My Pagan friends Mala Noche and Jymsdottir, for instance, work at the Christian coffee shop. Mostly for shits and grins. They were hired last year after returning from Burning Man, where they ran a successful fair-trade, shade-grown coffee yurt on the playa. Their preternatural skills at caffeinating everybody from Anarchists to Furries to Zappa-ists, using camp stoves and old Italian steam espresso makers they found at thrift stores, gave them a marketable skill that many, many years of half-assed college credits would never touch. So, even with the stench of patchouli and goat milk soap preceding them, prognosticating crystals and the double-headed labyris glinting between their tattooed breasts, they were hired at the decidedly non-pagan, Brew Testament: Coffee Room & Bible Lounge. Used to as I am to the Gothic scare tactics of the Catholics, or the slightly manic Methodist bingo crowds, it seems strange to me, getting my morning java behind the sacristy. This cash-cow offshoot of the evangelical breed of Straight-Edgers and Born-Again Virgins, is located just next to the rectory, has fresh homemade jam-drop cookies made by the Ladies Shut-in League, subscribes to the Monitor and Country Woman, and offers plenty of parking.
So —what the hell? I go...
Even if truly open-minded, the coffee shop manager had also been truly desperate. The older good people of the First Presbyterian parish had only ever drank the dregs of Folgers or Sanka from enormous dull-nickel Servaware urns. They hardly knew what to make of the Bazziolla professional “Eagle’s Nest” copper-clad espresso machine. To them it looked like it belonged in a chapel crêche, lit beneath with candles. The youth group originally staffing the shop, was earnest and got up bright and early and were generally eager to help, but none of the crew could stop proselytizing long enough to remember how to work the coffee press. Several promising young things scalded themselves and threatened to bring the little shop to its knees, not in prayer, but workers’ comp claims.
“The Saved just aren’t skilled, really. That’s why they ask for money on those programs all the time. Just my opinion.” Jymsdottir shrugged matter-of-factly as she expertly decorated my drink with a foamy topping, replete with the anarchy symbol. I took my drink, paid and added a healthy tip in their counter jar. I knew the Pagans showed me a modicum more interest because I did that, rather than say —because they thought I was hot. But I didn’t care too much. Mala Noche and Jymsdottir were lovely to watch. Of the Pagans’ multiple expressions in body art, I can tell you that the tattoos include: a Kaballah tree with (I think) holy Scratcher numbers alight on its branches; an illustrated bone pentagram; the Hindu Wheel of Life which slightly resembles the gameshow wheel from Wheel of Fortune (Mala’s a self-admitted Wheel Watcher). Also, Snoopy as WWII Flying Ace on his Sopwith Camel is very visible whenever Jymsdottir wears her dotis.
“Dood, employers can’t discriminate on the basis of religion.” Jymsdottir told me this while she steamed some fresh milk. My Pagan friends call me Dood.
“Or sexual preference.’ offered Mala with her lascivious smile. Mala Noche who loved unspoiled virgins of any sex, probably more than a jihadist on a suicide mission. She was grinding a coarse setting in the giant bean hopper, so the conversation paused for a dark-roast Sumatran scented moment: two Wiccan high-priestesses preparing their elixirs, suffusing the beige linoleum surroundings with a golden aura. They cast a spell on the Brew Testament patrons and ran a cozy business. They didn’t try and convert anyone, and usually let the more pushy zealots off with a twinkly smile when asked about their soul in the afterlife.
“We’ve already been there and back’ Mala Noche will quip, ‘Hell is Starbucks.”
Not surprisingly, everyone agrees.
My other Pagan friends have regular jobs, like managing at 7-11 Food Stores or selling motorcycle parts online. Very blue-collar, choke-chain kind of work. Nothing wrong with it, moreover, nothing interesting either. Only one Pagan, Lou, is doing something really weird. His money comes from personal injury by the way, so it automatically converted him from agnostic to raving atheist. See, he was once just an average earner, loading and unloading for the Northern Pacific Railways. His vision quest was to make enough money and retire to Alaska in the shifting shadows of the calving glaciers. Then in a freak railroad accident, a compromised shipping container gave way against the train car doors. A half ton of therapeutic ice packs dumped on him while he was stationed for unloading at the dock. They all burst in their little sacks, triggering the chemical cold and instantly freezing into one giant blue iceberg on his back. This crushed his body and gave him severe frostbite on his lower limbs. For each shattered vertebra and skin graft, he won something like one million in pain and suffering combo from the railway and the medical supplies company. When he was able to finally wheel away from the trauma, he sort of turned against what some call “God's plan…”
He also had had enough of ice. Alaska was right out.
So, now exceedingly wealthy but unable to do much with his fused back, except watch TV, he bought a luxury estate near Huntington Beach at a foreclosure auction. Lou sank all of his settlement money into shamelessly promoting it —like a B-movie star’s agent, desperate for a comeback for both their sakes. He’s had glossy photos taken of the house and bound in a coffee table style book. The façade has been painted (and re-painted), primped and landscaped several times over. From a command center in a small back bedroom, furnished like a utility suite, chair-bound Lou cold calls location scouts, production companies, and commercial agents all over the L.A. empire. He offers them high teas at 4:00, BBQs and Happy Hours at 6:00 and Midnight pool soirees. All this he says, is to “give the girl a shot.” The shot is to get his house selected to be used in one of those advertising wet-dream shows, like say The Real World, or Flava of Love or The Bachelor. So far as I knew, he’d only been able to convince a Bravo TV team to take a couple of digital snaps of the marquetry pavers in the driveway. The rest of the time, he sat alone in an enormous empty shell waiting, quite literally, for the knock of opportunity.
“It’s not fair...’ Lou calls to kvetch. I pick up because I’m only on my third glass, and I can still operate syllables.
“She’s got presence, style. This house wasn’t built by some Kaufman-Broad committee. The architect was an Ayn Rand fan!! She’s gorgeous with great bones. The camera loves her!”
“Hollywood’s a tough business, man.” I don't know how to console him exactly. I try and be helpful. “Maybe you could rent a room out? Something with a faster turnaround than a reality show?”
“Dood, I am NOT going to have her in pornos if that’s what you’re saying —She’s better than that. Victoria Principal leased here.”
“Nobody would have to know,’ I’m unsure what I'm saying ‘You could like, put up a fake wall? A backdrop of New York? New carpet?”
I heard his wheelchair bang into his desk, “Listen, if I take her down that road, the neighbors will never agree to let us have evening shoots. Sure, the nearest lots are easy 1/4 mile away but they have pretty strict R&C around here. This is an upscale address. It’s not like San Fernando OK? We’re not Wonderland with DVDA and coke in the toilet...”
I make a noise of agreement. Speaking with Lou nowadays always leaves me grunting.
“Well, I gotta roll, D. I need to make sure the cleaning guys finished the edges of the infinity pool. Tonight’s party might be the clincher! So long as this retro monstrosity on La Cienega can’t accommodate live animals, we might be home to a great Buena Vista show called Monkey Business. It’ll be like a cooking competition show against chimps, or with them, or something... But, really —huge tie-ins with Jamba Juice and GE. That guy from the Food Network is on the short-list to host —We’re talking major exposure. If I nail this down, I’m hiring you as my Transport Captain.”
“Yeah? Wow. So, OK great. Talk to you later.”
We hang up and I think about how much this guy has been through. Why did I think he was weird? He’d definitely found a purpose. He was self-sacrificing and sober. He loved something bigger than himself and wanted to share the beauty he found there with others. It was Jonah swallowed by the whale, and then instead of fighting and slicing to get out, just sort of camps out and orders head shots.
Yet and still, my Pagan friend Lou? Weird guy.
Honestly, I know I have absolutely no business in rating my Pagan friends employment. I am a pretty low rung on the ladder myself. Or, perhaps I don’t qualify as a rung because I don’t know how anyone climbs to the top of the profession “Parking Valet.” I guess I am at the zenith, since I’ve been valet at D’Accord for seven years, and I now oversee the roughneck crew of less than bright kids and older burn outs who park with me. In the valley of the marginally employable, the man with merely one-point on his driving record is king. Le Roi c’est moi.
My Pagan friends call me Dood, but my parking crew know me as Dudaleigh MacInnes, because we are all expected to wear name tags when parking. And, that is my for-real, typed on the birth certificate name. It’s even a legacy, as I am the roman numeral 4 of a line of Dudaleigh MacInnes’. I through III, all gone, so I’m out there flapping on the last thread of the family banner. Most of my homeboy crew though, call me “D-Mac” without any discernible irony. When I’m in a shit mood, they love to further it by calling me Carrot Top, D'Lucky MacCharms, Cabrón and all manner of pet names which, were I built to swing a claymore, they would think twice before letting me overhear them. But, I’m more likely to roll my eyes then roll their heads. As pale and wraith-like as I appear, I know my physical limits. My hair, which I keep long, is reddish and wavy and I also have the matching goatee. That popular snowboarder kid? He could be my twin, if he were 8 inches shorter, pan-faced with womanly hips and non-committal posture. All through high school I wore black; all through college. Now, at age 41, I still wear black. Occasionally, a white tee under a black shirt, but otherwise -the classic misfit wardrobe palette. The deal with black? It’s an absence of color, or the sum of all colors… I don’t know. But it’s easy to shop for me… Except for my childbearing hips... So, yeah -chicks dig me.
The phone rings, and I let the machine do its toll work. A voice purrs through the automated response,“Ahhhhh...Dudaleigh, sweetie... Pick up. I know you're home.”
My mother's voice. I debate picking up. If I don't, I feel guilty, and if I do I have no idea what I’m in for. Being an only child, and a male child, makes me sensitive about the apron-strings I feel still strung to my wrists, wrapped in my guts. Mom’s parents paid for the school I slouched through for four years, and now, hell –she pays my phone bill, so I really ought to pick up.
“I’m speaking to you. This is my voice, echoing, recording... Testing. Testing. 1-2-3. I guess you're not home then. Working at Versailles, hm-mm... C'est vrais sous enfant credible?’
Mom doesn't think much of my valet situation. Thinks it’s pre-Victorian, like I’m a foot-man for the landed gentry. Considers it a drain on my overall esteem and the reason I drink like I do. She also speaks no French, but likes to use french words to mock the restaurant.
“Quelle allors cherchez! I’m feeling the need to share. Is it wrong to want to share with my only son?’
I can hear her moving around while she's speaking. I hear a taping sound. Like something getting taped. I'm drunk enough to be curious, but not so drunk I make the mistake of talking to her while I’m on my second bottle of wine.
“Well, you call me back’ (which she knows I won’t) and then we can...’
More ripping tape, slight jostling of phone ’share... Bye-bye.”
I pour a generous glass of 3 buck Chuck and try and read about Kant but I really can't.
(to be continued)