Al Simmons, 10/24/2011

Current Occupation: Retired
Former Occupation: Writer/Businessman/Entrepreneur
Contact Information: Al Simmons was born in Chicago, Illinois. He is a founder of the infamous Blue Store Readings, Chicago 1971, birthplace of the Spoken Word Movement, the first regular reading series in Chicago since Sherwood Anderson held readings in his living room in the 1930s. He was Poet-In-Residence City of Chicago, 1979-80. He founded and was Commissioner of the World Poetry Association and served as commissioner to the WPA and the World Poetry Bout Association, (WPBA), Chicago, Taos, New Mexico, 1979-2002. He is the creator of The Main Event, The World Heavyweight Poetry Championship Fights. He lives in Alameda, California.

###

King Tut Is Back

King Tut is back in town.
Now, there is an act that aged well.

Like I used to tell my sales trainees,
Rule Number One: When you’re hot
Never change your clothes.

So, how should I celebrate
My latest ambition?

I don’t drink.
I already smoke dope all day long.
I can eat rich, but
Then I would break my
Eat well or die health regimen.

Everyday I spend
Making money
For another man
When I don’t
Need to
Is a sin upon Mankind, and
Myself in particular.

Some guys can’t quit.
King Tut is older than Cab Calloway.
What does he do for an encore?
Hold his breath?

#

A Patronage Job

Just to prove to her
That I was serious
I left my shift at the bar
And walked down Lincoln Avenue
To the 43rd Ward Committeeman’s Office
And told them I was looking for a job.

They told me there was an election coming up
And if I wanted to help their candidate,
Danny O’Brien, campaign
There were rewards.

Three months later Danny O’Brien was State Rep
And I had a job downtown, at
220 South State Street, 20th Floor,
City of Chicago, Economic Development Commission.

Then Doris said, since I began working regular hours,
Getting up in the morning
And going to bed early every night,
I was no longer fun and she left me.

A couple of years later she looked me up.
She claimed she had been a fool,
I was the best.

Thanks, Doris.

Working for the government
Wasn’t really like work.
There was never anything to do.

I bought a corncob pipe and tobacco
And mixed in hashish, and sat in my cubicle
Smoking and waiting for lunch.

Mark Schlichting, a recent hire co-office worker I later became friends with,
Came around to my desk and said, I can’t believe
You are doing that! You can recognize the smell? I asked. Oh yeah!
I shared my tobacco blend with him on the way to lunch that day.
He offered to buy the beers.

My supervisor had an assistant
Whose job it was to keep me busy.

Because patronage jobs were made-up jobs,
Or jobs that did not exist, there were no
Specific tasks for me to perform,

So the city had to hire extra people
To find work for employees like myself
Who had jobs that were not really jobs.

Jane, my supervisor, had a very friendly manner.
Everyday she would come by my desk
To tell me about her
Late night drives in her car.
Jane was recently divorced.

That evening after work we had drinks
And ended up at Jane’s place.
We got undressed.
Jane had a perfect figure,
Though you would never know it
By the way she dressed.

She came instantly and then she didn’t want
Any more.

But Jane, I pleaded, we just began!
What about me?
No, she repeated, she was through for the night.

We didn’t last very long, Jane and I.
I was too much the artist, she
Told me, whatever that meant.

Janie turned me over to Laurina.
Laurina was Janie’s assistant. Laurina
Was assigned to keep me busy.

One day Laurina was passing my cubical
And asked if I’d like something from the 19th floor?
And, what do they have there on the 19th floor?
I asked. You know, she replied, machines.
Ah yes, I said, Ok, I’ll take a lawn mower.

It wasn’t long before I was hanging out
At Laurina’s apartment.
Laurina was the type who
Liked to take her work home at night.

Laurina felt it was only right
To understand
Where we were going.

To me it was just a job, and
A patronage job, at that.

Laurina only had one piece of furniture,
A queen-size bed
In the middle of her studio floor.

We sat on the edge of her bed together and talked.
I tried to explain that it was too soon
To speak of marriage.

Laurina would tremble when I touched her arm.
Laurina would tremble
If I touched her by accident.

In order to avoid rush hour traffic
I changed my work schedule.
I began coming in at 10 a.m., took a two-hour lunch
And was gone by 3.

After a while I wondered why
I came in at all.

The office manager, Marilyn,
Decided she wanted me, too.

And one day, Peggy, Marilyn’s receptionist,
A tall single black woman
With wild hair and eyes to match,
And who just had a baby girl,
Cornered me while showing me the new office suite
That was “off-limits” while under construction.

After that I decided I had enough
And quit.

I was bored and it was hard to work for women

Who are always looking to put their ass in your face.

But I didn’t state that in my letter of resignation.
I said I sought opportunities elsewhere.

Leaving the office that final day
I ran into Mark Schlichting my lunch pal I played chess with,
Who heard I quit.

I started singing at the top of my lungs,
Free At Last, Free At Last! And
He joined in with me
As I walked out through the tall glass doors
Of the high-rise office temple of South State Street,
We sang in harmony, like on TV,

Thank God Almighty, free at last!

#

Right Between The Eyes

I was in my mid-twenties when I began tending bar
At Katzenjammers, also known as Chuck’s, or The Belden Tap, a
Rowdy bar on the Lincoln Avenue strip, east of
The Lincoln, Halsted, Fullerton triangle
On the north side of Chicago, on
The corner of Belden Avenue at Lincoln.

Jerry, one of the veteran bartenders,
Was giving me instructions how to defend myself
Should someone threaten to attack me.

No kidding, it happens, he was telling me,
So you have to know what to do.

So, what do I do? I asked.
You tell them, think about it? You don’t want to do this.
Think about it? People go to jail for shit like that.
You don’t want to go there.

Two nights later, on the full moon, Friday night shift,
I’m working the bar alone and a big fight breaks out.
People were breaking beer bottles
On each other’s heads.
Bodies were flying.
Women screamed and crowds rushed for the door!

It was just like in the movies!
I climbed up onto the bar and leaped into a crowd
Of brawling drunks. Yahoo! I yelled, and
The whole crowd collapsed into a pile on the floor,
End of fight.

But this one guy I never saw before
Dropped a thick roll of $20s during the skirmish
And was getting loud.

I may have grabbed a $20. I don’t know.
But the guy thought I grabbed more
And came back after closing time
And cornered me as I was outside locking up,

Only this time he had a big knife in his hand!

You don’t want to do this, I told him. Think about it?
People go to jail for shit like that.
You don’t want to go there, I said. Think about it?

I went through the routine.

The guy looked at me
Like I just spoiled his night.
Perhaps I did?

I stood there looking at the knife blade.
It must have been 10 inches long, a kitchen knife.
I stood on the concrete step in the doorway
Surrounded by plate glass
With my back to the locked saloon door.

It wasn’t me, I told him.
You can have all the money in my pocket.
There’s not much because it wasn’t me.
I don’t have your money.

I had the high ground, a step above him,
But I wasn’t going to kick him or make a move.
I wasn’t going to give him an excuse to start.
I just stood there and waited. It was up to him.
He faked with his right fist that held the knife
Then paused to think.

Seconds passed. He didn’t move.
I didn’t move.
And then he exhaled, punched me on the shoulder
With his free left hand, called me a punk and
Ran back to the car that was waiting on him curbside.
He jumped in the passenger
Side and the car sped away.

I walked around the corner
To my apartment on Belden Avenue,
Let myself in,
Put my keys down and poured myself a drink.
It was dawn before my heart stopped pounding
And I calmed down enough to sleep.

The next day the guy came back

Looking for me. I wasn’t there so
He threw a brick through the plate glass window.

It’s a tough business, bartending.
I took a couple of weeks off.

The one that finally got to me,
That made me quit working at The Belden Tap
Occurred one late Sunday night.
Bob Gilbert Hennessey, Hennessey from Tennessee,
A long-time regular, stuck around till closing time,
Then pulled a .38 Smith & Wesson semi-automatic
And stuck it right between my eyes and held it there!

The look of madness, spittle and missing teeth,
And twenty or so vodka tonics
Worked together
Seriously screwing up his face.

Apparently, he’d been waiting all night
Till closing time to kill me
And take the money.

He must have been desperate
And this was the best
He could come up with.

Bob, I said, I thought we were pals?
You don’t want to do this, Bob. Think about it?
People go to jail for shit like this.
You don’t want to go there,
Bob, think about it?
You don’t want to do this!

He didn’t.
He turned and ran out
The door.

That’s when I decided
I didn’t want to tend bar
At The Belden Tap anymore.

Shit you go through for three bucks an hour cash,
Plus tips.

I took an extra $20 from the drawer,
Combat/severance pay.

I came around from behind the bar
And locked the front door,
Then sat there at a table by the jukebox
For a few minutes gathering my thoughts.

I recalled Jerry, my bartender friend and mentor
Telling me, “The whole point
Is to make them think.
If you can make them think
For just half a second you distract them,
You break their concentration
And their will, and then for them to continue
They have to reset their thoughts, rethink
Their commitment and they can’t,
So they leave.”

I got up from the table,
Turned off the lights,
Locked the door behind me
And left.

I wasn’t home ten minutes when
There was a knock on the door.
It was Hank and John Paul, two nocturnal
Poetry pals armed with cigarettes, reefer and
A six pack of beer. Come on in! I said.
Just in time. How am I? A guy just tried to rob me
At gunpoint not 30 minutes ago! I’m still shaking.
Did he get your money? John asked. Hell no!
What happened? I talked him out of it. Here,
Have a seat. Got a smoke? I thought
You didn’t smoke cigarettes? I do tonight. Thanks.
Good to see you guys.

Interview with Thomas Tremain, 10/17/2011

Editors Julie (JM) & Tony (TA) met with Thomas Tremain (TT) at his house in Vancouver, Washington in January 2011 to discuss the true and authentic nature of snake breeding. Tremain handles ball pythons and is developing specialized mutations.

JM: How many snakes do you have?

TT: Altogether about 80, only about 70 of them are mine. I’m snake sitting during breeding season. Joint breeding projects, and such.

JM: They get half the clutch?

TT: Yeah.

JM: How do you clean all these tubs?

TT: I have a girl that comes in cleans all these cages twice a week. It helps me if I fall behind in my spot cleaning.

JM: [indicating a white photo light tent surrounded by lights and a camera ready-angled for shooting studio style shots] You take photos in here?

TT: Yes. If I’m getting ready to post something for sale, or for the website.

JM: It’s nice, the diffuse light in there. It’s pretty slick. And you’re raising … food?

TT: That is a guinea pig. Oscar will probably eat in a few days. Oscar is a 7 foot boa constrictor. I rescued Oscar. Somebody on Craigslist advertised him. I went and looked at him and my first thought was, “Oh my god, this snake is sick. I want nothing to do with it.” But then I thought, “No. I don’t have the heart to leave him here.” So I gave them fifty or sixty bucks, brought him home. The whole idea of getting a larger boa was garbage disposal. I have a freezer full of larger rats that he’ll eventually get to eat.

JM: You keep rats? You’re raising rats?

TT: I get them shipped in. Buy a whole lot too.

JM: Previously frozen and shipped in?

TT: Live, mostly.

JM: You have someone nearby?

TT: Yeah, plus I’ve got a whole bunch in my garage. Somebody else’s inventory in the garage. Way too many rats in that garage.

JM: Can we look at it or is it scary?

TT: Sure.

JM: So this guinea pig, you raised it?

TT: No, this was actually given to me by the guy whose rats are in the garage. It has a clubbed foot, so.

JM: Just ‘cause it has a clubbed food?

TT: Yeah, pet stores won’t want it. Probably would make someone a great pet.

JM: For the sake of the readers, what is your job description?

TT: I raise and breed ball pythons. Mostly going for “morph” animals, not normal. I breed a normal to a morph and 50% of the offspring will be morph.

JM: Define a morph.

TT: In a human being a morph would be considered albinoism. There are genetic traits, some are recessive and some are dominant. If I was to breed a morph with a dominant trait to a normal, I’d get 50% morph with the dominant trait.

JM: So how many eggs does a snake produce? You breed a male and a female and then you get….

TT: The smallest clutch I got last year was three eggs, the most was ten eggs. I’ve been told average is about six. I’ve only done this one mating season prior to this one.

JM: How did you get into this?

TT: My ex wife got intrigued before I did. I have a business partner who raises corn snakes and my son was interested in one so I brought him back a couple from California. On the way back my ex got attached. It wasn’t too long before she was cruising Craigslist.

JM: Are all your snakes friendly? (TT’s dog, Jasmine, is hanging around. She’s wet from standing out in the rain. TT tells her to go lay down and she does.)

TT: Mine are either friendly or shy. I have some in the quarantine rack that belong to someone else that are….they get a little nippy when it’s feeding time. I probably could get them tamed down, but I don’t know that I want to keep them around that long.

JM: What do you do with a snake that is aggressive?

TT: Stand back. (laughs)

JM: If it’s something that’s a problem and you … do you exterminate it?

TT: One thing I do is I always put them in a (Rubbermaid style) tub when I feed them.

JM: So you train them over time that food comes after there are in the tub.

TT: They learn they have to be handled in order to get food. Most of these I don’t have to do that with. I can pretty much read them. If they are way too hungry they might nip out quick. Most of these aren’t aggressive but they can still get pretty hungry. I’ll back off, get a pair of gloves.

TT: This morph is called a spider, has a webbing pattern across it’s dorsal, high white sides. She’s very nosy. Likes to know what’s going on. I have no problems with this one anywhere near my face, or with kids. There are a few I would never hand to a kid. This is not one of those. This is a spider named MJ. I also have Charlotte that’s a spider. Widow that’s a spider. A couple of hatching named Itsy and Bitsy and they are a couple of spiders.

JM: Aw that’s cute! They’re so sweet.

JM: You talked about the Punnet Square. How does that work. How do you get a spider?

TT: I take a normal and a spider and every egg has 50% chance of being a spider. Next I’ll show you pastel. It’s real bright yellow. A really good example of that would be this girl.

JM: Honey color.

TT: Notice the bright yellows in this pastel. Where it really gets interesting is if I breed a spider to a pastel. Using the Punnet Square I’ll get 25% normal, 25% spider, 25% pastel, 25% will have both traits and they call that a bumble bee. This is a bumble bee – it has both spider and pastel traits. His name is Monty.

Monty Python.

JM: What is the breeding age?

TT: For the male, usually their second winter is a good time. I have a couple that are breeding and are less than a year old. For female, their second or third winter. Male you get them to about 500 grams and they are about ready to try. Female you get up to 1200 or 1500 grams. That’s why I keep real close track of their weights. A female can lose about a third of her body weight when she lays eggs. After she laid eggs last year, if she doesn’t put her weight back on I won’t breed her this year because that would be unhealthy.

JM: Is it true that pet stores, say the mall or whatever, get their snakes from Africa?

TT: A lot of them do. A lot of them though get normal babies. When I hatch out I get a lot of normals so I sell them to pet shops.

JM: Should people care?

TT: If they are wild caught, there’s greater chance for them to have ticks, illnesses, they get less handling. Granted not every one of my hatchlings gets lots of handling, they are still pretty young at that time.

JM: So it’s a matter of health and human contact.

TT: Yes. I know the lineages of any of the babies that I have. If somebody I sell one to, I might even be able to offer them the egg it came out of. I do have a few eggs in a tub over there.

JM: Do you have problems with parasites?

TT: I don’t. There is a mite that ball pythons can get. Actually boas get them more easily than balls. Ball pythons have pretty thick scales, but whenever I bring a new snake home it’s treated on the way home. I put a special spray on the inside of a pillow case, reverse the case and carry the snake home in it. Then it spends two months in quarantine before it comes in this room.

JM: That makes sense. It would destroy a lot.

TT: Thousands and thousands of dollars right here.

JM: So there are technical terms there’s the exterior, Exto parasite, and the Endo?

TT: I don’t use those terms. I don’t get a lot of parasites. I do have one that had worms at one point in time.

JM: That must have been gross.

TT: I treated it like a dog that has worms. I had to put the worm medicine into a dead rat and feed it to him.

JM: So you inject the rat?

TT: In this case it was a paste.

JM: You’re like, “Eat this!”

TT: Here’s my biggest girl right now.

JM: WHAT?!

TT: Three thousand grams.

JM: What’s that in pounds?

TT: A little over six pounds.

JM: Like a baby. How old is she?

TT: They weren’t quite sure when they sold her to me. They were thinking pro bably about 8 or 9 years old.

JM: Is that common that people have a snake for a number of years and then can’t take it any more?

TT: It’s not like a cat that might only be around for 12 years. A ball python could be around for a long time. I’ve not seen any that are more than 9 years old, but you know they’ve got to be out there.

JM: What do you think people do if they can’t get someone to take it over?

TT: There are rescues. I thought about being one for a while, but I can’t afford the vet bills.

JM: Are there any hazards to being a snake breeder?

TT: Um… I’ve been bit once or twice. (smiles) Doesn’t happen very often, but … I got bit for the first time this year earlier this week.

JM: Is that your finger (indicating a large band aid on his finger)

TT: No. That I cut on a piece of jagged Formica. Earlier today. It’s tender.

JM: So what’s a snake bite like for a python?

TT: It’s not much different from a bee sting without the venom except there are several punctures but no venom.

JM: They have teeth?

TT: They do have teeth. They don’ thave fangs. They have teeth to eat. They clamp down on their prey and then they constrict on them. It helps them hold it. The teeth point back a little bit…

JM: To get that “get down my throat” thing going on?

TT: Exactly.

JM: Do your neighbors know what you do?

TT: Yes. At least, my first neighbor here does. They’ve never been up here but my neighbor there is a veterinarian, semi-retired. He works on hooved animals. I’ve seen some strange things going on in my driveway. People bring in goats to have de-horned. I looked out my living room window one day to see him shoulder deep in a cow. So they have no complaint about what I do.

JM: How many snakes do you have?

TT I have about seventy.

JM: Are you looking to re-home any?

TT: Not right now.

JM: You just started breeding for the year?

TT: Yeah. I’ve already picked which males I want to breed with which females. I’ve got about ten males over here in this rack. It’s a matter of every few days I’ll take several snakes, put them with females, check on them and a few days later put them back.

JM: How does the process work? You put them together, you leave them alone… do you witness them copulating? How do they copulate?

TT: They’ll hang a sock on the door knob to let you know.

JM: I’m sure!

TT: They do this twist around thing. And they do it for several hours at a time.

JM: So odds are you’ll walk in and see.

TT: Yeah. Like this female I’ve seen doing it several times.

JM: You’re pretty sure eggs will come out.

TT: Never sure. Last year I bred 20 groups and I got 11 clutches of eggs, but a lot of those females a few I didn’t get until late January or February – maybe the move was too much or they started ovulating.

JM: When does the season begin?

TT: I change the temperatures around Halloween and about a month later I’ll start breeding them.

TA: So it depends on temperature?

TT: In this part of the country (Oregon) they say that it’s not really reuired, but I still like to do it anyway. It’s part temperature, barometric pressure, triggers them to go into ovulation about late January, early February. Once they’ve ovulated they will go off food for a while. I assume they don’t have room for food to pass when they’re making an egg. The eggs build up inside them using a lot of nutrients. When a woman gives birth, there’s 8 pounds of baby, then there’s … all the other stuff. When a snake lays eggs, it’s just the eggs that’s the weight they lose. I’ll get 600, 700 grams of eggs. Maybe they’ve lost 750 grams of weight.

JM: They’ve not lost a lot of weight.

TT: It’s the eggs. Then those go into an incubator for 2 months, or 56 days. That’s when they stat pipping is about 56- 57 days.

JM: Is the shell hard? Is it like a chicken egg?

TT: No. It’s like a soft tortilla. They’ve got what’s called an egg tooth, it’s on their chin, and they slit the egg with that.

JM: Ew!

TT: And if I get a clutch that half of them have already pipped then I go ahead and open the other eggs.

JM: Pipped means they sliced open the egg.

TT: Yeah. Usually they stick their head out for about a day or so, as they are getting used to learning how to breath and the last of their sack is being absorbed. You can touch some eggs there.

JM: Are they soft still?

TT: No, they harden. They shrink quite a bit when they dry out.

JM: That’s why they are warped looking. (we do, we touch empty snake eggs, they are not soft) And they have sort of a moon texture.

TT: Before they dry out like that, it’s sort of a soft tortilla texture. I keep them humid during the entire incubation process too.

JM: So they are moist. Are they delicate, like if you put your finger on there and it will recede and you’ll feel a snake in there?

TT: Eventually, yes.

JM: It starts out like a chicken egg where it’s fully liquid?

TT: You can candle them and see the veins.

JM: It’s like Aristotle’s Egg!

TT: Oh, okay. Usually as they are getting close to hatching you can see the snake in there.

JM: You follow the process?

TT: Sometimes. Usually, I keep an eye on them, if the egg turns green then it’s time to throw it away.

JM: Waaaaaat?

TT: You know, a bad egg will mold…

JM: Yeeeah…. (ew)

TT: because of the moisture. Probably was one that wasn’t viable anyway.

JM: Have you ever cracked on open to eat it?

TT: (makes face)

JM: Does that sound disgusting?

TT: Yes it does.

JM: (laughs) Sorry, I had to ask.

TT: Absolutely disgusting.

JM: Never know. I bet there’s a market for that.

TT: Maybe with one that hasn’t been fertilized.

JM: Yeah, but maybe if it’s fresh out of the snake … you know, you’ve seen it, it’s not a snake yet…. You know.

TT: True…. It’s just an egg.

JM: Still gross. (laughs) Plus there goes your profit.

TT: Well, if it wasn’t fertilized then it wouldn’ tmatter.

JM: Would you get an egg if it wasn’t fertilized?

TT: Sometimes. They can drop out an unviable egg. That’s where candling helps.

JM: Okay, so unless a female snake has been bred with a male, she’s not going to lay eggs. If you breed her, she might lay eggs but not all of them may actually have been fertilized.

TT: That’s the rule. Now there are exceptions to every rule. I know a lady who swears up and down that her snake has been laying eggs for seven years and during that time she has never had it with a male. They say a snake can retain sperm for a year, I’ve never heard of seven years.

JM: Interesting. So when you decide you’re going to breed a female to a male, you want it to be the same male every time.

TT: I do. Not everybody does, but I do and it takes the guess work out of “okay, what is this hatchling.”

JM: I imagine, if she has the potential to hold for a year, then you bring a different male in then you would have some of both?

TT: It could happen. Typically, an entire clutch is sired by one father. But there are exceptions to every rule. People have proven, have had clutches where it was obviously mixed from different fathers. Cats – you can have a litter of four to six kittens and have every one of them from a different father. Snakes, ball pythons at least, are typically all one father.

JM: Is there special equipment with breeding? I know you just put them together, that’s not special equipment, but you have heater, fan … what else goes into this?

TT: Incubator, timer, tub (about 5 quart) with perlite on the bottom and grating and water with marked eggs with sheet of glass on top of it as incubator. Near the end of the breeding cycle, the glass will collect condensation. I just flip it over.

JM: Do the eggs smell?

TT: No. The snakes can, if they … um, I try to keep mine pretty well clean. I came in this morning, Steph (TT’s hired hand), and it was smelling pretty good so I spot cleaned about six tubs before anybody got here.

JM: When they have waste, to put it politely, how would you describe it?

TT: Well, their feces can be a dark black, to a brown, or a chalky white, or they can urinate, just …

JM: Piddle?

TT: The main difference is when you get the chalky white. I’ve been told, don’t know for sure, that it’s calcium from the bones.

JM: So they are like trash compactors, just [crunch crunch] squeezing it through their body and it comes out a pulp.

TT: Yeah, kinda like we do, we chew.

JM: Yeah, we have all those acids, too.

TA: You feed them a rat for example, how long does it take to pass?

TT: It takes about 5 to 7 days.

TA: That fast? I’d think it wouldn’t be so soon because it’s a whole animal.

JM: It’s different from an owl pellet because that will have bones in it, but snake poop won’t have bones.

TT: Yes.

JM: How long will it take to clean these tubs? How many tubs do you have?

TT: 70 tubs, plus 10 additional Oh, she spends about three to four hours up here, then about an hour doing rats.

JM: You pay her hourly?

TT: Yeah. While she’s here, she takes them out and weighs them on this scale and tracks their weight.

TA: Do you do any community stuff? Go to schools or …

TT: I don’t. I don’t have a wide variety of stuff. They’d want a boa, maybe a venomous something, and all I have is entirely ball pythons.

JM: Yes, this one you’re holding has a nice honey color to it.

TT: It’s called a pinstripe.

JM: Who’s Brock Wagner?

TT: He’s one of the larger breeders.

JM: Is that the goal? To be the next Brock Wagner?

TT: To be a distributer, or nerd.

JM: So you have a business plan?

TT: It’s all up here (points to forehead) at the moment. Working on it.

JM: How many traits can you put in one snake?

TT: You can put all sorts of traits in one animal. The trouble is you then have to find a buyer with deep pockets. But I’d rather have a clutch that’s worth $200 than $50.

JM: How much is this pinstripe worth?

TT: This male pinstripe cost me $200 as a hatchling.

JM: So you purchased the hatchling in order to make more.

TT: Yes. I have a female pinstripe. She was a little bit more. I don’t remember how much.

JM: If you choose something that’s like a pinstripe, I mean if it’s a pinstripe, it’s a pinstripe, so you don’t look necessarily for the aesthetics of the pinstripes or do you?

TT: I could. Pinstripes … there’s not a lot of things that …. Well, there are certain morphs that have characteristics that have something better than some other morph. I have a lesser platinum. A cleaner lesser platinum wouldn’t have as many spots up and down the sides. I had a female that had none, a male that had some. My wife and I separated, she threw a few things on craigslist to pay for her apartment, and well … I took a bit of a hit at that point in time. You met her.

JM: Really? She’s gone? That wasn’t very long ago?

TT: I came back from summer camp with my boy scouts and she told me that day she wanted to get her own apartment. I said, “Okay, well do it quickly because I want to get on with my life.” (laughs)

JM: Geeze, I’m sorry! Yikes. Well, you seem to be doing very well.

TT: I’m dating again! (laughs) (pulls out a snake) This is a Mohave. Up until recently she was the most expensive snake I ever purchased.

JM: What do you mean by ‘most expensive’?

TT: $950. She was about half the size at the time. She did not lay any eggs last year, so she took the year off on her own. If I was to breed a Mohave with another Mohave, I would have a white snake with blue eyes. A one in four chance. It would give me this snake last year. (shows us) Instead, I’m breeding her with a Mystic. They are going to give me something called a Mystic Potion. One in four change. Would be nice to get two Mystic Potions out of this clutch. A colleague of mine was selling those this last summer for $5500 a piece. If I could get two out of this one, get one out of this one … I expect those would be worth about $3000 this year.

JM: Has the economy impacted this industry?

TT: I think so. Keep in mind, I haven’t been in this industry for long. A lot of people have been parting with their pets It has made it easy to collect up some normal females. A lot of the reason can be economy is tough, you have to concentrate more on work, pet’s not getting attention, rats are expensive …

JM: $7 a pop in town.

TT: I sell them for $2.50 a piece.

JM: Pff.

TT: (laughs, then talks to a snake, “Hi girl, how you doing?” and pulls her out of a cage) pythons tend to be head-shy.

JM: You say it’s head-shy, it’s protecting its head because that’s where all the important stuff is, so if its tale is chewed off will it grow back … will it die?

TT: It very well could be. Now, one of the snakes I rescued it was in a bad habitat, I’m guessing it wasn’t cleaned often enough and was sitting in its own urine. Has a real bad scar down two-thirds of her belly. I’m pretty sure she had belly rot. It cleared up by the time I got her, but now and then it gets pink and I put a little medication on it. But they don’t exactly grow back is what I’m trying to say. (He pulls the snake in question out, lifts her up so we can see her belly.)

JM: Oh, that’s so sad! It’s almost like she was opened up and stitched back together.

TT: Yeah. She had belly rot and somehow that’s how it fused back together.

JM: Is she able to breed?

TT: I don’t know. I don’t think it should, her vent looks okay. I think I’ll try her this year. She spent quite a bit of time with my daughter as a dorm snake. She did have a couple of feeding accidents, she just got a little … a little over quick and now my daughter is afraid of her … she’s bit her a couple of times. One time, she was sitting on Rebecca’s shoulders, Rebecca was on her laptop and I think the movement of her hands just triggered that … “tschich” …

JM: Do they have good eye sight?

TT: No they do not. And it’s worse when they shed because their eyes shed as well. I think that’s why a snake in shed will not eat.

JM: So they rely on eyesight as much as smell?

TT: Smell, they smell with their tongues. Plus, ball pythons, boas don’t, but ball pythons have a row of heat pits. They sense heat that way. It’s like smelling heat. It helps them zero in on small rodents and stuff in the dark.

JM: And places to live, presumably.

TT: Yeah.

JM: What’s your most expensive snake?

TT: I would not part with Moe now for less than a couple of grand, now that she’s had a year off and then I bred her with Merlin. She’s going to give me some pretty spendy snakes. As far as I’ve purchased (he pulls a snake out) she doesn’t look like much, but with the Mystics it’s what they can produce.

JM: So how do you know she’s a Mystic?

TT: She’s got the dark black. The tan here is sometimes almost a burnt orange. And I know the guy I got it from, he’d been producing Mystics all year.

JM: The black makes it punch with the color. It’s pretty striking.

TT: When I breed this with that, 25% of the eggs should be a graying purple with pink highlights.

JM: [whispers] what? (laugh)Wow, I want one of those! That sounds cool.

TT: I don’t even want to keep those. I just want to sell them. This little girl cost $1200 and she’s putting on weight since then.

JM: She’s like a year? Six months?

TT: Six months… I have two mystics, Merlin and Morgana. I have two Mystics that I will breed together to get Super Mystic. That will make it easier to make the Mystic Potions later. Breed the Super Mystic to Super Mohave to get 100% Mystic Potions. That’s a few years down the road, but each snake will still be worth maybe $1000 a piece. An entire clutch like that? (a rat peeps in the background. Thomas gets up to check the rat) I was feeding this morning, I thought I heard her take it…

JM: In the price of the snake, does it factor in how many generations go into the breed? Is that how the price comes about?

TT: Pretty much just on how rare it is.

JM: Which to a point is how many generations it takes… it’s patience to get there.

TT: Now, very few people have the Mystics. It’s no more difficult to breed than a Pastel, but few people have them so it’s rarer. (Thomas carries the rat from one bin to another, the rat is dangling around as he looks as tags to see who needs food)

JM: What’s the nastiest part of the job?

TT: The cleaning.

JM: So the feeding is no big deal? You’re fine with that?

TT: Naw. It’s nothing.

JM: Um… (riffle through questions) Can a person breed without heat lamps?

TT: I don’t use lamps at all. Ball pythons are an underground animal, not one that sits on a rock and bastes. Heat lamps will just dry them out. I use undertank heating. See this strip back here? That’s the heat, so they can move on to the heat or away if they want. I need to buy some bigger bowls so they can soak or bathe if they want. (Opens a bin) This guy is always in his water. Always.

JM: Does that mean he’s not good for breeding because he’s always in the water?

TT: Oh, he’d breed with a garden hose if you’d let him.

JM: Can he breathe?

TT: They can hold their breath longer than we can. He’s always in his water.

JM: What are the buyers like?

TT: Some buyers are pet owners, some are other breeders, I ship some across country?

JM: Is that an involved process? Are their wavers and such?

TT: Yeah. There’s a whole process getting approved by Fed Ex to ship reptiles. They have to go overnight. I send them in a box lined with Styrofoam to hold temperatures and then they are in a bag inside that so they don’t escape. For Fed Ex I had to send them a test package. “This is how I’m going to ship the reptile”

JM: Isn’t there an industry standard?

TT: Yes, but…

JM: You had to prove you knew what it was?

TT: Exactly.

JM: People ship chickens in the mail. All kinds of things go through the mail.

TT: (Shows us a shipping box) Any of these females can handle this for 24 hours. I’ll feed them right before shipping … if they regurgitate during the trip, that’d be kind of messy.

JM: That would be an unpleasant package to open.

TT: Yeah.

JM: Sounds like you have a good amount of contact with other sellers.

TT: I do. Most of them are younger than me. I have colleagues that have a couple of racks like this who are in little apartments. Then I have guys who would have them in big warehouse type facilities. Kind of the direction I want to go eventually, get some property and have an outbuilding in the back that I house most of this in.

JM: Yeah, so you don’t have to smell it.

TT: The snakes don’t smell as bad as the rats.

JM: At first I saw the POD outside and thought you were keeping the snakes out there.

TT: I had to bring the POD back here when my wife and I separated. We had to sort through a lot of stuff. Christmas stuff. We have to do the Halloween stuff. There was a livingroom set she wanted. She took the guest bedroom set. She wanted parts of the other set, but I said I was making payments on those. I didn’t remind here that there were only two payments left … (laughs) …

JM: Do you have a formal education?

TT: Some college.

JM: You didn’t train to be a snake breeder?

TT: No. I’m a programmer. Database, web programming. My main source of income is, business partner and I have about 25 internet games. I’ve started building this (snakes) up as a secondary business. Obviously it will be seasonal. Pour money into it all year long and then July, August, September I get to reap a little bit of benefits, but that will increase over time as the value of my animals goes up.

JM: Do you think you’re to the point where you’re making a profit?

TT: Not yet. Maybe… this year I’ve got some really nice projects, but I want to be holding back a lot of those as breeders for future years. So I don’t know how many I want to let go. I’ll be my own best customer. Just to cover their food bill, I need to get about $400 a clutch.

JM: That’s just pet store style? Each egg goes to a pet store? Or for specialty pricing?

TT: Well, that’s just average. This last year I had several clutches that didn’t make that and clutches that far surpassed that. That doesn’t include someone to clean, the electricity, someone to check in, the racks to hold them … that rack alone was $600. I need a couple more. But as I get more females and then more males that have dual qualities to them, dual morphs, the value of the clutches go up each year. Of course, the more common some of these get, the value of specific snakes will go down. Right now, pastel male you’re lucky to get $50 for.

JM: So how is it that the pet store in the mall can charge $75 for a regular ball python?

TT: Because they can. I can’t seem to get that kind of money.

JM: Is that just because people happen to be walking through and don’t know how to access you?

TT: Exactly. They don’t know how to access. (rat is peeping again, the 2nd snake didn’t eat it. TT puts the rat into a 3rd bin.)

JM: How do you get more traffic? If a snake is an impulse purchase for most people…

TT: I don’t have a pet store. I sell norms to a local pet store. Sell a few online. But most of the morphs I sell are through Kingsnake.com which is mostly other breeders. I’ve thought about trying to get some sort of storefront, at some point in time. If nothing else, be available for feeders, and, by the way, we have these high end pets for sale.

JM: So it would actually be a shop

TT: If I had the property, I’d put a shop onsite, hanging off the side of the house with some equipment, impulse items, make it quick to buy if they are coming to get a snake.

JM: That’s the thing with snakes, my impression is that it’s more of an impulse purchase. And as far as purchasing one online, I’m less inclined to purchase online even if it’s a fancy, specialty breed, because I want to see it and be sure it has the perfect pattern, something that draws me in.

TT: Photographs are nice.

JM: Yeah, yeah, but people want to think they have some kind of bond. People want to interface.

TT: If I sell to someone locally, they are welcome to come over here. I know there are security things, but I do have two Rottweiler so maybe that will slow them down. If they want a hatchling, I can show them the hatchlings and here are the spiders.

JM: So if someone comes over and says, “I want that one,” and it’s something you didn’t intend to sell, do you stand firm?

TT: It’s not for sale. Most everything is for sale if they come up with the right price. Most people are not ready to put $600 – $700 on a snake for a pet.

JM: Even though it’s going to last their entire lifetime, maybe longer than their lifetime.

TT: Many people want a bumblebee. I hatched two this year: one male, one female. I sold the male, somebody in Kentucky. My daughter is raising up the female. Everybody who came in here said, “Oh I want that snake.” Well, it’s $600. “Well, I’ll take the spider.”

JM: Yeah, too steep. How do you feel about the saturation? You touched on it at one point. As more people breed, they lose value?

TT: They do. That certainly is going to make it tough for guys like me because, you know, I’m buying animals for 500 that are now less than 300. Of course, I buy them as hatchlings for 500, they do build up value as they get bigger but overall they still depreciate. That’s going to be tough. I’m going to have to try to stay ahead. I have a couple of Mystics now. Next year I’m going to have to figure out what the next greatest thing is going to be and invest a couple grand in something high end.

TA: How do you keep ahead of trends?

TT: There are a few forums, like BallPythons.net is one of them. There’s a pretty active community out there.

TA: Is there a place where people discuss prices they get for animals they’ve sold? How do you determine market value those things?

TT: Kingsnake.com to see what people are trying to sell them for. Usually the market value is a little less than that. If it’s still sitting out there, that means no one is willing to pay that yet.

JM: Are you in a herpetological society?

TT: No. There is one based out of Seattle that I’ve looked into. I haven’t done anything about it yet. I’m still pretty new to this … though it doesn’t look like it. (laughs)

JM: You definitely plunged in with both feet.

TT: Well, I had a little extra income that I could dispose of. Up until a year ago, I put a lot of money in. Now I’m more careful instead of “another one, another one, another one.”

JM: Is that because of the change with your wife or the economy overall?

TT: The game sites aren’t making as much money as they were a year ago, so I don’t have as much disposable income.

JM: What happens when you get to old to do this and your snakes are still in their prime?

TT: You know … if I have someone doing a lot of the cleaning, I can still do a lot of this myself.

JM: Do you have a will to bequeath them to someone?

TT: Not yet. I’ll probably split them up between my kids.

JM: It sounds like the one daughter is really active.

TT: Well, this one belongs to one daughter, my other daughter has the female bumblebee, my son owns a male normal … he’s looking into going to vet tech school … my oldest daughter loves pets too she doesn’t own a ball python yet, but my kids share a love of animals. They’ve always had animals of many kinds around….

JM: You’re not concerned what would happen to your collection if something would happen to you?

TT: It might go to the four winds, you know, cause none of the kids have a place where they can do this. They might … they may go in and start selling and split up the money and whatever.

JM: You’re fine with whatever….

TT: Yeah. I’m sure what will happen is they will each pick a favorite and sell the rest. My son likes this Super Pastel. (the snake is small, a baby relatively speaking) If I breed this to a normal, I’ll get nothing but pastels. I got this for $450. I would like to, he’s just about big enough, put him with a female and see if he’s ready.

JM: With the females being so huge, do you worry about a small snake like that? They don’t aggress against each other?

TT: They’re well fed…

JM: Would a snake eat another snake?

TT: It has been known to happen in cases of overcrowding and lack of food.

JM: So they do cannibalize.

TT: It’s rare. Very rare.

JM: They don’t usually strike each other…

TT: No. Now, two males will strike at each other.

JM: How did you learn about this?

TT: Books, internet, lots of reading, and talking with other breeders…

JM: Are breeders receptive that way?

TT: Some are. There are some great guys out there that are more than happy to help. In turn, if I’m selling a snake, I’m an open book. If I had some special breeding project, I might not share the details, but …

JM: Do you think snakes are smart or dumb or somewhere in the middle?

TT: … I think they’ve got a curiosity about them. They love to explore. I don’t think they are moronic. I think the cat’s dumber than the snake. But they don’t come to their own name either. Of course, they don’t have ears.

JM: But they can hear.

TT: I’m sure they can, via vibrations.

JM: Here’s an advertising plug. Why would someone want to buy from you verses another breeder?

TT: Because I’m knowledgeable and I’m willing to share that knowledge with buyers. If they have trouble, for example they got a snake from me and suddenly it stopped eating, I’m here to help them. I’ve heard stories of people buying a snake from such-and-such pet shop and can’t get it to eat and the shop says it’s the new owner’s problem. Unless I know they are prepared for it, everyone has had pretty much 2 or 3 meals here and I’m here for back-up. If for some reason they can’t keep the snake, I hope they contact me first.

JM: Say someone says, “I want a blah-dee-blah type of snake” say a spider, you would facilitate that for them?

TT: (nods)

JM: Would you give a discount or is there a flat rate?

TT: It’s a sort of flat rate. If someone wanted a normal, as long as they are willing to learn about them, I’d give them a better rate than I’d give a pet shop. It’s more important for me that animal has a good home.

JM: That’s the trouble of what do you do with the normals you can’t help getting in a clutch.

TT: Usually pet shops. They sell for $20 or $30. I have a couple of pet shops that will buy them for about that.

JM: Do you have a source for inexpensive tanks.

TT: Not now, no.

JM: Do you recommend the bins? People at home like to have them on display.

TT: That’d be nice, but ball pythons would rather hide anyway. If you have proper hides for them, they’ll hardly come out anyway. Tanks are nice, but they’re hard to keep humidity up and temperature constant.

JM: As a breeder, do you feel like you’re playing God?

TT: I guess sometimes just in the “here what I want to breed together, what I’m trying to get.” Less playing God, more playing Scientist. This is a big science project. The results only come out once a year, but it’s … getting increasingly more interesting as the possibilities of what I come up with are becoming more and more infinite. This year I put together a list of all the possible combinations I could come up with this year. There are like 16 or 17 combinations I could get this year. Last year I could get 5 or 6.

JM: That’s the addition of new snakes?

TT: Yeah. Last year I only had one more female that I bred. I only have four or five males that I used. So I was limited to what those four or five males could produce. The bumblebee was a combination morph male and morph female. The better the animals I have to breed the more options.

JM: Where do the names come from? Bubblebee, Mohave?

TT: Pretty much the first to breed comes up with the name.

JM: You could potentially name something someday?

TT: Quite possibly. I have a female, I have to prove her out, this female is something I’ve never seen before. The first step is to prove and see if that’s genetic. Then there are a couple breeds she is similar to, to see if she’s one of those but I didn’t know it. There could be some interesting dollars in that.

JM: If you were going to name her, what would you name her?

TT: I have no idea. Right now I just call her Eleanor.

JM: Right now, a lot of the snakes have names that are something descriptive of how it looks. Is there room to call the new type of snake Eleanor?

TT: As a morph I wouldn’t call it Eleanor. I would try to come up with a better name for it. She reminds me of a Vanilla Pastel, or maybe a fire. When I get a couple of her babies, I will try to prove it.

JM: Is there a board or approval power to submit to?

TT: No, there’s no AKC.

JM: So is snake breeding considered a hobby? Your snakes don’t have papers that go with them…

TT: No papers. If it was an animal with a recessive trait, a lot of people sell snakes with recessive trait. If you’re smart you will buy one with a guarantee … some paper that says, “I guarantee that this is Hep for Albinism”, you’d be dumb not to get something like that otherwise people would be slipping in normals.

JM: What does the guarantee get you?

TT: Some piece of mind, pretty much. If something’s wrong, hopefully the company is still in business and they might replace it.

JM: So what are the game sites you have?

TT: The K of Camelot would be one. There’s also a Facebook and Myspace version of the same game. Browser based role-play games. They can play for free, but if they want extras they can pay for those via Paypal.

JM: Did you develop the plot lines for these?

TT: I build the engines and we have some administrators who develop the world that the players play in, they design items people can buy or sell, design weapons … that’s all in the admins’ hands. I just work the engines for them, make as many options for the admins to play with.

JM: How long have you been doing that?

TT: Three years.

JM: What were you doing before?

TT: I had recently, about six months before, sold my webhosting company. I had sold a company and I was busy trying to invest some of those funds … I didn’t do very well in the stock market. (laughs) My thought was, hey I’m pretty good at math, but I’m too emotional. I get frustrated. “I need to find a good trade for tonight.” If you don’t find a good trade, don’t trade. I’m too emotional. I can’t separate that. So I think I’m not right for the stock method.

JM: How’s that rat doing?

TT: Not getting eaten? This is probably the wrong time of day for this. (Thomas reads some cards to see who will take the rat). Who will take this rat? I want to put this rat out of its misery. I don’t want to look sadistic.

JM: This is part of the job!

TT: Who will eat this? She will. She eats everything. (Drops the rat in a bin and snap goes the snake around the rat, one big bite over its head while the snake’s body curls around and wrings the rat to death.)

JM: How does a person contact you?

TT: Email thomas@Tremaininc.com or through my website: http://nwreptiles.com.

More about Thomas: thomastremain.com

Dr. Johnny Wow, 10/10/2011

Current Occupation: retired, now a full-time artist
Former Occupation: printer for 31 years, machine operator/laborer in aluminum plant, sawmill, machine shops, restaurants, warehouses. He was also a TA while working on an MFA, a cook on towboats, and a substitute school teacher.
Contact Information: Dr. JohnnyWow! earned his BA and MFA in Art during the 1960s. He holds Doctorate in Metaphysics and is a Certified Holistic Practitioner and Para-Psychological Counselor. He has self-published multiple booklets, available upon request. Dr. JohnnyWow! dedicates the remainder of his life to improving contemporary society by joyously exploiting gullibility and expanding the realm of hypocrisy. The Good Doctor augments the monthly display of his paintings and drawings with a wide range of his Transformational Personal Enhancement products and services. These franchise opportunities are created for those individuals seeking a more perfect response to the joys of life. The programs are intended to enable participants to create and experience a state of normally perfect bliss, no matter how fleeting.

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An Honorarium

There is a huge outpouring of honorifics for the recently dead Steve Jobs. There is no doubt that he and other geniuses have transformed the world. I use Apple products, and I was one of the very early adopters. When I saw the Mac demonstrated it was obvious that the hotshot young sales reps had no idea what they had, and not a glimmering of how this would transform ‘my’ industry. I managed the Print Shop at a university. I couldn’t know the havoc and despair adopting Mac products would create, but I could see immediate application for the device and within days had swindled a purchase order for one.

The Print Shop was over $70,000 in debt due to an advanced Compugraphic digital typesetter, which could produce very high quality output if equipped with a sophisticated operator. Within 3 years of the introduction of Macs we were lucky to find a vendor willing to take the ‘Comp’ off our hands in a services trade. The Compugraphic was an amazing device and rendered absolutely worthless.

The operator went from highly respected and well-paid specialist who was swamped with work to unemployed and unemployable. People running Macs were a dime a dozen and, whether they were any good or not, the wages were and are just above the minimum. Hardly a soul is employed as a typographer or typesetter any longer. The Mac operators, many of them self-employed, refer to themselves as Graphic Designers and their work is in a wide variety of formats for the Web or Internet applications.

I doubt there is any way to arrive at a number of the individuals whose jobs disappeared or were shredded through downgrading thanks to Steve Jobs and the digital revolution. There may be an industry somewhere that was unaffected.

No one is singing the song of the wholesale outsourcing of manufacturing jobs made possible and ultimately necessary. Steve Jobs and Apple are as guilty as any for the creation of high tech sweatshops in poor and exploitable countries. No one dreamed that the hi-tech industries would create millions of low-skill, low-wage jobs with long hours, no benefits, and no community social structures. Within the past couple decades I have watched the notion of worldwide equitable labor, environmental standards, and rising expectations be evaporated.

We, the people, living a life of ease and comfort in the advanced countries, have the benefit of all these digital toys that are soaked with the blood of the poor and oppressed … should we care to even briefly think about it. All the while, millions of dollars are made for the wealthy by extracting labor from the unfortunate, and there is little-to-no discussion about the decline and trivialization of our own jobs and productive capacity.

During medicinally calmed moments, rare moments when I can bear to think about the jobs on which I wasted my life, I realize that the best of the jobs no longer exist. I worked in machine shops. Almost all of that form of skilled labor is now overseas. I spent thirty plus years in the printing trade. Printing has been eviscerated by digital techniques. The last place I worked sold the equipment for pennies a pound – shipped to Mexico. The freight and re-installation costs were greater than the price of the used equipment, but the wages were so low in Mexico that business could plan for profit. The Print Shop was lucky to find an actual cash buyer. Most similar equipment was simply recycled.

The aluminum plant I labored in for some years in my younger days was dismantled and shipped to the Philippines a couple years after I quit. It was a union job with relatively good pay and benefits that came in handy for managing my growing family. The Philippines offered cheap electricity, a custom made port, zero environmental regulations, and an endless supply of eager non-union low-pay labor.

The only job I had during my lifetime that still exists much as it was is restaurant help, such as busboy, and it is still minimum wage.

These days, I’m retired. I make art and frequent a gym, among other things. A gym acquaintance was a restaurant franchisee manager: he was a manager, not an owner. He is retired now, thanks to his ability to create a small group of rentals. The retirement program for him as a manger is trivial, as is the IRA accumulation of his wife (a clerk in a mall outlet). He has complained of the caliber of people available to perform restaurant work – busboys, et al. No one wants jobs that pay poorly and are usually part time (6 daily hours or less), and often frantic. How is a human to take interest in such menial labor that lacks any meaningful advancement? My gym buddy, of course, doesn’t see it that way, and complains about the sense of privilege these ‘spoiled kids’ demonstrate. “Give them a couple college courses,” he says, “and they are just too damned good to do any real work.”

In the 1960s and ‘70s a downturn in one area of the country would create an exodus of workers launching off to some other city rumored to have opportunities. When Boeing went through the boom and bust cycles in Seattle, thousands of families would head to Phoenix or Topeka or Detroit or some other promised land. And often they would in fact find work there. In the current work environment there is no work anywhere, and despite being foreclosed and evicted, many workers just hunker down and stay put.

While Jobs is lauded, what’s not being discussed in mainstream media is the chronic and unsolvable unemployment that has occurred. Our unemployment stats don’t track those who have fallen off benefits. Many people are simply never going to find anything resembling meaningful employment, particularly older workers in their 40s or 50s or, god forbid, 60s that have become unemployable. The dreary office work and managerial positions have been proven to be unnecessary; computer programs have been developed to eliminate the judgment calls they were paid to make. Inventories are now digitally maintained and re-orders are automatic. “Just-in-Time’ materials processing eliminates warehouse and supply maintenance workers. Soon, therapists and counselors will be replaced with AI.

Another acquaintance from the gym had a career as mid-level manager in a now collapsed bank. He and his wife lost everything quickly and early in the economic collapse. The last I heard they were living in the back of a used U-Haul truck, camping in one park after another, and finally settling in a “Squat City” in the South West. It is a co-op group. They share a van that takes them out to freeway entrances to stand all day with cardboard signs. A couple years ago he sent an email asking for money, assuring me that he would never ask again. I sent him $100, and so far he hasn’t asked again. Good to his word, but what on earth can he or will he ever be able to do for a job. He went from pin stripe suits and a mowed lawn to begging on street corners.

One Artist I know is working nights on a janitorial crew. He says it is easy because the huge office buildings are half vacant – the businesses gone broke. Another Artist is part of a yard work crew, working dawn to dusk mowing and trimming yards. He says the only benefit is that he has mastered a vocabulary of Guatemalan Spanish. Another Artist is part of a crew that does repairs in foreclosed houses that were trashed by the evicted. He reports that the repairs are crap because the contract holders only want the properties minimally presentable for the foreign cartels that are buying the units for cash.

These Artists come from middle class families and each of them has at least one degree. They are all in a desperate struggle to make the payments on their student loans, which amount to tens of thousands of dollars. Falling behind on student loans is a potential disaster as interest and penalties accrue rapidly.

The American Dream has lead many into the Arts, and the illusion has been disastrous for the creative within the liberal arts. The Art market is tied directly to the Affluent, and the collapse of the economy has led the Affluent to dramatically reduce participation in Arts support. The past few decades have reduced the meritocracy aspect of the Arts and replaced it with a fortune cookie system. Luck and being in the right place at the right time equal survival. The Affluent view the Arts as diversion and entertainment and thus consistency and coherence inherent in a meritocracy became irrelevant. The notion of developing a long-term career in the creative arts has vanished. It is now a youth-oriented novelty based culture.

The imploding Arts market is only a minor symptom of the trivialization through distraction that has polluted the entire contemporary world. The mere mortals of the planet are so distracted with digital effects, themes, and toys that the lack of serious discussion that could lead to the amelioration of major problems is unnoticed. In the USA alone, there is a need to find some role for the 20 million or more of unemployed but available ‘workers’. Many of these individuals will never be employed again in productive jobs. They have been rendered surplus. The number of computer-interface-drone employees is declining and those information-processing tasks will be automated or outsourced faster than old fashioned manufacturing production.

As an ambulatory ‘old fart’ I am a slice of a walking history that no one wants to hear. But the inevitable collapse of capitalism through over-production and the exploitative extraction of money from the workers to the moneyed interests was endlessly discussed in the tiny crummy coffee shops by the Beats in the 1950s. Back then, we dreamed and schemed, but it was inconceivable that an uber-manager like Steve Jobs, among others, could transform the world through the creation of a billion toys. It was beyond our imagining.

Steve Jobs is given enormous credit for the accomplishments of others. He was a highly skilled manager of a herd of innovative young men. This team of wise-guys and smarty pants concocted this unforeseen and unplanned social transformation with one hand down their pants. All the triumphs are sperm-laden issues of a fantasy world that is turning out to be a very destructive pornographic manipulation with no concern for the consequences and the lives destroyed.

Instead of the slaughter of surplus population under Stalin or Pol Pot, we have seduction through trivial distraction via ‘bright boy’ digital sperm-induction. No new ideas can be generated because minds are held captive.

There is no room in the program for recognition of such matters as the secondary role of women in the economy, vast income disparity, ceaseless colorblindness and disregard for communities of color, millions of suddenly irrelevant individuals, death by factory pollution, or the corruption of the political system. The squirming digital electrons unleashed on the world silence us.

Jobs are gone, whether or not it’s Jobs fault or the fault of all of us who bought the idea that technology would give us paychecks without labor, resulting in longer, if forced, vacations. In a way, we got what was promised to us: time off. On the other hand, we have less time than ever. We carry Mary Poppins’ machines in our pockets. We twiddle with games and photos and posts. We keep practically stranger friends up-to-date on our every doing of no significance. Money we once spent on tangibles is now spent on what? We don’t own any of it. Most of us didn’t have anything to do with creating it. There’s a line about how you can’t solve an equation by chewing bubblegum. Will anyone solve anything truly important ever again?

It remains to be seen if the Meritocracy is truly dead. Steve? He’s dead. But Steve Jobs will follow us, his phantom residue under our fingernails. The golden skeletons of the serfs who made all these Mac toys for us will contaminate our souls. Worms will spiral out of these apples. Our zombie apocalypse is here.

Protest Photos by T. Luke Strahota. All other images in the public domain.

Mary Slocum, 10/3/2011

Current Occupation: retired social worker

Former Occupation: 17 year shipyard electrician

Contact Information: A poet since she was 14, Mary Slocum was the last winner of the Portland Artquake competition in the 90s and a winner of Washington State Poetry Assn. humorous poetry competition in the 90s. Mary Slocum has been published in Stanza, NW Literary Review, Upper Left Edge, Tradeswomen’s Network Newsletter, Black Cat, Portland Alliance, Work and Carcenogenic. She enjoys reading more than publishing and has also appeared with a comedy collective. Presently working on a complete collection and some of which is on her website: www.maryslocum.com

#

October Rage

In October of 2010

Way back on page C8 in 16 lines

The Oregonian newspaper reported,

actually the Associated Press reported,

in Silverton Oregon

a 33 year old Man poured gasoline

on an 87’ Thunderbird.

Torched it cause it

belonged to the boss

Oregonian thought

it was insignificant,

depended on the AP

to report the details.

Boss mourning loss of Thunderbird

Man mourning the loss

of his job and we all mourn

in our own way,

but anger seems to be risin

all around and I wonder if

as a little boy, this Man

was taught “an eye for an eye”.

It’s a small town,

many people musta known him.

It’s a restaurant

Probably not makin it in this

Economy.

County charged the Man

with arson, mischief and reckless burning

What the hell is reckless burning?

Roget says there are 3 types of reckless

Careless, unconcerned, and rash

He cared a great deal, concerned

that he was fired

Rash? Not like bumps on the skin

But defiant disregard for danger

Or consequences rash.

Burned the fence too, rash.

(Don’t think he meant to do that.)

See the look on the firemen’s faces

when they were told

theMan was fired and then he fired

the car. Imagine the Man

released cause the jail was overcrowded.

Imagine the Man who has no job

to make the money to pay his fine.

Imagine the man entering his favorite bar,

smell the smoke from the

cigarettes outside as he enters to

cheers and applause from all the

other unemployed.

#

Sunday in the USA

They’re working overtime,
finally paid what they are worth,
that living wage they heard about
and the taste of the hours fills their belly
pushing beyond a forty hour wall.
The Russian next to me
Has died and gone to capitalism.
I have died and gone
To sheetrock and repairs.
The guy working next door
has died and gone to work
cause staying home with his wife
has become too unbearable.
One guy’s recovering,
traded one addiction for another.
One has too many children
by too many women
and he knows this is his money.
We’re all here on a Sunday,
not that any of us would be caught dead
in a church but
we’re all here and
the altar is here too.

Pavel Rubin, 9/26/2011

Current Occupation: Gallery Employee

Former Occupation: Greenhouse Supervisor

Contact Information: Pavel Rubin was born on a cold winter night in St. Petersburg, USSR. His family migrated to Israel, and then to Honduras. He finally found himself studying in the US and working in a greenhouse for five years while attending college. Pavel currently resides in Conway, AR where he is pursuing his Masters degree in English.

###

Machine

The familiar banal noise wipes the crust off the swollen eyes
Stained pants hurriedly flung upon the waist under dim light
No time for coffee as the engine throttles
Soft smoke rolling out the cracked window
Rough hands pivoting through the lack of scenery
Three minutes early in order to use the bathroom
The familiar bristle of melancholy ink on the brand new piece of light cardboard
Arms stretching towards the faded blue pair of gloves next to nods of recognition
Silent rhythmic movements as an imperfect tune is hummed by the machinery
Anticipation builds with conditioned hunger as the last seconds pass
Hands fiercely scrubbed with vile chemical smelling soap
Toilet paper locked up in a metal box keeps on tearing as you pull on it
Loud horn a minute too early just as backbone stopped hurting the flesh
The things you would do if you were not here
The castles you would build, the feats you would achieve
But the guy next to you is coughing
Sixty three year old thin arms tense up with tight disproportionate muscles
His glasses fog up with sweat not tears
Empty simpleton dreams of sexual conquest as the finish approaches
A final wave at the faces as they blend
Moon obscured by city lights bugs swarming
House smells of stale fumes and carnage
There is hunger by the window
Forget to brush your teeth before sleep
It is fine though, you can do that tomorrow
Early morning toothy grin

Tim W. Boiteau, 9/19/2011

Current Occupation: experimental psychology PhD student

Former Occupation: research assistant, dubbing, English teacher, temp, file clerk, painter, hotel desk clerk

Contact Information: Tim W. Boiteau attends the University of South Carolina, studying psycholinguistics, writing fiction, and living with his wife Dongfang.

###

Non-vacationing

It happens from time to time that a member of the general public will become bored with the daily grind of their vacation—the margaritas, tanned bodies, string bikinis, lifeless shuffling on the dance floors, noontime wake up calls, all of that—and seek out a job to relieve the tedium. Some will even play truant for extended periods of time, making lifelong careers of non-vacationing, becoming pariahs of decent society.

I have seen such cases and have even employed a number of them. They show up with an air of sea breeze freshness, wearing flip-flops, speaking the worst kind of drawling, aphasic English, like stroke patients struggling to recover their language ability, a sign of all the years wasted in the toil of tanning on beaches and admiring sunsets. In time they become fit non-vacationers, making use of a kind of Pidgin English with which they can communicate the essence of their thoughts and needs. Eventually, they shed the flip-flops and thongs and don suits more fitting of the foreign, air-conditioned climate, often times retaining some semblance of their earlier, government-sanctioned lifestyles whether it be by wearing suits and ties in conjunction with tropical tees, sunglasses and globs of sun lotion on their noses to protect them from the damaging fluorescent lighting or by bringing six-packs to their desks to “chill out” while sorting through the filing. Those that stay on the longest typically end up getting haircuts, shaving their beards, and dying of colon cancer as a result of the newfound sedentary lifestyle. Those that leave after several weeks return to their people more educated about a very poorly understood minority.

Aside from diabetes and colon cancer, the other significant danger of a life of non-vacationing, of course, is attacks instigated by vacationers, who I have seen lurking around the entrance to my own office building on a number of occasions, wielding Tiki torches and fragrant lei lassos, no doubt hoping to make an example out of some wayward member of the human race. On one such occasion, Greenwood, an ex-surfer, had been unfortunate enough to arrive late to work and had been mobbed by a group of these protestors, who called his way of life “a disgrace” and “inhumane”. They had stripped the suit and tie off of him, smothered his horridly pale skin in suntan lotion, and tattooed the phrase “PARTY LIFE 4EVA” to his chest. This abuse only more deeply instilled in him the importance of a life of non-vacationing.

Vacationers frequently accuse us of brainwashing their own kind, and to some extent these claims are justified. Making a non-vacationer out of a vacationer is a tedious process. It involves evening classes, internships, mentoring, etc. Many non-vacationers arrive at a business, looking for a job, no C.V. in hand, no real understanding of what a C.V. is, just an adventurous spirit and an abundance of naïveté. They are referred to non-vacationers with specialized training in dealing with those going through that tough transition period between vacationing and not. Based on their past experiences, they are required to take seminars such as why surfing is not allowed in the office place or where it’s appropriate to wear cute tennis outfits. Many behaviors are fixed. Others are not. Since the majority of non-vacationers at any business are ex-vacationers, schedules tend to revolve around the old way of life: three-day weekends; work tentatively starting weekdays sometime after 10 a.m.; thirty minute slots in both the mornings and afternoons for weed circles, yoga, or meditation; two-hour lunches; afternoon siestas; and, of course, happy hour every day at 4 p.m. in the lobby bar. Dress code exists but is never actually enforced, due to the sensitive nature of culture clash. P.D.A. is a frequent, distracting problem, as non-vacationers have grown up exposed to and even encouraged to take part in overtly sexual behavior. Still, on the issue of brainwashing, it must be noted that at no time has a non-vacationer actively recruited vacationers into the workplace: everyone is here on a voluntary basis.

Occasionally, tours sponsored by and attracting the more open-minded vacationers will pass through the office building, snapping pictures at the non-vacationers as they non-vacation, commenting in their crude language on various aspects of the bizarre way of life: “A plant inside a pot, how cruel!” “Look how they cover their feet, such a conservative and proud people.” “A plastic bubble with an ocean model inside, how novel, and look you can even drink the water, how neat!” “Look how they sit with their spines erect, it’s so unnatural, how do they live like that?” “How can they see without their sunglasses on?” The ignorance of their comments can be understood by long-timers like me, but newcomers, feeling that their newly embraced culture is being insulted, tend to overreact by coming into work early the next day, skipping their siestas for a week, wearing several ties and jackets at the same time, or some other such form of overcompensation.

Sadly, many non-vacationers after years of apparent well-adjustment become depressed and go on violent sprees of surfing in the Baja strip or lose twenty pounds during two-week-long backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail, returning after such relapses with photo albums brimming over with self-portraits of them in various places of interest. Such stints are typically followed by instant termination, but some promising non-vacationers are forgiven their transgressions and sent to corporate retreats where they are reeducated. These latter few arrive back at work more sober than before, clean-cut, and humbled by the experience.

The subject of termination is complicated and never fully grasped by converts. It is a word not used in the vacationer dialect, and most expert linguists agree that not even a rough estimation of the concept exists in their lexicon. As a result, most terminations (even those involving security officers ushering the terminated out of the building) are disregarded by those parties involved, and non-vacationing will usually continue just as before. This can often be frustrating for those in management positions, as continued attempts at termination of unsatisfactory ex-vacationers often comes off as harassment. I myself have been told by an ex-vacationer I was in the process of firing for the fifth time that I was giving him “way bad vibes, man.” It was a meaningful lesson for all of us.

There has been a lot of pressure in recent years for us to acclimate to the modern culture, which is more and more welcoming to vacationers. When vacationers come to us looking for jobs, should we feel guilty about having a hand in “corrupting” these wide-eyed youths or allowing them the opportunity to ostracize themselves from the world they know? We have managed to hold true to our cultural heritage through practicing our constitutional right to freely non-vacation. Unlike those extremists that accuse us of being blemishes on society, we embrace the God-given right of every man, woman, and child, vacationer and non-vacationer, to choose.

Brandon Bell, 9/12/2011

Current Occupation: Graphic Designer
Former Occupation: Library book repairman
Contact Information: Brandon Bell lives in Louisville, Ky. His work has appeared in Barrier Islands Review, Leaf Garden and Inkspill Magazine (United Kingdom), and will soon appear in Apiary.

###

leash your inner kitten

Bald Steve pondered the stringy mop sitting in his chair. The shop didn’t get many long haireds, let alone women. She had explained the cut as a simple few inches off the shoulders, but Steve was clueless about where to begin. In the on-deck chairs, Ray-Ray and his son and I sat transfixed like three tykes front row at a freak show. We watched Steve scoop a strand of hair with open scissors. His hand then went slack and the hair fell to her shoulders.

Excuse me a second, Steve said. He turned to the barber mirror. From the counter he picked up the cigarette burning in the ashtray and took a drag. He seemed to be asking himself, What do I know about cutting a woman’s hair? His entire skill set lied in sheers pressed to a skull.

Paul, working the middle chair, kept an eye on Steve but knew better than to meddle. Paul had just finished with the Jones child and was ringing up the cut on the smoke-yellowed cash register. It sat atop a cabinet crammed with fashion products and conditioners that we regulars allowed to gather dust. Paul gave the child his change with a Dum-Dum on top.

You go easy on your momma now, Paul said.

The child grinned backwards outside. His exit jingled the doorbell and we three waiting nearly jumped out of our skin. I looked out the window to make sure Simon wasn’t returning from the tavern across the street. A cut from Simon meant cock-eyed sideburns and trimlines gouged across your crown. I can’t believe Simon caught most of the fish decorating the walls. Now he drinks too much to bait a lure. I wouldn’t trust him with a can of taxidermy lacquer.

Hey you, Ray-Ray’s boy said. He wiped his pubescent mustache and appeared to smell the finger. Paul ignored him and the boy stretched forward from his seat and snapped three times fast. He fiddled with his crotch like he needed to potty. Old man, hey.

You’re gonna show respect, Ray-Ray said. I mean damn, Philly. I got to remind you how many times?

Philly shuffled forward, short steps shishing his Kentucky Wildcats jacket, and plopped into Paul’s chair.

You mind this, Mitch? Paul asked me. I did mind. I was already standing, ready to sit in Paul’s chair, but what could I do? Jerk the snotnose out of the chair? Philly in a way did me a favor. The longer this took, the longer my reprieve from my own runts. Not that I didn’t love them.

I sank back into the chair underneath the black and white TV showing Andy Griffeth. Steve had turned the woman’s profile to me. I felt her single fish eye watching me but I didn’t look up. In my periphery I saw Steve holding the scissors at her eyebrows, easing the scissors shut as if trying to learn their mechanics. Then he began snipping in a frenzy. He knew it didn’t matter how bad the cut came out and so he just went for it.

Paul spread the smock over Philly and ran the tape tight around his neck. Up off the ears and boxed in the back, Paul said.

I want whatever’ll get me the most tail, Philly said.

A raspy laugh emptied smoke from Paul’s lungs. You’re hounding already.

They be hounding me. I gotta carry hand sanitizer to keep my ass clean for the next in line.

Respect, Ray-Ray said, eyes fixed on a magazine. The door opened and in walked a thirty-something man. He was wearing a faded Franklin Count High School letter jacket and at his waist a holstered 9 mm. I nodded at the fellah and the gun and got no response from either. He slapped hands with Ray-Ray and took a seat.

Sup Hal, Ray-Ray said.

Little line up in this bitch, Hal said.

Philly motioned at Hal from under the smock. Let me see that gun, he said.

Ain’t a toy, Ray-Ray said.

That’s a Browning, right? Philly said.

Little gun nut, Ray-Ray said. He subscribes to Guns and Ammo but ain’t got a piece himself.

Maybe, Philly said.

Paul spun the chair away from the gun and pinched a clump of Philly’s crown and trimmed the bristles sticking through his fingers. Your hair’s thick, Paul said. Your brother’s got thin. Probably brushed too much off on the bedpost.

That’s why I put the bitches on the floor, Philly said.

I’ve seen you around with that little blonde girl.

Which little blonde girl?

You got a whole litter of them.

Well I ain’t settling on just one. I’m a lion on the prowl.

Steve had bent over to snip the strands of hair covering the woman’s neck. The boy’s a kitten, he said. Needs to leash it up.

I’m a damn man, Philly said.

He’s just teasing, Paul said.

Didn’t sound that way to me. Bald-ass barber.

I tried not to chuckle and succeeded to an extent. Steve spun the woman to face herself. She turned a cheek to the mirror and then the other, revealing a small mole on soft skin. She locked eyes with my reflection and I realized the eyes hadn’t changed and when I recognized her I sank down in my chair. Yeah, I knew her. A drunken night at Sud’s, fifteen years earlier. Mandy Something. Just one night. After that I dodged that bar for weeks, a boycott derived from shame for a night to forget.

She looked at me with indifference, but the black smock reminded me of a judge’s robe and I felt like I was under scrutiny. Steve loosened the tape around Mandy’s neck like he was easing off a Band-Aid. Hal and Ray-Ray paused their talk to check what Mandy had under the smock. I pretended to fix on the TV and watched a commercial for a lawyer in a superhero cape. Courts. Child support. I had put the past behind me and here it was, after a marriage and two kids, my luck had run out.

How much, Mandy asked.

Steve smiled and put his hands behind his back. It’s my pleasure, Steve said.

She protested and tried to put money into his hand. He refused pay for the two crooked snips he had given her. Watching this, I missed Hal handing the gun to Philly. Paul leaned against his station as Philly pointed the gun sideways at the mirror. The coal handle looked huge and black against his freckled fingers.

Jesus Paul, Steve said. He pushed Mandy behind him. She fixed on me in the mirror. I remembered seeing her walking along edges of highways, hand-in-hand with a little girl. Our eyes met in the mirror and I knew that kind of moment told what kind of man I had become. But how could my duties as man be shaped by crimes I committed as a boy? I would’ve run had every muscle in my body not tensed from shame. Hurt beamed from her and so did demands she could never say aloud, going by the timid wet eyes and locked jaw. I was safe and still frozen, like a deer in the headlights of a parked car.

Philly waved the gun and mocked Steve with a smile. What you sweating for, Philly said. Like I don’t know my way around a piece.

You’re real tough, Steve said.

I’s born a man and got to be one to survive.

It’s a life worthy of a graveyard.

It ain’t even loaded, Philly said.

The gun sparked like a failed lighter and a pop careened through the cramped shop. The mirror shattered and Mandy’s reflection split into a million pieces. I started patting myself for holes. The gun dangled flaccidly from Philly’s finger. Hal jumped on top of Philly like secret service and stole the gun away. Someone started going, Oh shit oh shit. Philly looked scared, not for anyone’s safety but about the beating he earned from Ray-Ray.

The door jingle cut into my ringing ears. I looked up and saw Mandy escaping outside. I saw myself following even though I didn’t move.

Everybody okay, someone said.

Out the window I saw Simon limping across the street. A few months earlier he’d gotten into a bad wreck. Word was he’d been drinking. He entered the shop and the smell of rotten roses mixed with cigarette and sulfur discharge.

Watch where you step, Paul said. Glass, Simon.

Who’s next? Simon asked. He didn’t notice the broken window and patted Ray-Ray on the shoulder and tried to herd him to the open chair. You next?

Ray-Ray kept shaking his head. God damn, Philly.

Nobody got hit, Philly said. What you so pissed about?

You want a cut? Simon asked Hal.

Jesus, Hal says.

You?

Like a moth to light my eyes hit Simon. He tugged the smock off his chair and shook it like a bullfighter cape. I should’ve chased Mandy and started to do so. Instead I sat in Simon’s chair. He began wrapping me in the smock and asking how I want it.

Philly laughed. Damn, brave, he said.

I’m going to rip you out of that chair, Ray-Ray said.

Just telling the guy to sit good and still for the nice man, Philly said. Behave and you might get you a lollypop.

Judith Arcana, 9/5/2011

Current Occupation: Writer
Former Occupation: Writer/Teacher/other stuff
Contact Information: Judith Arcana writes poems, stories and essays, publishing online and on paper; her books include Grace Paley’s Life Stories, A Literary Biography, the poetry collection What if your mother, and a forthcoming fiction collection called Hello. This Is Jane. Born and raised in the Great Lakes region (where she got an underage work permit at age 15 in Illinois), she lives now in the Pacific Northwest. Visit juditharcana.com.

###
Ida tells Katie
Ida tells Katie what happened, back then:

I was supposed to go to college like my sister Dell. Dell was the first and she graduated to be a teacher, but then she got married and had five little babies, right in a row – pop, pop, pop, just like that they came. Rena was next and didn’t want to go, four years was too much time for her, but not me. I wanted it. I wanted it. But the Depression came for my turn, honey, I had to make money right away, bring it home. You know, I had ninety-five in Latin. Ninety-five plus. I could have been a lawyer, or maybe an accountant.

But right from high school I took a steno course, six weeks training, every day eight hours in a room with one window – it was hot, so hot in there – this was before air conditioning! I passed a hundred words a minute right away, top speed typing and dictation. They noticed me. I could take dictation from anybody, even an accent. So, right away that July I started at a card company, one of the ones that got really big. But I was steno only for a while. Why? Because pretty soon the vice president gave me private books, ledgers kept in his office. I worked the adding machine but I was fast on paper, even in my head. I did his billing, collection for the biggest accounts. You wouldn’t think big ones would need collections, but they do, honey, they do.

That bookkeeper, the regular bookkeeper, must have been dumb, you know? What did he think was going on, those bills that never came across his desk? My boss gave me money in an envelope (under the table, they call it) so the other girls wouldn’t know. Never work without getting paid for it, honey. Don’t think they’ll take care of you. Over or under a table, get the money. Cash, that’s what you want for your work. So my kind of raise was under the table. The big boss liked that dumb guy, the bookkeeper, and my boss paid me on the side. That’s how it was in those days. It was personal.

My boss said I was the quickest study. He called me a quick study – like an actress, you know? He said I was the smartest girl there. December, he moved me right up, right away I got a bonus; he gave me a special bonus every year I was there. If the other girls found out, they’d be mad, they’d make trouble – but he knew I wouldn’t tell.

Timothy Dyson, 8/28/2011

Current occupation: Fisherman poet

Former occupation: Thirty years in Human Resources.

Contact Information: Spent two years in the MA Writing Program, Univ of Pittsburgh, left when GI Bill money ran out and went to work. Took a thirty three year break from writing poetry. I saw a poem by Elizabeth Bishop online one day and decided to pick it up again.

###

DECEMBER 23RD SECOND SHIFT AT THE MATTRESS FACTORY

First, the odd Hungarian man
loaded the skid of springs
onto a vice. Applying pressure
via electric fists, then flipping
the switch. Sounds of steel
snapping to life, pushing
towards heaven. Stand back,
sometimes they get away
like dancing knives. Here we go,
what was two feet high, rises
like dough.

Then, two Vietnamese guys rolled
up the huge ladder, pulling
down the scoured sheets onto
broken pallets.
The rollers, manned by Frenchy
and Secrets Man,
began to purr, foam matt
attached by ring guns.
Then, beautiful Guatemalan women
took over. On with the backing,
gauzey thick, sub-matt wrap
was next before Mexican matt
builders started slinging.

One point six eight pieces per
hour, per person, move it.
Hey, where’s Danny
out sneakin a smoke with Maria
goddamnit, Murphy’s ready for bear.
There’s six hundred pieces
on the schedule tonight
and they’ve got to go, far
away from here.
Fran on the load dock
tipped Danny off, Murph just missed
firing that little sonofabitch.

Hey, I wanna thank you guys,
each and every one,
helluva job, have some pizza,
the night is young.

#

WORK

Seventy two hundred plastic fans will go down Line 3 today
Esmeredlda Marquez will insert a grounding screw and two blades
Libby Thomas will plug in every fourth one to ensure quality
Bill Tidwell will oversee the twenty eight employees on the belt
Two ten minute breaks, two pee breaks (in seniority order),
A half hour for lunch, for a smoke in the sweltering Houston sun.

The roach coaches will roll up with basic grub—taco, burrito, hot dogs
Various kinds of pre-made sandwiches, soda, high-price cigarettes
The floor walkers will enjoy lunch first, having no assigned position,
Always closer to exit, grabbing the best looking goodies, disliked
By those stuck on the stools, death by numbness will surely ensue.

Huge propeller fans line the back side of this former railcar factory
One hundred and eighty thousand square feet of steaming machinery,
Blow mold machines belching heat, CNC machines clanking precision
Scalding hot wash and dry area to sanitize the parts prior to assembly
Even the filthy eyewash stations will drip with inhuman sweat.

Margaret ‘Itty Bitty’ Bugner will make it through this day
She’ll stop off at Suds’n’Spuds for a shot of Canadian and a beer
She’ll pick up a bucket of chicken with cole slaw and mashed
She’ll do two loads of wash, check the granddaughter’s lessons
When her daughter stumbles in from her waitressing job,
Itty will have one last smoke, lock the trailer door
And drift off, dreaming about a man who will not beat her up

#

WEST CHESTER METAL PRODUCTS

There are families there
nameless on the numbered stools
wearing gloves without fingertips
arm guards soft as stucco

Some of the stools are customized
with cardboard or ragged cushion
duct-taped in position
ensuring the robotic discomfort

High above air hose brackets
and the flickering fluorescent lights
country music is piped in
to workers who speak no English

A bilingual Spanish floorwalker
stops by once a day
to see if anything is wrong
all the Croats grin
and hum a different song

Lauren Henley, 8/21/2011

Current Occupation: Substitute teacher and private tutor
Former Occupation: Social Recreation Coach for the disabled, nanny, waitress…
Contact Information: Lauren Henley has had more jobs than some and less jobs than most. A recent graduate of Pacific University of OR, Lauren will be taking some time off to think about what she has learned in college. She is the co-creator and co-editor of the online literary journal Aperçus Quarterly.

###

Monster Truck

There are five minutes of what is called “free time.”
I ask the sophomore boys in the back row
about their fathers, hovering over their desks to keep it private.
James Truck tells me he doesn’t know where his dad is
and I nod and lower my face
so that he doesn’t have to see my adult eyes
and how they tend to say what I think.

The boy to his left says his father comes and goes.
The boy to his right says they take care of each other
and pats James Truck on the back with a gloved hand.
I am just the substitute teacher and I am
crossing an invisible line, gliding right past it, dipping
my red pens like oars
into the reflective surface of a lake
I might drown in.

I ask them what kind of fathers they will be,
and their almost manly cheeks blush like peaches.
Good dads they say. They echo each other,
Good dads.

James tells me he will name his son Monster.
He might be looking down
at an imaginary baby.
Monster Truck, he says.
I laugh but his friends don’t.
They smile but they don’t laugh.
They know better.
He’s had this name
picked out for awhile.

#

Möbius Strip: Substitute Teaching

I stand at the front of the room
I say let’s get started I say
get out your notebooks
and other arbitrary things I
remember them being taller
looking more like men I
remember them being smarter
so smart I had to trust them
even when their driving scared me
or their hands what their eyes
might not be saying or were
and what that language could not
grant me They jumped car batteries
for the girls who’d left their lights on
They carried Fix-A-Flat and spare tires
They were ready for something to break
They judged my measurements
in inches in centimeters
They knew the math of curves
They knew the math of flat parts
the hidden parts the parts
like spider webs
that hang like gathered cloth
Parabolas Parabolas
When you know one word
one single word in language not your own
you must say it whenever you can
Their math had three or more syllables
Calculus Trigonometry Algebra II
And now I am their substitute teacher
I stand at the front of the room
I say let’s get started
I call their names
I repeat the same words I practically chant
Rusty needs to leave early
It’s almost guaranteed I’ll be asked my age
my first name my height
and how come I’m subbing in French
if I don’t speak French
the same for science history math
They tell me that their teacher reads
to them they don’t read to themselves
Jimmie draws dollar signs on his hands
I read a story from Bradbury’s Illustrated Man
I read it loud and with feeling
because this is what they want to be read to
like children And I remember
them being taller looking more like men
I don’t know if they like what I am reading
and then paper airplanes
wads of paper I stand at the front of the room
I call names I explain the assignment
I repeat myself like someone looking
for a certain street like someone
who needs help I explain the assignment
and they say what they say they are
confused Jimmie broke his pencil
And what’s my age my first name
I am being carried to the top of a volcano
by a band of short and troubled people
And then one of them screams penis
and is handed a crumpled dollar
by the student sitting behind him I
can’t help it I laugh It feels so good
and then I tell the boy to leave
he storms out pushing over his chair
Paraboloas Parabolas Parabolas

Al Simmons, 8/14/2011

Current Occupation: Retired
Former Occupation: Writer/Businessman/Entrepreneur
Contact Information: Al Simmons was born in Chicago, Illinois. He is a founder of the infamous Blue Store Readings, Chicago 1971, birthplace of the Spoken Word Movement, the first regular reading series in Chicago since Sherwood Anderson held readings in his living room in the 1930s. He was Poet-In-Residence City of Chicago, 1979-80. He founded and was Commissioner of the World Poetry Association and served as commissioner to the WPA and the World Poetry Bout Association, (WPBA), Chicago, Taos, New Mexico, 1979-2002. He is the creator of The Main Event, The World Heavyweight Poetry Championship Fights. He lives in Alameda, California.

###

One Day During The Riots

I.

I was born and raised in Chicago
And shit went down all the time.

Growing up in my day was different
Than the way kids grow up today.

There were more of us then
Hitting the streets all at the same time.
We were the war babies landing like a youth invasion force,
We were everywhere.

We didn’t require chaperones,
And we weren’t offered any.

If I asked for a ride I was told,
You got legs, use them.
Take your brother and be careful.

Once you walked out the door
The adventure began
Whether you liked it or not.

During my junior year in high school
I was offered a work-study program
Three days a week.

I worked part-time since I was 12,
But no one ever offered me time off from
School to earn money before.

They sent me to a retail store called Color Furniture
On Roosevelt Road and Kedzie Avenue,
On the west side of Chicago
Where my parents grew up, actually.

The neighborhood had since turned black.
Color Furniture had a second store, east
On Roosevelt Rd and Halsted,
In the Liberty Shopping Center, near Maxwell Street,

Home of the first and longest running
Closed street outdoor flea market in America.

I was working at the Liberty Shopping Center store,
With Oscar Flowers, a short, slim, black man
Who never left his house without his lucky pen and
A blank contract in the inside pocket of his suit jacket.
Oscar was a seasoned professional.
I was 16.

Oscar and I were discussing what to do
About lunch when two black stick-up guys
Entered the shop, one with a gun and the other
One with a baseball bat.

The one with the Louisville Slugger stood behind me
And held the bat above my head. One word, he said,
And I’ll crack your head open.
I held my hands up to signal, no problem.

The guy with the gun negotiated terms with Oscar Flowers.
There wasn’t any money in the till.
It was late morning and business was slow,
So Oscar offered the man with the gun a boom box instead.

Here’s a good one. This one’s our best, Oscar said.
I don’t want no boom box. No?
Oscar looked confused. What do you want? Money?
Ya, said the thief. We haven’t sold anything in days, said
Oscar, and besides, people pay by check. Nobody buys furniture
And pays cash. Here,
Take the boom box.

Oscar Flowers and the man with the gun
Discussed the boom box display in the window.
They spoke quietly between themselves
While the guy standing behind me
Holding the baseball bat stood trying to
Hear what they were negotiating.
He looked nervous and concerned,
And his nervousness made me nervous.

The gunman took the boom box.
He made his choice, signaled
His buddy and they left peacefully
Without further incident.

We waved them good by as if they were satisfied, happy customers.
Oscar looked at me. Ok, that’s done, now, about lunch? he said
Like it was just another day.

The two gunmen headed up Roosevelt Road
Toward Halsted Street
Where they jumped a woman
And tried to rape her right there
In broad daylight
In the middle of a major intersection.

The cops came.
There was a shoot out.

And those two guys who just committed
Armed robbery against us,
Then tried to rape that woman
Were both dead by Noon.

I had the local specialty of the house,
A pork chop sandwich, fries and a coke.
Oscar said, I’m watching my diet, and
Ordered a BLT on wheat bread.

II

My sales skills at age 16 were not so good
So Murray, the boss, put me on a truck
Delivering furniture.

I worked on the truck as a helper for
Jose and Junior.
If I had to choose which one of the two
To work with
I would prefer working with Jose.

Jose was a professional middleweight,
And a very cool guy.
We delivered furniture in some of
The roughest neighborhoods
In the city, but I never had a worry
When I worked with Jose.

Work went smooth and between deliveries
He took me with him to visit his girlfriends
Who lived in the hood. I would get an inside look
Into the apartment lives of single black women,
And more often than not I’d get
A homemade snack to eat, as well.

Working with Junior was another story.
Junior was bigger and stronger than Jose, and
A nice kid, but Junior was a rough character
And never thought twice when it came to a fight.

Junior didn’t lose fights.
Junior had bone-crushing fists, like ten-pound river stones.

The only man I ever met
With hands as big as Junior’s
Was Max Baer, Heavyweight Champion of the World, who
I drank with one time during my brief bartending career.

I liked Junior, but riding with Junior was dangerous.
Junior didn’t understand trouble.
We were walking up the front stairs
Of an apartment building and some guy sitting there
Didn’t get up to let us by
So Junior kicked him and the guy moved.
Junior seldom spoke and never asked.

I would be holding up the other end of that sofa
And I would smile when Junior did stunts like that
Because I was young and almost as dumb.

Murray, the boss, would tell me,
Your job is to help deliver furniture
And keep Junior out of fights. Then
Murray would give me his buck tooth smile, chuckle and
Puff on his cigar.
Meanwhile, Junior was three years older
Than me and twice my size.

One day I was sent out on a lunch run
When a handful of squad cars followed by
Several media trucks drove up and
Shut down traffic in both directions in
Front of our store.

And then a black Lincoln Town Car pulled up
And The Reverend, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights leader,
And a couple of his associates jumped out. A man in a black suit and tie
Placed a fruit crate on the street. Dr. King
Stepped up onto it like it was a platform stage and
Delivered a speech right there
On the topic of non-violent civil disobedience.

He spoke to the cameras.
The entire spectacle occurred so fast
Few actual people were in attendance
And I was able to walk up to the front
Of the sparse crowd who gathered around
To hear the great man speak.

The Reverend King looked down at me and
For one brief moment we made eye contact.
His look surprised me.
He had the eye of a predator, fierce and alert.

He looked me over with a harsh suspicion.
I must have stood out in the crowd of blacks,
A teenage white kid
Staring up at him from the front row.

The next morning at 10 am,
Several organizers entered the shop to
Notify us that riots were scheduled to begin that day at 3 pm.
They advised us to lock up and vacate the premises ASAP.
They assured us safe passage
Out of the neighborhood until noon.

That night the entire 2300 block of Roosevelt Road
Was burned to the ground, along with my job
And those of my co-workers and benefactors,
Whose economic fate got somehow tied to equal rights and
The road to freedom.

I never saw Jose or Junior, Oscar Flowers,
Murray, or the rest of the guys again.

But I remember my last day working.
Junior and I were delivering several
Mattress and box spring sets
To a 12th story apartment in the projects

And the elevators were both out of service.

It was a hot and muggy, summer day.
Had we been asked to haul mattresses and box springs
Down twelve flights of stairs in the projects it
Would have been simple, like descending into hell,
But since we were climbing twelve flights of stairs
It was only another challenging nightmare.

After the initial shock and reassessment of the task before us
As just another on-going surreal part of the job we were
Expected to deal with for our modest day’s pay.
For the same task Hercules might have been offered a kingdom.
And, thank God for Junior.
What would I have done without him, the black Hercules?
I’m pulling Junior off guys left and right.

It was a very hot summer day in the city,
And we were hauling the steel bed frames, our third trip
Up the same 12 story concrete staircase,

And as we climbed so did the temperature,
With the fuming garbage pails and the stink,
The kids and the crying babies and the piss in the hallways.
And somehow the job got finished. And, back down on the street
The hot summer day on the baked tar, sticky asphalt
Felt as cool as the beach in comparison
When that first breeze hits you in the face.