Tuesday, October 17, 2017
We were driving around Kanata. Tension was building for Belinda as the end of my unemployment benefits approached. There was a similarity between Belinda with a thirty four year career, one federal government job, and me, whose longest job had been two years: work meant the same thing to both of us, money to pay the bills. Being without a job was unknown to her, familiar to me. My employment was on our minds. Belinda pointed out the ‘Hiring - Part Time’ sign in front of the grocery store at Kanata Centrum. I had never worked in a grocery store but in one of those damn grand gestures, I pulled into the parking lot and ran in to get an application. These gestures were made in mild anger. They were meant to go along with Belinda, to demonstrate that I was doing everything she suggested. She thought she knew how I should conduct myself better than I. She is often wrong but that doesn’t bother her at all. It was just another whim for her, a help wanted sign seen through the window of a moving car. Belinda’s been in management for many years and I have worked for very few places with good management. Most big companies, in my experience, have terrible management with no self respect or ethics. Morality doesn’t even enter into it. She and I have a fundamental disagreement. One advantage of living with a person who is in management is the opportunity to look at things through management’s eyes. Over a long, painful process, I learned to ask Belinda’s advice. She had heard there was a union at this store, that the jobs probably paid ten dollars an hour minimum. All of my life I’ve had self appointed experts telling me what to do about work. Like her, most of them have never had to do the jobs I have. I appreciated their concern but seldom found a job because of their help. I’ve often thought that stocking shelves, arranging vegetables, wouldn’t be bad work, but it was hard to believe that you could get ten bucks an hour for it. I dropped off the application at the Kanata Centrum store. Belinda couldn’t let it go. She was using guilt to motivate me. She knew that I wanted to work, but resented the fact that I was taking the time to try to find a decent job. This seemed to indicate that I was lazy and that I didn’t want to work. The next step in that reasoning is that all unemployed people should happily stampede Macdonalds to take the jobs there. I was sending Belinda off at five - thirty in the dark every morning. She was squeezing every ounce of guilt out of it. Iris, from the grocery chain, called. She said that they had my application and asked if I would be available for an interview. She said that it was a union shop, that the starting pay was a few cents over minimum wage per hour. Their policy was that they only hired part time workers for a maximum of twenty-four hours per week. When I shopped at our grocery store in the next few days, I watched the staff out of the corner of my eye. The vegetable department didn’t look too bad. The shelf stocking and pricing looked downright pleasant compared to many of the jobs I’ve had. Inside, warm and dry, radio music drifting through the store, nice smells, downright pleasant. It wasn’t until I emerged into the parking lot in the driving rain that I stepped aside for the older guy pushing a line of shopping carts in the door. He had a wet, red face. I realized that this was probably where you started in a grocery store. You were the guy pushing carts around. What would former school mates and friends think, if they saw me pushing carts around a grocery store parking lot? When I told Belinda about my revelation, she started calling me “Bubbles”. I found the store in the mall on March Road and parked in the lot. I didn’t really want to work for a company which automatically enrolled me in a union but paid minimum wage to start. I watched a young guy with a stubble cut pushing some shopping carts toward the store. It was time for the interview. My attitude toward all paid work was the same. I figured most jobs were possible for me to learn. I had proved that to myself travelling around the world. “If they can do it, I can do it” had worked so far. I found the customer service desk, waited while a woman behind the counter used a phone to call someone on the p.a. system. I notice several white haired men in grocery store uniforms. The lady phoned Iris and directed me back into the lobby where there was a park bench. She told me to take a seat, Iris would be right down. How many people did you see sitting on those benches inside the automatic doors at the grocery store? I sat for a moment, got up to check out the bulletin board. Next to it was a board showing snapshot sized photos of the management team with their names and titles. There, at the top, was Eddy Laval, Assistant Manager. I knew Eddy and his older brother, Frankie, when they were kids at the rink where I worked in high school. They were rink rats like I was at their age. I had seen Eddy, years ago, stocking shelves at a grocery store. He must have stayed with the company all this time to become an assistant manager. Iris arrived while I was looking up at Eddy’s smiling mug, his tie befitting his position. Iris was an attractive young woman, polite and friendly.. To make conversation, to skate over the first few painful moments, I indicated the picture, explained that I knew Eddy when he was a little kid. We climbed the stairs to the offices. Iris asked what Eddy was like when I knew him. I told her that Eddy and Frankie were good kids, quiet, nice guys. At the top of the stairs, Iris opened a door, we stepped into an office with a big window looking out over the store. Iris stopped. “He says he knew you when you were a little kid” She spoke to the two people sitting at the table with lunch bags and newspapers. Eddy looked up from the paper with a worried frown. He had white and grey patches in his hair and moustache. He wore a look of bored exhaustion. Seeing me didn’t seem to help. His expression remained blank as he sort of nodded or blinked in recognition. I’m not sure if he said “Yeah” or “Hey” or just grunted. I didn’t notice him jumping across the table to pump my hand, welcoming me to the family. Then again, the way he looked, I didn’t hold it against him. Maybe he was trying to do me a favour. Sensing embarrassment, I followed Iris into another room. “But he was a good kid though” I managed. It was directed at the young guy, another stubble cut, who sat across the table from Eddy smirking at him. Iris remarked that she guessed Eddy wasn’t the same as when I knew him. She pointed me to one of two chairs in a tiny, cubbyhole office. She was probably twenty years younger than I, Eddy, ten years younger. I couldn’t remember the last boss I had who was older than me. A slim, white haired woman in a business suit sat at the only desk in the room sorting through piles of job applications. She smiled pleasantly, three feet away. “I’ll be quiet” “OK” I smiled. Iris got her papers ready. She wanted to ask me a series of questions. I indicated that I was ready. She asked me why I applied for the job. I appreciated Iris’ manner, it wasn’t intimidating or judgemental. I felt I could be sincere with her, but I couldn’t just laugh out loud. I glanced at the white haired lady. She gave me a reassuring look with a twinkle in her eye which meant that all three of us knew how stupid that question was. “I was looking for a job” Relief swept over us all. Iris went on to the next question. “Think back, to other jobs where you’ve had a conflict with someone, say a customer, over something. How have you resolved it?” I’m past being too honest in job interviews. For my jobs they wanted to hear you say the right things. I told her I’d never had a problem with a customer. It wasn’t a big lie. The next question was about multi - tasking. How would I cope with a lot of things to do at once. I had no answer so I referred to the last job. As it was outlined in my resume, a yardman in an oil terminal has a million responsibilities. I glanced at the lady with the white hair who was beginning to look more like a management type. She had the piles of applications all over the desk but the shuffling quieted when I gave my answers. Thank goodness it wasn’t a big, important job. I still couldn’t believe that they were going to these lengths for a buggy man. The final question was, even Iris admitted, a little strange. “Think of a product, any product from any store, which you bought and you’ve found it’s the greatest. Tell me about it. Explain why it’s so great” I was getting the feeling that the other woman was actually in charge here. Even if I graduated to sorting tomatoes I wouldn’t need to know anything like this. I wondered if they had me mixed up with a management candidate. All three of us knew that these were Human Resource questions which had to be asked because they were on the list which Iris was consulting. She was taking notes too. She was probably an ex cashier with a degree training to be a Human Resources person. Good for her. Someone in the human resources department had decided that these questions were necessary so that these jobs wouldn’t be squandered on just anyone. The only thing I could think of was my water barrel. It was a great acquisition. I recommended it to anyone with an eavestrough. Iris said she had an eavestrough. I did a double take when Iris straightened her papers and told me that I would be contacted in the future if I advanced to the next level. Another level, I thought. I left after shaking hands, saying polite thank yous. I was glad that Eddy wasn’t in the next room. Maybe I banned him from the rink for a week, but I couldn’t remember doing it. He and Frankie were good natured, dedicated rink rats. I know they coached little kids’ teams. Never any trouble that I could remember. Iris called again a few days later. She wanted to know if I was available for an interview at the Kanata store I had applied to. Of course I was. I mentioned Eddy’s non response at the interview. She laughed it off, said they didn’t pay much attention to Eddy, he was probably “in a mood”. When the day came, I parked in the lot. An older guy with a goatee pushed long lines of carts toward the door. He wore a hood against the wind but no gloves. I’d wear gloves if I was doing that. I followed a cashier toward the upstairs offices. I shook hands with a pleasant chap wearing a brown shirt and tie, no jacket, Mr. Fisher. His back was to the picture window which looked out over the store. I tried to be pleasant and interested, but he knew that I didn’t understand the system. I couldn’t figure out what Iris was talking about when she explained the part time, permanent, job status. In a nutshell, the only obstacle that he had with hiring me, on the spot, was availability. I had emphasized that my availability was wide open, nights, weekends, anything except graveyards. Iris had checked this twice. I thought that it was an advantage. It wasn’t. If you really wanted a full time job, it would take years there, so you would probably leave. It was a disadvantage to be too available. Mr. Fisher emphasized that they only hired permanent part time employees, not temporary. When you signed on, they paid for training and orientation, you committed yourself to certain shifts. If you wanted to change those shifts to nights or weekends for another job, you couldn’t. All the other workers in the store had seniority, students needed nights and weekends. You were responsible for your shifts, out of a job if you didn’t do them. He made it clear that it was the union who forced you to sign the commitment to your designated shifts. After a year’s worth of hours, the employees get some benefits. He said he needed people in the produce department from now till Christmas from six a.m. to noon. It would probably take two years for me to qualify for the benefits which sounded like they were designed to attract single mothers. Mr. Fisher had middle management hair and glasses. He steepled his fingers, read from the notes Iris had written on my application. “It says here you’ve haven’t dealt much with customers. Here, what we do with customers is make their shopping experience the best it can be” We both knew he could say nothing else. I wanted to look out of the big window behind him but kept remembering the interview tips I’d seen: books, magazines and newspaper columns all advised the interviewee to give good eye contact. The fact that Mr. Fisher was being nice while reeling off the cliches, made me feel better. The trouble was, we were in a serious discussion about a minimum wage job, maximum twenty four hours a week, minus union dues and taxes. He told me that he had no problem hiring me if I was willing to go along with the conditions. I had repeated to Iris several times that I was looking for a full time job. That didn’t seem to faze her. She said that, if I got one, I could still come in on weekends. I admitted to Mr. Fisher that I probably wouldn’t be able to continue the shifts which I took at the beginning when I got another job. He made it clear that the company didn’t want to pay for orientation and training only to lose the employee as had happened with one girl last week. I could see his point. He wanted a definite commitment. I couldn’t give him one. Even if I could do the job, I couldn’t live on the money. We shook hands. I rose to leave. There was a tiredness behind his pleasant smile. Probably, aside from the money, the buggy men and produce clerks were feeling better than this guy. Doing what he did all day must have been exhausting. He said he had a few more people to interview. Later Belinda told me that I should have lied and taken the twenty four hours a week for the moment. I don’t think even she believed that. I left the store after picking up a green pepper and some pita bread. I felt relief and gave a cheery nod to the stubble cut pushing carts past my truck. He looked miserable, hood up. That evening, I stepped outside to say goodbye to Belinda and her girlfriend as they left for the Bingo. She looked up at me from the driver’s window of her Mazda. She said I looked tired, no, depressed. “You don’t turn down a buggy man job, every day” I smiled. They drove off, laughing. The grand gesture was a waste of time. Belinda had long forgotten that she started it when we were driving past the grocery store in Kanata Centrum. I turned on the kitchen radio. A news break interrupted the drive home radio show: drivers, warehouse people and some cashiers were on strike at another local grocery chain. The issue: part time workers.
Saturday, October 7, 2017
I first heard of Henry Miller, perhaps fittingly, when I lived with two other guys in East Vancouver. One of the guys had a friend who was a postman, the other guy was having an affair with the postman’s wife. There were a few awkward moments when he snuck her in for a night or an afternoon quickie, but, all in all, things went well and I saw a book which the postman had lent to his buddy, my housemate. It was a compilation of the letters between Henry and Lawrence Durrell. I became interested and then obsessed with Miller’s writing, read everything of his I could get my hands on. I still have a worn copy of Tropic of Cancer by my bedside along with Flann O’Brien’s, The Poor Mouth. For some reason which I don’t want to analyze, both books are places of refuge for me when I just want to relax and enjoy the language. At times like that I don’t think as much about the content of what I’m reading as much as how the words are strung together. Finding Henry’s writing was like the moment when Shakespeare made sense to me in high school: a light bulb shone. In all my travels after that I kept a sharp eye open when books by Henry were displayed. Krishnamurti, Durrell, Arthur Rimbaud, Anais Nin and others were introduced to me by Henry’s writing and their books were ones I watched for too. Of course, I was watching for cheap versions of their works. When my friend, Robin, arrived to visit me in Crete he brought a copy of The Colossus of Maroussi, written when Henry visited Lawrence Durrell and his wife in Corfu. Surviving in a tiny room in Paris on croque monsieurs, cheese, baguettes and red wine, I planned a novel using the Paris metro map as structure. Needless to say, the novel became as confusing and mixed up as my understanding of the Paris subway system and was abandoned. I made a pilgrimage to the street where Anais Nin lived when she and Henry were having their affair. Their conviction that analysis was necessary and their visits to Otto Rank, a student of Freud, revealed the notion that psychoses are the products of frustrated or blocked creativity. Frustrated writers can take comfort in the idea that writing is at least healthy if not profitable. By the time I was there, the bars mentioned in his books were too expensive for me to patronize but I lingered outside the Coupole and the Dome. I walked endlessly around Paris, imagined what it was like then, wondered why Henry was never mentioned in the list of writers who lived in the city in the 30's. There was irony in the thought of him existing from meal to meal as he worked on Tropic in the arts capital of the Western world, poor, reviled and rejected. I didn’t know then that he and Anais Nin wrote pornography for the money of their rich patrons but I knew there had been an overwhelming rejection of him in the States and that he was involved in the debate about pornography and obscenity. It looks like the descendants of those moral Americans who banned his books for so long have, seventy or eighty years later, taken over the government of the USA. He described his trip across the states in The Air Conditioned Nightmare. The title pretty well demonstrated Henry’s attitude toward the system. It gave me hope. Here was a man with great curiosity about the world and other people and sex who ignored all the warnings and temptations which were placed before him and followed a singular path of his own. It led him to another continent, through years of poverty and piles of rejection slips. But he kept going and kept laughing. “Always cheery and bright” was his motto and the most depressing situations could be changed for the better just by reading his books. I know that a generation who thinks the 60's is ancient history has a hard time understanding his relevance now, but then he was like a beacon. He personified the rebelliousness and questioning which was rumbling underground. I often wonder what he would have made of this internet, instant world. I like to think he’d revel in it. It would be so much easier to spread his subversive ideas and plead for sanity. A literary website reminded me of him when they put out a call for submissions on “money”. He had written Money and How It Got That Way years ago though I don’t know where I saw it. He would enjoy, as Kurt Vonnegutt Jr put it, “Poisoning them with a little humanity”. Henry believed that the best education it was possible to get was available to anyone with a library card at the same time as he relished the quote ,“When I hear the word Kultur, I pick up my pistol”. Henry wasn’t published until he was almost forty and that was always a prod for me when I started feeling sorry for myself. He’s been called racist and misogynist but, in my opinion, almost always by someone with an axe to grind. After all, Anais Nin’s lover must have been more than just a male chauvinist pig. The worst was online when a critic (critics are paid to criticize, we shouldn’t forget that) said he was boring. Of course, the critic, who seems to be trying to make a name for himself by attacking famous writers, used much of the language which Henry and others like him forced into literary acceptability. He couldn’t express himself without those words but he seemed to have no idea that the very words he used were allowed in the English writing world because of legal battles fought over Henry’s books. I don’t know what the penalty was for getting caught with a Tropic or a Rosy Crucifixion book in the 60's but that there was a penalty at all seems ridiculous. As ridiculous as excoriating Elvis, The Beatles and The Dixie Chicks. Sex was the same then. It hasn’t and hadn’t changed. He had the audacity to describe the act itself and men and women’s bodies without apology and, many times, with great humour. He didn’t gloss over the sweaty, intimate details which weren’t supposed to be mentioned in polite society. It’s not just that Henry wrote about sex like no one else. He described it in the first person often and didn’t avoid branching off into other personal thoughts which occurred to him while he was engaged. His style of using his own personal experiences for the creation of fiction and nonfiction became the roots of my travel writing. Henry seemed to be painfully honest even when he was making things up. I was working on the rigs in Alberta, living in Edmonton, when Henry died. I happened to be in town and not in the bush on that occasion and made my way to the nearest hotel. The bars in Alberta are huge and busy. Others at the table had no idea who Henry was and why I should be there to drink a farewell toast to him on the occasion of his death. I did the same at the same bar when John Lennon was shot. They didn’t know, any more than I did, that I would carry around his books and lean on his inspiration for many years. Here is Henry’s description of one of the many jobs he took to survive in France. “Here was I, supposedly to spread the gospel of Franco-American amity- the emissary of a corpse who, after he had plundered right and left, after he had caused untold suffering and misery, dreamed of establishing universal peace. Ffui! What did they expect me to talk about, I wonder? About LEAVES OF GRASS, about the tariff walls, about the Declaration of Independence, about the latest gang war? What? Just what, I’d like to know. Well, I’ll tell you-I never mentioned these things. I started right off the bat with a lesson on the physiology of love. How the elephants make love-that was it! It caught like wildfire. After the first day there were no more empty benches. After that first lesson in English they were standing at the door waiting for me. We got along swell together. They asked all sorts of questions, as though they had never learned a damned thing. I let them fire away. I taught them to ask more ticklish questions. Ask anything!- that was my motto. I’m here as a plenipotentiary from the realm of free spirits. I’m here to create a fever and a ferment. ‘In some ways’ says an eminent astronomer, ‘the universe appears to be passing away like a tale that is told, dissolving into nothingness like a vision’. That seems to be the general feeling underlying the empty breadbasket of learning. Myself, I don’t believe it. I don’t believe a fucking thing these bastards try to shove down our throats.”
Monday, October 2, 2017
When I finally got my hands on How to Become Clairvoyant because of the generosity and sensitivity of inlaws at Christmas, I could hardly wait to take it home and play it. I was scared to be disappointed but I had to hear what Robbie Robertson had created. I was convinced that anything Robbie Robertson did with Eric Capton would be good. How to Become Clairvoyant is a guitar player’s collection of songs including one called Axman in which he names many of the old blues players as well as Jimi and Stevie Ray in a homage to the tradition of the guitar slinger The songs are Straight Down the Line. Where Robertson’s New Orleans delta Southern affinity shines through. The man who wrote The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down displays his reverence of the spiritual south, whether it’s black magic or Southern Baptist gospel in this song. Robert Randoph, included in Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Guitar Players plays a fiery solo on the pedal steel to answer Robertson’s electric guitar solo. When the Night Was Young: My personal favourite, it’s got one those hooky choruses that keep popping up in your head long after you heard it. It goes: ‘We had dreams when the night was young. We were believers when the night was young, We could change the world, stop the war, Never seen nothing like this before, But that was back when the night was young’ He Don’t Live Here No More. A song about addiction with appropriate wild guitar sounds as Clapton plays a solo on the slide guitar and Robertson surprises the listener, who is expecting a roaring electric guitar, by playing a solo on a gut string guitar with fine Flamenco likepicking to start it. The Right Mistake: Of course Steve Winwood’s a part of this project. He’s a multi instrumentalist, named Singer of the Year in 1986 who’s been entertaining since before Clapton and Robertson had that visual spark in The Last Waltz in 1972. You can hear his organ clearly on this song which includes solos from Robertson and Clapton. In the credits Bill Dillon is credited with playing the guitar and the guitorgan, whatever that is. A friend saw Steve Winwood at Bluesfest and was very impressed in his live show. This Is Where I get Off: Robertson’s first musical reference to the painful breakup of The Band wherein he and Clapton do electric guitar solos and backup singers,Rocco Deluca, Angelyna Boyd, Daryl Johnson, Michelle John and Sharon White contribute to the song which builds up to each chorus of, “So just pull over, To the side of the road…” Fear of Falling: Amellow Clapton riff is what I thought the first time I listened to this. Both Robertson and Clapton are credited with writing this song so only they know. It’s an easy going blues based song where they both do electric solos and Clapton plays an aoustic guitar. The lyrics give it the possibility of being a hit. The backup simgers, Taylor Goldsmith of The Dawes, Michelle John and Sharon White supplement their harmonies on the chorus. She’s Not Mine: “Anthemic” is the word which first came to mind when I heard this song. That description sounds a bit grandiose now that I’ve listened to the song often. It’s very impressive in it’s thunderous drums and , lyrical imagery and musical sound. It’s the only song in the collection which credits Jim Keltner on drums as well as Ian Thomas The rest use Pino Palladino on bass and Ian Thomas on drums Pino Palladino who has played bass with everyone from The Who toEric Clapton to Don Henley and Elton John, who has a Fender bass named after him. One of the best in the business. Madame X: A gentle instrumental Clapton wrote. He plays it on a gut string guitar while Roberston plays electric guitar and Trent Reznor, former front man of Nine Inch Nails, adds “Additional Textures”. The bridge in the song evokes Tears In Heaven for a second. Axman: Doing the guitar solo on a song dedicated to “Brothers of the blade” is an honour given to Tom Morello, of Rage Against the Machine. Won’t be back: A song by Clapton and Robertson, produced, as all of these songs were, by Marius de Vries, on which he plays keyboard How to Become Clairvoyant:A song written by Robertson It contains the playing of Robert Randolph on the pedal steel guitar as well as Robertson’s electric with Marcus de Vries on piano. Pino Palladino and Ian Thomas provide the beat ,Dana Glover and Natalie Mendoza are the backup voices. Just when you think you’ve listened to heavy guitar and it’s all very serious, Robbie Robertson speaks at the end of the song, “Now that would be a revelation Oh, and I also enjoy levitation” Tango for Django: It is natural and fitting that a guitar player’s recording contains a tribute to one of the greatest guitarists of all, Django Rhinehart. Robertson plays it on a gut string guitar as it leads with violins reminiscent of Stefan Grappelli, into a formal intro to a slow tango. As he wrote an instrumental, musically correct waltz for The Last Waltz, he has written a formally correct (I assume) tango using Frank Morocco on accordian, Anne Marie Calhoun on violin, andTina Guo on cello. The song was written by Robertson and Marcus de Vries