Guinotte Wise, 2/9/2015
Current Occupation: Writer/Welder www.wisesculpture.com
Former Occupation: Creative Director, various ad agencies.
Contact Information: G. Wise has been a creative director in advertising most of his working life. In his youth he put forth effort as a bullrider, ironworker, laborer, funeral home pickup person, bartender, truckdriver, postal worker, ice house worker, paving field engineer. A staid museum director called him raffish, which he enthusiastically embraced. (the observation, not the director) Of course, he took up writing fiction.
Duluth in the 1950's. You didn't want to be a drinker in Duluth. Oh there was plenty of booze, cheap bars, but the hangovers were worse there than any other scrub-ass town on earth. Even Madill, Oklahoma. Something about the ozone or the devil-chased molecules or some shit. Depressing. An Edward Hopper painting of a life. You drank draw beers and twenty-five-cent shots from some lower-tiered bottle of Colonel Somebody and thought about the days until leaving, the days until you boarded the train to Kansas City.
You'd saved up a pile even with the nightly boozing and kept it in a dopp kit, squeezed-together tens and twenties, and occasional fifties and hundreds from the three crap games you'd won big at, and then never played again. That and the steady paycheck from construction of The High Bridge over St. Louis Bay to Superior, Wisconsin. Good money. Plenty of hours, time and a-half as they were late on concrete, and even some double time after sixteen hours in any one day. Hard on a laborer, but you wouldn't have to do it forever, just remember that when your shoulders ache and your legs tremble and your biceps want to seize up.
That dopp kit sits in a rusted shut railroad switching box on the track nearest the Dago's flophouse, and you make sure never to approach it or even look that direction until the residents are snoring or gagging on their own wine vomit. Four a.m. you wake automatically and transfer more cash to the dopp kit from your workboots which you sleep in. A rusty safe, that switcher. A panel with one-inch rusted bolt heads that haven't seen a wrench for fifty years almost fell off when you tried it. Inside, rusted relays and corroded wires had been cannibalized and there's space for that dopp kit. Slap the cover back on, cock it, and it stays solid even with all the rumbling and humping of the cars on the labyrinth of nearby tracks that are still used.
You pay the Dago a dollar a night for a shit room he calls an apartment with a bed and an old refrigerator that still works, linoleum floor, and you spray for roaches, sleep there. No way you try to hide money in there. It wouldn't last a day. You bitch and moan with the losers about drinking and gambling your money away, plan a filling station robbery with a couple of them who couldn't stick up a Girl Scout selling raffle tickets, and wait to put this place behind you.
You sleep in a stupor, the switching yard booming and banging all night, cars clunking into one another in a long line of bangs, clanks, ground-shaking ka-booms off into the night. Four a.m. drunk or sober, you throw on a jacket and head down to The Spot, an all night greasorama that smells of onions and burgers, down a cup of surprisingly good coffee, slow down over the second cup, order eggs, hash browns, steak, ice cold milk.
Back to the Dago's for S, S and S. Except you rarely do the third S, and sometimes omit the second. You're not a fucking office worker. You're reminded of this when some stray into your dive, slumming after a party, one or two of the girls laughing too hard and looking like a sailor's wet dream, while the men, young and unsure, try to portray hard guys. You don't bother with any of them, just money down the drain, no future in it, odds of getting laid too long for the work of it.
Finally train day nears. The foreman tells you to go up high. Points you to a bucket of bolts, spud wrench, drift pin. The coffee and eggs try to push up in your throat. This is bad luck, short time and they send you high into the substructure to walk around on three inch angle iron when your nightmare is height, especially height over water. The week before a man fell onto the steel plate of the barge from eighty feet up. He looked like he'd been in a hay baler.
You say fuck it, walk to the accounting trailer, tell Slick what's up, he looks at some ledger sheets, makes out your two checks, says "Where you off to?" You smile, say, "the Bahamas, where else with money like this?" You hold the checks up and you both laugh. You can cash the checks in KC at Dave's Stagecoach Inn, pay off your year old tab. Bank the dopp kit stash. Go to farrier school. Welding. Anything but construction. Write a novel like Kerouac. Drive for Red Ball. Go back to art school and be a beatnik.
You're on your own. Three days to train day. You decide to pack anyway, head for the Dago's, do some laundry at the coin-op. There's a crew working close to the wood frame building. They're tearing up track. The switcher is gone! You hurry over there, try to engage the fucking gandy dancer who is pulling spikes with a wheeled machine but he won't look at you.You scan the piles of rusted crap and you see the switcher. You drag it to the side and suddenly the crew reacts like bank guards.
"What are you doing, asshole?" One picks up a pry bar and heads toward you. You hold up your hands. "My old man worked this yard, and it's his birthday. I want to give him this for old time's sake." He holds the pry bar in a less menacing way, says "Ten bucks." You dig in your jeans, come up with a five and change, offer it. He takes it, shrugs, walks off. You want to kill him. You drag the switcher to the Dago's, dump it on the filthy linoleum floor. Pull the rusty cover. The dopp kit is there. You decide to stay in a hotel until train time.