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Friday, March 30, 2012

Downsized at 50+ Temp Jobs - No. 2 1987

                                                          The Bindery

On The Line

I am enthralled at first
In awe of this great space
The clatter of dark green machinery
Metropolis of movement
Long conveyor belts with snake-like curves
Rattle like dominoes.
The whine of forklifts
Clattering of printing presses
Night-shift workers
Moving at top speed.

At three of fourteen stations
I load pages into hoppers that are quickly emptied
Needing more . . . insatiable
A warning buzzer sounds
Go faster . . . faster!
Sweating on this concrete floor
Under a grid of bare fluorescent lights
No mercy
Eight hours of running back and forth
Between the pallet loads of printed pages
And the ever-hungry hoppers.

On my way back home
At dawn
Ears ringing.

Published: Blue Collar Review  2011

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Haight Street Stories

I was walking down Oak Street one Saturday afternoon and took a right on Ashbury. This was at the peak of Summer-of-Love. The last few blocks of Haight Street were closed to traffic and jammed with people, tourists and posers—residents trying to sell them something. As I came around the corner a big brute of a guy, my age—30 something, was beating the shit out of a scrawny Asian kid years younger. The kid was down and still getting punched, offering no resistance. A crowd had gathered to watch the beating. No one made a move to stop it and I felt like I should, but I didn’t. Feeling guilty I walked slowly on, then stopped to watch the scene. A woman in the crowd of voyeurs yelled to the guy doing the ass kicking.
            “I’ve got your picture! I’m going to show it to the police!”
            The crowd parted for the bully to approach her and he grabbed the camera.
            “Now you don’t have a camera, bitch.” He started walking up the sidewalk and passed by me with the hand that held the camera out in front of him. I snatched it from him. It was like a reflex. I don’t think I thought about it. Then I threw it into the crowd to where I though the woman who took the photo was.
            Bruto went nuts. I figured he would now beat the shit out of me, but that I would probably survive. He took a couple swings and missed. He was incredibly clumsy.  I thought, what the hell, maybe I can take this guy though he outweighed me by a good 50 pounds, and was in inch or two taller. But he was slow and awkward. We spared around for a few moments, neither of us connecting. Then I saw two guys come running down the sidewalk towards us. I thought, wow! I’m going to be saved. They’re going to stop this — Wrong.
            The first one threw a body block that sent me sprawling and when I was down all three began kicking me in the legs and back and ribs. I folded up into a fetal position, protecting  myself as best I could. A crowd of onlookers circled us and I kept thinking someone would stop them, or say something. No one did. They looked like clowns, dressed up in crazy tie outfits . . . watching with fascination. The three guys finally got tired of kicking me. As they left one said, “Nobody fucks with the Major!” The Major was a Hell’s Angel I found out later.
            They walked away and I got up, then went the same direction. It was still to soon to feel much pain. That would come later. There was some blood, but I’d not taken any shots to the head. I suddenly realized I had caught up with my attackers on the sidewalk, walking just a yard or so behind, but I was not afraid. The trio were done with me, and strangely enough I didn’t feel that much anger towards them. My anger was focused on those who had watched in silence. I felt good about who I was, and what I’d done, however useless it had proved. I later learned the Asian kid had cheated on some kind of drug deal with the Angels.
I’ve always wondered if the woman got her camera back.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Blue Unicorn - Part 1

I seem to get a lot of hits on 1960s stuff and thinking maybe I should do some San Francisco stories.

The Blue Unicorn
Remembering the 60s

Had a place on Oak Street—it looked out on the panhandle, block east of Stanyan and Golden Gate park. Two blocks east of Ashbury. A block off Haight in 1964 I think. I’d landed there by accident, a lost lease where I’d been and lack of funds. The place was cheap. The Hippy thing was in full swing, but I was fairly straight. I’d held a steady job, the last 3 years, a good job located downtown. Financial distinct, top floor—Shell Building. One day a fellow engineer gave me some Sandoz LSD to try. He didn’t like it, but I loved it and was fascinated. I was reading lots of Carl Jung at the time and the acid took me to places he wrote about. He was way out there.      I digress.

The Blue Unicorn was this funky little coffee shop, I think on Grove Street, maybe Fulton, two or three blocks west of my place. It was run by Herb, a nice guy, honest, in his early, maybe later, thirties. The Unicorn was a place where hippies could hang out, leave notes for each other on a bulletin board, drink decent inexpensive coffee—sandwiches and snacks. Herb looked out for people and a lot of his customers needed that. It was the Summer of Love. Teenagers were pouring into the bus station downtown and often getting mugged, raped or robbed before they ever got to Haight Street. I was loaned to Bechtel for a while and worked in a building next to the bus station. I ate lunch there sometimes. You could see guys sitting on benches where the buses came in, waiting for prey. Pimps and con-men, watching to see who got off the bus.
            “Hey honey, welcome to San Francisco. Home of peace and love. You need a place to stay?”
            Most of them did. They came with flowers in their hair, believing in free love and expecting free rent, and food . . . and drugs. All were available, for a price.
            Herb looked out for some who had been had, or had some other problems. He also looked out for young girls, but only on at a time I think. You’d see him with the same one for a month or two, and then another. He had some kind of partner, Tom I think his name was. He played a fairly good guitar and had a motorcycle. He later broke his leg on it and was in a cast from him to ankle on one leg . . . for a long time during which he became one of the best classical guitarists I’ve ever heard. It just takes practice. Tom had lots of time and there was not much else he could do but play guitar.

The Blue Unicorn - Part 2

Herb had a VW van. The ultimate of Hippy transpiration. There was a driveway at the side of the Unicorn that led to a double garage and some backyard space. It was wide enough for the van to clear with an inch on either side, and Herb would shoot down it at 30 MPH. Scared the shit out of me the first time I took that ride.
            I was tripping with a friend one time, Jack Tuttle. I’d been in the Army with him in East Africa. Jack was new at the drug and started getting very paranoid. I started getting very paranoid about his getting very paranoid, so I called Herb although I didn’t really know him all that well. He came and picked us up and drove us to the beach—the ocean. It was beautiful . . . the waves, the sound of surf. Jack calmed down right away and started getting philosophic. “Some say that life began in the sea....” Stuff like that. Herb was like that. He’d go out of his way to help a person if he could.
            Herb let people crash in a small loft that was over the entrance to the Unicorn as you came in. One long timer sleeping there was an artist. He began painting the ceiling . . . on his back, on a jury rigged scaffolding. He was good, it was wonderful work. A multi-colored psychedelic sprawl of interlocking images. It took him months to do and was masterpiece. You could get lost in it. 
            The bathroom walls contained some good poetry. I remember one about a guy awake, late at night, candle burning, girlfriend asleep in his bed . . . a siren in the distance. Wish I’d wrtten it down. I think I did, but long gone now.
            The Unicorn itself was gone after a few years. The Haight got rough in the late 60’s. Lots of crime. More than one storefront on Haight Street got boarded up with plywood . . . cops arresting people every day. I saw them cuff a guy who was carrying a flute with a lead pipe inside it. I had two motorcycles stolen. Guys would sneak though any apartment they could get into, trying doorknobs. My door’s center pane was frosted glass. One night, around 3:30 AM I woke up and saw a silhouette cast by a hall light on my glass. I kept a Colt 1911 45 auto by the bed. Sat up and held it thinking well, if he comes in I’ll turn the light on and the gun will back him off. If not, it’s loaded. Thank God the door was locked. I have digressed again.
            One day the Unicorn was closed—no warning. Later it became a little Asian grocery store. I lost track of Herb for a while, then rediscovered him months later. He had opened up a little restaurant on Mission Street, south of Market. Organic food, and tea. Another funky, homey sort of place. Good food. Herb was with another girl, much younger than himself, but you could see he cared about her and was good to her. I forget the name of the place. Then it too disappeared, well actually it was Herb and the girl who disappeared. The little restaurant was been run by someone else. I ran into Herb a month or so later and asked him what had happened.
            There was a gang called, Tribal Thumb, ex-cons who'd spent time in San Quentin.
            “They told me to get out, or get hurt . . . bad,” Herb told me. “And I did.”
            “Why didn’t you contact the police?” I asked.
            “They don’t care—a little hippy place like mine. Nobody cares.”
            That was the last I ever saw him. Haven’t thought about him in a long time, but remembering now. He must be almost 80 if he's still alive. An interesting guy. I wonder where he is today.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Downsized at 50+ Temp Jobs - No. 3 1987

Temp job No. 3

A Paper mill
Along the Mississippi River
Near St. Louis
Will most likely move to China soon.

The paper spurts from the machines that make it
Into rolls not unlike toilet paper
But humongous
Fifteen foot diameter
Twenty-six wide
Spins on a glittering steel shaft.

Trimmers at each end cut off rough edges
Take an inch or so from paper still to hot to touch
After a final pressing to desired thickness.
Seemingly endless spaghetti paper shavings
Drop into an open square in the thick concrete floor.

My job below.
There is a moat
A steel canal of flowing paper mush
Like oatmeal—bleached
Hot river of pulp
Flows into whirling bladed shredders
Then around to meet them once again.

When trimming starts above
An endless white snake
Slithers through the hole
At high speed
Piles up fast
One has to hustle or get buried in it
Grabbing armfuls
Dropping them into the pulp canal
The strip adheres to its thick primal soup
Gets  swept way
Into the blades
Leaving a variety of paper cuts behind
Impossible to stay untangled from the mess
Too hot and humid for long sleeves
Eighty degrees
Eighty percent humidity.

Discarded sheets of poster-board come down as well
Sail crazily
Short dance on hot air
It all goes in
Doing my best to keep reduced
Fast growing mountain
Hot white paper scrap
Then suddenly it stops.

A moment of peace
Some fifteen minutes
While they put a new roll on the shaft.
I think to sneak a rest
Lay down a couple minutes
On a sheet of cardboard on the floor
There’s no one here but me
No windows
Just bare concrete walls
At 3 AM . . . inside this night shift hell.

Some wise guy throws a bucket of dye into the hole
I’m now light blue in color
Wide awake
Looks like a long night
Probably my last here.

Published: Blue Collar Review 2011

Sunday, March 4, 2012



Our enemy is faster
Without doubts and
Unencumbered by the cloth of ethics
Without mercy
Wearing skins of every race
Beyond the reach of simple justice.

Do not think that he is beaten in a single battle
Or in many
He will follow us through lifetimes
Killing as he goes
Unseen by most
And weakened only by the love of men
For one another
Strengthened by their hate and anger

Do not feed him! 

                           Bruce Louis Dodson