Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Kiss the Ring of Routine, Ye Mortal

So, Jeff. Where did I leave off? Ah, yes. Proust. Blurry memories all up in this bitch. Marcel had his fabulous dreaming bed and now we have our unfathomable internet. Me and you, on this river aboard the HMS Hardworlder. Right Here, Right Now. All signs point to a fair voyage! The ship is pretty awesome, is it not? And yes, I am an excellent skipper. Not in any way as cool as the lead singer to Iron-Maiden, mind you. That guy is my fucking hero. He is flying a 747-400 around the globe, and being, generally speaking, the freest man in the world. Hell, I don’t even like his music. But fuck it. The man himself is a work of art. A testament to the possibilities in this life. And you know what I just realized? I have always thought about running for the hills, running for my life, in many a work situation. In my darkest hours, in servitude, he has always told me to run toward The Light. That song is the soundtrack to my “flight” instinct, indeed, to break free like a wild fucking mustang. And I, the penned mustang, always see hills and mountains in my mind’s eye, every time. And to just add to his awesomeness, he trumped death…at least for now.

But the weather can turn in an instant, can it not? Death has got us by the balls, folks. It is a testament to our utterly brilliant firewall faculty of Denial that we somehow feel flabbergasted when He does His grim, inevitable work, that on a dime we are awestruck when the curtain lifts to reveal the real goddamn headliner in this show we mistakenly call life. That may very well be the cheesiest sentence I’ve ever typed. But, shucking my shoddy bullshit aside, Death is having a fucking field day right now. As I type this I am listening to Warren Zevon’s The Wind. Yes, yes, there is Black Star. I’ll get to that one soon. I was never a devotee to Bowie…hell, I wasn’t a Zevon sort of dude either. So, you know, let’s just deal with these last works one at a time. These guys, man. They just stare at you, as if to say: “HOLY FUCKING GORILLAS! I’m on my own here?  Oh fuck. Well, I must make this exit. Okay. Okay.. .” Zevon on my left, Christopher Hitchens on my right. Both determined to go down swinging. And lo, Hardworlders, they swung. They swung for the fences. And now Bowie. And even more now, Scalia. I always thought of Scalia as a son-of-a-bitch. Turns out I was wrong. The man had his virtues. So, you know, Antoni, wherever you may be, I’ll leave you quarter under my pillow so you can book your passage across the Styxx. It’s the least I can do. 

We should all be so courageous. But yes, Hardworlder, The Routine. Death disrupts it. The binding force that bridges space and time for us, us all-too-humans. The signifigence of the dual nature of a routine, it’s tyranny and its sheltering quality, really came to me when I was working as a salmon cook at the Taku Lodge a few years ago. Suffice it to say, it was a very insular experience. I was sown to a very tight schedule. I still have that watch somewhere, alder-wood smoke befogged as it is. Point is, time was a critical component. It weighed heavily on my mind.  I was beholden to Him, Father John Timey. Amid the duties and tourists and everything that made up that section of Wilderness Living the routine was a mainstay in my psyche. Things necessarily happened in a very regimented fashion. The morning was for the cutting of the fish, the latter hours for the cooking.  And yes, bears…of the black variety. It was all part of this insane cycle. The tourists, the questions they would ask, the absolute accountability of my body and the absolute necessity of what it had to produce, fish-wise. It was highly instructive. It also drove me motherfucking bonkers. Every morning me and this other guy had a sort of convergence in our routines.- I would be stacking the alder in the grill pit and he would be sweeping off the stairs to the lodge and every morning we would have the same exchange at the same time. It went thus:


And that was that. The intonation varied with the level of stress we were feeling, but the essence of the exchange was the same. That was the moment when we both knew that yet another revolution had been completed. The clock started over. Yes. The Clock. We were both beholden and built into what amounted to a tightly wound clock. Father John Timey was running herd on us, and He did not go easy on the lash. There were moments, Jeff. Moments approaching madness. What’s more, they were uniquely my own moments, as I largely worked alone. To wit: As the salmon cook it was my responsibility to fillet enough fish for the amount of tourists we were expecting that day. This maxed out around 250 souls. (I termed them White Wobblers, as they tended to be retirees, and they would wobble from side to side as they made their way up the hill from the float planes they flew in on. They looked like a herd of animated bowling pins that were in a perpetual state of imbalance. This eventually got reduced to “Wobblers.”) So I would arise early, sometimes as early as six in the morning,dazed and confused, put on my Carharts, hoodie and work boots and leave our cozy little cabin and walk across the property to the Lodge. The glacier. The river. I would then pour myself a cup of coffee. 

Generally speaking, I was hung over. But I fight through these sorts of things. It’s a point of imbecilic, manly pride for me. 

One morning in particular stands out in my flaky, mushy memory. Upon waking, upon walking over, upon coffee-making, at the hour of six am, I opened up the door to the fishhouse, my work-zone, if you will, located directly behind the lodge, to discover a large tear in one of the the screens. Evidently, yours truly neglected to close a window the night before. And lo, that negligence had it’s consequences. A bear wanted in. The reason he wanted in was because at a certain point in the season, the salmon run ended and we had to start using fresh-frozen salmon. Bare with me here. (chuckles) So basically, I had to thaw the fuckers out the night before. Frozen, plank-stiff dead fish that could have served as weapons in a skirmish, well, they were to be the coming days delicious offering to the Wobblers. It was part of the routine. It was the last thing I had to do before we had our communal meal. 

But, let’s face it Jeff, I was enjoying drinks around that time, so shutting that window was just not accomplished. So yes. I opened the door to the fish house, and peered into it with battered, baffled Horror. Every square inch of the fucker was layered with mosquitoes. The time of year was the worst time for those hellions. It was amazing. It was borderline insurmountable. And then I panned over to look at the sinks. The fucking sinks that I used to thaw out the bloody fish. Both of them were drained. Fuck! My brain didn’t know what to do. But it had to do, it had to direct my stupid limbs and my corporeal bullshit. The schedule was the schedule! So I fucking killed mosquitos for two hours. I refilled the sinks. And then I started to cut the half-frozen fish, with my fucking dull-ass knives. I never really got good at sharpening those knives. But yes- there I was, struggling to fillet these half frozen fish with those very dull knives, the clock looming all around me, on my wrist, in my cerebellum, in Egypt, on Mars. Everywhere. The window was closed now, and the fish house was getting hot. The sun is way up, and the rays are streaming in sideways through the windows. Sweat was dripping off my brow, the fish slime was all over my fucking hands. Desperately, I sawed into the fuckers with all my primitive might, with a useless tool that couldn’t even sever a limp phallus off a dead Russian in a sauna in some back-ally in St. Petersburg. But I digress. The slime. The slime was everywhere. Normally, a flash-frozen fish is bereft of the slime. A refreshing benefit, as I’m sure many of my predeccers would attest. HOWEVER.  Some batches of frozen fish are slimier than others. (Cue The Smiths) It’s like they are equipped with underskin volcanoes that continually ooze semen. It is, suffice it say, an inherently messy ordeal. You have to really hold them down on the cutting board. We had a screw driven into said cutting board to hold them (very tenuously) still. Anyways, details, details… 

Jeff, wake the fuck up! I’m trying to relate some Proustian shit to you here! Speaking of driven screws, I am currently enjoying a screwdriver here at this weird diner named Frisco, here in Austin since 1953. These employees have their own hurdles to leap over. Well, each to their own I suppose. And in about thirty minutes, I’ll be across the street pouring drinks to happy dog folk. But for now, my friend, it is a Vegas Bomb for you. Quiet! You need a good jolt!

So, I am in there, in the fish house, sweating dreadfully, hands ridiculously slimy, and the mosquitos, the fucking mosquitos, are everywhere. They are buzzing. Buzzing in my ear, landing on my arms, on my shoulders, anywhere they can gain purchase. My hands are both very busy and very disgusting, so all i have in this scenario to ward off all these myriad agents of Hell, these little fluttering demons settling for purchase are my shoulders, my ears and my elbows. If I could kill a mosquito with the flexing of an ear, well, this was as close as i have ever gotten. The sun is streaming in now, the heat is (bum-bum-bum)…on. Kenny Loggins is mocking me from afar. I have to be out there soon, at the grill pit. Help me, Jeff! Where the fuck are you? Jesus! You’re all the way over in Korea! Fuck! Shit fucking Jesus! The Grill pit! I have to clean it, and then I have to stack the alder-wood. You stack in such a manner as to be able to spread it out to, you know, have a fire and such shit. To cook the fucking fish over. But first you have to have the fish. And lo, on that sunny day, Jeff, the fish were not ready. It was going to take a bit of art, on my part. It was going to take a lot more sweat.  Father-Time and His Brutal Lash was riding me into the ground. But there are ways. I’m calming down now. Yes, there were and still are ways. But they are not easy. The mines of Moria are never the first path that should be chosen. So, basically: emerging from the sealed in, grainy 70’s horror show worthy fishhouse I emerged with a nice batch of 50, half-frozen cuts of salmon. The clock cannot be denied. The wobblers are suspended in air, perched above a glorious expanse of glaciers and are coming our way, irreversibly coming. The cum-covered, half-frozen salmon must be cooked. They must be really cooked.

And so there I am, in the pit, getting the wood stacked, sweeping frantically. *Sweeping* Getting the pit back in order. The bears, you understand, would show up in the interim moments and dig out the sand, looking for any last remnants of the baste. “The goo.” Now, before you deign to ask, let me just tell you:

White Wine
Brown Sugar

Weirdly, it took a minute for me to remember those ingredients. But back then I used to recite them in my sleep. So, yes, the bears were big fans of the goo. It used to seep into the sand as I basted the fish. A grand tradition at the Taku Lodge! In fact, the goo was the reason the bears came around in the first place. People would always assume it was for the fish. But no! They wanted the butter and the sugar. Ah, shit. Once more, I digress. Where am I? Oh yes, here I am, at the grill pit, at around 8:40 am, looking down at crater, a piie of bear shit planted in the space I have to cook all these half frozen fucking fish in. Fuck!


At this point, Jefferson, I am a greyhound in midstride, chasing the goddamn rabbit around the track. The rabbit IS unattainable, but I am moving, my teeth are bared, my tongue flapping wildly, rib cage hurtling through time and space. The task is insane. The circumstances are so stacked against me it would make far greater sense for me to just run around naked in the adjacent field, very high on drugs with a necklace of raw moose meat and a heart full of anticipation for the bears to come. But no. I am pledged to the task of providing 250 wobblers a salmon based meal on their trip of a lifetime, and goddamn it, Scott Wirtala doesn’t fail the elderly! Nor his employers! So fuck it all, let’s get this pit together and get a fire going! Okay, here we go. Shit. The wood looks pretty wet. Let’s just stack it up. Let’s just get it done. Too many other things to worry about. So, alright. Here we go. The tower is there. Let’s get the torch. Let’s just set it, start it, and let’s…just…huh. The flame is going, but the wood…the tower of power is slow to kindle. This is a problem. I could go into why the wood was wet, but that’s an entry of it’s own. I mean, my day was bad here, but the dude who suffered his hands getting blown off the year before, well, let’s just say it offers perspective, even from this spot on the River, in 2016. Suffice it to say we were short staffed the previous season, and the alder harvest was cut short. 

And thus my plight. 
The wood wouldn’t light
I’d rather be a Nazi at Nuremberg

Man, no wonder Proust was such a sleepy head. He needed that bed. This dredging sort of work is exhausting. But, back there on the river, the one of Time and the Taku, I am bound to delivering the goods. So I fanned the fuck out of that fire. I put all of my dead dreams on my own sacred pyre and I got real on that motherfucker. “Me, you piece of shit? You will defy me?” Megalomaniacal conceits abounded.  But anyhoo, somehow, I got it going. But it took time. Precious time. And, according to the law, the planes landed, and salmon was delivered. But it wasn’t over. Oh no. Between  the groups, Jeff- there were five that day- I was back in the house of horrors, frantically cutting up more fish, all slowly thawing out in the sinks in gray murky water, the windows closed, suffocating, the mosquitos there nonetheless, sweating and swearing, the brilliant lighting adding the finishing touch to my own  sort of Chainsaw Massacre. And thus every hour I would emerge, barely enough fish to cook, but enough, to get me to the next stage. I won’t waste any more of your time belaboring the process, but I will leave you with one last thing:

On this day, we had a celebrity guest. He was none other than Lovie Smith, at that point the recently fired head coach of the Washington Redskins, currently coaching Tampa Bay. I remember him very distinctly, standing in front of the grill pit. Like everybody, he asked me what kind of wood I was cooking with. When guests arrive at that place, you have to understand, they’re instantly intoxicated. They have to be- they paid a lot of money to do it, they gambled. So they have to feel validated. And this is just extra added thrust to a scene that is- was, whatever- pretty fucking scenic. Their leap of faith is absolutely, instantly rewarded. And thus: “What kind of wood are you cooking with?” It’s a technician’s sort of question. It’s a manly way to bond. (It’s Alder-wood.) He just looked at me on the clear bright day, a big grin on his face, and I just knew what the man thinking. He was thinking that I was living a stress-free life. Just me, cooking fish, banging girls and generally living out all of our adolescent dreams. An easy summer job. It was an interesting juxtaposition of two different people’s lives. On the absolute most stressful day of my life, Lovie was feeling relief. And that, my friend, is the tale of human civilization. Death hilarious. 

So there’s that. Thanks for (maybe) following all that! But, as I said earlier, what this was all supposed to illustrate is the primacy of the routine, and how the Lodge brutally beat in the pros and the cons of having one. The surprising thing about the routine was that after a welcome respite from the tourists, when the fog took hold, when we enjoyed a string of bad weather days, the genuinely surprising thing was how much I missed it. The structure that it provided all the tyranny began to atrophy after a few days, and along with it decayed the sense of purpose, the very definition of my function out there. It was weird, but very real. I got nostalgic for my chains. Christ. Maybe I was just too drunk, reading too much Blake. Things sink in, no matter what you think. I listened to Watership Down on many a morning as I filleted those fish. I missed it. Hating my job was like me speeding off in my shitty Honda. I needed it, if only to hate . Fuck. What a depressing truth to acknowledge. 

So where am I at here in this rambling ass entry? Let’s get back to the now. Jesus! These two dead knuckleheads are freaking me out. Zevon. Hitchens. The champions of a generation are flaming out, and let’s just face it: it’s in the timeline. Death is doing It’s Work. Love, as a big broad concept, does not align with End. Love is forever, man. However. What does Dr. Death disturb? Well kids, I’ll tell you what it disturbs: it throws a wrench in our routine. The very essence of how we make sense of time, how We orbit so many manifestations of all myriad sorts of bullshit, and how certain sorts of bullshit, in turn, orbits us. I’ve been trying to articulate this relationship for a few years now. It’s nebulous and tends to sound like a conversation between two freshman in a dorm room. Puff puff give, Daug! But in all grave idiocy, listen: The routine is something that gives a structure, and yet, conversely, can act as a personal prison. The limitation is something to push against, and yet, paradoxically, something that gives our subjective bullshit a concrete sense of direction…of purpose. Remember that goth girl in high school? The one in the red Honda CRX that sped away, listening to The Cure, smoking so defiantly, doing both at top volume? Well, it turns out, she needed Southlake Carroll high school, if for no other reason, as an essential institution in which to define herself against. And, let’s face it Daug, cigarettes were cheap back then. And those Cure records? Solid gold. Couple those with a rebellious personality and you have a perfect recipe for childhood a’la king. 
Rebellion depends on an Establishment. Push and pull, all the way. The perambulations of society do not permit us to lay idle. We gotta get in the fight, either way. We must augment this idiotic corpus. It is our solemn, democratic duty. 

Right? Hell, maybe not. Maybe we should have all stayed in those bleach-soaked classrooms. Maybe The Cure shoulda just stayed in Bloody fucking England. Geometry is, after-all, pretty useful. As is any math, actually. Shit. It all looks so wonderful and generally appealing, knowledge! If we could do it all again, we would. This is the sorrow of the world. When we are poised to hunger for the university experience, all that infernal information it is sealed off from us. What a fucking idiotic set up! Youth is wasted on the young. Or at least on a young David Scott Wirtala. The people most alive to the product find they are super not welcome to It’s party. And what’s worse, we are by-and-large a dull minded bunch, largely ineffective in the academic feast. But hey. We have the internet, do we not?

I’m not sure how to nuance this sentiment, but it seems that one of the only seductive aspects of dying is that it is only for us. At once for everyone and yet tailor-made to to fit us as individuals. A great, barely-perceivable cloak that covers us all. An endlessly employable tool for the manipulative powers that be. The end.

Jesus- all that goddamned defiance! We all start off that way. It’s why we gravitate to art in the first place. Satan has made a hell of a career out of it. That dude lost paradise too, you know. Hell, the evil fucker lost Heaven. That’ll make an eternal creature bitter over time. That is, if he existed in time. But no. According to the good book he created It, time. Schism implemented, courtesy of Satan. All according to the Divine Plan, of course. But wait. Was that part of The Plan? Must have been, right? Damn, Daug.  I am no theologian. 

But I do enjoy a drink. So let’s get down to the real business. What’s your flavor today? Chartreuse? 
I knew it. A very distinguished choice, Herr Doctor! It’s all the wise, considering that is all I have to offer. 

Man. For all of my high flown hyperbolic horse shit, I just cannot even get close to the surreal because, holy fuck, El Jeff Daug, the world is weirder by far. I honestly, truly, do not have the stamina to keep up. It’s gotta be a hologram.There’s is no other plausible explanation. Is The Almighty drunk up there on moonshine? I mean, there is no other way to wrap your head around a world that is gonna be headed by a) an idealist, a self-described socialist OR that other guy. I’ll never say his name. We are at a fascinating brink. I feel like I am privileged to witness our civilization’s plunge into absolute lunacy. Is this a dream? Wait. Let me check. Wake up, Scott. Wake up. WAKE THE FUCK UP! Nope. I am still here. Shiiiiiiit. Well fuck.  Okay. Let’s break this whole thing down into something more manageable. Where’s the cat? I can feed that thing. She’ll purr. That makes sense. A cause and an effect. Micro-sensical phenomenon. But I digress. So goddamnit, okay, let’s think about the big picture. There is no middle to the Road any more. We are at the brink of something profoundly…nuts. Life has to keep on happening, right? Was that a bad assumption of mine? Because, we are about to a) upend the whole shitty legacy that’s unfolded over our entire life, the moment Kennedy took that bullet, the entire Time of the Bastard, well, Jeff, that could very well all come to an abrupt halt. As in, raise the disc over your head, light-up the-land kind of end. American politics has told us our entire existence that to be 100% cynical about this bullshit. And yet. Here we are. Fascinatingly polarized.

And then…the other possibility. Two other awful possibilities. One thing has been made balefully, painfully clear: there is no such thing as bad publicity. He Who Shall Not Be Named has just stayed in the headlines. Every integer has an absolute value, outside of the negative or positive. The only thing that matters is feeding the phenomenon. And we, as a fundamentally bored body politic, as a national media, have never let let that fucking weirdo go hungry. 

And that’s the real story here, Mr. Stanfield. The fact that we are helplessly sliding and being herded by the thing we are powerless to look away from. The whole goddamned thing would be gone, Berkeley-style, if we could just look away. But, we can’t. We’re hooked up to these infernal devices. Looking. Always looking. 

And thus, the candidate on the right. And the really terrifying thing is, he is preferable to Cruz, Holy Rolling Motherfucking nightmare that he is. Man, talk about bringing on the dark ages. “And a cloak of darkness fell upon the land.” 

And somewhere, way up there in the Heavens, this scene:

God takes a deep pull, hands the bottle to Satan. Satan matches Him. “I’ll bet you they’ll vote for Trump. I guaren-goddamn-tee you, Dude.” (chuckles softly to Himself) God takes the bottle back. Another Holy-Pull. “Watch it, buddy.” He inhales, burps slightly (nevertheless with omniscience) “No way. I mean, a made ‘em dumb, no doubt, but not that dumb.” “Hey, give that bottle over. *another long pull* With respect, I disagree. But just in case, I put my other guy in there.” “Who? That wack-job, Cruz? Okay, fine. But check this out. *takes another drink* I’ll counter your Cruz and your hellish Understudy and I’ll put in an aged socialist revolutionary. *takes a very long pull* Hah! That’ll fuck ‘em up. This, (reverberating burp) this won’t be boring. God, I’m sick of being bored.” “Tell me about it. Work is for the dogs. Anyway, what do you thing about that Wonderland place down there?” “Oh, that place? Ah, who cares. Make it, ah, make it a hotel or something. Who cares? I’m going to bed.” “Really, man? You’ve been asleep for, like, thirty-six years.” ”What can I say? I’m old. Old Dudes take naps. *shrugs* And I’m as old as they get.” “Very true. So I guess we’ll see how all this turns out, this race? You owe me big if I win. Just sayin’.” “Yeah man, whatever. Should be fun, either way.” 

I work at a bar called Wonderland. I could have edited the promotional content of that dialogue, but whatever. This blog is, after-all a document of its time. And, largely, if not entirely, unread. SO, anyway- Hardworlders, what’s it gonna be? Are we to emerge into the Clear Bright Light or careen wildly off into The Deep Dark? It’s weird. It’s fascinating. It can’t be real. Jesus, maybe this is it. The Biblical Divide. Bring on the Holographic Horsemen! Where is that seven-headed Dragon? Is this going to go down before Game of Thrones is done? Can I get HBO in Hell? Hark! Is that a trumpet blaring from on High? 

No, it’s not. The wheel in the sky must continue to turn. And that is precisely why I’m pouring this drink for you, Master J. (Nodding) *clink* Drink up. Oh, that’s nice. I’m glad you’re not fighting it anymore. Acceptance of our temporality is the key element to good drinking. Yeah…this Chartreuse does not taste very good. But who cares? Jesus, it was made by monks for christsakes! All we are is dust in the wind, man. Wait- where are we? Is this a dorm room? Holy hell, Daug. We’ve made it! We are young again! 
Well how about that? It appears that we have defeated Death, after-all. I knew it! I mean, I always kept it quiet, but I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion that the rules simply do not apply to dudes like you & I. So yeah! Here we are, back in college!  And now, at last, we can get SUPER baked. What? That thing i said earlier, about the young? I don’t remember. It’s all harmless, right? Let’s get fucked up!  Oh, well hellllllllo there ladies! Welcome to D-400, the new pad of the Hardworlders! Yeah, I know. We’re really popular. It’s an undeniable fact here in the dorms. Here, smoke this. See what I mean? Yeah, I know, we’re really cool, too. Jeff, why don’t you give these inappropriately young ladies some musical knowledge?. He’s (inhaling) practically a musicologist, you know.  Wait. Shouldn’t we be studying or something? *Hysterical laughter*  I know, I know. I’m a gas. But hey: I’m deep as well. Let me sing you this song. Where’s my guitar?

Oh shit. That was the test. Jeff, you know I could never play the guitar. Goddamnit, this is a dream. Shit, I knew it! I fucking dog-damned knew it! Well hell. Oh well. Hey, will you look at that. President Clinton is about to give her State of the Union address. It’s a good thing that shit wasn’t real…I was totally going to skip that class. It’s a shame, really. It’s all just a winding river of shame.

The end is gonna happen. i was all cued up to see a Golden Boys show, tonight, but alas. My intentions fall face flat in the face of Better Things. My best lady snoozing on the couch. Music at hand. A hell of a lot of whirling action out there, communicating the beautiful truth that I need to be exactly where I am at. 

I mean, come on. I have a gorgeous woman passed out on the couch next to a copy of The Brothers Karamazov. Right here. Right now. I’ll take up the struggle tomorrow. Till then, my friend….