Honey takes the train to Los Angeles
NOTES FROM ABOVE GROUND
By Honey van Blossom
(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste)
In the first car of the train from Martinez light comes through the window in front as well as through the windows on the sides. If I stand, I see the landscape rushing towards us.
The daylight is watery — as I imagine light is in the Netherlands. The land is flat around the Delta and in the Central Valley. There is so much sky and so little land seen from the train windows that it seems we must be traveling underwater. Clouds are bruised from their weight of water, and the wind pushes them into changing shapes. One is a polar Teddy bear, and he occupies most of my window.
A man I haven’t met sends me a poem, which I read on my tablet. He once wrote that he was a lesbian and in a relationship with another woman, but he is a man married to a woman. His name is Ed Underhill. I have never heard anyone call him “Ed.” Perhaps because “Ed” is too short although Americans always shorten names even the names of foreigners, but if his name is too short, he could be Edward. He writes:
“But when I say it, having heard it for the first time addressed directly at me, telling me that I am known for who I am by at least one person, I begin to feel what I know is a kind of sexual arousal, an erotic beginning that is like the undertow at an ocean beach or, if you will, the hand of death, the inevitability of death.
“I am a slut, a degraded and degenerate person, morally compromised. I am dishonest and I am cruel to others in hidden ways. I sin and do not want my sins forgiven. There is a kind of slime in my chest, a feeling of unhealthy excitement that seeks recognition at all costs.
“Humanness is not sublime. There is a part of it that is and must always be disgusting. The ideal of the human is just that: an ideal and nothing more. In themselves ideals are at best as bad for people as they are good.
“If, God willing (God in a manner of speaking, like Act of God of lawyers.) you (or anyone, anyone at all) should ever toy with me, I cannot see but that whatever cruelty you imagine and inflict on me can be anything that I do not deserve.
“I am a Slut. I am a Slut. Slut. Slut. Slut.”
The train’s sounds soften the clicking of keyboards, the slap of cards, and the dreamy voices of passengers rocked by the train’s movement. The woman behind me is on her cell phone although she, will soon fall asleep. She speaks rural Mexican and is complaining about unfair events in a man’s life. She sighs and says that there is a reason for everything that happens. A car crashes because the brakes aren’t fixed. Apples fall from trees because of gravity, and this is also why water runs downhill. A great deal of human experience is random, and there is no reason for it.
A new message from Ed Underhill:
“Poetry? But doesn’t poetry consist in just what I have done here: that the connections are *not* made; that if I tell you exactly what I was thinking that that will stop *you* from thinking; that if I tell you what I am thinking now, that that will prevent me from thinking what I would otherwise think later; that telling you stops the next meaning from emerging, the meaning that can come from either you or me; that if, God willing, more than one other person were to pay attention to what I had written, that they too would think of nothing but exactly what I had said, that they would be absolved of the guilt that would force them to get to other meanings, their spirit in some measure made a little more dead by their encounter with what I had written, their lives impoverished a little more the way it is impoverished by most every encounter with most every thing they come across?
“And thinking and knowing all this, why would I want to do it in the first place? Pushed to an extreme, why would I want to be the Chinese Emperor of this planet, with all its short, nervous inhabitants hovering around me looking up at me for guidance, money, food, water, air, lebensraum?”
I look up “lebensraum.” A secondary meaning is space required for life, growth, or activity.
“Fingernails like carib sea shells”; I look up “carib.” They are the kalinago people and live in Venezuela, Brazil and the Lesser Antilles. Ed Underhill writes beneath that title:
“…and it had been forbidden me that I in any way try to make myself lovable by making my body beautiful, by showing how I loved myself, by showing how I loved my body by trying to make it beautiful and in making it beautiful show to women and perhaps to men as well that I wanted their love and was offering them my own that I was offering my love to them and would accept theirs in return that I wanted their love for me and would give them mine and (to strike for what is profound, if only a little) knew that I was giving (if I had then been giving) and asking (if I had then been asking) for what none of us had or have or have ever had or could ever have but must have because that is all we’ve got and have ever had and…”
“The reason I write to you, this time, in this new window, is because writing to you is the only way the ideas can come to me–that together with the situation we were in last night, the exact circumstance of it, all the people, you me and, I must let you know, one other person, a woman.
“Thinking of the three of us, and of you as my imaginary mentor and role model (so far maybe (securely) only as impact play top) and thinking of my sort of very new companion or possible companion, the thought came to me as I woke up an hour ago that I could be, as a woman, her dominant: I feel safe with the cruel feelings I have toward her as long as I can feel them, as it were, as a woman.
“They can flower (as can I), whereas having them as a man is stultifying and at the very least, to take only one domain, intellectually dull: a man with a woman who dotes on him to whom he must tell things as to a child (I hate all art that is made especially for children (but not children)), tell all those worldly man-things that he imagines she is dying to know that he eventually yawns over but can’t stop telling once it has all got rolling.)
“Last night she and I passed each other briefly and acknowledged each other in a way that (objectively) probably changes nothing between us, but the fact of the traditional familiar arrangement of our symbolic selves, she with another person (a classmate), and I alone, or feeling that way, gave me the unmistakable sense that the (in play at least) moral high ground was mine for the taking if I wanted it, but that I could not have it as a man, and if I had been an actor, I would have marked the scene for future use, and for practice, when I got out the door I would have allowed myself to weep profusely, real wet tears, for her betrayal and my over my loss.
“But, of course, I did not, and on the way home, knew I had something valuable but did not know what, and so, thus wonderfully confused, wrote to you and slept and woke and here write, continue writing…
“But now this: irrespective of the particulars, of this she and this I, but taking her for it now because she is there and as far as I know we are or will be the same as we were: two people erotically undefined for one another, I imagine this as having happened last night:
“Seeing her before she sees me, when she finally acknowledges my presence, I look at her (look *down*: I have never in my life failed to have this advantage) sternly and she knows the thought that we have between us, the seed of all the variety of expression that is to come: that however it will be, one way or another, physically or morally:
“*You are going to pay for this*, so help me God you are going to pay, my dear, and dearly.
“And she trembles as she looks up at me in recognition. And, looking into her eyes, I suddenly catch my own reflected face: the first woman in her life.”
Past Modesto a tent stands, partially collapsed. A man sits in front of his tent, which is miles from any store or any place where he might beg or get water. He is as still as a statue. I hear two women groan as they look through the window at the man. He could be anyone of us — isolated by circumstances for which there is no reason.
I see acres of evenly spaced trees in full arctic blossom with blown blossoms on the ground like snow.
There are no more trees only bare land and silage under tarps weighted with black tires, weeds and dun earth salted white from over-irrigation. The train stops. The conductor’s voice reaches us on the audio system: “We are stopped to wait for another train. Look around you. Enjoy this time. If you look to your right, you will see a ditch. If you look to your left, you will see a ditch. Ah, the Central Valley.”
After I arrive in Los Angeles, I go to the Stanley Mosk courthouse for a brief hearing. The attorney on the other side of the case calls me. I sit on the bench next to him. He is dressed much like other men attorneys except for one thing: his socks are comprised of vivid blue and light-blue stripes.
After the hearing at the courthouse, I walk along Temple. Beneath two freeways – perhaps the Harbor Freeway — is a homeless camp. Someone has carefully made an extended home with faded blankets over boxes, and she has placed a pot in front with plastic orange flowers in it. The cavern under the freeways smells strongly of urine. CalTrans workers in brilliant yellow and orange coveralls load the shovel of a Bobcat with the belongings of one of the women living under the freeways, the one who lived on the other side of the street.
When I return to Concord, I drive to the Pittsburg courthouse. I carry into the courthouse boxes of toys and books. My youngest grandson outgrew them. I show my Bar card and my driver’s license so that the guards won’t hold up the line searching in each of the boxes. It makes no sense that in Contra Costa County you can get into the courthouse without a search if you are a lawyer. A lawyer could be a terrorist, same as anyone else. It is an issue I will never raise.
The first clients at the Pittsburg clinic are black women; that is, their ancestors were from Africa but they are from Richmond, where black people came during World War II to work in the factories and where there is the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historic Park, which Chevron uses as its iconic message to influence people that the gas explosion is related to patriotism, but the park has no relationship to Chevron. The black women talk East Bay American. Their movements are like those of white women but they are more disgusted than white women usually are, with significant exceptions.
The next clients ask for an interpreter. I say hello and tell them there is no interpreter. There is nothing I can do to help them because they don’t have a legal problem.
The woman is missing her front teeth. She looks older than she must be if she is married to the man – Victor — who has light skin but an Aztec face. I see on the intake form they have no income, which I don’t understand. They had money to come to Pittsburg. The man explains a friend lets him use his car but he is afraid something will happen to it.
They live near Monument. When I first came to Concord, I often thought I was lost because the names of streets change, and Monument becomes Galindo. I think the names of streets change because what is now undifferentiated suburbia was a hundred years ago orchards – nut, peach, pear, plum – with little towns, each of which designated a route with a name, and then one day all the streets ran together.
I tell Victor that I have an ugly fence. I offer to hire him to power wash it.
He decides to take a taxi from Monument to my house. He stands in the street and waits.
Another man comes up to him and said, “You have been standing in the street for an hour. “I am waiting for a taxi.” “This isn’t Mexico, I’ll get my car and drive you.” The other man drives him to my house.
Victor washes the fence but then he says the fence is falling down. Someone used nails instead of screws. The wood is full of termites, and it is rotted. He speaks English. I ask him why he didn’t speak English in the courthouse. He doesn’t answer.
The woman who came with him to the courthouse, Victor tells me, is not his wife. Guadalupe was a neighbor in Placerville. Her husband beat her. She lost the child she was carrying and was in the hospital for a month. The Mexican man looked on the HUD website to get a voucher for her, but there is nothing for a battered woman. So he took Guadalupe to Monument where there are many Mexicans and they can walk to the produce stand. They have been in Concord for three months but sooner or later, he will have an income.
No one wants to rent a room to a woman with children, so the man fixing my fence stays with a friend and the children stay with him. Guadalupe wants to go to school to learn English. She has papers. His name is Victor.
I drive Victor to Home Depot. I buy cement, wood, paint remover, three boxes of screws and a liquid that kills termites.
In the Home Depot, he smiles and laughs with two men in orange aprons.
When we get back in the car, I ask Victor how he knows they are Mexicans. He said they look Mexican. I tell him all of the workers wear orange aprons. The men are dark but they could be from the Middle East. He shrugs.
I tell him I have another question: how come he talks so easily and so friendly with two men we only passed by. He doesn’t know
He says he prefers to work for white people. Anglos are patient. I tell him that is not my experience. He says Mexicans want to make a lot of money so they treat the workers like slaves so they can go back to Mexico in expensive cars like princes, but then their cars are stolen, so it’s not a good idea. Things are very bad in Mexico, he says. It is the corruption. Everything is corrupted because of drugs. There are bandits on the roads demanding “rent” to pass. The police are the same as the bandits. If you use their drugs and then stop taking drugs, they beat you up until you buy drugs from them.
I tell him the first name for Concord was Todos los Santos. “Like the plaza?” Yes — like the plaza. Americans don’t have plazas. Salvio Pacheco owned the Rancho del Monte del Diablo and he made the plaza and sold the land around it for $1 a lot to Americans, who changed the name to Concord. In the old photographs, you see Mexicans and Anglos standing together in stores and schools. They all married each other, had children, and their children forgot they were Mexicans, and now the Mexicans are back.
The next day, he does not come to my house. I phone him. He doesn’t answer. I think he may be waiting for the taxi that does not come because this is not Mexico and I drive to his house. He comes out of the house. I see that he has that square look in his shoulders and short legs like a Native American.
He speaks rapidly about the pastor of a church in Oakland. The pastor wants him to paint a sign, so he has to wait for him. My worker lost the charger to his phone. It must be somewhere, he says. Everything is somewhere so I don’t have too much hope for his charger.
I go home and wait. He still does not come to my house and now there is a large empty place with dead ivy in it where there had been the fence that separated my house from the house of the Iranian banker. The banker has been gone for days. His mailbox is full and the path to his house is full of dead leaves most of them from my tree. I worry that my neighbor will return home and see no fence and think he is in the wrong place and will drive away until he understands and then he’ll drive back and be angry.
I go back to the Mexican man’s house. He comes out and says he had to walk the children to school but he gets in the car. We buy gas for the power washer and I buy him a sandwich and orange juice. He works hard all day and carries the rotted wood out to the front of the house because he believes someone will drive by and take it. I tell him this isn’t Mexico.
We do not go very far before he says he does not have his cell phone. I pull over and call his cell phone but nothing rings, so we drive back to the house. His cell phone is lying on my steps. I tell him I will get him a purse. Better, he says, if someone would give him a new brain.
A message on my computer from Ed Underhill:
“…innuendo, partial unveiling, things left unsaid…
“They talk about Play, they keep using that word. But how can it be that no one has proceeded to Game? And from Game to, “I am game.“? and from “I am game.” to Prey? And from Prey to “I am your prey.” And from “I am your prey” to, “I want to be your prey.”?
On the third day, the pastor again promises to go to where Victor lives and bring him the text for a sign. Again, the pastor does not arrive.
“I will find out what is in the pastor’s brain,” Victor says when he gets in my car. “I will use a screw driver and get in there.”
He works hard and there are pieces of wood from the fence that was maybe 50 years old stacked in my driveway. I will borrow a truck to take it to the dump. Hornets attack him. I cannot see any hornets but go to Orchard Supply and buy a hornet trap because he has been hiding from them in the garage. I paid him $40 to rent a power washer but he doesn’t use it. I pay him $100 at the end of each day.
He says he rents a room from a family. It is their house. They do not let their child out to play, and her son is going crazy. He tells the mother – Mary – she must take the child to the park. I tell him what she is doing to her child is terrible. I take the Mexican man to the park near me, which has three play structures and where there is a swimming pool, and to the tree park near it, and then to the creek where the wealthy people walk. I tell him there is a pool, and the child can take swimming lessons.
Victor is no longer young, and he has no car, and he is smart and strong and can fix anything, and he lives in a rented room. I ask him why he has nothing. For a time, he says nothing, then he says, “I know a lot of bad people.”
Ed Underhill’s message is in my email: “To jettison entirely the agricultural rubric and its worn attendant themes of Property and propriety and by taking on a new metaphor force ourselves to abandon as well, one by one all the other familiar terms and in abandoning them, begin to threaten ourselves, not with killing certainties about the ending of that sacred all encompassing accursed history, but with the unexplored real ecstasies, piecemeal from nowhere, that will attend the death by murder of all the only all too precious civilizations of this our dearest planet, dear dearest sweet earth. “
I have spent $700 at Home Depot. The fence is partly complete, and it is made of clean redwood. He takes a call on his phone and abandons the fence and power washes the older parts of the fence and then the house. I no longer have to look out my window at an ugly falling apart old fence. It’s spring, and many trees have white blossoms. He says it is a beautiful day.
He tells me the power washer is $40 a day, so I go to the bank and get money for four days rental of the machine, which has been in my garage for four days. He asks if I paid him. I tell him I paid him $100 a day at the end of each day. He doesn’t believe me and says, “What is money? Only paper.”
I say, “Get a receipt book from Staples. I will give you a wallet. Put your money in the wallet.”
He asks, “How did you know this? I put money in my wallet and put my hand in my pocket without thinking and the money falls out.”
Tonight he tells me he worked for a man at the Christian Church. Victor went to the church and asked for the man but he was gone maybe to Mexico.
He worked five days for a man in Pittsburg. The man refuses to pay him and stole Victor’s tools. He went to Pittsburg to the man’s house and his wife called the police. He told the police the man didn’t pay him and stole his tools. The police told him to file a small claims action.
Guadalupe’s husband came with three men from Mexico, and she was afraid, so they came to Concord and he spent $3,000 to move her and the children. He has to pay her rent. It cost more than he thought but he couldn’t let the husband kill Guadalupe and the children.
It is hard for him to live with a family in their house. They each spend twenty minutes in the bathroom each morning. He saw the man washing the windows to the house and asked if he could live with them but he doesn’t have any money because he pays Guadalupe’s rent. The man will wait for the rent for his room, Victor says.
I call the realtor who sold me the house. She will hire Victor tomorrow to build a fence.