Monday, August 21, 2006

"eater of all things lovely--time"

from puella mea by ee cummings

Eater of all things lovely—Time!
upon whose watering lips the world
poises a moment (futile, proud,
a costly morsel of sweet tears)
gesticulates, and disappears—
of all dainties which do crowd
gaily upon oblivion
sweeter than any there is one;
to touch it is the fear of rhyme—
in life’s very fragile hour
(when the world was like a tale
made of laughter and of dew,
was a flight, a flower, a flame,
was a tendril fleetly curled
upon frailness) used to stroll
(very slowly) one or two
ladies like flowers made,
softly used to wholly move
slender ladies made of dream
(in the lazy world and new
sweetly used to laugh and love
ladies with crisp eyes and frail,
in the city of Bagdad.)

Keep your dead beautiful ladies
Harun Omar and Master Hafiz.
Online text © 1998-2006 Poetry X. All rights reserved.
From Tulips and Chimneys | New York: Thomas Seltzer, 1923

In 1993, I was "downsized" by a major U.S (not-quite-honest) corporation, a financial firm deeply involved in the never-heard-of-these-days BCCI affair. The following is the 1992 Congressional investigation into this BCCI mess--check out the culprits and where they are from--Georgie Porgie, our "president," wanted to give the main culprit country in this affair control over our seaports. Check this out:

After I was downsized, I was able to live carefree for a couple of years, always with the intention of eventually getting a day-gig out of desperation and in the meantime hustling up some music gigs so that maybe before I kicked the bucket I could make a little money off what I was born to do rather than the jobs I knew I could get, editing gigs, gigs I hated devoutedly though they offered me a chance at a bale of bucks whereas the music business offered me nothing but "scrapin' and scrapin' for a dollar bill" [a line from a Mose Allison song called "A Foolkiller's Comin" (he's already here, Mose)].

Sure enough, two years later, the summer of 1995, my money was running out faster than I could have ever imagined. The only gig I had was working as a piano/guitar duo with a Detroit friend of mine at a small bar in the Tribeca area of Manhattan. The owner of the bar had hired us on the grounds we'd work for no money--of course we could have a "kitty"--musicians are allowed to openly beg for money in public; it's expected of us--until we proved we could gather a crowd, then he might give us $50 a gig, once a week, Sunday afternoons.

The gig started off pretty good. We had nice houses for the first several Sundays. We even got some "kitty" money for two or three of the gigs. I was feeling great; this gig's potential looked good. Come August, I spent my last few hundred bucks paying my rent and only had 50 bucks left to my name. I quickly ate that up. One day, I woke up totally broke. I desperately searched my apartment for loose change. I'm notorious at fruit-jarring change. I found six rolls of quarters under my refrigerator--they'd been there so long they were musty and a little moldy. It was however 60 bucks. I went out and had a big steak at my favorite pub and came home with 35 bucks left.

That Sunday at the gig, no one showed up. We got free pints of ale but nothing else. One fan sat there and listened to our first set, but the second set, there was nobody there, and the bar regulars got to complaining about us and also an old hag who lived in an apartment across the street from the bar started calling in noise complaints on us, so the bar owner said we had to turn down--a common order given NYC musicians. We turned down so low it was as though we were whispering our songs. After that gig, I went out and blew what money I had left partying with some well-to-do friends. [This is simply the way most artists in this country live, so my tale is nothing unusual in the art world.]

By Wednesday of the next week, I was stoney flat broke. I had a Rhodes electric piano (an original before Rhodes joined with Fender and then CBS Musical Instruments bought Fender and the pianos became Fender Rhodes--the Rhodes piano was the child of Harold Rhodes--

I had started saving all the Bicentennial quarters I found in my change and I took to putting them on the music rack of the Rhodes. I put so many up there, they started rolling off the rack and falling down inside the insides of the Rhodes--several little tons of quarters having rolled off in there over a period of 8 years. I looked at this Rhodes while broke as hell and I remembered the quarters in it and I began to tear it apart, extracting as many quarters as I could one at a time until I had enough to run out and buy something to eat with them--a large-size Snickers bar was 75 cents and a small cup of coffee was 50 cents, so far 5 quarters I could get a meal--Snickers and coffee; hey, it worked; I lived until the next Sunday gig on these meals, hoping with that special hope all artists have that there would be a big crowd at the bar and the owner would give us 25 bucks a piece plus we might make a couple of bucks out of the kitty.

All this time, I had been noticing a woman always in the bar, sitting in one corner of the long bar, working over some papers always, her dog wrapped around her bar stool, snoozing away while she worked and sipped on her drinks. She was the kind of woman that was impossible to miss in any crowd; she was tall, very tall, with long red hair--it was dyed, yet she really was a redhead--rather stunning; in fact, a fading beauty, I would say then in her late thirties.

So at that next gig--after the meals of Snickers and coffee--I was hustling some of my friends at the bar over by this woman and I somehow attracted her dog. I attract cats and dogs, though down deep, I hate the creatures--a hatred based on jealousy more than an anti-animal position. Still, they sense that I'm an easy tease and are attracted to me like flies are to shit, so it wasn't unusual that this lady's dog popped up suddenly out of its snooze at her feet and loped over to me, leapt up, paws on my chest--a big dog, a German shepherd-collie mix--and began licking my face (I assume my system has a lot of salt in it, thus why animals like licking humans--they are craving salt and we perspire salt--so these beasts are really not rewarding us with love and affection for giving them easy lives, they're after our salt). This lady's dog turned out to be a very sweet female dog with a sincere love of humans--after I got to know this woman I found out one of her passions was saving stray and starving animals nobody else in this world wanted. The woman called the dog off me and started apologizing for her actions, to which I in a friendly way said oh no, she was a lovely dog and I didn't mind being pawed and licked in the face by her at all.

This got this woman and I to talking and I asked her what the hell she was always working on. She told me she was an editor with a pharmaceutical advertising agency--she was a vice president there, she quickly told me with a strange faraway but sparkling look in her eyes. I said, hell, that's funny, I'm one of the best editors in NYC, and she said, "Well, if you are, give me your resume and I can put you to work immediately...I need medical editors." Wha? I had no idea what a medical editor was. I had been an editorial type editor--a director of editing and proofreading services actually making 50 grand a year, so, hell, I felt so pompous, I was sure whatever medical editing was, I could learn it in a matter of minutes and...blah, blah, blah.

I gave this woman my resume and sure enough--Praise the Lard!--she told me, "Trot your ass into our offices on Madison Avenue Monday, and I'll put you to work."

In the meantime, I had not been able to pay my September rent, was totally broke, borrowing money to live on from a friend of mine, going in the hole to the tune of hundreds of dollars. Plus, the Sunday afternoon gig took a nosedive and then the Sunday NFL football games came on Sunday afternoon teevee and the bar regulars decided, "Screw those goofy musicians...nobody wants to hear them," so the bar owner says, "Sorry, boys. I like you guys and want music here, but let's cool it for a while...." OK. I lost the bar gig. Suddenly, the only hope I had at salvation was with this strange woman I'd met through her dog at a bar in downtown New York.

So one Monday morning in the month of September I found myself working on Madison Avenue, in advertising, as a medical editor, and trust me, my first day on the job was hilarious. I asked for a Chicago Manual of Style and this woman laughed in my face and told me about the style book they used, the AMA Manual of Style, the bible of the medical editing world. And thus I began working as a medical editor for a fairly up-and-coming pharmaceutical agency on Madison Avenue and at an on-staff freelance position making $35 an hour and I immediately (in the bookkeeping of my mind) started making money. The job involved working 12 or 13 hours a day as a freelancer on call and she started calling me every day, so I began working rather regularly--and my first check was for enough money I got myself caught up with my rent and paid off all the people I had borrowed money from. I was saved. Thanks to medical editing...but actually thanks to this tall, lanky, full-bosomed, wild beauty, who I immediately placed as a saint in my Pantheon of personal heroes.

Aside from the work, I got really involved with this strange woman. She was a mess of a woman. She was the definition of Billy Joel's New York girl, born in the Bronx and reared in Manhattan, in an apartment she'd been in since she was a little girl, an apartment that was still in her father's name and he'd been dead for several years.

Sometimes the work was slow coming from the art department or the Mac studio and I found myself with tons of free time between jobs. This woman very considerately one day brought me a book she said I reminded her of, Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality -- now there's a book that will keep you occupied for hours and you come up out of it shaking your head and wondering, "What the hell is this dude talking about?" the same as I used to feel reading Levi-Strauss--or the French novels of Nathalie Sarraute--holy cow, is it the translation? I did however think it was interesting that this woman thought of me in Michel Foucault terms, but then that was her.

Anyway, I had to like this woman and the more I got to know her, the more I realized what a brilliant woman she was, yet what a totally neurotic wild woman she was, too. She was the most high-strung woman I've ever known. She was frustrated in every thing going on in her life. Her boyfriend, a Wall Street economics expert, was cheating on her; I knew it before she did. He finally really dissed her by running off one day with this woman's across-the-hall neighbor, ending up marrying that woman and kicking this woman out of the loft apartment they shared to move back into her father's place alone--well, except for her animals.

One thing I learned really quick, this woman did not like to be intruded upon. You know, she always kept her office door closed. She was on the phone a hell of a lot. Constantly, or at least it appeared that way to me. If you opened her office door without knocking while she was on the phone she would go bonkers, cuss you out, and then later come and apologize fervidly asking you to forgive her and tolerate her. I did. I could take her. I was born and raised by neurotic women plus my mother's mother was a witchy woman. I had also married a strong-ass woman who was a stone neurotic chain-smoking practical girl who later kicked my ass out because I couldn't keep up with her in terms of income; she was the worst kind of woman for so impractical a man as I am.

The work became so viscious at the agency, I found myself soon working sometimes up to 23 to 35 hours without a break; no sleep, or what sleep I got was a quick dash home say at 5 in the morning, a nap, and then back to work by nine. I did it robotically; I'm the kind of guy who is determined not to worry about anything--that's also an artist attitude, too. We're neurotic, but we have it under control. I got a rush out of working these ungodly hours--besides the money was rolling in by the barrelfuls--and thanks to the rest of the freelance staff pressuring this woman, she managed to get us all boosted up to $40 a hour--so you figure it up, $40 an hour for 12-to-20 hours a day, $50 an hour for weekend work, of which there was a lot. I was tired but laughing all the way to the bank. There was nothing that could bother me; I worked my ass off; I volunteered to work anytime there was work, even letting them messenger me work at my house for even more money. Suddenly, a year passed, then two years, three years, four years, five years, six years--it was good times and I got healthier from it. I swear I did; I got both physically and mentally healthier because of that grueling but "FREELANCE" work. I had always found the best work in NYC was being a freelancer; you were your own boss; you could walk a job that was full of assholes, just get up and walk out, or if you had a good time at a place and they liked your work, you were always offered a full-time job in the process. I hadn't freelanced in 13 years since I had a full-time job at the financial den of corruption. Now I was freelancing again, making money by the bales, eating steaks every day, smoking my favorite cigars--handrolled Cuban seed jobs by El Negrito, a Dominican Republic cigar roller in the old tradition whose shop was just around the corner from my apartment--with the guys sitting around rolling cigars to la musica -- here's an interesting site that tells you all about "cigar and tobacco" songs:

I even went out one day and looked at a brand new Jaguar [one of the reasons the Ford Motor Company is currently going under--no one's buying anything Ford these days] with the intentions of leasing it. Boy was I living the good life. It got so bad, this woman, my boss now, got extremely jealous when one day she figured out what we were all making while she was working for a fixed amount of money since she was a company department head and vice president and therefore only able to make a yearly salary, good money in her case, but not as much as we freelancers were making, and nearly everybody in that agency were freelancers, from the account execs on down to the lowly back-office folks. Freelancers were popular with these big corrupt corporations because you didn't have to give freelancers any benefits, just money, and you could fire their asses on the spot by just saying, "Sorry, there ain't no more work here anymore, bye-bye."

My relationship with this woman was hectic. I tolerated her insanities because of the money--plus I didn't mind the pressures of the work, like I said. This woman let the pressures of her work dominate her, though she had a nasty habit of coming to work late perpetually; always calling and leaving long neurotic messages on our phones about why she would be late, either because of her migraines, her back being out, or one time her excuse was her dog had taken her keys and hidden them somewhere so she wouldn't be in until she found the keys. She always came in, no matter the phone calls and the excuses, at 10:30, or 11:30 when something really bad happened to her, like her water was off or her toilet wasn't working. She excused her lateness by never going to lunch and not allowing us to go to lunch without permission and working until late hours, up until 7:30 or 8 most evenings.

She was a walking Freudian dream patient. She was the most tense woman I have ever known, and that includes the three nervous neurotic nellies who raised me, or as I came to say, "Women borned me, reared me, and then as an adult, ruled me." I learned to think like a woman; I am like a woman, but there's one thing I swore I would never be like the women in my life and that's worry warts or crybabies. I decided I would defy worry to the point I became unafraid of anything--"Bring it on," as our dumbass "president" told the Islamics, and by God they are sure bringing it on as I write on this post.

To make a long story shorter than I think is possible, one day this woman up and says she was quitting the agency after working for them for 15 years; she was going freelance; she said she had so many contacts throughout the medical editing world (and she did) she felt she'd have no problem soon knocking down the over-a-hundred-thousand-dollars-a-year bucks we other freelancers were carting off.

At about this time, a group of freelancers working for little weaselly Bill Gates's Microsoft, and at that time nearly all of the creative jobs at Microsoft were freelance, sued the son of a bitch for health benefits, overtime, etc. They were right in their complaint. The work laws say anyone who works six months without being let off is no longer considered a freelancer but should be considered the same as a staff member. That was the straw that broke the freelance camel's back. Companies started getting sued, including the pharma agency I was at, by freelancers who had worked for them for years straight and then suddenly were told their services were no longer needed. In our agency, a suit was brought by a friend of mine, an art director, who had worked several years straight for them and then one day after clashing with his supervisor was told they didn't need him anymore. He sued them for back pay and medical expenses he had incurred while working there and he won over a hundred grand from them. That did it. They one day announced, "We will no longer use freelancers, or if we do, you will have to come from an agency that will pay your taxes, your SS, and offer you health benefits and life insurance." It was, of course, a lie, but in terms of me, it was truth. The big shots came to me and said I could come on staff--and they gave me a figure--or that would be it; there'd be no more work for me there. Shit. I protested; I hated this, but I had no choice; I took their deal and started as a staff member after being a freelancer for 8 years.

In the meantime, having failed at her freelance efforts, running into the same shit at the other pharma agencies (no more freelance bastards), this woman shows back up at the agency announcing that she's coming back on staff--and at a higher salary than I was getting--and with special privileges, too--like coming to work every morning late; like talking on the phone persistently.

She had also met a couple of dudes, one a married guy from New England and the other a weird dude of mixed ethnic background who though with money, was erratic, unreliable, and supposedly as neurotic as this woman.

Then one day the agency scumbags announced that the umbrella corp. who mastered them had decided certain departments, especially editorial, needed another managerial level over them, between them and their directors and they had had a secret meeting--leaving out myself and several others of us--and then had sent around a memo listing the new overseers, one of which included this woman. On top of that, they were hiring one of the supervisors from outside the office, all of this done in secret, all hush hush. Then one day, our director, at one time begging me to help her manage the office, announced that she was stepping down as director and that the corp. was bringing in a new director from another agency who it turned out was a barely-thirtyish babe who only had four years of experience and here she was coming to be our top-level boss and she was coming on right off the bat as a vice president. Holy shit. I hit the fan. I went to this woman and demanded to know what was going on. She pompously told me there was no use complaining, the big corp had decided this and it had to do with the agency's worth plummeting--they had just lost their really really big arthritis drug account--it had been one of the most successful "launches" in the pharma advertising world and it had put this agency in the AdAge spotlite and zoomed it from 100 million a year to over 250 million a year in fees. They lost the account because of their limp presentation that was pressed upon them by another agency wanting the account. When they lost that account, that was it for the good times, the easy office life, the free meals, the free limo services, all overtime pay, though they insisted that everyone still work overtime and weekends.

When the new director, the little princess I called her, came on line, what a bitch. She had pegged a bunch of us as troublemakers, me included, and she gave special privileges to people I thought didn't deserve them in the least; several new supervisors were notorious for being on the phone all day and working on lesser products and refusing to work overtime or coming in late as hell every damn day.

Finally I was called in by this woman, now my supervisor and with some of her old powers back, and she told me that as my supervisor I had to report to her every morning and I had to start going to staff meetings and I had to work overtime and I had to come to work on time...but, wait a mintue, you don't have to come in on time but I do? And we started having heated and passionate sessions where she was telling me that I had to conform or they were going to fire me. I blew up. I ranted, I raved; this is why I never wanted to come on staff--these dirty sons of a biggest bitch was I was expected to come in a 7 in the morning and stay late into the night, though they had hired a night staff to handle that, but, hey, the night staff hated working, and I don't blame them; who wants to have to take hard responsibility for other workers's undone work, though that's what the hell they were hired to do. That became such a mess the night editor got to going over my work with a fine-tooth comb and then bringing it up to the account execs and they got to harrassing me asking me what was happening and why was I letting so many errors get through on my shift. I refused then to take responsibility for every mistake made in the office, including the mistakes made by the Mac operators in the Mac studio who were a dumb bunch but a well-paid bunch, nice folks, I loved them all and got along with them fabulously, but they never checked their work--quality control, you know, and errors got to slipping through, and printings had to be redone and, yes, it was very expensive for the agency. Still, dammit, I wasn't going to take blame for everything with all these other people, ad execs, writers, art directors, Mac operators looking over the work every day and changing it and rechanging it and not striking any templates so we didn't have to set these silly ads over and over again and, of course...Jesus, you know what, this job was beginning to WORRY me, to drive me nuts, and I began running around the office screaming out the F word and throwing castignations on most all other people in the world besides me. I knew my time was over in that field but I was determined to make them fire me so I could at least get unemployment insurance when I hit the street.

I was in talking to this woman one day when she told me she had some kind of intestinal disorder and she was like throwing up and shit--irritable bowel syndrome it was being called--and I thought it a made-up disease, what the pharmas are very capable of doing in order to make another billion off of the worried and frightened, like this woman.

I said to her, "Look at you. You're a physical wreck. Did you ever think that maybe this job was killing you; that all of your physical problems are due to this stressful and demanding work?" She looked at me like I had dared say something that highly insulted her. She told me that IBS was genetic and her sister had it and blah, blah, blah. I retorted by saying, "Well, by God, I'm not going to give my life for this f-ing company. I'll be damn if I die at my desk."

After that, our relationship deteriorated to our despising each other, though in her defense, she tried to reason with me in her own tried but not true way. One afternoon, after a session with her in which I cussed her out and called her a god-damn two-faced bitch--whining about all I had done for her and that I had once made a saint out of her because she had literally saved my ass from God-knows-what kind of debt and embarrassments awaiting me in some gutter and that I would always give her credit for that and I was walking up the hall on my way to the back office area and I bumped into someone. It was this woman. And she was furious. How dare I bump her. Me seeing life as a cartoon laughed it off and said, oh, that's silly; I don't do things like that.

Next thing I know, I'm called into the princess's office (I had been offered my own office to come on staff but I never got it), and there's this woman. I was being charged with "hitting" her in reacting to my jealousy of her being a supervisor and me being threatened with being fired. She was accusing me of harrassing her. I said, "You bitches are crazy...F-ing plumb crazy." That spelled my demise. One bright fall morning I came in at 7 o'clock to work on a rush job and I saw the CFO going into one of the conference rooms and in there, too, I spied the princess. That's strange, I thought, wonder what they're up to? Soon I found out. I was called into the conference room. The office was stoney silent; the majority of the staff was not at work yet.

Yep, they were firing me. The guy that fired me was the one that demanded I come on staff and offered me extra bucks to do so. Hey, I didn't give a shit. I laughed all through it, told him what a shitty place to work it had become and after all the many hours I had devoted to working hard to make this agency a success--you know, as a great teamplayer. Yeah, he was sorry; "What's it been, ten years?" "Yeah ten years." Oh, he was so sorry, but.... I said, "Hell, I could kiss you, though that princess overthere can kiss my ass, 'cause you are doing me the biggest favor in my life, you are getting me out of this killer place. You are saving my life. F all of you." And I left and turned my back (actually my ass) on the whole advertising world. What had once been my salvation was now trying to kill me.

Just a couple of months ago I got an e-mail from one of my dearest friends who worked at the agency--he had worked for me when I was at the financial place--and he was giving me the latest scoop of agency doings, like all the oldtimers they had fired, all the new hires that were there one day and gone the next, how other editors were being fired, and how stale and boring the whole once fun process had become. At the end of his email, he said, and, by the way, this woman has been diagnosed with cancer and she's going under radiation treatments immediately.

I just got another email from my friend early this morning. This woman died Friday night at her apartment after refusing to take any more radiation (or cobalt it could have been) treatments. She had married the weird boyfriend, then had gone to bed to die in peace, in her true home, her dad's apartment in which she had been raised from that cute little girl whose picture I saw many times on her desk into so beautiful a womanhood.

I once accidentally came across her in a Soho bar and she was looped to the gills. She had a book of Irish folksongs with her and she started singing them in a sweet high voice, very well, I might add. I had a chance that one night to go home with her; she wanted me to; she was desperate to talk, she said. I turned her down. (I was totally involved with my woman ruler of thirty years at that time so I resisted the temptation to go home with this woman on the grounds I was a faithful lover.) After that, this woman and I drifted far apart and when I left that job, I wished nothing but bad luck on her. I got my wish Friday night though I know it wasn't my wish that took her life; it was her own neurotic dedication to that stupid job of making lies into near-truths and her fears of being left alone in this world--her wonderful dog had finally up and died right before all this other stuff started happening to her--plus she lived with several cats, and I have a theory about pets and diseases and shit--working with pharmaceutical advertising copy and its many, many untruths about the nature of the products it is hustling to sell or get pushed by physicians and HMOs-- to me, all advertising is lies made into half-truths, especially in this day of disruptive advertising. All those pressures collected in her gastro-intestinal tract to form the vicious tumor that would finally cut her down.

I give tribute to this woman now. She's one of my NYC heroes, a remarkable woman really who could have succeeded at so many other efforts in life; she had a wonderful command of the principles of editing and the rules of using the English language. She was a totally sophisticated lady, a true New York girl. We also had another relationship that few people ever knew. Her mother's family was from Burkburnett, Texas, a wild oil boomtown just north of my hometown, and in her mother's family was a person with my last name. I once gave her a photograph of Burkburnett in its heyday and she looked at it and said, "I come from a pretty tough bunch of people, don't I?" The old film Boomtown starring Spencer Tracy was filmed in Burkburnett (Boomtown is the story of how the white man stole all that oil from the Native Americans who were forced to move to that neck of the woods by the Great White Father, who then found out there was a huge pool of black gold under all those Indian reservations (what we call our Native American concentration camps)--it's right across the Red River from Indian Territory--or better known now as Oklahoma --the land of the red man.

Goodbye, dear lady. At last peace.

for The Daily Growler


The Yankees this afternoon swept a five-game series with the Boston Red Sox. It's the first time since 1943 that the Yankees have swept the Red Sox. Amazing. 2-1 today. All the way to the bottom of the ninth when Mariano Rivera shut down the last three batters and the Yankees won and are now 6 1/2 amazing games ahead of the Red Sox. We're on our way, folks. The Mets and the Yankees are naturals to meet in the World Series. Yes, Glavine may be out for the rest of the year, but they'll come up with another pitcher; besides, look at the Yankees, they have one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball, but still they win. Same as the Mets; when you hit like those teams, as long as the pitchers don't give up impossible leads you've always got a chance at winning.

The buzz is in the air.

for The Daily Growler

1 comment:

language said...

Well said. I think she would have liked it.