Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Working At Walt’s Old Shop

The chickens squawk and scream. I run out to catch the burglar or a dog, but it’s just the roosters fighting because it’s spring. Once I come near they stop fighting and squeal quietly to each other….”Human being. Danger. Danger.” I tell them to shut up and go find a job for Chrissake.

Coming over here there was a traffic jam on I-10 for road work, and we just finished rebuilding that road. Nothing is under control, all a mad rush to death.

Sunset, a jet flies into clouds over Davis Monthan Air Force Base. Empty door frames to walk-in freezers lean against their wall panels beckoning without hope of entry. Hulks of old machinery excellent in its day wait for their true value to be recognized by nature.

A class in refrigeration science starts next door in the classroom Walt built out of Walk-In panels. No windows to that room. Walt’s in his seventies, but I don’t think he’ll ever retire. He drives an old Ford service truck that looks about as beat up as he does, and some businesses ask him to move it to the rear of the building so it won’t make them look bad, but he teaches advanced refrigeration science to the guys who drive around in the fancy new trucks bristling with tools and organization and fancy logos. I look over and see the students outlined against the setting sun, big gutted men all angles and straight stiff rigid lines like potatoes with toothpicks stuck in them waving and wobbling. They talk and joke. They belong to some community I can’t belong to even though I work on the same machinery as they do. And I feel bad I’m not learning what they’re learning

Because I’m stuck doing service and maintenance work to make money to do art except I haven’t done any lately. I borrowed Walt’s shop to work on a frost top, a refrigerated slab of granite, like the cooling slabs at the morgue, used at ice cream parlors and sushi restaurants so customers can feel more elegant while they're eating. It’s going too slow to be profitable.

I’m cleaning out oil that’s been overheated and charred because the new ozone friendly refrigerants they give us cause high compression ratios and overheating. The oil gets charred, carbon builds up in the capillary tube, temperatures and pressures rise in a cascade accelerating feedback loop very analogous to snowmelt combined with ocean warming combined with deforestation et cetera. Walt asked the engineers from the chemical companies about the high compression ratios at a meeting and they said,

“We haven’t addressed that yet.”

So we’re trapped trying to do the best job we can with dead end short term engineering. I know we took a wrong turn somewhere around the beginning of history into an imbalance that brought us to an abstract greed that creates real hunger and pain and now we’re going 200 MPH toward a brick wall.

Just as I suspected, I find little bits of carbon in the oil, blow acetone thru the compressor, condenser and evaporator. It’s tedious and it may all be useless but I have to try. Honor, or some twisted sense of duty, demands it. I get choked up and weak from the fumes….should have worn my respirator….and I was just talking to Walt about seeing this guy seal a forklift tire onto a rim by spraying starting ether inside it and sticking a cigarette lighter in it. A big explosion occurs and either seats the tire or blows it off the rim,

“Some guys,” I said, “you wonder how they stay alive.” He laughed. He’s seen it all. .

The class breaks, the men stand around smoking,

“Buddy o’ mine started working for them and how he’s making….” Drifts across the darkness between us. And so begins the long moaning monotone litany of statistics about retirement, health benefits, salaries, expenses, mortgages

and the piece of sheet metal in between the building and a pile of crap leaning against it, starts flapping in the wind:

boom, boom, boom, boom

like a bass drummer playing a funeral march after the rest of the band died. And three large fans in a long old evaporator on the top of a pile of junk start moving simultaneously in indecipherable semaphore. I decide I have to wrap it up and start over tomorrow, put the tools away.

I ask the one of the guys in the class if he could move his Plymouth Neon so I can back out. I look down at his big gut and think, “What’s the point in a retirement plan & health benefits if you have arteriosclerosis before you’re fifty? Isn’t that like swabbing an arm with alcohol before the lethal injection? . And like ANY of us have a future to worry about?” I ask as I look down at the test he’s taking and say “O fuck it.”

The slow tractor throb of the diesel engine is somewhat comforting, nothing like the illusion of going somewhere. I stop at the ghetto market and buy a bag of ice to throw in the box with my home made sushi. It’s the usual clutter inside the market, hookahs, pot and crack pipes, brass knuckles, knives, porn mags, cheap fast food, dirt and sad faces. I walk out feeling the immense thermal mass of ice capable of absorbing all the heat from my body through my hands

And I think of the ice caps melting, feedback loops capable of exponential, irreversible acceleration without any human contribution, even scientists in denial as I walk across the road toward my truck taillights slowly blinking signaling

Heartbeat calendar, heartbeat calendar, now, now, now, now…..

I want too much. I want things to make sense in a world that was never rational on our terms. I want the kind of security the men in that class think they can count on and it would kill my soul if I had it, if I could keep these fleeting moments forever: the old sounds and smells of chaparral, oleanders, dirt and squalor and the railroad nearby, where a big locomotive sits with all that dark mass in tension, throbbing, its vibrations carried for hundreds of miles

and the headlights shine down the rails to the last gleam of polished steel and beyond that

there is darkness and the same chance we’ve always had.



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