Gardener – Does that mean most of us are like Pooh, assuming he bought the pot of honey with his own money.
Writer – Which I doubt. With all due respect to the Old Man, the diversity of that gang over by Hundred Acre Wood is not based on the limiting value of money.
Gardener – What else is there? A few of us know how to put our money to work until we’ve more than we need – much more, while the rest of us barely manage to stay afloat.
Writer – I think the majority of us don’t think of money until we need it?
Gardener – I think those who need money think about it all the time.
Writer – I know people who think most of us without money are lazy or corrupt.
Gardener – There are people who are lazy or corrupt.
Writer – Most of us are simply indecisive. We work hard but get discouraged because we’re going nowhere. There’s the kids to feed and cloth, the grandparents to take care of, the neighbors. . .
Gardener – Is that an excuse for spending money on things we don’t need. That is not in our best interest.
Writer – It’s difficult determining what we need.
Gardener – We need food, water, clothing. Let me throw in shelter.
Writer – What if self-interest is a questionable asset? Perhaps it depends on opposing values. There’s long term value and short term value. Some might call it the broad view or the narrow view. There’s only one thing a drug addict considers in his or her immediate self- interest and that’s scoring.
Gardener – While the self- interest of a drug addict is better served in the long term by getting off drugs and becoming a free human. I get it.
Writer – We’re surrounded by things that are supposed to make us happy. So we reach out and take what is offered, deferring payment because in the immediate realm we need happiness
Gardener – But there are enough hucksters telling us that with little down and lots of time we can buy what we can’t afford.
Writer – Of course sooner or later time runs out. In our society money is the only exchange through the turnpike of goods. That’s why most of us are unsuccessful. We’re not the Kings’ people. We’re the Kings’ subjects, the consumers of the Kingdoms. It might explain why we’re constantly dissatisfied and unhappy.
Gardener – Well, I’m happy! At least when I’m gardening. And I’m not a businessman.
Writer – How many teenagers want to be gardeners?
Gardener – The Youth liked working outside! You told me he raked leaves, mowed lawns and caddied.
Writer – That was before puberty. He sat in the pine tree and daydreamed. He never said he wanted to be a gardener. More likely he wanted to be an explorer. He’d read a Classic comic about the birth of the nation. In a section on Lewis and Clark, he discovered his hero John Colter, who stumbled upon Yellowstone, just a frame around colored ink where a startled figure on horseback calms his horse as Old Faithful rises into the clear blue sky above the Rocky Mountains.
Gardener – I thought he wanted to be like Roger Maris?
Writer – That too, when he was eleven, playing baseball like all the other kids. But he couldn’t hit the ball to save his life and when someone hit a high fly out to left field where he stood like an expectant knight surveying a field of windmills, he felt so much pressure to catch the ball, he always missed. Then came puberty.
Gardener – And girls.
Writer – Now he wanted to be like Fabian or Dion. He wanted to be cool. But he couldn’t sing.
Gardener – I guess gardening saved his ass.
Writer – It’s never about what we can do best but what’s in fashion. Remember when computer programming was the rage? Young people wanted, indeed were guided toward careers in computing. Only a few succeeded. Most were white collar slaves until the bubble burst.
Gardener – They wore ties and jackets instead of overalls but that didn’t change what they were.
Writer – They might have done better as mechanics or carpenters. . .
Gardener – They could still wear ties and jackets if that made them feel better!
Writer – But we can’t blame them. Those were the jobs been sold in shop windows. The trades were looked down upon. Shop classes had been all but eliminated in high schools. No one, not even trades people, wanted their children going into that line of work.
Gardener – But you and I have been lucky. We’re immune to fashion. Marketers don’t affect us.
Writer – Are you crazy? No one’s immune! We all desire something. That’s why ad-men troll the waters of commerce for likely prey.
Gardener. – You think we’re like our neighbors who always return home with bags full of things?
Writer – You think we’re different?
Gardener – I don’t think of ourselves as shoppers.
Writer – If you mean we’re not distracted by window displays then I agree with you.
Gardener – Actually I see my reflection.
Writer – We have the same problem.
Gardener – But that image of me is superimposed on a million objects behind me.
Writer – You mean in front of you. The objects in the window can’t be behind you.
Gardener – Not the real me, but in back of my reflection.
Writer – Like Narcissus.
Gardener – Yeah even paper-whites. Thousands of them crowding the displays this time of year.
Writer – No, the Greek teenager from mythology.
Gardener – Teenager?
Writer – He was trapped by the image he saw in a pool.
Gardener – What image, what pool?
Writer- You know the story! Narcissus, the son of Liriope. . .
Gardener – I know liriope, they’re not even in the same family! Liriope’s in the iris family and makes a wonderful ground cover!
Writer – Perhaps in your world, but in Ovid’s world of Metamorphoses, Book III, Lirope is a river nymph who is raped by the river god, Cephisus. Their son is Narcissus, whose beauty is renowned. But he spurs everyone’s overtures until one day he is bending over a pool of water and sees his reflection. He falls in love with what he sees but can’t possess it.
Gardener – What’s that got to do with me standing in front of a department store window?
Writer – Well, I don’t know exactly – only that you’re staring at yourself and can’t see the display items beyond your reflection.
Gardener – Maybe you can’t seen beyond your reflection; but mine is imbedded in the stuff that’s for sale. It’s just another object, only it’s me.
Writer – No, it’s your reflection.
Gardener – Same thing.
Writer – No it’s not. You’re standing here in front of me, just the way you were standing in front of the shop window. But you can’t own that reflection, any more than Narcissus could embrace the boy he fell in love with in the pool.
Gardener – What I see in the window is as immaterial to me as all the things behind me, I mean behind my reflection. It’s as if I’m drowning.
Writer – In a pool of material items.
Gardener – Just the opposite happens to me when I look into the night sky. I feel tremendous. The Moon, the planets Jupiter and Venus, and all the stars make me feel as if I am something important. My body flows out into the cosmos. It just happens. But when I stare into the static display of a shop window, I disappear, I reach out to save myself from an attraction that seems to threaten my identity.
Writer – You’re not kidding. But don’t think I haven’t stopped in front of a pastry shop and wanted to sit down at the counter inside and order a coffee and a pastry. But which pastry?
Gardener –It’s odd, isn’t it, since the Old Man was a great salesman?
Writer – What’s odd?
Gardener – You and I being on a different frequency than sales-people.
Writer – I told you we’re not immune. The Old Man wanted the Youth to work with him, but they never got along. The Old Man couldn’t sell him on it.
Gardener – So he was immune, immune to the Old Man’s pitch, even if others weren’t.
Writer – They just didn’t get along period. Years later the Youth was working at a restaurant on Madison Avenue. One afternoon he was serving up Rob Roys, extra dry to some salesmen sitting at the bar. They were regulars but one of them hadn’t been around in a long time. His friend asked him if he’d been out on the road. The guy told him he was working for a new outfit. The two men talked shop, moving their glasses around the counter as if they were railroad cars full of goods. The Youth listened to them talk while he washed glasses in the sink beneath the counter. It didn’t seem to matter to them whether they were selling toiletries or Cadillac’s, the process was all that counted. They were salesmen. They enjoyed the pitch to the customer. He realized his Old Man was different. Not only did he enjoy the pitch, but the product was his baby. He’d nurtured it into existence by trail and error. He not only made the stuff in the family garage, but delivered it on call. He believed in the product as much as he believed in himself. He didn’t have to bribe the company buyers the way the corporate salesmen did. He knew the people working on the floor wanted his product. Not only because his cleaners and waxes worked, which he knew since he used them himself, but also because the Old Man was always there whenever maintenance called him in a pinch. It didn’t matter what time of night. If they needed a batch, he’d mix it and bring them a 50 gallon drum that night.
Gardener – That kind of integrity you can only get from a small business.
Writer – But as charismatic as he was on the floor of a bus terminal or an airport hangar, he failed to convince his kids. His products meant nothing to them. Besides he was temperamental, his way or the highway, a one man company.
Gardener – But all this doesn’t tell me why we never buy pastries. We never buy anything! I know people who think we suffer from a deprivation of the senses.
Writer – We buy books, too many books.
Gardener – Books! Yes, your focus comes to a rest on books.
Writer – Sometimes after reading a book review, I find myself orbiting the book’s gravitational field slowly dropping closer and closer toward the moment I must buy it. All my guarded reasons for not buying it, all based on experience, the knowledge it won’t change anything, are burned away as I enter the books aura with its hope of resurrection. Sooner or later I buy it. It’s inevitable. I’m flush with happiness. Just the feel of the book makes me feel good, even as I drop it on my stack of unread books.
Gardener – Is this bad?
Writer – I don’t know. It’s all I know. But was it in my best interests to have yet another book? I don’t know. And what about you, is there anything more addictive than buying plants?
Gardener – Buying new plants is like finding buried treasure. It’s not like I’m having a bad day and need to go out and buy plants. There’s always so much to do in a garden. The physical work siphons off frustration. But every plant has the potential to fit into the mythic garden where the Youth grew up. I look for species that will illuminate the hidden ways back to that long ago landscape. I know they’re not plants he knew, when he first sat at the top of the Pine tree like Adam surveying Eden. But it provides me with possibilities. Eden is always changing, but the substance of it remains the same, it’s the same place he was seeking. It’s a place where pain has been filtered out and happiness distilled.
Writer – And what about the sailboat?
Gardener – Kismet.
Writer – Like I said, no one’s immune.
Gardener – Buying Kismet was extravagant. I worried about the monthly payments. I knew that Huevo, one of the gardeners where I worked, bought a new car every three years. The price of our third hand boat was probably less than one of his new cars. Buying on time didn’t daunt him. He actually enjoyed looking for better deals and better rates on a new loan. He joked with me. He said if I waited until I saved the money I’d be too old to sail the boat. Then he added, “You’ve worked hard, haven’t you?” “Everyone feels they’ve worked hard,” I replied, “even slackers.” He chided me. “Live and let live,” then added, “go ahead, buy it, you deserve it!”
Writer – Even our mother of solid Scotch heritage took out a personal loan every three years in order to take her mother and her three kids across country in the family station wagon to visit relatives and friends out west. Besides we paid off our debt in five years.
Gardener – That was twenty years ago and we’re still sailing her.
Writer – Maybe you’re right, maybe we are lucky. We take after our mother.
Gardener – That’s what I think. We’re thrifty, like her.
Writer – Unlike Pooh bear, who needs little encouragement from the Kings’ creative writers to have a little something.
Gardener – Huevo said “live and let live.” If people didn’t work like me, they were slackers, period.
Writer – Sounds like he was trying to say the same thing the Old Man was saying.
Gardener – Only it appeared to me like letters in a mirror.
Writer – Or a reflection in a pool of water.
Gardener – But the words that have stuck to me, like burdock seed on wool socks, is “you deserve it.” I didn’t deserve Kismet, I wanted it.
Writer – The most recent meaning of “deserve,” according to the Oxford Dictionary, is to “earn or become worthy of(reward or punishment, etc.); secure by service or actions, gain, win.” Oxford describes the Latin and French verb “servir”- “to serve” which I assume means to serve others, plus the prefix, “de,” which augments or reverses that service. It seems as if someone who has been served is rewarding the server for service well done.
Gardener – But Huevo said “I deserved it.” I mean he said “you deserve it,” but he wasn’t in the position of giving me what I deserved. He was assuming that I must feel I deserve it.
Writer – That’s the curious twist, isn’t it? When we tell ourselves we deserve something, we’re transforming service to others into something self-serving. Like the self-service at The Automat, only instead of a cherry pie and a cup of coffee we serve ourselves a conceit. It seems to morally or ethically justify our desire. We are “worthy of” serving ourselves something we want!
Gardener – I don’t need a justification for what I want. But I do need money.
Writer – Didn’t Huevo say you’d worked hard?
Gardener – That’s not justification.
Writer – But you like being paid. It’s nice having a good salary that provides more than just basics in survival.
Gardener – I earned my salary. Besides, the salary would never have been enough if my heart wasn’t in the work.
Writer – You don’t clean bed pans.
Gardener – I admit I’m lucky, a gardener. But I worked hard for my salary.
Writer – In other words you deserved it.
Gardener – No, I was paid fairly for something I did. It was an agreement. I do this for that. Money is the exchange.
Writer – Fairly? You sound like D’Anconia during his sermon on money at Jamie Taggart’s wedding party, in Atlas Shrugged, Part II, Chapter II.
Gardener – Aren’t we going backwards?
Writer – It’s relevant. When you say “money is the exchange” you’re practically paraphrasing Francisco. He said, “Money permits you to obtain for your goods and your labor that which they are worth to the men who buy them and not more. Money permits no deals except those to mutual benefit by the unforced judgment of traders.” But you know as well as I do it’s easier said than done. We’ve already seen, and Adam Smith pointed this out, that those with capital to pay for labor, work together to keep salaries down. It’s in their best-interests to demean the “worth” of a worker’s efforts. And if the worker has been unemployed for some time as many are today, he or she is desperate enough to take whatever’s offered, because most of us don’t want to be on the dole. Our “worth” is rarely based on our abilities but on conditions like mass unemployment which lowers the value of work the way inflation lowers the value of the dollar.
Gardener – In other words, we’re not worth shit.
Writer – If we are to believe what Francisco says about the worth of “your goods and your labor . . . to the men who buy them” then the one who sells either goods or labor or both and the one who buys the goods and or labor must agree to something that’s in their mutual best interests. This kind of agreement assumes the broad view. To the seller it guarantees income and to the buyer it guarantees that this quality he or she values will not disappear.
Gardener – How can we agree on the broad view, when each side clamps down on self-interest with the ferocity of a dog gripping a bone.
Writer – There was a time, after working many years at the garden, upper management thought you as a middle manager was earning enough and should be paid no more for your services.
Gardener – That’s true. Which would have been fine as long as the price of food and clothing and rent remained the same.
Writer – But you convinced them that if you didn’t receive cost of living, you would leave.
Gardener – But one of the gardeners under me did not have the same clout.
Writer – Huevo.
Gardener – Yes. The executive director, at that time, did not think he deserved a cost of living raise.
Writer – 2%
Gardener – Exactly. Not only was he the gardener who had been there the longest, he was having back problems. Management decided to cap his salary. This wasn’t just a matter of economic life and death. His pride was hurt. We were a non-union garden.
Writer – He invited the union.
Gardener – Yes. A nasty struggle ensued between management and labor. In the end the gardeners voted in the union.
Writer – Whose side were you on?
Gardener – On his side, the side of the gardeners.
Writer – You felt he deserved 2% cost of living increase.
Gardener – Yes. And I told upper management this. Instead of accepting my recommendation they pursued a costly war against the staff, which easily exceeded the cost of 2% that he requested.
Writer – He would have been satisfied with that?
Gardener – Absolutely. It was a matter of being fair.
Writer – But you and I know it has nothing to do with being fair. It’s whatever you can get.
Gardener – Which is why the gardeners brought in the union.
Writer – And the gardeners won, a pyrrhic victory, I understand.
Gardener – The potting shed morale, the primary engine for the garden’s success, was destroyed. There’s much more to this story but it deserves a separate telling.
Writer – I agree. At any rate, Huevo had earned that 2% because his salary was based on existing economic conditions like the price of food, clothing and rent.
Gardener – His salary was based on his work, but the salary was worth less because of inflation. Either he got paid cost of living or worked less to accommodate inflation. But in my book working less wasn’t an option.
Writer –The Kings’ people say that Huevo caused inflation because he wanted more money.
Gardener – Can the Kings’ people prove that the egg came before the goose?
Writer – I think we’ve agreed that work created Humpty Dumpty.
Gardener – Right. And management came later.
Writer – But aren’t those paying the salaries entitled to spend their own money as they choose?
Gardener – The garden is non-profit, so the money belongs to the taxpayer and those funding projects, but I see what you mean. In the broader sense when the product is sold in the public square where Humpty Dumpty used to sit, then the production process is communal. Labor and capital amount to the same thing. The man with capital can’t run machines or use his hands creatively but he or she can pay others to do it. Money and Labor need to sit down and negotiate without ideologies for masks.
Writer – But when the employee feels he or she deserves more money, the employee is putting him or herself at a disadvantage.
Gardener – Right, better to say I want a raise.
Writer – Just the way we wanted a sailboat. And money is what you and I and the wife used to buy the sailboat.
Gardener – With the help of a bank loan
Writer – Another agreement which we signed after reading the small print.
Gardener – We wanted the boat. We bought it using funds earned at work and to be earned at work.
Writer – To be earned is crucial to the equation of what is possible.
Gardener – The bank loaned us the remaining funds assuming we would pay them back according to the agreement we all signed. That loan was not based on the “merit” of our desires. We didn’t deserve the loan.
Writer – Nor the sailboat.
Gardener – That’s why we paid interest on that loan, that’s how the bank made money on our loan. It wasn’t based on what we deserved. We accepted their terms.
Writer – Nor do we deserve the chocolate cake at the end of the meal because we’ve finished the meal. But I assume Christopher Robin’s parents like all parents worldwide have enticed and continue to entice their children to finish their green ham and eggs with the promise of dessert.
Gardener – And so we’ve grown older nurturing Pooh’s justification for “for a little something.”
Writer – As if anyone deserves a sailboat!
Gardener – We wanted the boat, as simple as that.
Writer – On the other hand, the Pooh Principle manifests itself at the highest levels of all the Kingdoms. All the Kings’ men are rewarded with “a little something” whether they succeed or not. They call it, the bonus. It’s the cornerstone of the corporate world. The carrot dangling before every ambitious prince.
Gardener – The honey pot at the end of every financial rainbow.
Writer – Even though the Kings’ men and women work in offices far above the production line, they serve themselves the desserts of a production they often know nothing about.
Gardener – Especially bankers.
Writer – The difference between what they make and what our neighbors make on the floor of the assembly line is the primary reason the pockets of the few are full of the money our neighbors’ lack.
Gardener – But don’t our neighbors realize that when they buy back on credit the products they’ve made but can no longer afford, they are helping to make the Kings’ people even richer?
Writer – Our neighbors believe they deserve it.
Gardener – Even though the Kings people use this money to pay our elected officials. . .
Writer – The Kings’ vassals.
Gardener – To help the Kings people reach deeper into our neighbors’ pockets.
Writer – In his fascinating book, The Marketplace Of Revolution, How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence, T. H. Breen describes how the colonists went from being loyal consumers to practitioners of “non-importation” of those cherished products of the British Industrial Revolution. He describes the stages in this evolutionary journey from consumer to political activist. To quote Breen in Part II, Chapter 6: “during this early phase of protest” – Breen is referring to the colonists reaction to the Stamp Act which was an added tax on imported goods from Great Britain – “it gradually became apparent that consumer sacrifice would help Americans preserve what they defined as their basic rights and liberties. . . [T]hey began in published pieces to equate the pleasures of possession with broader, more public issues of constitutional misrule, a move that accelerated a symbolic process that would in time allow discontented Americans to conflate a perceived loss of freedom with their own participation in the consumer marketplace.” He quotes two writers of the time, one from Philadelphia who writes that the Stamp Act “awakened a whole continent,” and here I love the phrases that follow, “till then, going on in luxury, sinking into a forgetfulness of their liberty.”
Gardener – The continent still sleeps!
Writer – Another writer, who called himself Economicus, says, “Every person who owes more than he can certainly pay is in a state of thraldom, and cannot, in speech or action, exercise the rights of a freeman. How carefully then should we, who entertain such high sentiments of the blessing of liberty, avoid every step that may involve us in debt, and thereby deprive us of this boasted liberty.”
Gardener – Almost 250 years ago and nothing’s changed!
Writer – Ostensibly, we have more to choose from! The Kings and the Kings’ vassals in Washington want us to believe they are the guardians of “choice.” But what is choice if it involves only what can be bought and sold. Breen also quotes our Adam Smith in Part I, Chapter 3, Section 3, “A great empire has been established for the sole purpose of raising up a nation of customers.”
Gardener – Today we’re the same customers buying the latest fashions from overseas. At least the Brits, at the center of their commercial empire, were reaping the benefits of our colonial debt.
Writer – Let’s assume the Old Man’s principle was as true then as today.
Gardener – You’re probably right. Still, here in the heart of the American empire we’ve been marginalized while the Kings slowly cut their tethers to the Homeland – as our leaders call it – to achieve global supremacy.
Writer – Breen again quotes Smith, “For the sake of that little enhancement of price which this monopoly might afford our producers. . ,” – The monopoly Smith is referring to is the Navigation Acts prohibiting other nations from trading with the colonies and forcing the colonies to buy finished goods from England only, – “the home-consumers have been burdened with the whole expense of maintaining and defending that empire.” Of course, we don’t have to buy a cherry-colored overcoat made overseas.
Gardener – But an overcoat made here costs more than a coat made overseas!
Writer – Well, who’s to blame, the banker or the tailor?
Gardener – The tailor’s blamed and all he was trying to do was make enough money to feed himself and his cat.
Writer – It’s hard to believe that someone like the Mayor of Gloucester didn’t put any of his own money down when ordering his extravagant wedding coat for Christmas day.
Gardener – Are you saying the tailor had to spend his own money buying the material for the coat?
Writer – Apparently all of it. He had barely enough to buy himself and Simpkin, the cat, food. And not only for the coat but material for the peach colored satin waist coat as well.
Gardener – What a bain to a small business. But it would seem the tailor is to blame since he accepted the assignment without a down payment
Writer – Well, I’m sure he tried but he had little leverage here, in spite of his obvious skills, being poor, desperate and old. It seems this was his last chance to make his fortune.
Gardener – The mayor must have been shrewd.
Writer – Oh yes, like so many of the Kings’ vassals, he also been one of the King’s men. In fact he got his start in a private equity firm.
Gardener – So that’s how he learned to invest other people’s money and labor to get the things he wanted.
Writer – As any Vietnamese or Chinese worker knows money is equal to labor the way mass is equal to energy. But luckily for the tailor the mice understood that! In the broadest terms it was in their best interest to help the poor old tailor for non-monetary reasons!
Gardener – Didn’t Simpkin the cat come to a broader understanding of self-interest too?
Writer – It’s true he was annoyed with the tailor at first because the old man had released all the mice that he had caught. But when Simpkin saw the grateful mice sewing the Mayor’s coat, he realized that by saving the old man from the poorhouse they were saving him as well, since he too depended on the tailor for his general well being.
Gardener – Didn’t the Mayor become the governor of the state?
Writer – We’re not talking about that Gloucester, known for Cod, but the city of that name in England.
Gardener – Oh I know, it’s near Romney Marsh, known for a breed of sheep.
Writer – No, that’s in Kent. The Tailor lived in Gloucester, not far from the River Severn near Wales.
Gardener – Oh.
Writer – However, can we blame the Mayor who has the means to get what he wants, when all of us dress like mayors whether we can afford it or not. Either we work together like mice to overrule the Kings or we remain the pawns of our fashionable obsessions. From the Kings’ point of view, cheap labor allows immediate returns.
Gardener – No wonder the Kings of older kingdoms complain about their aging staff of Huevos, protected by the unions. It makes it difficult for them to compete with young kingdoms where the employees start out earning much less.
Writer – To stay viable in a cut throat economy the Kings need the freedom to keep salaries and benefits down. In fact the end of the year bonus is sweeter for the Kings’ men when they achieve this.
Gardener – How can the Kings expect us in the Homeland to buy the latest toys and wear the latest fashions with our low salaries?
Writer – They don’t, that’s why they ship our neighbors’ jobs overseas.
Gardener – How can our neighbors buy anything if they’re unemployed. Is the Mayor of Gloucester, using the tailor’s mice?
Writer – Well that story is of an older time when mayors and their brides dressed in petticoats and tails. The tailor would have gone to the poorhouse or what they called the workhouse. These days are much better. The Kings don’t fret over lost sales because we now have Unemployment Insurance.
Gardener – What if the Kings’ vassals. . ,
Writer – Our elected officials.
Gardener – In their efforts to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, kill unemployment insurance!
Writer – The Kings have always claimed that minimizing wages benefits customers! Ironically, the Kings’ vassals expect our unemployed neighbors or those now working beneath subsistence to have enough money to buy the games and toys their lords, the Kings, ship back to the states!
Gardener – Who’s John Galt!
Writer – Unfortunately the Kings are only interested in John Galt’s efforts to kill regulations, not in John Galt’s generator.
Gardener – It would be a boon to small business since it doesn’t run on oil!
Writer – The Kings will only bring production back to the United States, if we give them absolute fealty which means accepting lower salaries on the assembly line.
Gardener – Which leaves our neighbors no choice but to buy the Kings’ latest fashions in the Kings’ chain stores!
Writer – Which reminds me of the Ball and Chain Company Store, where the Youth and his high school friend stocked up on food and gear during their stay in the White Mountains of Arizona, a year or so before I met him. It’s a memory the Youth shared with me sometime before he disappeared. He and his friend arrived in the small mill town of McNary with little cash in their pockets but a guarantee of work from a lumber company. They were assured by the company agent, they could buy what they needed on credit and the amount of debt would be deducted from their paychecks. At the time this seemed like a good thing. The Ball and Chain was the only store in town. It was owned by the company. For months they lived on a tight budget.
Gardener – But this couldn’t have been a hardship. They were young, their expenses were small.
Writer – True, and they enjoyed the novelty of the work. They worked out in the loading area covering stacks of finished boards in sheets of white Polyethylene, a relatively new material. They spread the plastic over the board wood that came out of the mill in stacks, folding the ends as if they were wrapping huge birthday presents. Instead of ribbons they tightened down metal straps with a ratcheting tool and stapled the folds to the board ends. Forklifts then loaded the stacks onto railroad flatcars waiting on a nearby siding. The air smelled of Limber, White and Ponderosa pine. In the afternoon they watched the thunderheads build, crack like seashells underfoot, before sending everyone in the yard undercover. Moments later the rain stopped, the sun returned and the smell of the forest was even stronger.
Gardener – Of course they weren’t there to settle down. It was a lark, an adventure.
Writer – That’s true. They rented a shack out by the town dump, and scavenged most of their furniture, even the mattresses from the garbage. There they reveled like fools feeling like kings living under a roof they called their own, drinking Coors beer with a number of young ladies who were intrigued by these easterners. Then one morning they woke up itching all over, an unbearable sensation of helplessness at the hands of the unseen. They hauled all that shit back out the door to the dump. By this time they’d caught up with their expenses, so they moved out and rented a small cottage in the neighboring town of Showlow from the mother of one of their friends at the mill. She remembered being a child when the new owners of the mill had brought in the first train loads of blacks to replace the local workers. “They took jobs away from white folk,” she said, “people who lived here all their lives.” The Youth thought she was referring to the new owners but she was talking about the blacks. The Youth and his friend sat in her kitchen, sun streaming through the curtained windows of the country styled house listening to her describe the scene. Her feeling were so evident, it seemed as if it happened yesterday. He imagined hordes of blacks arriving in open door boxcars and swarming the town like locust. He saw it as a black and white newsreel, like those he’s watched on Saturday mornings in the back room in the days when he still climbed the great pine like the first man. First came The American Farmer followed by The World At War. He didn’t understand that that these black folks had brought their families and arrived in regular passenger cars like anyone else and that this had all happened in 1923, because the new owners were lumber men from Louisiana. The young men thanked the woman and left with her son to see the cottage. Her son was engaged to be married to a young woman with hair like wheat bright with sunshine and a sweet smile. Years later they learned she had gone down to the University in Tucson and married a black man. By then the times were topsy turvy everywhere. The cottage was out behind the woman’s house, beneath a stand of tall pines. It was made of logs, like the main house, nicely furnished in rustic manner. It had a real bed with sheets and a coverlet. They were in heaven.
Gardener –The Youth believed in hard work. He felt that an individual should be able to account for himself and not depend on the generosity of strangers. He was bred on conservative principles.
Writer – It’s easy to think that way when you have only yourself to think of.
Gardener – Self-interest in its narrowest context.
Writer – It would have been different had he moved there with a family and with the expectations of a bread earner hoping for a piece of the American pie. He began to understand what it meant for the people he met in the mill who had been born and raised in the small town. Like Jesus Campo, their young Mexican friend, the oldest of nine children and the family bread winner, who lived in a house packed with his mother and siblings on the edge of town – a house slightly better than the shack by the dump.
Gardener – Only it was a home where you wouldn’t find fleas.
Writer – Jesus was always in the hole! He never received a full paycheck. On payday he still owed the company money!
Gardener – But his mother always made enchiladas hot as hell for his new friends when they came over on Sunday.
Writer – They sure weren’t like the enchiladas they’d eaten in those new pop-up drive-ins down in Phoenix!
Gardener – Too bad that lumber company hadn’t been run by Bob and Charlee Moore!
Writer – Or Ray Anderson!
Writer – I think we’ve agreed that work created Humpty Dumpty.
The Gardener Returns, Part Five
the Mayor of Gloucester didn’t put any of his own money down when ordering his extravagant wedding coat for Christmas day.