You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs a
revolutionary friend used to tell me in ’70 or ’71 but
I could never get over worrying about the eggs
making me realize
I’d never lead a street mob.
Egg scraps on my daughter’s breakfast plate
make me ache
for the dog
I used to feed them to.
It seems obvious to me that the American economy depends on people buying crap, constantly and obsessively. When people stop buying crap or even cut back, the kingdom wobbles on its props and everybody starts running in circles and tearing their hair.
Despite this the American elite seem intent on creating a working class that is paid only a survival wage, slave wages despite the fact that when people have less money they buy a lot less crap. The big shots are so used to playing ball with each other and ignoring their consumer base they have lost sight of this basic fact: poor people are not big spenders meaning fewer sales of new cars, houses and all the stuff at Walmart.
So I suggest the trickle up theory. Simply the more money Walmart shoppers have to spend the fatter and happier Walmart managers are and this fat and happiness moves up the chain straight to the CEOs. I would think this would be easy for the bigwigs to get. Most of the nation’s shoppers are of the lower classes. If you limit them to just getting by, they won’t be shopping. I don’t think that purchases of their upper class junk, which is the same crap with diamonds added, will be enough to keep the train chugging. It doesn’t compare to hundreds of thousands hitting up CostCo.
In the bedroom a dressing table, a vanity with a three panel mirror, the sides folding inward, closing to cover the center panel. The two sides with drawers higher than the center: both sides are crowded with candles, not votive but all sizes of decorator candles, some scented and some not. In ironwork holders and plated wire holders, saucers and bowls and punctured tin lanterns. Tapers and birthday candles too, but mostly thick, sturdy candles sitting atop the ridged, melted remains of their predecessors. To the right in the wax forest was a framed 8 by 10 black and white photo of a man in VA pajamas and robe smiling painfully into the camera.
No other furniture but a cot. The floor covered with straw mats. On the wall a thin, hide-covered drum, beaded rattles, a crow’s wing and posters, pictures, some framed and some cut from magazines, of Buddha and saints and popes and Hindu dieties, thunderbirds and ravens and Mother Teresa. The girl pulled the mirror open and saw it was pasted over with pictures of oriental girls, smiling advertising and pin up girls; some cut out carefully, others torn from the page, completely covering the glass of all three panels. Some holding toothpaste or soy drink or lipstick, others posing by cars or with children. Some in bathing suits, a couple nude.
The girl looked at them all for a bit, then threw her duffle on the cot and unzipped it. She pulled underwear, a sweater, jeans and socks and laid them out. With quiet urgency she stripped, washed herself quickly with wet wipes, then dressed and stuffed her dirty clothes in the duffle, slung it over her shoulder. She stood for a moment, in the room before the mirror, before she opened the door and went back to Ladykiller.
“So how crazy are you?”
“I get a pension for it.”
“I mean, what’s with that stuff in the bedroom. I mean, do I have anything to worry about? Are you really fucking crazy? Bodies in the crawl space crazy?”
“No, I don’t do that. You mean the shrine?”
“That’s a shrine?”
“With all those pictures, all those pictures of girls? I mean, you know, that’s the kind of thing the hack and sack boys do, have shit like that with candles and shit.”
“Really? I’m crazy I guess, the docs say I am, but I’m not a serial killer. I’m only crazy in spurts. Psychotic episodes, but all that is, I see things and go into a sort of coma, like a coma. I sit in a chair or lay on a cot and am out of it for a while. Have to go into the hospital until it passes. Rest of the time I’m just an old drunk guy. Don’t kill people, not anymore.”
“In the war. I killed people in the war.”
“Jesus. Why do you say it that way? That’s different.”
“No it’s not.”
“All the women, all the Asian women. Who are they?”
“They’re just pictures, out of magazines, calendars. They remind me of a lady I ran into a long time ago. Got no picture of her, but those pictures remind me of her. I’m calling her lady, she was probably 14 or 15 when she died, in the war. I remember her and use the pictures to remind me. She was a victim, like you.”
“What do you mean? I’m not a fucking victim.”
“Oh yes. Oh yes. We all are.”
“Fuck that, fuck that shit. A fucking shrine huh? You hold meetings in there or something?”
“Like to God?”
“I don’t believe in God.”
“Not in any god?”
Jen grinned at him.
“You mean you don’t see his work around you?”
“What I’ve seen, this life in this world. If it’s God’s work than I want nothing to do with him. Such a God is to be denied. I’ll not pray to Him.”
“Then why pray? Who to? Why pray at all?”
“To the lady. I don’t know. I’m compelled to, hoping she’ll have luck wherever she is. Praying for good fortune, for her and the others. It seems to me that good intentions, that focusing good will, taking the effort must be worth something, even if nobody’s listening. Making the effort is important. Maybe that’s all you can do, try in spite of everything.”
“Who turned you on to that?”
“Nobody. I picked it up somewhere, the idea. Things go wrong so often, no matter how hard you try. Shit happens. You plan an action to minimize casualties, but someone doesn’t hold up his end, or there’s a misunderstanding, a fuck up, somebody’s late or somefuckingsomething and your plan kills more than if you did it the hard way in the first place. I’ve wanted to just quit so often. You know. What’s the use? It always gets screwed up. Guess I had to come up with something, to keep from killing myself, some little thing.”
“What did you come up with?”
“That good intentions matter, even if it all goes to shit.”
“So who’s the dude?”
“The guy in the picture.”
“Oh yeah. Guy I knew. We were both patients in the psych ward. He was a combat photographer, talked about when he showed up, with a camera, in village sweeps, he showed up with that camera and the bullshit stopped. The meanness. Guys about to do some girl see the camera and walk away. The camera, making a record of it, that made a difference. Guy said a camera makes people think about what they’re doing. They reconsider, relent, like taking a picture of a thing makes it real somehow.”
“This guy, he saved people with his camera? Just by being there?”
“Yeah. Him and his camera.”
“If he was saving lives how come he ended up in a psych ward?”
“He couldn’t be everywhere. Hard as he tried. Got brain fucked thinking about all the places he didn’t get to.”
“Your pension from the V.A.?”
“Me too, well I will. The paperwork’s going through.”
“Where you live, now?”
“Here and there, wherever. Get my check, I’ll get a place.”
“Where’s your family?”
“They’re in El Paso.”
“You don’t want to go there?”
“No, we don’t get along too well anymore. Especially my dad. He never kicked me out, but it was close.”
“Too many boys, too much partying. He thought I was a slut.”
“You know how it is. We make pretty babies, but then we grow up and, oh shit, you’ve got a gook in the house. You forget the little slant eye’s going to grow up into a fucking slopehead. And I did give him plenty of reason. He’d been in Korea, in the Army. All he knew of Korean women were the base hookers. Figured I’d be the same. He expected it so I gave it to him.”
“How long till you get your check?”
“I don’t know. You know the government. Now they tell me I need a mailing address, before I can get the check. Can’t use a post office box.”
“You don’t have one?”
“Not now. Was with a guy but he, you know, turned out to be like any guy. Fuck him.”
“You can use mine, just make out a card at the post office.”
“I thought about asking you, didn’t know.”
“Why not? Doesn’t cost me anything. You can stay here, you know, when you need a place to sleep. I won’t bother you.”
“Maybe I’ll bother you.”
“Nothing much bothers me as long as the booze and cigarettes hold out. Shit, we’re both vets.”
“You sleep in there?”
“Mostly I sleep right here in my recliner. One of man’s great inventions, this thing. You can have the bed. I don’t know if you’ll be able to sleep. I usually leave the light and TV on all the time.”
“I’m like you Jack. Enough booze and I’ll sleep anywhere. I like a light too.”
Small scars, half an inch or so wide and ridged. Pinkish white, the color of unhealthy gums and in rows rising from the wrists; three rows starboard, port and amidships on the dorsal surface of each arm to the elbow on the right arm and a third the way on the left. The scars were carefully spaced both individually an eighth of an inch apart, and by rows, these spreading to match the contours of the limb. Their uniformity eased the shock of their existence. They looked tribal.
“You should have laid down. They would have kicked you a couple of times, then let you go. You should have just stayed down.”
As she spoke she looked fiercely around the room and fingered her scars.
“I know it,” Ladykiller said.
“Stupid getting back up. Four fucking times you got back up. Jesus. Stupid old fuck. You piss those guys off too much, they’ll kill you. What’s the matter? You too fucking tough to lay out? Too mean? Got to show your stuff?”
“No, I don’t know. Once in a while you have to stand up, just to see if you still can. Anyway, I was drunk.”
“You’re still drunk.”
“No, not now. I’m pretty much sobered up and I don’t like it. Excuse me.”
He pulled himself up by the couch’s back, up from where he’d been laying as she talked to him, she sitting in the big recliner. He got into a sitting position, then leaned on the short, long table between the sofa and the tTV. He noticed she’d turned the TV on – some homosexual was discussing window treatments – and his knees still worked. Levering himself erect, he took the three steps to the refrigerator in his little kitchen alcove, was happy to see there was a six pack in there and part of a fifth of Old Yellowstone bourbon. He needed a beer first for his mouth and head and then the whiskey to shore it up and then he could look in the mirror and decide how much work he need to do so he could go over to the Koreans’ for the night’s booze without someone calling an ambulance.
“What the hell were you trying to do anyway?”
“Just trying to help.”
“Help. Dumb fuck. I don’t need your help.”
“Looked like it, just then. Beer?” he said, setting the six pack and bottle on the coffee table and falling back to his seat at the end of the sofa.
“No thanks. I’d take a drink though, you got anything to mix it with. That shit out there was nothing, just fucking around.”
“My mistake. Might be a coke in there. There’s water.” “I can’t drink it without a mixer, not this shit.”
He was lighting a Lucky, said, “Might be something. Go look.”
He could only see out of one eye and the cigarette felt huge on his swollen lip. The back of his head hurt and his belly and sides and left leg. Both hands were aching and stiff.
At the refrigerator door she said, “Shit.”
“There’s a little store on the corner, you want to go. You want to wait, I’ll go in a while.”
“Let me see.”
A chest of drawers with a little mirror on top stood by the door and she checked her reflection there.
“Let me wash my face, I’ll go. I’m not as beat up as you.”
Ladykiller pointed. “Bathroom’s there.”
She carried a little duffle rather than a purse and took it with her. Through the plywood door Ladykiller could hear her digging in it, then water running.
He gave her a fifty on the way out and she came back with beer, more Yellowstone, a six pack of Cokes and a bottle of some blue liquor.
“I only got a twelve, hope that’s enough. I’m not dragging a case up here.”
“That’ll do for now. Any change?”
“You got any money?”
“Hang onto it then.”
“What you think that’ll get you?”
“Nothing. I don’t want anything for it.”
“Man, have I heard that one before.”
“I bet,” he said as she passed on her way to the little kitchen
“What is it with Koreans and those little stores? Why do they always open those little stores?”
“I’m Korean myself, half, but I don’t understand what they want those little stores for.”
“Yeah. Adopted when I was two. You know, mom’s a hooker, dad’s a GI.
“Yeah. How you like being adopted?”
“It was okay I guess. Can’t remember anything else. Just the way it was. Kind of strange, they had their own children. Wasn’t that they couldn’t have children. Adopted me to do their bit for the downtrodden. Instead of donating to the United Way, they took me in. Family portraits were a trip, all these big, red faced people and little dark me. I did feel a little, out of place.”
“How about you?”
“I never really stuck anywhere. Every family I was in split up. Then from one foster home to another.”
“I prefer the street.”
“I guess it’s just what you’re used to.”
“What’s your name anyway?”
“Ladykiller? That some sort of Indian name?”
“Just an old nickname.”
“That’s right. I used to hear about you at the VA.”
“About me what?”
“Oh, you know. That you were in some wild shit in Nam. You know, one of those crazy little teams wandering around and having high casualty rates. What were you? Force recon?”
“No. Just a marine.”
“One of those secret things huh. It still classified?”
“Really don’t know.”
“So why were you on two north? For the booze?”
“You? What? Desert Storm?”
“No. I never made it through training. I was assaulted.”
“This DI, got me in his office when the barracks was empty. Gave me a shot in the solar plexus, grabbed my hair, put his Gerber to my throat and his dick in my mouth and I bit it off.”
“Bit it off?”
“All of it, the fucker. Didn’t even leave a stump. Would have got his balls too, but he cut my throat.”
She pulled back her scarf, showed him the scar.
“Cut my throat. Screamed, bled and cut my throat, but he fucked it up.”
“I live. Must be frustrating, no dick. Serves him right I guess, poor guy.”
“Not really his fault. He was just being a guy.”
“You think that’s the way guys are?”
“Know it for a fact.”
“What are you doing here with me? I’m a guy.”
“Shit, you’re old. Over the hump. Dick probably doesn’t work anymore. Guys sometimes become real people, they get older. And I’m pretty sure, it comes to it, I can kick your ass.”
“You got some place I could change? I could use getting into clean clothes.”
Extreme Sport for Today
People with money who feel unchallenged spend small fortunes to go thousands of miles and jump off a mountain or run rapids and so on. This is called extreme sport and basically amounts to rich white people traveling to a country where brown people will do all the heavy lifting so they can try some pointless but fashionable stunt they can brag about back home.
We hear that these adventurers are always looking for the next challenge, to top themselves, to try something new. Let me introduce the newest and most innovative challenge for the tough elite. I call it poverty.
Cut all ties to family and friends. You are allowed no outside help at all. Go to a bad part of town, the sort of place people like you fear and start living on $1,000 a month, a bit more than my disability check, but let’s not be stingy.
Now find an apartment to rent and just live, strictly off of the thousand with no aid. Pay your rent, pay the utilities, pay the phone bill, gas your car and maintain it, buy groceries, pay your cable bill (if you can afford cable), pay your internet bill (also if you can afford it). Just live normally, day to day.
Do this for a month or so and then start raising the stakes. Decide you need a new coat. Hold back enough from your monthly to do that. Decide what you have to cut back in order to do it. Find your brakes need work and figure out how to get that done.
Next we add a wife and child but without any increase in cash. Now, feed, dress and house them. When the kid gets sick or the wife needs a dress scramble.
When your car breaks down completely scramble.
Every month when the bills come due, scramble.
When the bills are raised and food prices go up, scramble.
When you want to give your family a reasonable life, scramble.
Then your pay gets cut. Scramble.
Do it as long as you can endure it and find out how really tough you are.
He came back to himself after he’d been knocked down the second time, back from the blackout into life. Getting himself atop his feet and his hands up, understanding he was in a fight with someone; shrugging his shoulders up, tucking his head down. He was boxing them and he couldn’t understand why. He knew better than to box people. There were more than one, more than two, the blows coming from all directions, thudding against his shell and rocking him, but not penetrating. He was landing his fast, accurate punches; he could tell from the pain in his hands and wondered if hitting was hurting him worse than being hit. He was giving it back to him, but didn’t have the steam behind his punches to finish anything. He went down again, a combination of getting hit and being off balance and, pushing himself up from the pavement, realized that he must be outside. There was, he thought, no point in getting up on his feet, but he did so anyway.