climbed up the outside to hammer in place the pegs that would fasten the sides together. We were about five stories up. Henry came by and said something like, 'Come down for a moment. I want to show you something.' I climbed down, walked over to him, and he was shaking. He told me never to climb out over thin air again. Oh so young and dumb.

Jack I remember too. Today he would be diagnosed with ADD. He would do really crazy things. Whenever a female student, invariably white, walked by he would go to the side of the building and start cat calling. It is a wonder some of the white men didn't lay in wait for him after work. But I think he did it just to taunt all the white boys there.

Jean and I became friends. He told me all his secrets. As I said the crew members were all related. Jean had once slept with the wife of one of them. Several of them ganged up on him one night and beat him badly. He said they broke his back in two places. But then he finally told me he had gotten them all back, one by one, and except for one whose time would be soon. Jean was a short man but as strong as a pit bull and as tenacious.

I decided that year it is no fun working in the wet winter cold. I still remember how cold I could feel. I remember something else too. I still have the hammer I bought for the job. And the right angle. And the fold out kind of wood ruler which I still use eventhough the numbers and lines are all but gone. And I've given up on cutting straight lines.

I got to where I worked four days a week and not five. I was reading novels that year and I needed more time. Turgenev, Stendhal, Hesse, Mann, Gogol, Dostoevsky. And I was reading Yeats. His Phases of the Moon fascinated me. As did his autobiagraphy and his folk takes involving the supernatural. Anyway, Henry never took me to task for not showing up on a Friday. He never once said anything.

When the job was finished the crew moved back home. Their next job was to work on a new drama building on the campus of U VA. I decided to follow them. I was tired of Durham. So with a woman whith whom I lived we made the move. Within a month of working on the new building I fell some twenty feet from scaffolding to the floor below. The fall amounted to an error in calculation. I was able to break the fall a little. And so I only broke a wrist. I was out on workman's comp while the wrist healed, living in a ratty old trailer parked behind a gas station. And when I wasn't reading I was sitting at the station playing chess with a Korean War vet. It was when the wrist healed that I told Henry I wouldn't return to work.

I would soon leave the county and the girl who, by then, was a grad student at U VA, and I would go home to FL for a few months. I would stupidly return to the county and to the girl and we would marry. That was when I decided to get a liberal arts degree by working in a textbook store and getting paid to read all the books enrolled students had to buy. A story for next time.

Tere



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Later on in the narrative, Zakman, I note how I got my B.A., or its equivalent, in a bookstore. As for the issue of abolutions in a migrant labor camp, the orchard owner was enlightened. He gave the camp a communal shower replete with communicable bacterial diseases; one for all men, women, and children, which situation made for some rather delicate negotiations over private space.

Good point you make about Sophlocles and the five plays we have out of a hundred or so, and this from one of the world's two greatest dramatists. So it goes, Vonnegut famously said.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Mar/4/2010, 8:25 pm
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I sure hope other members will play this jobbing game. We all, almost all of us devoted to art, are forced to job.

For a reason I get I am reluctant to describe my next jobbing adventure. It involved an initiation that amounted to getting raped.

I was in Charlotteville, VA working in a textbook store and reading, reading, reading. The funny thing about reading great lit is that it makes you restless, makes you want more experience, makes you dissatisfied with uneasy pacts and false contracts and middling relationships. (I've always hated middling relationships in which all parties get cancelled out.) Anyway, that year I needed an adventure. The more extreme the better.

My friend of those years, L.D., his father was in charge of all off-shore drilling for an oil company in the Gulf of Mexico, I asked him if his father could get me a job on an oil rig. He called his father and I got the job. I took a train down to New Orleans, the old Southern Crescent. Mr. C. met me at the station, took me to his home for the night. The next morning I was in his high rise office and from there a Texan gave me a ride down to Morgan City. I checked in with the office of Trans World Drilling. A very kind secretary let me put my duffle bag of clothes and books in a back room. A couple of hours later I was on a two seater helicopter going out to TW 54. And that was the end of any preferrential treatement.

In her day TW 54 was the tallest semi-submersible rig in the world. From deck to top of derrick she measured 200 feet, and she could work in deep waters. Coming in by helicopter you saw her from 10 miles away. She was called back then the Marble Mountain.

I'll need to come back to the jobbing tale later.

Tere
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Terreson,

You know I'm not necessarily putting my comments in order. But I'll copy the "quote" so you know which one I'm talking about. This one with Lui is an interesting one. (An aside, at first I thought maybe he was Asian, as the name sort of sounds Vietnamese, but I'm guessing he's white -- otherwise you would have mentioned it.) Anyway, this reminds me strongly of one of Hemingways' coming-of-age stories. I don't right now recall the name of the short story, but it involves two young guys coming into this small town, ordering a beer and getting mistreated by the bartender. While in that town, they encounter whores, lumberjacks, one "queer" and American Indians. The story displays Hemingway's ability with dialogue more than anything else, but also his power at quickly describing something and descriptively describing something (visually). Now, for me your story, though not in short story format, also works. And maybe since few of us are going to last like Sophocles, this is enough.

Do you intend to "formalize" these pieces into short stories? Just curious. I don't think it matters.

This brings up something else I was wondering about. This was discussed ad nauseum a while back: whether publishing here on a site like this "ruins" you if you then try to get published commercially. I've heard both sides of it, and frankly am no longer certain on either side. This is rather ironic, to be even discussing this because I've pretty much made up my mind I probably won't have anything published, short of a vanity thing. But it still rolls around in the back of my mind. I have a 75-year old friend who just finished her masters in creative writing and is trying to get her book published. So I guess the clock never stops ticking on these things until the clock stops ticking, to misquote Yogi Berra.

Another thought that occurred to me: I was a migrant farm worker, a soldier, a firefighter (mountains and desert), produce plant worker, all before I finished college. After college I held a variety of professional jobs. To write about these things, well, it would be complicated. Your take on your own experiences is kind of the Hemingway approach, which is to express the rich experiences that don't require a lot of background information. Maybe if the others recognized this, they too would participate. In other words, there are things that concerned me about those jobs, things I wrestled with during my tenure in those jobs, whether they were hard labor or office jobs, which require a lot of background explanation (or noise, or buildup) to put the events into perspective. One can't do this in this kind of format -- that requires either a full-blown short story or a novel. But I suppose the rich experiences that focus on "experience" -- like your depiction of life in the labor camp or Hemingway's coming-of-age stories can be done in a small space. But even Hemingway's short stories required a lot of focus and rewriting, and even this is not the concept or goal here, if I read you correctly. Just something to think about -- something for the others to consider if they are considering participating.

In my case, I'm rewriting a full length novel, and writing the first draft of another one, so that my focus is -- a problem. Some of the things I would be talking about here are already in the novels or being considered there. This may be true for others here, too. In their case, they may be putting their memories into their poetry. Hard to tell. Zak

quote:

Terreson wrote:

Aug. 1970, age 17. I had hitch-hiked from Eugene, Oregon to Mt. Hood. I was near broke and I had heard you could make money picking fruit there. Arriving in town in the late afternoon I spent the night down by the tracks in a hobo jungle. Early next morning I was sitting in the so-called farm labor office waiting for a grower to come in to recruit laborers. Within an hour or so a grower came in needing a few men to cull bins of pears, taking out the bad and bruised fruit. I made enough money that day to buy food and cigarettes, spent a second night in the jungle. Next day back in the farm labor office a grower's foreman came in, I got picked again. So did an older man named Lui, himself a hobo who would spend his winters down in Stockton CA, living in the missions, and his summers working his way up the west coast farm labor circuit. I guess he figured I would be a safe partner. He immediately attached himself to me, saying we were partners. Lui and I worked and lived together in the one grower's orchards for the next two months. At first picking pears and then picking apples.

The work was piece work. You got paid for how much fruit you picked. Payment was $5.50 per bin of fruit. A bin measured 4 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet deep and it held 28 bushels of pears or apples. I could fill 3 bins a day. I always made sure I had a half bin filled by the end of the day. It was a morale booster for the next morning. We climbed orchard ladders, a very tall ladder with a pole that swung out so that it would put you in a tree. We had bushel bags hanging from the neck, resting against the chest. Up and down the ladder 28 times plus to fill the bin. The grower had several different orchards and we worked them all. One orchard had heritage apple trees which I recall were almost 100 years old. As fruit trees grow older, and if not pruned regularly of water suckers, they tend to make more wood than fruit. Or so I've heard. And so while it was almost glamorous to be working trees so old, the yield was not all that good.

Lui and I lived in a labor camp with the other fruit pickers. The building was long and narrow, made of cinder block, and divided into rooms by sheets of gypsum dry wall. Lui and I shared a room. I had a canvas, Navy issue hammock, which I strung up. Lui had the double bed. The window was just an opening and the door was thin. Our source of heat was an old wood burning kitchen stove on which we also cooked our meals. Mostly we ate hamburger meat cooked in with potatoes.

Migrant workers came and went. We were the only two to stay out the season with this particular grower. We did it for the bonus. Back then the complexion of the laborers was different. White men, mostly hobos accustomed to the winter missions. Some families who drove their campers from orchard to orchard and whose children also worked. Some few Hispanics. And then the prostitutes who also worked the west coast circuit. Let me tell the story of my one and only encounter with prostitutes, two prostitutes actually.

It was labor day weekend. Lui had hitched a ride to town and was on a toot. I followed him after he didn't show up one night and found him in a tank at the police station sleeping it off. So I knew he was all right. Returning to the camp I was met with two long lines of men, each line reaching from the adjacent rooms on either side of mine. The day before one of the ladies had propositioned me, she said it would be for free. I had declined. So all night long I listened to the commotion, the humping and the bumping and the bed springs and the "Okay. That's enough. Get off me." I forgot to say the women were accompanied by a protector who was ready to break in if he heard screaming. This went on until maybe 2 or 3 in the morning. Obviously I got no sleep. Then the two ladies joined in one of the rooms and started knocking on the wall, and calling out to me to join them. I think they sensed I was terrified, afraid they would come through my door, and were having fun teasing me. I can't remember how old they were. Probably not much older than me. I turned 18 that month.

I made enough money that season to get a bus back to Seattle, where I had been living earlier in the summer, and to buy a plane ticket to take me back to my then home of North Carolina. Lui and I rode together as far as Portland. He was on his way back to Stockton. When my bus was called we shook hands goodbye. The last thing Lui said was, "I wish you would come with me." But even as young and dumb as I was I knew I had job-adventured enough for one season. I wanted to get back to books, solid walls, and friends.

About Lui I should say, by way of giving him a person, he was Canadian, had served honorably, if a bit recklessly, in WW2, had married an English woman, returned to North America, prospected for gold in Colorado, and, because of his drinking, his wife had left him to return to England with their children. That was when he took to the hobo circuit and to the missions. He had no teeth, which was one reason why we ate ground beef with potatoes. I didn't mind. I miss Lui. He must be dead by now. I hope he ended out peacefully.

One more thing. There have been times over the last forty years, and none too few, when I wish I had followed him to Stockton. I think I've come to understand something of the allure in letting go, giving up, checking out.

Tere



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As always, Zak, good thoughts. Let me go after them one at a time.

~If I do decide to formalize these field notes in all likelihood it will be in the essay form, what Camus called the lyrical essay. You've read the essay, "Sweeping," I posted over in the Prose Spectrum forum. When it comes to prose that is the sort of metier that interests me these days. Also, and for my purposes, more honest. My two novels and most of my short stories have been thinly disguised reportage. This is even true of much of my prose poetry and vignettes. But also, and this is just me talking for me and for no one else, I've for long felt the essay a superior from of prose over the novel and short story. I am an ardent follower of the example of Montaigne, the inventor of the essay. I like what he had in mind. His clinical examinations of motive and behavior especially appeal to me. Not to mention that the essay's voice amounts to the I/Thou address, which voice makes for greater intimacy between author and reader. But, again, this


~Ah yes. The perennial question: if I post something here would a publisher consider it already published? I don't know the answer, man. Or, rather, every individual has to find the answer about what to do for herself. For me I can say I got so much material in boxes, and that has never seen the light of day, much less a publisher's desk, even been read critically, that I am okay with the medium and with the exchange. Hell. I've gotten more exposure and feedback and response in the last ten online years than I've ever gotten from publishers or editors, and going back forty years. Besides, I've pretty much decided publishers need me far more than I need them, which is a measure of how much I believe in my material. But, as the old carny saying goes, youse pays your money and youse takes your chances.

~I am hoping anyone who chooses to participate in the thread by posting job experiences has her own objectives in mind. I set my objective out in the thread's starting post and it has now become thematic: what do artists do, specifically writers, in order to both support their writing habits and add to a ken of experience on which their art can draw? The theme strikes me as valid. As ideas go, it also strikes me as original. And fertile. In the context of a commercial/worker-state economy what do poets do in order to secure for themselves a room, a studio, a house, an interior safe-place in which they can let out the imagination and the expression? And what do they do in order to have the grounded experience upon which their art can draw? That is my objective and theme. Let me put it this way:

Caravaggio was a thief, a pimp, a whore, perhaps a murderer. This substratum of info keeps when I view paintings he made of the Holy family and Holy scenes, the models for which were usually pimps, whores, and thieves.

Villon was also a scoundrel by which means he too made a living. A thief certainly and possibly a murderer. Likely he died on the gallows. Yet he is considered Medieval France's greatest poet.

Fast forward, and passing over so many other examples, Eliot took a banker's job out of pride. The Bloomsbury group offered him a stipend. He said no to the offer and got a regular job. Neruda became a diplomat for Chile, got paid good, and his poetry couldn't have been more challenging of the Chilean middle-class.

Everybody has their own take. This is the theme I am chasing down.

Tere
Mar/5/2010, 8:49 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: Jobbing: a collective chronicle


Okay. I am ready to go after the second hardest job I've had. Working on an off-shore drilling rig. For the sake of comprehension I am pulling down portions of an above post and by way of introduction.
 
~For a reason I get I am reluctant to describe my next jobbing adventure. It involved an initiation that amounted to getting raped.

I was in Charlotteville, VA working in a textbook store and reading, reading, reading. The funny thing about reading great lit is that it makes you restless, makes you want more experience, makes you dissatisfied with uneasy pacts and false contracts and middling relationships. (I've always hated middling relationships in which all parties get cancelled out.) Anyway, that year I needed an adventure. The more extreme the better.

My friend of those years, L.D., his father was in charge of all off-shore drilling for an oil company in the Gulf of Mexico, I asked him if his father could get me a job on an oil rig. He called his father and I got the job. I took a train down to New Orleans, the old Southern Crescent. Mr. C. met me at the station, took me to his home for the night. The next morning I was in his high rise office and from there a Texan gave me a ride down to Morgan City. I checked in with the office of Trans World Drilling. A very kind secretary let me put my duffle bag of clothes and books in a back room. A couple of hours later I was on a two seater helicopter going out to TW 54. And that was the end of any preferrential treatement.

In her day TW 54 was the tallest semi-submersible rig in the world. From deck to top of derrick she measured 200 feet, and she could work in deep waters. Coming in by helicopter you saw her from 10 miles away. She was called back then the Marble Mountain.~

Feb. '76. As mentioned a few days ago, L.D.'s father, Mr. C., got me the job. He made a phone call and it happened. I was certainly not qualified for the work. I neither had the skills of a roustabout nor the body mass. At 6'2" I weighed all of 155 pounds. I had never worked off-shore or been in open waters where you cannot see anything of land. I might have been scared except, true to form, I was both young and dumb.

The Marble Mountain was, for then, a deep water rig. She was what they call an exploratory rig. Some geologist back in his office would make calculations and report that oil might be found here, here, or here. Rigs like TW 54 would be sent to the spot and start drilling. As I recall every new spot in the Gulf we were sent to in fact had an oil field worth the production cost. So I figure those geologists were pretty good at their job.

Coming in by helicopter you could see the rig easily from ten miles away. That is how tall she stood out against the plane of water. Built of steel, she really did look marble in the distance. In shallower waters, where we were sometimes sent, we would play around, drop something plastic over rig rails, like a bucket, and watch it shatter. Those places we knew we were screwed, that in the case of an explosion we had no escape. In deeper waters there was a swirl-depth that I cannot describe. But I can say the vertigo the sight causes enabled me to get, really get and understand, Beethoven's 6th Symphony. The first time I felt that vertigo in the swirl of deep water I immediately understood Beethoven's soul. There was another time when I was on a work boat bringing supplies and equipment to the rig. My job was to attach the crane's bolted hook to the palet's iron cables so it could be lifted to rig deck. There was a lull in the work, it was hot, and so I stripped down and dove over-board. No sooner submerged when I realized two things: barricudas love a rig for the fish that tend to congregate around its legs and the Gulf bottom was too deep for me to touch. I damn near twisted my back looking to shoot up back out of the water.

I've had harder jobs, physically and mentally. And these days I'm wondering when will my body and brain finally fail me. But that was a hard job and I am no macho man. Seven days off-shore, seven days to rest and play on shore. A work day was 13 hours, from 5 A.M. to 6 P.M., or 91 hours. But I never worked less than 110 hours or so. One week I worked 120 plus hours. That week I worked 26 hours straight, got 3 hours sleep, got up for a 13 hour shift. It was a production week, meaning we had found a sizable field of oil beneath ocean floor and were putting down the production pipes to bring the crude up. I remember falling asleep and still standing.

Roustabouts, roughnecks, the crane operator, maintenance man, and the tool pusher. This was the org chart. I was a rousatabout and at the bottom of the food chain. Roughnecks worked on the derrick, putting down and pulling up oil production pipes. There were two crews of roughnecks working twelve hours each. The crane operator was my supervisor. His name was Billy. And his ability to gauge sea swell, her rise and fall, when lifting cargo off a work boat was not just impeccable, it was exquisite. He never once snapped a threaded line of iron when lifting a load off a boat. Billy had a dreamy look in his eyes. I remember that. When he was on shore he raced cars. The maintenance man, I can almost remember his name, was a Texan. He was responsible for keeping the whole of the rig's mechanisms operational. He too was a good man and he loved to chat. The tool pusher was lord of the rig. His word was final. His responibility immense. He could shut down a rig, no questions asked.

The cooks were subcontracted. Their job was to make sure we had food, high protein food, 24 hours a day. The galley was always open. I've never eaten so well, before or since. Nor have I ever finished off a meal in less time. Within two months I could eat lunch or dinner, never have been fond of breakfast, in 10 minutes, and then back on the deck.

Rigs tend to be set on tripods, 3 legs. Regularly someone would have to take an elevator down to the bottom of a leg to make sure the bilge pumps were operational. I remember one Cajun boasting about how he could masturbate all the way down and up. I remember too how his report spoke to both loneliness and fear. I would have to go down to the bilge pumps too. I remember thinking: what a mystery we invade.

I lost a portion of my hearing that season. It involved the engine room where 4 huge diesel engines kept the rig going. My job was to monitor gauges. High and low frequencies I lost.

What I remember good about those four months was coming back to New Orleans and reading Shakespeare. And discovering Troubador poetry in a small bookstore in the French Quarter. What I remember bad was, in effect, getting raped by 5 men who liked me so much they wanted to initiate me by an already illegal rite. Later, Mr C. told me I could have them fired and I said no. My reason was because those coon asses, Texans, and one Indian from Oklahoma had scant means to support their families. Enough.

I've never trusted groups of men since. I've come to where I don't trust groups of women either.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Mar/6/2010, 6:49 pm
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Terreson,

Well, it looks like I'm an audience of one. Not really, but I'm the first to comment. Again, there is more in what you say than there appears on the surface. There is tension in the lines. Pathos, maybe.

A couple of mundane questions come to mind immediately. So I'll hit the mundane first. I've lived in the South since Feb 1991, but I'm not sure what "coon asses" are. I've lived in South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. I've lived and worked in Florida and worked in Alabama. But how are you using "coon asses"? You mention Texas. Were these guys white?

Another thing that comes to mind, were these older rougher guys (the rapists) terrorizing a younger, less experienced young man? It'll add clarity here. This is one disadvantage of an essay in comparison to a short story. In a short story, this would be clear. But then, this isn't an essay yet, this is merely a series of memories quickly jotted down without the luxury of a careful revision, right?

I know that in life we often think, if I had to do it over this is what I would have done. Thing is, when we are in the middle of it, we don't get the full picture and so we make mistakes. Not that you made a mistake. Remember in "Deliverance", the guys really didn't make a "mistake." They just got ambushed. Which is really what happened to you. You got ambushed. I remember my first true physical beating when I was in the sixth grade. The other kid was a year older and had the advantage of having an older brother who was a street fighter and had taught him everything he knew. For me, it was the learning curve itself. I know, seems odd that it would happen to a sixth grader. In some neighborhoods you learn early. But guaranteed, we'll be 90, if we are blessed to live that long, and we'll still be remembering misadventures from each stage of our lives, childhood, teenage years, young adult, adult and old age.

There's a lot here I can relate to. Your flying onto the rig on a helicopter reminds me of flying onto one of the high peeks near the Canadian border on a helicopter. Same sense of awe, of grandeur, a bit of fear, all that. Also, coming back to civilization and rediscovering Shakespeare. I sort of get it.

May come back to this. Look forward to the other comments. My tooth extraction tortured me for four days; I finally went back to the dentist; he said I had a hole where the extraction had been done and the bone was showing through. He put a plug in there with oil of cloves and other pain killers. Immediate relief. Now maybe I'll start catching up.

The rest of you, let's see some of your postings here. Zak



quote:

Terreson wrote:

Okay. I am ready to go after the second hardest job I've had. Working on an off-shore drilling rig. For the sake of comprehension I am pulling down portions of an above post and by way of introduction.
 
~For a reason I get I am reluctant to describe my next jobbing adventure. It involved an initiation that amounted to getting raped.

I was in Charlotteville, VA working in a textbook store and reading, reading, reading. The funny thing about reading great lit is that it makes you restless, makes you want more experience, makes you dissatisfied with uneasy pacts and false contracts and middling relationships. (I've always hated middling relationships in which all parties get cancelled out.) Anyway, that year I needed an adventure. The more extreme the better.

My friend of those years, L.D., his father was in charge of all off-shore drilling for an oil company in the Gulf of Mexico, I asked him if his father could get me a job on an oil rig. He called his father and I got the job. I took a train down to New Orleans, the old Southern Crescent. Mr. C. met me at the station, took me to his home for the night. The next morning I was in his high rise office and from there a Texan gave me a ride down to Morgan City. I checked in with the office of Trans World Drilling. A very kind secretary let me put my duffle bag of clothes and books in a back room. A couple of hours later I was on a two seater helicopter going out to TW 54. And that was the end of any preferrential treatement.

In her day TW 54 was the tallest semi-submersible rig in the world. From deck to top of derrick she measured 200 feet, and she could work in deep waters. Coming in by helicopter you saw her from 10 miles away. She was called back then the Marble Mountain.~

Feb. '76. As mentioned a few days ago, L.D.'s father, Mr. C., got me the job. He made a phone call and it happened. I was certainly not qualified for the work. I neither had the skills of a roustabout nor the body mass. At 6'2" I weighed all of 155 pounds. I had never worked off-shore or been in open waters where you cannot see anything of land. I might have been scared except, true to form, I was both young and dumb.

The Marble Mountain was, for then, a deep water rig. She was what they call an exploratory rig. Some geologist back in his office would make calculations and report that oil might be found here, here, or here. Rigs like TW 54 would be sent to the spot and start drilling. As I recall every new spot in the Gulf we were sent to in fact had an oil field worth the production cost. So I figure those geologists were pretty good at their job.

Coming in by helicopter you could see the rig easily from ten miles away. That is how tall she stood out against the plane of water. Built of steel, she really did look marble in the distance. In shallower waters, where we were sometimes sent, we would play around, drop something plastic over rig rails, like a bucket, and watch it shatter. Those places we knew we were screwed, that in the case of an explosion we had no escape. In deeper waters there was a swirl-depth that I cannot describe. But I can say the vertigo the sight causes enabled me to get, really get and understand, Beethoven's 6th Symphony. The first time I felt that vertigo in the swirl of deep water I immediately understood Beethoven's soul. There was another time when I was on a work boat bringing supplies and equipment to the rig. My job was to attach the crane's bolted hook to the palet's iron cables so it could be lifted to rig deck. There was a lull in the work, it was hot, and so I stripped down and dove over-board. No sooner submerged when I realized two things: barricudas love a rig for the fish that tend to congregate around its legs and the Gulf bottom was too deep for me to touch. I damn near twisted my back looking to shoot up back out of the water.

I've had harder jobs, physically and mentally. And these days I'm wondering when will my body and brain finally fail me. But that was a hard job and I am no macho man. Seven days off-shore, seven days to rest and play on shore. A work day was 13 hours, from 5 A.M. to 6 P.M., or 91 hours. But I never worked less than 110 hours or so. One week I worked 120 plus hours. That week I worked 26 hours straight, got 3 hours sleep, got up for a 13 hour shift. It was a production week, meaning we had found a sizable field of oil beneath ocean floor and were putting down the production pipes to bring the crude up. I remember falling asleep and still standing.

Roustabouts, roughnecks, the crane operator, maintenance man, and the tool pusher. This was the org chart. I was a rousatabout and at the bottom of the food chain. Roughnecks worked on the derrick, putting down and pulling up oil production pipes. There were two crews of roughnecks working twelve hours each. The crane operator was my supervisor. His name was Billy. And his ability to gauge sea swell, her rise and fall, when lifting cargo off a work boat was not just impeccable, it was exquisite. He never once snapped a threaded line of iron when lifting a load off a boat. Billy had a dreamy look in his eyes. I remember that. When he was on shore he raced cars. The maintenance man, I can almost remember his name, was a Texan. He was responsible for keeping the whole of the rig's mechanisms operational. He too was a good man and he loved to chat. The tool pusher was lord of the rig. His word was final. His responibility immense. He could shut down a rig, no questions asked.

The cooks were subcontracted. Their job was to make sure we had food, high protein food, 24 hours a day. The galley was always open. I've never eaten so well, before or since. Nor have I ever finished off a meal in less time. Within two months I could eat lunch or dinner, never have been fond of breakfast, in 10 minutes, and then back on the deck.

Rigs tend to be set on tripods, 3 legs. Regularly someone would have to take an elevator down to the bottom of a leg to make sure the bilge pumps were operational. I remember one Cajun boasting about how he could masturbate all the way down and up. I remember too how his report spoke to both loneliness and fear. I would have to go down to the bilge pumps too. I remember thinking: what a mystery we invade.

I lost a portion of my hearing that season. It involved the engine room where 4 huge diesel engines kept the rig going. My job was to monitor gauges. High and low frequencies I lost.

What I remember good about those four months was coming back to New Orleans and reading Shakespeare. And discovering Troubador poetry in a small bookstore in the French Quarter. What I remember bad was, in effect, getting raped by 5 men who liked me so much they wanted to initiate me by an already illegal rite. Later, Mr C. told me I could have them fired and I said no. My reason was because those coon asses, Texans, and one Indian from Oklahoma had scant means to support their families. Enough.

I've never trusted groups of men since. I've come to where I don't trust groups of women either.

Tere



Mar/6/2010, 8:15 pm Link to this post Send Email to Zakzzz5   Send PM to Zakzzz5
 
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hi Tere and Zak,

Not an audience of one. Definitely not. Like the bee-yard stories, these are compelling and so well written I want to see them collected or novelized, published.

Zak, I'm glad to hear your tooth torture has been relieved.

Back later,

Chris
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Hi T, Z and C,

I'm here too. Reading along and enjoying the entries, the exchanges. As Chris says, all of this is well-written, contains a wealth of engaging material. I will try to contribute something original to the thread in the future, but, in truth, most of my jobbing experiences are not that interesting. Or maybe it just seems so to my jaundice eyes.

Tere, you wrote:

quote:

But also, and this is just me talking for me and for no one else, I've for long felt the essay a superior from of prose over the novel and short story. I am an ardent follower of the example of Montaigne, the inventor of the essay. I like what he had in mind. His clinical examinations of motive and behavior especially appeal to me. Not to mention that the essay's voice amounts to the I/Thou address, which voice makes for greater intimacy between author and reader.



Hmm, well, I don't think you are just writing for yourself. At least it comes across that you have one or two readers in mind because the I/Thou address and a certain intimacy of tone is there in every piece.

Zak, you wrote:

quote:

I have a 75-year old friend who just finished her masters in creative writing and is trying to get her book published. So I guess the clock never stops ticking on these things until the clock stops ticking, to misquote Yogi Berra.



I once quipped to a friend, "I'm going to be a poet in my next life." To which she responded, "Your next life? What's wrong with this one?" She then went on to tell the story of her 70-something aunt who took up painting again after her husband died and went on to have her work shown in galleries. I still think I am a student of the craft and will be for the forseeable future, but I take her point--and yours.



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