Diet Soap #5
The Unemployment Issue
The Tragic Emancipation of the Wage Slave
THE BOTTOM LINE
In this realm of the commodified soul the only action more miserable
than consumption is production. The job, career, profession is the central
point of alienation in this society of individuals divorced from themselves.
To work is to create, not out of need or desire, but out of fear and for mere
survival in a world which is not your own.
There are, however, brief moments of respite for the average wage
slave; not so much in the form of weekends or lunchbreaks, but rather in the
form of tragic emancipation, or unemployment.
YOU'VE BEEN TERMINATED, FIRED, CANNED, LET GO, but most of all
you've been freed.
Our relationship with the world is so thoroughly manipulated by this
system of prices, and trade offs, and SCARCITY (illusory or manufactured)
that when this freedom does come most don't recognize that there are two
words involved in the event: "tragic" and "emancipation." The tragedy is that
the emancipated wage-slaves find themselves freed into a society immersed
in work, just as the black slaves were freed into a society immersed in
There have been a few moments of supercession, however; rare
instances of fully realized situations in which individuals or communities
have either stepped out of, or removed the spectacle:
Andre Breton sits in a Parisian cafe sipping lightly at the one coffee he
could afford, and automatically writes on his napkin. He stands on the table,
and looks down on the poor souls who have worked all day.
"The time has come; I beg of you to do justice. At this very hour girls
as lovely as the day are bruising their knees in the hiding places to which
the ignoble white drone draws them one by one. They accuse themselves of
sins that on occasion are charmingly mortal (as if there could be sins) while
the other prophesies, stirs, or pardons. Who is being deceived here?" -pg.
197, Andre Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism, 1925
In Zurich, Tristan Tzara moves without aim or design, and creates
anti-art which will only disrupt the museum.
"We had lost confidence in our 'culture.' Everything had to be
demolished," Marcel Janco yells over the screams of "Dada."
And of course there is the month of May in the year 1968 on the
European continent in Paris,
"On May 14th, 200 men were on strike; on May 19th, 2,000,000; on
May 22 more than 9,000,000. The paralysis spread with incredible speed
and spontaneity. At no time did a general strike order go out from the Paris
head-quarters of the union federations, and yet all over the country a calm,
irrestible wave of working-class power engulfed the commanding heights of
the French economy."-pg. 153, Patrick Seale, "The Great Strike; Red Flag,
Black Flag: French Revolution, 1968
This last example is the most appealing and hence intriguing. During
the operation of the spectacular society only those born with some amount of
privilege can find life outside of work. And although those who decline the
power their birth randomly gave them were noble and shined with insight,
only when the realm of commodification is cast aside by all for all can one
see the true potential for men to live rather than watch their lives.
How can such a liberating state be sustained? Obviously, violent
revolution is not an answer, for on the level of pure might the state has
achieved a technological level which no amount of mere manpower can
overcome. Further, violence seems to breed greed and a need to be led out
of disorder even if this means that work prevails. Counter-revolution is
almost always the end result of revolution.
What we need is to put a bug in the system. A small glitch which
spreads to the point of total meltdown is what's desirable. I suggest
cultivating the excuse as an act of pure revolution.
"What's happened to the work ethic? That's what I want to know. I
got three calls from people who just aren't going to show up today," my boss
tells me as we amicably smoke cigarrettes during the break.
"Did they say why?" I ask.
"Oh, they all had excuses, of course."
What is needed for the worker is a sense of a Universal Revolutionary
Excuse. Tell the boss anything, but don't show up on the day when the final
presentation is due. Work very hard at establishing new clients, but let most
of them slip through small cracks which open up, quite legitimately and
unavoidably of course, in your schedule. Put the widget on the wrong gadget
because your ex-wife is having puppies with another man, and you just can't
Or if even this is too degrading for you then simply act outside of
categories. Come to work in a suit of tinfoil, bring a puppet with you to work
and refuse to speak to anyone except via the puppet persona, spend the
night at work and make a paper clip chain which blocks the door, or master
the art of being the office non-sequitor and walk aimlessly from office to
office interrupting real work with questions which seem to be valid but
aren't. Make them laugh while the numbers fall and productivity reaches a
near standstill. Organize your entire office to show up to work as the
Rockettes, and have fun kicking everything over while you dance away the
hours. Perhaps it's not too late to destroy the spectacle with dissident
"A group of people had moved a dining table out into the street and
were sitting around it eating and talking. Were they protesting something,
perhaps an eviction, or were they celebrating the absurdity of the
moment...a reporter came up to the group, took out a pad of paper and a pen
and began to ask them questions. With great solemnity someone at the table
began to butter the reporters tie. The reporter stepped back."-pg.54, Lisa
Goldstein, The Dream Years, 1986.
This issue of Diet Soap is an attempt to look at the possibilities of
unemployment and the consequences. To escape the prison of an everyday
life not directly lived, and to replace the spectacle with a world which is
actual, is the goal of this ultimate commodity.
Read on, and enjoy...
A Letter From Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky teaches linguistics at M.I.T. and is a well know political
dissident. He has written such books as "Deterring Democracy," and
"Manufacturing Consent." The Editor of Diet Soap recently contacted Mr.
Chomsky to ask him a few questions and perhaps entice him into adding
some respectablity to this fringe zine. This second effort was futile,
however, the professor did have some comments (although none which he
"trusted enough to convey," whatever that means) on pranks, surrealism,
psychedelics and the "deeply personal."
Dear Mr. Lain,
Interested to hear about your journal. About your questions, I don't
really have any opinions that I trust enough even to convey. Surrealism,
pranks, and sabotage may have their place. Some of the Dutch provo
"pranks" were quite imaginative, humorous, and effective I thought.
Surrealism had its place as a movement in the arts, with many
achievements, but little in the way of undermining indoctrination, as far as I
can tell. Incidentally, immersion in the "deeply personal" is not counter to
capitalist oppression; rather, it is a central component of it. Huge capitalist
PR efforts are precisely designed to immerse people in the deeply personal,
removing them from the arena of decision-making in the social, economic,
and political spheres.
As for drugs, my impression is that their effect was almost completely
negative, simply removing people from meaningful struggle and
engagement. Just the other day I was sitting in a radio studio waiting for a
satellite arrangement abroad to be set up. The engineers were putting
together interviews with Bob Dylan from about 1966-7 or so (judging by the
references), and I was listening (I'd never heard him talk before -- if you
can call that talking). He sounded as though he was so drugged he was
barely coherent, but the message got through clearly enough through the
haze. He said over and over that he'd been through all of this protest thing,
realized it was nonsense, and that the only thing that was important was to
live his own life happily and freely, not to "mess around with other people's
lives" by working for civil and human rights, ending war and poverty, etc.
He was asked what he thought about the Berkeley "free speech movement"
and said that he didn't understand it. He said something like: "I have free
speech, I can do what I want, so it has nothing to do with me. Period." If the
capitalist PR machine wanted to invent someone for their purposes, they
couldn't have made a better choice.
Admittedly, that's one case -- though not a trivial one. It corresponds
to what I saw over the years, though I admit I didn't see a lot. I did have a
great deal of contact with young people in the resistance, the civil rights
movement, and other popular efforts, and still do. But simply don't know
much about the influences you mention, which were quite remote from any
form of struggle that I knew anything about or had any contact with.
OBIT FOR HOLLYWOOD
(Excerpt from the Film Journal of Jim Farris.)
Lloyd Cinemas, 5:00 PM. $3.25.
Unbeilivably dull look at man through the ages wastes Robin Williams
talents. Bill Forsythe directed and wrote the film and after charming films
like "Local Hero" and "Comfort and Joy," this was a shock. Tedious
conversations sprinkled with diversions to nowhere. Awful.
"Even Cowgirls Get the Blues"
Lloyd Mall Cinemas, 10.20 PM. $3.25.
Mind numbing adapdation of Tom Robbins novel directed by Gus Van Sant
should be great fun but isn't. Great cast is wasted in cameos as we sit
through the movie debut of pudgy, unattractive, untalented, Rainbow
Sunshine Phoenix. This is the Titanic of 1994 movies.
Lloyd Cinemas, 5:00 PM. $3.25.
Oh my God, I'm on a roll. This makes three cow pies in a row. This movie is
just so full of itself. It winks at itself for it's own amusement, and you get
the feeling that if you knew these people you'd like the film more. Well, I
don't know them and I didn't like it. All the scenes are too l-o-n-g. Richard
Donner like the gags so much he lingers for the laughter he measured in the
studio screening room.
Everyone in it, Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, and a tired looking James Garner,
look like they've all seen "Ocean 11" too many times. Danny Glover's cameo
belongs on a Bob Hope special from the 1960's.
Mother of mercy, is this the end of movies?
"The Flintstones" & "Jurrasic Park"
Foster Road Drive-In, 9:20 PM. $4.00
"Maverick" is not the end of the movies..."The Flinstones" is. Let it be known
that as of 9:32 PM, May 30th, 1994 I sat in a vacant lot, overgrown with high
weeds, staring at a worn wall of metal and wood and witnessed the end of
movies. Who knew that an industry that started with the likes of a racist
like D.W. Griffith, and a man with taste to rival Margarine like C.B.
Demille...an industry that could produce "Lawerence of Arabia," Elizabeth
Taylor, "Earthquake," Martin Scorsese, and "Ma and Pa Kettle," would tip it's
hat, give you a canned laugh, say "Yabba Dabba Do" and disappear into that
good night? Alas poor movies...I knew them well.
"Jurrasic Park" played as the second feature. Just a cruel joke to remind us
that even last year Hollywood was still making movies that were
entertaining and well done, that just last year we thought everything was
fine. Movies were "better than ever." The sky was the limit. Well, my
saturated fatted friends we were wrong. We have reached the sky now,
we've gone the limit and what do we have to show for it? What's left?
Scarlett O'Hara? "2001?" Bogie?
Or maybe, in your heart of hears you know: Don Knotts, everything Universal
made between 1963 and 1974...that's right all of it, and Troy Donahue.
I should have hope. I want to believe. But the movies speak for themselves.
Lettuce and Tomatoes and Sour Cream
- Kate Schwab
The odds are one in ten that a meteorite large enough to cause serious
damage (in the catastrophic sense of the word "serious") will hit the earth
within the next fifty years.
And the most commonly spoken word in the English language is "I."
And the enviroment.
And subatomic particles.
And child abuse.
And animal testing.
And the Industrial Revolution.
And the state of education in America.
I am tired of this--too much time to think. My thoughts will kill me
Do most people look at the stars and see space as something
conquerable, or do they gaze in wonder? I wonder. The Universe is infinite-
so many things we can never know-but people keep trying. I am tired of
thinking and never doing anything, never reaching an end. Thought,
knowledge, has no end. It is an infinite universe. We will never know
everything about the Universe. I've stopped believing that we can. Today.
What I do: I collect unemployment. I am immobilized by freedom. By
complete freedom. I don't know what to do with my time (I can't stand to
just sit and think anymore, I'll go crazy). I've stopped reading, stopped
writing, even stopped watching television. They make me think.
I spend my time in a tiny, cold cafe, drinking coffee and smoking. I
am here now.
It's time for me to leave the cafe, for good. I learned today about the
coffee industry being held up on the hunched backs of peasant laborers
everywhere. The work, the chemicals...while I sit here calmly, leisurely
sipping the sweat from their brows and the opportunity from their lives. I
already knew about the horrors of the tobacco industry, but I already am
Everytime I look up at the sky I think. I can't help it. It starts with
the stars, then expands until I'm terrified that the CIA has a file on me and
that the government is already taken over by the military industrial
complex. My file is long and this file points out certain good and bad things
about my life.
Good: he supports the tobacco industry.
Bad : he suspects the true controlling government.
Bad: he thinks about the state of education, about the oppresion of
women, about capitalism and class war.
Bad: he does not think we can conquer space.
I feel like I have something inside me that is twisting, it's going to
twist until it breaks. It's made of molded plastic and it bends, stretches, and
grows white at the juncture. This plastic is old and has been worked at for a
long time. Like a Big Brother constantly tearing at the same favorite toy,
tearing at it every day until it snaps and he laughs. But I can't stop the
twisting. I don't know what stops it. I try not to think about it, about
I am free to do anything I wish, but I don't, I can't. Everything is
harmful to someone. Coffee makes me sick now. I don't do anything, but I
should. My form of protest is inactivity, boycott. But, I don't even tell
anybody that I'm boycotting. I need to start doing something so I don't have
to think all the time. My thoughts will kill me soon.
If I get a job again, I won't have to think all the time. I can just work.
I will try not to think about my job.
I collect unemployment because the company I worked for went
bankrupt. I worked at a biotech firm as a lab assistant where we genetically
engineered organisms to clean up toxins in freshwater sources. It worked. I
worked. I lived for it. It made me think and I loved it.
Problem: no one wanted to buy it.
It was a great idea. "Look, we made these organisms that will eat
toxins in freshwater sources. We can clean up the enviroment to a limited
degree and keep it from getting any worse." But it took too long. 10-15
years and that is too long to wait (We all want results now).
I took the first job I could find, at Tasty Taco. My pay is low but the
work interests me. I think about how many tacos I make a day and how
many people eat the food I slip-shod together. I try not to think about
what's in the food, how we get the food, and so many other things. I just
Bob, my manager, tells me that I'm a good worker. I can make a taco
--wrapped, bagged--in 22 seconds flat. I console myself on payday by
remembering what Bob told me after my first week: "If you stick around,
Carl, you're good enough to make management in six months."
Space doesn't bother me much anymore. I get up and go to work now,
I don't have time to think about the Universe. Just tacos and burritos and
"Keep up the good work, Carl," says Bob.
I met a girl. She works at another Tasty Taco store. She can make a
taco in only 18 seconds.
"Doesn't all this paper waste bother you?" Tim's only been working
here for three weeks.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, we wrap every damn taco in paper, and then put them all in a
paper bag with a handful of paper napkins."
"They would all spill out if we didn't wrap them, Tim."
"But what about all that trash, it has to go somewhere. Don't you think
about the enviroment? The trash?"
"I think about it, a little, but I don't let it get to me"
He quit a week later. I knew he wouldn't last long.
"Carl, your review is coming up in a week, buddy. I'm planning on
recommending you as a managment trainee."
"Great, Bob, did you know my taco times are down?"
Life is good: I'm a management trainee, my work is only getting
better, Carol and I are spending more time together. Thursday nights we go
to her apartment to watch Blossom and eat popcorn. Afterward, we go
"The stars are out tonight," she says. "They sure look pretty."
I look up. We sit in silence, gazing at the stars.
"What are you thinking about?" she asks.
Tabarian Filmmakers and Microbrews
-by Jerry White
other reason, because the way that is similar in content to Italian Neo-
Realism, while remaining totally distinct from an aesthetic point of view.
But more significantly, this body of recent films from the tiny middle
eastern nation of Tabaria is remarkable because of its raw emotional power.
This modest journal provides insufficient space to list the large number of
filmmakers doing important work within Tabarian borders, but there are a
few who must not go without mention: Amir Labeliki, Hasfan El Jafarat, Tariq
Ramouz, and especially Rhian Nonjones, one of the few women to produce a
viable body of work within an Islamic country. Their films are marked by
an impassioned social conscience, an attention to form, and frequently
exhibit a meditative sensibility. Not to say that these filmmakers are all
self-important stuffiness- El Jafarat, in particular, has made several hilarious
slapstick comedies that owe as much to Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin as
to his Iranian colleague Darius Mehrjui. While it's impossible to generalize
about the cinema of an entire nation, certain tendencies are certainly visible
within Tabarian cinema, and this development is without question
deserving of discussion.
With the rapidly deteriorating social conditions that are a reality of
the post-colonial Islamic world, Tabarian cinema is frequently concerned
with issues of day to day survival. Labeliki's film A JOB TODAY, A WAGE
TOMORROW (1990) dramatizes the struggles of one man, Garash, to find
work in the labyrinth that the capital city of Asmera has become. While he
manages to pick up odd jobs, it's never quite enough to support his family,
so his wife is forced to brew beer (forbidden by the country's extremely
strict liquor laws) in the basement for sale to the desperate minions above.
All the while Garash remains fiercely devoted to Islam, a dilemma of colossal
proportions since his violations of its laws are what enable his family to eat.
On a similar if more humorous tract, El Jafarat's first feature LET'S ALL SLAY
THE BOSS (1983) details the oppressive rigors of office life and the elaborate
plans that a bunch of meek accountants make to overthrow their tie-wearing
tormentors. Both films portray employment in contemporary Tabaria to be
an experience wrought with unseeable power relations while remaining the
one boundary that keeps the proletariat from sliding into the tragic existence
of the desperately poor.
Both of these films are especially notable for the way that they
develop rich characters while still giving a sense of how they fit into their
greater urban landscape. Labeliki's protagonist is truly a man tormented,
but his personal struggles are always placed within a specifically post-
colonial context. While the film sometimes edges into the realm of the
melodramatic, the struggle that it portrays is quite serious because of the
questions it raises with relation to the role of the individual in a country
struggling to define itself. If the Islamic revolution was supposed to be what
liberated the Arab world from the legacy of European domination, Labeliki
makes it clear that this revolution comes with a set of oppressions which
are all its own. The focus here is on everyday life: how the precepts of Islam
have the power to inspire on an abstract level, but tend to make basic
struggles all the more difficult.
El Jafarat's film also makes a point of making his
accountants-cum-freedom fighters fully developed men and women,
not merely pawns to be moved to advance his allegorical story. The group's
leader, Kiman, at first comes across as a fairly conservative fellow, but it
quickly becomes clear that his passions can be aroused if given the right
circumstances. But his change of heart is far from sudden, and by the time
he is stringing up his supervisor by the toes, the viewer has a real sense of
what has driven him to these lengths. LET'S ALL SLAY THE BOSS is one of
those rare films that works on both a comedic and allegorical level: El Jafarat
has constructed his situations with great care and fit them together to form
an almost seamless whole.
films are the meditative, almost poetic works of both Tariq Ramouz and
Rhian Nonjones. What we see in these films is a serious concern with issues
of representation and form, and the result is sometimes remarkable
beautiful, and in Nonjones' case, among the most rigorous in contemporary
Ramouz has almost sixty feature films to his credit, many of which
were made for Tabarian television. It is only in recent years that he has
come into his own as a serious film artist, in addition to concerning himself
primarily with rural Tabarian life. His 1987 film DAVSHAT OBSERVED
marked the emergence of his new sensibility, if only in a nascent form. The
film takes a day in the life of the small farming community of Davshat,
which lies on the Tabarian border with Yemen. There are a quite remarkable
number of characters, and it is a tribute to Ramouz's talent as a screenwriter
that he is able to make it easy for the viewer to keep them all straight, in
addition to keeping them all constantly interacting with each other. Italian
Neo-realist Vittorio deSica once said that "the ideal film would be 24 hours
in the life of a man to whom nothing happens." Here we have the realization
of that aesthetic to its fullest: 24 hours in the life of an entire community to
whom nothing happens.
Ramouz followed this film with a trilogy of works on the day to day
life of Yak herders which, through narrative invention, hemanages to invest
with a universal significance. The three films, TALMAT AND HIS THREE
SONS (1988), THE HERDS OF THE PLAINS (1990) and SKYWARD BOUND
(1992) together chronicle almost sixty years in the life of these herders, and
discuss both minutia and philosophy with equal depth. In THE HERDS OF THE
PLAINS, two nameless characters move from a conversation about the uses
of Yak shit to the true nature of Islam within a single shot, but in a way that
is utterly smooth. In a similar vein, TALMAT AND HIS THREE SONS features
a remarkable sequence of a baby being born, all shot in extreme close up
with a minimum of cuts. The sequence lasts for almost forty minutes, but it
seems to go by in a matter of moments. A more genuinely thoughtful
collection of work is not to be found anywhere.
Anywhere, expect perhaps for the epic documentaries of Rhian
Nonjones. In contrast to Ramouz, Nonjones has made very few films, but her
work must stand as among the most beautiful in the cinema. Her 1989
documentary HISTORY CENTURY 20 is deceptivelysimple in its form, but
mind blowing by the time it has concluded. The film features a group of ten
women who all live in El Kanatra, a working class quarter of the city of
Each woman directly addresses the camera and discusses her
family's history. When all ten have taken their turn, the women re-tell each
other's stories, trying to interpret them through their individual lenses,
which have all been defined by differing experiences of class, ethnicity and
countless other factors. The result is a stunning document of the way that
oral histories can be molded and formed by various members of the same
But Nonjones' most important work is her most recent: the 9 hour
SACRED, PROFANE, AND THE WORLD. Completed in 1993, the film features
interviews with people from all walks of Tabarian life talking about most
everything. Spiritual matters are of key concern, and she continually
returns to the interplay between Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, and how
they can be joined to help to strengthen the East as we enter a new century.
While her project is clearly an anti-colonialist one, Nonjones' politics are hard
to put a finger on. She is above all concerned with the dignity and
importance of average, working people, and has made a career out of
collecting their stories. It is these collections, and the way that she
masterfully assembles them, that add up to some of the most important
stories of late twentieth century narrative art.
Not surprising for a country which is simultaneously in a state of
decay and re-building, Tabarian cinema echoes many concerns about social
welfare and the future of working people. The films as a whole are
important not only in the context of middle eastern cinema but also in terms
of the construction of a viable body of work that rallies for the worldwide
proletariat. These are films about the work that people do and the way that
they relate to it, frequently made with an uncommon sense of respect for
the subjects coupled with political awareness. In a nation in such a state of
flux, this kind of holistic strategy is nothing short of an act of survival.
Because of its isolation, Tabarian cinema has been unjustly neglected
by film scholars and critics. But the time when the established sources of
aesthetic wisdom could let this important movement in world Cinema pass
them by is drawing to a close. Tabarian cinema has come of age. We can
only hope that American criticism and exhibition will do the same.
Postscript: Credit where credit is due
city filmfest, I strike up a conversation with the press liaison, Robin. Pleased
to hear of my status as a programmer, he tells me about a friend of his who
is putting together a series of Tabarian cinema, but is having trouble getting
the films out of the country. Censorship, it seems, is strict. Would he like
to join me tonight for a beer at this little bar where I have been regularly
having a nightcap, I ask. Perhaps we could discuss this further. He is not
sure he can make it, so I leave him with my card to give to his friend. Tell
her to send me some tapes, I say. And do try to come by the bar tonight.
That evening, I drink a pint of Boreale, a dark Quebec beer that I have
had each night of the festival, after the last screening is over. As it has been
each night, I drink it alone. The train back to Philadelphia leaves early the
next morning. I wait for a few months, but the tapes never appear. Then
comes the news that civil war in Yemen has broken out. Neighboring
countries, it seems, are nervous that fighting may spread. Borders are
tightened. Clearly, a beer or two at a festival is no longer sufficient.
Tone Deaf World
Why I Quit the Drag
The owner of the St. Francis Residential Hotel wanted her zombie
tenants to stay that way. Behind the cafeteria counter, behind the tubs of
starch and gravy, she placed an old transistor radio with tin speakers. She'd
twist the dial and --CREAK--there'd be noise in the dining hall. Muzack. Big
Blands doing nothing to "Song Sung Blue," or "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My
Head" except maybe smoothing out what few wrinkles the original songs
Eleventh and Jefferson--residential hotel for the falling apart. A place
of faded elegance for dust in the cracks of life, where old wooden chairs with
flat cushions were lined like desks in a classroom. Up front, where the
blackboard should've been, was an RCA color television with a sign taped
underneath which read "don't touch the screen." War Veterans, old
housewives who ran out onto the street with their curlers and smeared
rouge faces, and the simply old "lived" there.
Me, I hung around behind the counter at the feeding trough. Spooning
up the mandated portions of bleached mashed potatoes and overcooked
meat from six to nine and eleven to one and six to nine. Clockwork
consumption, brought to the zombies via minimum wage.
I did my time and bit dutifully, but when I worked the tin speakers
didn't do their bit quite right. I'd turn the dial, you see, and add some bebop
to the old folks fragile hips. I'd tune in 1101 am radio. The owner, Mrs.
Winston, was too tone deaf to notice the jazz that infiltrated her zombie
kitchen, and so I survived...for a while.
Time and Place, space/time, historical locale, etc...
January, 15th 1991. The man was hot, and his people crazy following.
The radioactive chalkboard kept the powerless tenants up to date, and I kept
myself in check by the thin thread of a Bird melody.
Juxtapose this against the oil scene -- Of the veterans three were shell
shocked out of reality. Jack, Ralph, and Bill were icons of insanity neatly
separated by generation. Jack came out of World War II with a steel plate
and voices, both in his head. He spit when he talked and was easily agitated
by those on the kitchen staff who didn't reply to his sputtering preamble of
"You know what? You know what?" I learned early to say, "what?" and then
ignore the rants which followed.
Ralph was pure appetite. After protecting the nation from
communism in the Korean War, he was hungry, and seeing as that war never
officially ended he probably needed the extra-calories. This single
mindfulness, however, did catch the attention of the Boss Lady. A diet was
instigated, and this led to a consistent conflict in the dining hall. Him always
yelling for more meat, more meat, and me always conning him into a calm
Paranoia was Bill's staple. To call him by his name was to rile him,
and to touch him was to incite riot. Vietnam left his bald scalp crawling and
he always smelled of chemicals. This was most likely my imposed trip on
him, but something scrambled his mind and napalm is a good a culprit as the
jungle...or as simple war.
These three didn't hang together as individuals, and so they didn't
hang together. Still, they usually arrived at the trough at the same time and
would often follow each other, if only in the Boss Lady's line.
That's half the set-up. Three deranged ex-patriots to be served on the
day war broke out in Iraq. But what of the server? Suffice to say that I was
and am a twenty-two year old college dropout looking to drop some more.
The real question is, did this sad melody have room for fine improvo? I only
know that the way I jazzed the place definitely had a cost.
I was up the night before with a bottle of wine and a fistful of stems
and caps. I started sabotaging the paper at about nine and by eleven I
needed a little extra-kick to make the words I was cutting out fit together.
A swig of wine with a cap of psilocybin. A piece of bread with a stem. I
wanted alien visions to be the paste I used to glue my revulsion down to
paperboard and twist it into revolt. Mushrooms, wine and my own AM tin
speakered radio seemed the perfect combination in order to wash my eyes
and see Blake's infinity of possibilities which I deemed necessary if I was to
escape the man.
A simple sign with the appropriate slogan was far to appropriated to
work, and so I tossed the standard "NO BLOOD FOR OIL" over and upside
down in order to create the following message:
"Cold World conducted for hi-tech Third war. New Media Order
established as Gulf between Schwarzkopf and chemical weapons is bridged
by menace in the United Nations. Desert desert DESERT desert!!"
This found anti-war sign having been converted into true sentiment, I
got the urge to walk. With my protest on a stick in one hand and my other
hand pressing the small radio up against my ear I went into the streets.
I arrived at Pioneer Square to find the place empty. A banner hung
half twisted and soaked above Starbuck's, but otherwise the protest hadn't
left a mark. Did the marchers for peace melt in the rain like their sugar-
coated slogans? I wandered aimlessly and sank into a feeling of deja-vu
before I found the note stuck on the brass business man. Held in place by
this statue's pointing finger, and protected by its metal umbrella the note
simply said "river."
I walked to the water and held my radio under my jacket as it rained
again. There, along the Willamette, I found the riled masses of pumped up
teenagers, spectacled men in black sweaters, grey haired ex-suffragettes,
and a pile of Birkenstocks all in formation around the waterfront fountain.
It was cold, but while an Arab man pleaded for his people, water splashed
as pale skin waded about and a harmonica blew.
Myself, I found a patch of dry concrete and sat down to absorb. I
surely couldn't stand. And I lost myself there among the tin saxophone
loops from my pocket.
"The United States wants this war, the United States has created this
war--right on brother," a mix of voices. Miked and unmiked, and even
farther to the side, "Did you hear about what happened in San Fransisco?
We blocked off the Interstate there, 60,000 of us there...where is the media,
why aren't they...they're on the other side, man...chemical weapons, we've
got all kinds of...I couldn't stay home...I think that guy in the shades is with
the NSA. No really see the wire? Is that Susan, I didn't know she did the
protest thing...woooo...and when we invaded Panama where was the world
court then? Where was the New World Order then? Not on television...I
haven't been this stoned since...where is Kuwait anyway?"
All of this gently pushed by a Lester Young melody muffled by my
wool jacket and slowly from the fountain a green light rising up like oh my
god its time and I'm not even packed. Psilocybin punching up humanity's
last yelp before the world stops and runs backwards.
"What does your sign say?" she asked.
"It says, 'this end up,'" I said.
She was wrapped in paisley. She smoked a green cigarette with
shaking hands and yawned and scratched at freckles. Her red hair blocked
"I cut up today's paper and stuck it on. Trying to gain some control of
the damned image factory and maybe turn it around I guess," I recanted.
"Interesting," she said. She held her sign down to me. A rainbow and
magazine trees stuck to plywood. "I thought that too many people were
letting the war twist them into negative space. I guess I wanted to show
some positive alternatives." Children dancing around a sprinkler, a pigeon,
some fish sticking up from the corner, nude sunbathers, and finally a
trumpet under that. I liked her.
"We're the alternative to the mainstream alternative," she said.
"We're alive," I replied.
Together we walked to the dock, and as we stepped onto the bobbing
planks everything peaked. The world, the universe, ran through me and all
was confirmed by the raspy lilt of Billie Holiday:
Away from the city
that hurts and mocks
I'm standing alone
by the desolate docks
in the chill, in the chill
of the night.
I see the horizon
the great unknown.
My heart has weight
it's as heavy as stone.
Will the dawn coming on
make it light?
I cover the waterfront.
I'm watching the sea.
Will the one I love
be coming back to me?
I cover the waterfront
In search of my love,
And I'm covered
by a starry sky above.
We danced. That's all, we danced to it, and the waves rocked us.
Maybe the highest protest of all is to live well, and to have a freckled girl in
But, she knew someone who knew someone who was planning to go to
Salem and block the doors or break some windows or something and I was
left lying in the waves on the dock watching my inner-eye conjure up lights
and sounds. Then the sun came up.
I slipped down, and as outer light poured across the waterfront inner
light slowed. Having seen the bouncing ball of being in its fullness and
without dimension I floated gently back into the "here and now."
Back to the hurts and mocks of SW Main, up to the work-house and at
6:15 a.m. I checked into so called reality with its screaming cooks and
"Late!" the Boss Lady said from behind horn-rimmed glasses.
"Yeah, yeah. They'll have to wait for their artificial scramble," I said.
The glow was still with me.
Placing all the grub into the steam and shoving tiny Dixies into the bin,
I opened the doors and let the sleep walkers into the linoleum trough.
Wheel chairs first, brain damage after.
Jack, Ralph and Bill filed in; each jerking with their trays in pathetic
Jack was first.
"You know what?" he asked.
Now, one of the symptoms of psychedelic influence is a certain sort of
earnestness. A willingness, more aptly, to see and respond. And so, in my
haze of aftershock, I saw into Jack. I looked past the steam and lost my
protection of plastic cynicism.
"What?" I said, and for the first time meant the word as a question.
"God woke me up this morning. He said, 'Wake up!' And I said, 'it's
early.' " Jack was moving, squirming his wrinkled hands around and forcing
the other patrons to step back. His hair glistened at the roots with grey
"God slapped me awake. He said, 'Look at the clock!' It was six
o'clock, six oh five, six twenty."
"I guess that happens to everybody," Jack said.
"Eggs?" I asked.
Slop. From God to eating slop this man went on and I left the room
through the colors I found in the steam. Work getting done by method of
automatic pilot. It is said that Lester Young created his greatest improvs
when he was so blitzed that his body could barely stay vertical. I found that
my greatest monotonies were created when my mind could not flex, when a
pale drone replaced any sort of inner dialogue. Psilocybin is not the best
method by which to deaden the mind.
"Don't spill it!" the dishwasher man yelled as I removed the now
partially consumed bins of slush from the steam racks and moved them into
the kitchen. The dishwasher carried the mop.
"Don't spill what? The message, the beat, the line. Don't let the world
you've created slip away from you," one part of my mind told the other.
"Don't spill it!" the dishwasher said. His apron wrinkling as he rushed
to my side and put out his tattooed arms to stop the catastrophe.
Punched out at nine. Punched in at eleven. Fitful sleep between the
blades of a miniature fan turned on strictly for repetitive and hypnotic noise.
I punched in again at twelve to find the same crew of veterans
waiting to be served. Like a Monk tune, harsh and striking. Is that the right
chord? Did we miss a beat? No?
"Do you know what? Do you know what?"
Clank! Jingle! Clank! In tune by being totally out.
"Can I have some more meat?" Ralph asked.
"Sorry, but the boss lady put you on a diet."
"Can I have another piece?"
"May I have another portion, please. I'd like some more meatloaf.
Can I have some more meat?" Ralph was hungry.
"I can't do it," I said. A good robot.
"You trying to starve me?" Bill asked.
"Can I have an extra?" Ralph asked again.
And across the dining hall Jack asked the world, "You know what?
You know what?"
"Get out of my way!" Bill nudged Ralph, and I quickly prepared Bill's
And while I was turned away, while I concentrated on putting barely
thawed vegetables onto Bill's plate, Ralph reached. He reached over the
plastic shield and into the bins, and snatched two bits right into his mouth.
"Caurmph I hauph umphvelmph meat?" Ralph asked.
Bill took his plate as Ralph moved away, smiling around two patties.
Half a world away, I imagine now, planes took off. Inside the cockpits
sat Tom Cruise wannabes looking at Pac-Man video displays and preparing
for the destruction to come.
After this, I took a five hour sabbatical. In between the lunch hour
and the catastrophe I paced the streets of Portland, and the simple feel of
the asphalt under my feet triggered something...an itch which escalated as I
walked on a ground I never chose. Five hours of walking, of protest, of
scratching and itching and scratching.
"You know what?"
"You know what?"
"You know what?"
You know what happened already. This idea, this thing which
happened already and is happening now, it's already in everyone's mind.
What happened is that the war started, but more than that. I snapped.
"Can I have some more?"
Bill must be seven feet tall. His eyes are certainly bigger than
average, and at supper his eyes were on me. You see, I prepared his plate
before he got to the front of the line. Assembly line style, I jerked each
tenant a plate trying to speed things up.
"I'm not eating that poison," Bill said.
"I'm not eating that poison, Joe!"
"Okay, okay...for christ's sake."
And behind this, tin speakers added irony.
Don't stop to diddle daddle
Stop this foolish prattle
C'mon swing me Joe
Swing me brother, swing
Then a burst of static, and this just in:
War is Peace!
Ignorance is swing!
Freedom is impossible!
The war had started and it wouldn't be prudent at this juncture to
consider the humanity of the situation. The man spoke through the tin
speakers and not a soul noticed. Bill just tapped his foot and mumbled as
yet another batch of veterans went out to lose their minds. There was a
pause on my side though.
I started to toss Bill's food back into the bins.
"Sorry Bill, you'll have to eat the food I gave you."
"Don't call me that, Joe!"
"Eat the food I gave you...BILL!"
"Don't call me...don't you call me..." he reached over, all seven feet of
him, and grabbed my arm.
"Who are you, Bill? Is there anybody in there? Uh? Who is Joe? Is
Joe dead?" I asked.
"I'M NOT EATING THAT POISON!"
"Don't spill it!"
He lifted me up, and shook me loose. Then a mob climbed all over me.
"Call the police."
"He's losing it again."
And I dropped to the ground. I dropped back into place and while
everyone ran and jerked and wrestled I grabbed a dish of gravy and strolled
past the counter, past the dining tables, and to the front window.
"You got him?" the cook asked the dishwasher as she started to let go
of Bill's arms.
I dipped my fingers into the gravy, into the muck and started to
spread lines onto glass. I smeared boiled brown guts onto the pane:
"UNDERNEATH THE NOISE, THE BEAT"
Exhausted I flung my apron off, and walked out...onto the road. I
knew what time it was. It was six o'clock, six fifteen, six twenty.
Being a Proletariat in the New Age
-by Brian Nedweski
It must be an employer's market. Not that it was ever an employee's
market, but at least twenty years ago it wasn't as crazy as it is now. In 1964
it would've been unlikely that you would be asked for a resume when you
applied for a position as a dishwasher. Now to look for a job makes you feel
like a commodity and salesperson all at once: a member of the new age
I applied for a job serving espresso and coffee. The employer was
looking for three or four people to man (or woman) her cart. I found the job
in the want ads. The job only paid about five dollars an hour. Since m;y bills
did not amount to much, I could get by on a low paying job. I love coffee,
I'm sociable, so why not apply? It seemed pretentious that they wanted
applicants to send resumes and letters of intent, but when I have a notion I
usually follow through on it; off went the letter and a resume.
Two weeks later a woman called and scheduled an interview with me
for the job. When the time came, I put on some "going for an interview
clothes," trimmed my beard, and drove out to the small liberal college to talk
someone into giving me a job. The young woman who had contacted me by
phone also interviewed me; the interview took place in a small room in an
administration building. A room in which stood the modest coffee/espresso
cart I would be working at, if all went well.
I must've struck a sympathetic chord with her, because she called a
day or so later and said I was one of the four chosen for the work. I was
asked to attend three training sessions during the next week, which would
each be two hours long and would include the others who had been selected.
A short time after she notified me of the training sessions I recieved in the
mail about ten or fifteen pages of written material about this espresso cart:
rules on payment procedures, rules on employee behavior, rules on the
operating of the machinery, etc...
I thought this process to be a bit anal. For a meager five dollars an
hour I had sent in a letter, a resume, references, had attended an interview,
received a slew of written material, and would attend three training
sessions. Was this all necessary? From what I'd gathered during the
interview the customers were mostly faculty members whose offices stood
near the small room with the espresso cart. This wasn't a Starbuck's in
I went to the training, did my level best to learn where the cart went
after hours, how to clean the espresso machine and cart, how to set up the
espresso machine and cart, how to get water from the janitor closet, how
they wanted their specialty drinks made, how their cash register worked,
etc... After the training, I knew I could do a good job. I have spent a good
portion of my free time in cafes slugging back caffeine laden drinks; names
and terms such as doppio, con pana, americano, late', tall, skinny, cappuccino,
mocha...these words don't frighten me. (Northwesterners know coffee;
sometimes it seems like some Johnny Espresso Seed sowed a path from
Portland to Seattle, even some 7-11's have espresso machines). Just coming
from a high stress job where I had succesfully interacted with the public
daily (i.e., political fundraising by going doo to door in all kinds of
neighborhoods), I imagined that this job would be a restful one.
Surprise, a day before I was to start this new job I got a call from a
woman, not the young woman who had hired me (too chicken), informing me
that on second thought they believed I was not the right person for the
position. The only explanation she offered me before she so rudely hung up
was that in such a small operation as theirs they could not afford to make a
I was miffed. What I deduced after deciding not to go down to the
snotty little college and take the espresso cart for a spin on the nearby
highway, and after reflecting upon that profound question "what the hell did
I do wrong," was that I had asked too many questions during the training. I
remembered a nervous worried look on the young woman's face when I
asked her to explain over the process for correctly starting the espresso
machine. All the time I figured that the machine must be the owner's
largest investment; I didn't want to screw it up. Maybe if I had prefaced my
questions with something like, " Do you remember where it states on my
resume that I have earned a university degree? Well, I found that asking
questions helped me obtain that degree; I am asking questions now so I can
do a good job for you."
I spent a lot of time landing this job, sending in a resume, a letter,
commuting back and forth to an interview and training sessions, reading all
their materials, and they decide not to give me a chance at even one day of
work. I think they feared I might scald the milk in their favorite professor's
It makes me wonder just how typical is my experience. This
employer felt that a groomed list of qualifications, an extensive interviewing
process, a long list of rules, lengthy training would insure against the wrong
employee, but this was a job serving coffee not performing brain surgery.
How about answering simple letters and telling the people whom they found
appropriate to come on in and complete a basic application and be
interviewed; let the people whom they trained have a chance at doing the
job. Simpler, cheaper, more efficient. Who knows they may have been using
the advice of some high-priced consultant.
I haven't searched the want ads for some time now. I'm glad; doing it
always unnerves me. So many employers want only employees that fit
perfectly into a mode. Wouldn't the person hired who did fit the ideal be
less likely to be a loyal employee than the one offered an opportunity even
though he or she didn't fit the listed qualifications exactly. A person with
just the right qualifications will likely know they were hired on the strength
of their qualifications and not for much else. He or she will probably move
quickly leave when they have improved their qualifications through
experience or education; so long sucker, now that I have that degree, I don't
need you anymore. On the other hand the person who feels the employer
gave them a chance will probably thing twice before leaving their employer
in a rough spot.
If someone messes up big time fire them, but give a person a chance.
If you don't they might write an article about you.
PEOPLE WHO DO THINGS:
Editor: Doug Lain
East Coast Editor: Jerry White
Psychic Consultant/Internet Guide: Will Jenkins
Jim Farris is a political activist who admires Hilary Clinton and her various
Doug Lain wishes he was all three of the Marx Brothers. He edits this thing,
and is a student of Philosophy at Portland State University.
Brian Nedweski understands the proletariat as he has a real job. He lives in
Kate Schwab is a student at Portland State University, a short story writer,
and our future Washington D.C. correspondant.
Jerry White publishes regularly for the Philadelphia City Paper. His is also a
film smuggler with a base in West Philadelphia.
If you're ready for the fifth dimension then drop Diet Soap a line or two.
Send us your poetry, fiction, rants, political theories and UFO photos.
Donations are also acceptable.
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