please stop tickling me

In which we laugh and laugh and laugh. And love. And drink.

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Location: Portland, Oregon

Otium cum Dignitatae

Friday, December 01, 2006

Taxiland Memories, II

Let's see: Okay.
It's 1992, and it's right around the middle of the day. I'm told to go to the Moose lodge in Lacey.
My passenger is a man who is carrying a bunch of manila envelopes, and has prominent welts all over his face. He tells me that we need to go to the airport; Sea-Tac. He has received his orders, and they specify that he is to kill Saddam Hussein.
I first note that he is not going to McCord Air Force base, a good half-hour south of Sea-Tac, and where he would probably originate from, before his top secret mission to kill the leader of Iraq, no doubt leaving on a black C-137.

The next note I say out loud. "Are they generally in the habit of sending assassins who are drunk at noon, and are loudmouths who spill their entire mission to cabdrivers?"
Turns out, he's just going home. "Then to the airport! ...Later!"
Lo these many years later, Saddam is still alive. My mission is completed. My passenger sure does appear to have drank himself to death/died in a bar brawl/is in prison for abusing his wife/molesting his child. I marginalized the opposing agent.

My passenger is drunk at Three in the afternoon, and has prominent welts on his face. He smells of rising bread dough, and I hate him. I often take him the perhaps three blocks he lives from his favorite bar, to receive the bare minimum, no tip.
I ask what's up with the welts. I had noticed on many occasions that he seemed to be one of those unfortunate cases that was already developmentally disabled before beginning his career as a drinker. This does not make me like him better than I do.
"So what's up with all the welts on your face?"
"I FELL DOWWWWN!", he says.
"You fell down," I said. "Imagine that." I hate him so much.

Later, I take a couple out to Shelton, a timber town twenty miles to the west. She is unhappy with her husband's choices of late, which are laid out in a code so personal and thick that I can't quite get what he did or didn't do. She keeps up the barrage of invective, and he addresses me, the cabbie, the Parole Officer divine, the rolling Shrink.
"See how you are?" this is directed at her, with a look at me, in the rearview.
She continues, pointing out what a worthless fuckup he is, and he throws up his hands.
"See how I am?", he asks my reflection.
And she just keep on, pounding and pounding at the man's already weak self-esteem, with things that he no doubt has actually done, and they are certainly bad things. However, she's a fucking harpie, no better than he is in her way, throwing in her lot with a jackass like this, just to follow him around for the next couple of decades, making his already decidedly awful and pointless life worse, and he says...
"See how we are?"

Whilst in Shelton, I take a little time. I pause by the enormous cross-section of ancient tree they have at the entrance to town, to note when Christopher Columbus got here. I get a call at The White Spot.
"Proudly Serving Whites Only Since..." actually, that sign's an antique. It has to be, as it was federally mandated in 1964 that such practices on the part of a public business are illegal. However...
It's another one. A guy who doesn't seem drunk so much as brain damaged. Though he is certainly drunk: Washington state is one of the better ones I've seen for serving your ass until you are face down on the bar, and then denying responsibility for your later actions. They compensate by denying people with out of state ID. But he's not just drunk, as I say: this is a head injury talking.
"So what's up with that shack out on Totten Inlet?" I ask. This is one of my favorite questions.
The shack is old, rusty, and made of tin. It also has 'WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE, SCUM', spraypainted on the window, and 'FIRST WE'LL CUT OFF YOUR FINGERS' on the door.
The inevitable response: "You didn't live there, did you?"
No, no I didn't. So?...
"Nothin'." This is always accompanied by staring straight forward. "Nothin' happened in that shack."
The stupid thing is, it's not all that hard to find out what did happen. Shelton being as small a town as it is, one guy getting busted for drugs could indeed rat out the whole town, and that's what happened. The guy who lived in that shack probably was then in the nearest prison...Right outside Shelton...

Back again, and I got Laura. She is one of the few black people that lives in Olympia. She's okay if she's not sober, or if she's not too drunk. Just enough liquor, she's all right.
On this occasion, she's very pleasant. Making conversation with me, ceasing to accuse me of "pushing me down a ravine and making me pay for it" (don't ask). Being very nice and manageable for an alcoholic of sixty-some years of age, looking for the life of her like those Carl Van Vechten photos of Bessie Smith.
She gets out, tips me far more generously than usual. I thank her profusely. Smiling, she points down.
The seat where she's been sitting the whole time is soaked in her urine. Still smiling at her little joke, she closes the door and walks away. I grab the paper towels that I pretty much always carried with me, in those days.

Then it's down to The Grief, where I pick up Tex Eagan, who I feel I can name by Actual Name here since he is almost certainly dead by now. He is in the company of weirdo junkie/alcoholic woman whose name I forget, and who I don't feel like applying a sobriquet to, here.
She is dragging him back to her place, for reasons unclear to us both. Tex is the owner of a small burger joint on Oly's west side, and actually lives down south, in Littlerock. I'm trying to not pay attention to the shenanigans in the back seat until we actually get to her trailer, back behind a cement plant in Lacey.
That's when I see it: he doesn't wanna go. He's too drunk to talk, but is shaking his head No, and is mutely imploring me to take him away from whatever weird awfulness is about to befall him.
I actually have to think about this one, a minute. This has gone far beyond any Bukowski-esque dreams any asshole like myself might have had. I might be taking part in the abduction of an elderly, comparatively rich man, I think. But also: the man in question spends his time drinking himself into a particularly ugly puddle each and every night, and sort of deserves to be done in by some casualty of the Seventies. I'm not his fucking keeper.
But above all else: This guy is so rich, so senile and so drunk, he keeps a lot of our asses in beer money, these long lonely weeks, and this bitch has never done a damn thing for me. I tell her to fuck off, and have to physically prevent her from dragging him from the car. I take him home.

I pause briefly, and write down a few thoughts:
Headlines fall like rain as the slow drag Billie Holliday song continues. Shot across the rooftops as something ticks out there; something designed not to be noticed.
Out headlights roll patient impatiently through the rain The Long Parade. The Sound sucks at our steps across the pebbles of the beach. It wants to swallow you. And you, unhesitating, are drawn toward it.

See? I was an asshole too, in those days, and fancied myself a Poet. Note that clever play on words involving The Puget Sound. C minus, student.
Actually, what little poetry I ever did that was worth a shit was composed in taxis. Check "The Taking of the Cain Woods" and "Nisqually Cut Off Blues" in the red Mead Single Subject (80 sheets) notebook, after I am dead. They're winners.

Hm. Matter of fact, I just found this in same notebook. Printed here without editing for early-Twenties idiocy:
The man had walked alla way from Shelton. That's twenty miles or so. He'd had a few drinks and a bite to eat. He now wanted to go home, and that's where I wander in here.
He explained how he'd done the walk this morning as I marvelled at how frail and old he looked. Brown suit, two flannel shirts...
Naturally I dumped in my own input about the beauty and nobility of walking how those who travel in contact with the Earth truly own it, etc. and we discussed how outta whack the seasons were a beautiful, brief, intense winter that knocked ya down and beat hell outta you, then-ah. Spring!
"It was one o' the things you could count on, now it's gone, too." he said.
"Yeah. I figure it's an indication of how outta balance everything is." I concurred.
Again, our main topic:
"Walked all the way over here from Shelton. Think I just about killed my legs."
"Mmheah I bet."
"I live with-"
(and it's weird. I was gonna ask him that)
"-my daughter and son in law. He's only 49 and I can outrun him."
"He's into his Soft Years." I said, pausing to consider-yeah. We become teenager, adults, then MidleAged, then teenagers again,although most never recover from the downtime of The Soft Years.
And I was sitting beside a 75-year old teenager.
"I can rest faster than him, too." my passenger said, with a crusty grin.
"Yup. I bet." silence for a while. Always happens, we recharge, clean out the barrel and then-
I say, "Hey uh I feel like there's a lotta questions I should be asking you, like what'd you do for a living, when you worked?"
" I was a carpenter, a roofer enlisted in unions...Any kind of union job 'at had to do with carpentry."
Silence again, we were rollin' down by Mud Bay and he says to me, "Wanna know how I became a carpenter?"
"By praying. I asked God and he told me what to do."
"Wow. I see."
So I'm riding along with 75 year old teenage Jesus in my cab...Um,
"Yeah, I just asked the Lord and he showed me in a dream. I believe in prayer. I figger the guy upstairs knows more than I do (snicker chuckle)."
Nice to note that all this was devoid of the usual proselytizing. A Walkin' Man, God Damn. Nice to be able to count on your feet for life and always there is the Foreman on this job, all set t' give you Guidance.
"How long were you an apprentice?" I asked 'eem.
"I wasn't. I knew how to after the dream. Signed up by the unions as a journeyman. They came for
I could envision him, hands and arms comically distended, blurry slappin' studs together an' planks and joists, out in the darklands, the unions seeking out this carpenter messiah healer.
"Never had one house rejected..." he was saying.
"I bet not..." Journeyman Jesus Teenage Elder...
The trees stood tall dark witness beside the road as the Olympics started looming ahead.
"Two people gave me rides when I was on my way to Olympia," he now said.
"One of 'em gave me twenty bucks."
For no explicable reason, money also rained down like advice from Upstairs for this guy and for what must be the Ten Thousandth time in my life, I thought, "Maybe the unexamined life really
is better..."
"While you were praying, did you fast, too?" There we go, seeking The Rational Explanation again. Oh , he starved himself into The Visionary State and I could easily do the...
"Yeah, yeah I did."
"For how long?"
"While I'm workin'...Oh, a day at most."
"I see."
"I believe in fasting and prayer."

It ends there, with a note: "(there is no end...)".
Later in the notebook, I make a note:
When god was handing out jobs, he looked at me, threw me the keys and said, 'You Drive'.



Blogger disco boy said...

never really understood how you did that. i don't like drunk strangers. i always find myself next to "that guy" in the bar, friendly at first, and then slowly, surely... some sort of hateful xenophobe who's convinced all his problems are somebody else's fault. sometimes mine.

plus, while you get some good stories and meet some odd folks, it just seems like everyone has contempt for the poor taxi driver. especially the white ones. kind of like being the only white kid in a landscaping crew.

it takes a strong man, rich.

6:34 PM  

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