Thursday, August 7, 2014

Fifty-Sixth Beginning: Invasive Species

[One copy started with notes:
AAA notebooks (necronomicon)
encyclopedia cthuliana
Daniel Harms
the Klippoth - clip-off - the husks or shells of materiality which ensnare the spirit

I suspect I had planned to follow a Lovecraftian theme.]

Larry runs a used book store that seems to relocate randomly. It pisses him off that I can always find him. Not that he ever comes out ans says so. I can just tell. I'm good at reading people.

For instance I can tell that he doesn't care if he sells any books. I assume he's selling dope on the side or something. Not that he'd do it from the store. Whatever brings him income, he keeps it away from the shop. His books are his babies.

Larry wears jeans and t-shirts and denim vests. Different ones every day. You can tell that he has a big wardrobe, even if it's all on one theme.

He's balding and grey, but not wrinkled or stooped. He's got skinny legs and arms, but kind of a thick belly. Sometimes he wears a bandana headband. And his glasses are rimless ovals that used to darken in the light and clear out in the dark. Now they're stuck kind of slightly darkened. You can still see his eyes, but you sometimes cant be sure what he's looking at.

Larry's kind of a weird guy and he's never happy to see me. But I keep in touch. Not just to annoy him either. I do some of my best pieces after I've visited Larry. Do you see that piece over there? I did it after my last visit to Larry. I couldn't have done it without him. Study it closely while I tell you about it and you'll appreciate why.

Larry was working out of a little room off of a hotel lobby at the time. Downtown Stockton has a number of seedy hotels that used to service a rather large temporary labor pool, beloved by farmers and cannery operators in need of such a thing, back in the day. But the City has moved on with the times and is cracking down on code enforcement, demolishing buildings that can't be brought up to snuff. The Sun Lion Hotel was one of the buildings to make the news back when code enforcement discovered all those bats in old hotel attics. If you don't live in the area, you won't have heard of it. But it was big news here.

The tenants had been moved out, pending a humane de-batting of the place. County Social Services had had to make emergency funds available while they rewrote their regulations. They discovered that nowhere else would rent out a room for six dollars a day. They had to bump some people's daily housing stipends up to nine to get them relocated. By the third hotel, some were even up to sixteen, which caused the County to say some unkind things about the City, to which the City was more than ready to reply.

It was summer, at the time, so a fair number of folks wandered off the waiting list and into abandoned buildings or under bridges. It's location, location, location, even if you're homeless. You want to stay near St. Mary's dining room, near a recycling center, and near Mormon Slough, which runs neatly across the north of South Stockton and can get you where you need to go, whether it's County offices, State offices, or parole offices. The slough has been cut off at the Calaveras River, east of town, and at Commerce Street, near the shipping channel at its west end. Except for a little appendix, attached to the channel, the slough is completely dry and makes a great footpath. You hear stories about Mormon Slough.

And, yes, I know that there's another appendix on the other side of I-5. I just think of anything west of I-5 as being in the Port, rather than in the City.

I suspect that no one was supposed to be in the building, but Larry had managed to rent this oversized nook temporarily and was operating out of it. Hey, it might even have been legal since he wasn't renting a room to sleep in.

I had been up early, spending a bright morning dumpster diving downtown and coming up largely empty when I thought of Larry. I could have gone out by the Port to look through the scrap yards out there, but I was between vehicles at the time and I happened to think of Larry. Irritating Larry would round out the morning nicely. So I stopped to think of him for a few minutes and then I let my feet start walking.

The Sun Lion Hotel is not the Hotel Stockton. Even when it was a run down, untenanted wreck, the Stockton looked interesting. It would sit there, plunk, at the end of the Stockton Channel, looking like it remembered the old days when steamboats from San Francisco would discharge travelers, mail, merchandise, trash, and collected bodily wastes at the channel's end. The brick-painted tin Spanish tiles from the roof and the sentinel porticos looked down on the dilapidated roof patio and remembered dances and bands. It remembered being in Hollywood movies. You could tell. The Sun Lion, on the other hand, is a plain old cube held up on both sides by other plain old cubes. It may be older than The Stockton, but it's soaked up enough alcohol and misery to want to just sit there and sleep, remembering nothing.

It looked closed when I walked up to it, but it wasn't boarded up. So I went in. The lobby was small and dark and I could see Larry's stuff over to the right. From the look of the lobby, Larry may have had the only electricity in the building. It sounded like he was the only living thing, too, although I doubt I'd be able to hear the stomping of the bats through four stories.

Entering Larry's nook, I wended through a maze of overstuffed chairs, odd little end tables, dusty shelves, and chicken wire. The chicken wire acts as the back to the shelves, so that the books can only be reached from one side and so they don't fall out the back if pushed in too far. There's a counter made from several metal folding tables, cut apart and welded together. The welds are shit, but the design has me envious. The welds would have been better if I'd been the one to make the table, but I'm not sure I could have matched the design.

That day there was a rocking chair and a plastic folding chair behind the counter. Larry was sitting in the plastic chair under a sign that said: 

  1.  If you need Silence, buy the book and take it home, 
  2.  Buy something from the vending machine if you're staying more than an hour, 
  3.  Do not interfere with the nature of causality.
I had read the book that he'd paraphrased the sign from, so I got the joke. People are sometimes surprised by the things that I know. I guess I don't look like I'm burdened with education. But I've been motivated to create what I like to think of as a Far Side Foundation to my world view. If you don't know the background, you won't get the joke. Sure, someone could explain it to you, but it never feels funny if it has to be explained. You can recognize that it's funny, after the fact, but you'll never feel it. The moment of zwyzzyr will have passed. So I try to keep up with things. History. Astronomy. Pop Literature. Larry.

"Hey, Larry. How's it hanging?" Larry wasn't surprised to see me. He's never surprised to see anyone who's walked through the maze. I've stood next to him as he checked people out on their way in. Don't know how he does it. I certainly can't see out through that mess. But he'll have your special order or his newcomer's greeting smile or his shotgun ready for you by the time you get to the counter.

It's a pity Larry isn't happier to see me. I must be one of his more regular customers. Sometimes I even come for the books. Sometimes I even pay for them.

With a lazy wave, I go straight to the vending machine, which will take any coin or bill you'd care to feed into it, even foreign money. It's a grey metal thing with eleven clear plastic doors - two rows of four with a row of three below. The three are slightly larger and take up the same space as the upper fours. You never know what will be in the vending machine. Some of the cubbies in it are refrigerated, so they can hold milk or cheese or whatever.

You might find homemade cookies, candy bars, small toys, soda, chips, hot dogs (refrigerated - and no microwave to heat them - take it or leave it), combs, and other small consumer goods. That's in the regular slots. There's one slot with the clear door papered over by the announcement: surprise!

The surprise is what I'm there for. I'm an artist and part time crepe cook. I do collections. Other people say they do collages or montages or mobiles or whatnot. I prefer to draw attention to the fact that what I've created began by collecting things. Even the things that end up being welded to make recognizable shapes aren't called anything else. Sure, I could call some of them sculptures, most people would. But people would experience the pieces differently if I called them that. Call them collections and their minds concentrate on the pieces. Sometimes they can't even see the whole until they stand back. I've seen people walk off, look back, and jump like they've been bitten. All because I said "collection".

Larry's surprises are often useful. You can never tell what it will cost. It's never labeled. And he'll never tell. He pretends he doesn't know. You just have to press the button and keep feeding in bills until the little light comes on. My first to sales came from pieces inspired by the pair of sunglasses I got the first time I tried that little window.

They were silvered sunglasses. They had been silvered on the wrong side.
It was profound. It spoke to me. What do we ever see when we look out at the world but ourselves? I made a mobile out of seven sunglasses. Each one had been crafted to illustrate an aspect of self indulgence or lack of perception. I didn't use the pair from the machine. I made another pair where the backs were actual mirrors, to make the conceit more obvious.

The real glasses went into a second piece entitled Suicide of Myth. The base of the piece was a hand-crafted replica of a Coca-cola crate, twice the size of a real one. The cubbies were filled with artifacts of the purported means of suicide of various figures in mythology. The glasses were tucked into a cubby labeled Medusa. The outer crate was draped and stapled with commercial logos, our current mythology. That one sold for big bucks.

So I start feeding quarters into the machine. What can I say? If I fed in dollars and the door opened at $6.00, I'd always wonder if it would have opened at $5.25. The machine gives no change. Besides, hitting someone with a roll of paper dollars just doesn't have the same impact as hitting them with a roll of quarters. So that's what I carry. You meet all kinds dumpster diving.
Larry hovers. He's always interested in what comes out of the machine. Sometimes he tries to buy things off of folks. I get to $.50 and the little light comes on. See. I saved fifty cents using the quarters. I open the little window and pull out my prize. It was basically disk shaped and when I palmed it, it spread beyond my palm about an inch on most sides. I hadn't even had a chance to turn it over when Larry offered me $10 for it.

With Larry, a first offer of ten means that he'll slide up to twenty easy, if you protest, and that you can haggle him up to between thirty and forty if you're willing to work at it. I wasn't, really. I was in the mood to build something, not to harvest money. I waved the offer away without looking up. I didn't even look up to see if Larry was annoyed, which wasn't like me.

The little disk turned and turned in my hands. It was thickest at the center, thin at the circumference, and rounded in between. I thought of flying saucers in B grade sci fi movies from the fifties and sixties, but it wasn't as smooth as they usually were. There was scalloping near the edge, where the sides met at the circumference. There were symbols etched here and there. They reminded me of marine animals, although I don't know how. They were more angular than what I would intellectually consider to be marine shapes. There were two brackets welded onto each side. One bracket on each side had a hole and flange, as if it were meant to be attached to a rod. The brackets and their placement were the same on each side of the disk, but they didn't line up symmetrically relative to each other.

I knew the piece was going to be important to me. I could almost hear it whispering. The ideas would come. It had been the same with the glasses. There would be a slow buildup of creativity that would end with an orgy of construction during which time would have no meaning. It was gonna be cool.

I pocketed the disk and turned to Larry.

"So, how are the bats going?"

"Not nearly as fast as everyone expected." If Larry had been annoyed, he had gotten over it. He doesn't hide it worth a damn. "All the other buildings are nearly ready to seal up, but this one still has full rafters. Do you know how they're doing it?"

"Some kind of excluder, I heard."

"Yeah. The bats fly out, but they can't get back in. Only our bats aren't flying out. Well, maybe a few fly out each night, but not enough to make a dent. At first they though they were just getting back in some way they hadn't blocked off. But they're really not leaving."

"That's odd. Bats have a really high metabolism. They eat their own weight in buts every night or they starve fairly fast. Are they starving up there?"

"I don't think so. I don't think anyone's checked. Or if they have, they haven't, like, talked about it in the paper or the lobby." Larry was a great eavesdropper. "But I've been up to the attic. They look fat and sassy to me."

"How long has the excluder been up?"

"'Bout a week."

"And they're not dropping off the rafters and dying?"

"Nope. The floor is clean."

"The floor can't be clean. Bat droppings are the main reason the City cares about the bats. One newspaper article used the word tons."

"Nope. There's dust. But other than that, the floor's clean."

"That's not right. Did someone clean it?"

"Did you take a good look at the lobby? It's possible. But I kinda doubt it."


Larry looked up, squinting toward the entrance. Then he stepped over and pulled half a bat from behind the counter. That would be half a baseball bat. He just stood there with it, facing the entrance. Eventually this homeless guy wandered in, craning his neck as he looked around.
"Can I help you?"

The man started. The he started again. One hand flapped. He rocked back on his feet and looked up at the ceiling for a few breaths before he started talking. When he talked, one hand would tap at his belt or chest while the other hand pulled at his face, beard, or hair. To start with, he never looked at us at all.

"Clip-off," he said. "Jar, container. Clip-off. Rest. Hmmm."

He hummed for a bit. Both hands wandered until they found themselves in a position to hug his elbows against himself, and then they settled into doing that like it was their job. He rocked back and forth, then bent to look at the floor.

"Reconnect. Rest. Clip-off. Yes."

"This hotel is closed. You can't rest here."

"Container. Rest. Damn."

He held his hands in front of him. His fingers moved as if they were feeling the fabric of the reality in front of him.

"Damn. Damn. Senso . . . senso . . . apparatus. Damn."

I felt sorry for the guy, up to a point. He obviously would never get it together. I didn't think he was drunk or stoned. But this might be the aftereffects of past highs. Or past abuses trying to get high. I've seen people ingest godawful stuff in the hopes.

"Sorry, friend. No apparatus here. Books. We have books here. If you want a book we can help you, otherwise you'd better leave."

"Float. Rest. Clip-off."

"Out. The street's that way."

Since Larry was saying 'we', I helped him turn the guy around and walk him through the lobby and onto the sidewalk. He didn't fight us. He had all he could do to keep his feet under him as we moved. Larry handed him a free paperback and pushed him in the general direction of St. Mary's. At least that's the way it looked to me. The guy wandered away, half of him trying to turn back and explain things to us and half of him checking out the book, trying to determine what manner of object it might be.

"So. You got any other freebees? Maybe even ones with their covers attached?"
"A few. Hardcover, even. One on how to use the slide rule, from the sixties. Tries to be hip in an I'm-not-really-sure-what-those-beatniks-are-but-I-think-they-talk-like-this kinda way. One a little older explaining how if bible prophecy is properly decoded, it proves that the world will end in 1949. It was written in the early 1930's. Has a section that's a short story showing how it will be. You've got a buddy who collects those, don't you?"

"Yeah. I'll let Mark (Daisy Gray - first boat to Stockton) know about it. He may already have a copy. He says that every decade or so, someone writes a novel about the biblical end of the world. Says they're really popular among certain groups for awhile and then they fade as they get dated. He has all the current Spirited Away novels. He's miffed that they're milking it so much. I guess the writers of past decades were satisfied with just one novel."
"It's not Spirited Away. That was a movie. It's something else."

"Something else? You're the book guy and you don't know the title?"

Larry shrugged. "Not the kind of thing I carry."

"I thought you carried everything."

"No. That's the kind of thing you get if you buy from customers. I don't buy from customers and I don't sell speculation."

"I noticed that you don't do fiction. You say you prune the nonfiction, too?"

"Prune it to the bone."

"That sounds gruesome."

"Got one on making ships in bottles that you might like. The prose is crappy, but the diagrams and pictures explain it well enough. Only twenty."

He was right. The prose was bad. Very obsessive. But the obsessiveness that turned even the simplest instruction into a boring lecture on neatness also turned the diagrams and pictures into a snowstorm of lettered notes and insets that was a real hoot. Cut off the stack of notes in the figure title and . . . I'm not sure what, but ideas were coming. I could feel them bubbling in the back.

By then I knew I had enough to work with, so I took the time to haggle him down to two. He never mentioned the disk again, but I caught him watching my jacket pocket a time or two - little involuntary eye flicks. Then, since morning was turning its face toward afternoon, I said goodbye to Larry and headed for Charter Way, now officially Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. - which is way too long for informal purposes, on the north side of south Stockton, just a little south of Mormon Slough.

Burrito wagons are not supposed to stay in the same place for mor than half an hour by City statute. They're also not supposed to have tables to sit at. Regular establishments get shirty over transgressions and send in letters of complaint to various municipal agencies, which is sort of the reason for the statutes to begin with. Sometimes things work out.

I start out at El Dorado and Charter, get an order of fried okra at Church's Chicken, walk a couple of blocks to get a double-fisted carne asada burrito from a regular side street roach coach, and sit in the patio of Sid's Shack, right next door. I know all the waitresses and cooks there. They know I want coke and applesauce and that I don't care how soon it comes. That I'll stay longer than strictly normal, but I'll tip well. It's kind of buying the table. They chase casual burrito eaters out, but have a small stable of regulars. I don't know who settled on the drink and applesauce as the going rate, but it works. I enjoy equilibrium states.

I'm halfway through the burrito when Terry comes out with the goods. She parks them in front of me and parks herself in the next chair, stretching out her legs. Which means she's on break now. Most of the girls at Sid's like okra. I'm not fond enough of it to eat a whole order. So it works out.

"How goes Monday," I ask.

"Too busy for before the lunch rush. We're supposed to get a lull, let us get our prep done before lunch."

"A lull-less Monday. I wonder how many L's you'd have to put in that, if you didn't use a hyphen."

"No idea. Ask me when I'm sane."

[Continued 9/11/14.]

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