Stik Mann's
OtherSpokane

Issue 21
February 1, 2001
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Running with Scissors
Since 1999
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An e-journal documenting modern culture as it manifests on or near that hotspot on the surrealistic powergrid known as Spokane, WA and/or the known or unknown universe
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Issues Past

Stik Mann's
Past Writings

La Busca Homepage
Trip to Mexico

TheOTHERSpokane
Prototype Project

Coldfire Labyrinth

Judy Roger's
Sarcastic Pantyraid 2000

My meeting with
Stacey #1 - #2

Dewd-ling --
Coversations with Dewd

The Martyrdom of
Magoo
#1 - #2 - #3 - #4

RealDreams

Paranoid-Critical
Letters

New Stuff!
Reality-Based
Correspondence

Speak to me
editor@otherspokane.com
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Greetings faithful readers and welcome to yet another very special edition of Stik Mann’s OtherSpokane.

This lucky (?) twenty-first issue finds your humble narrator hunkered down in the lounge car of Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, somewhere in central (or is it southern?) California, working on his fourth (or is it his fifth?) whiskey on the rocks.

Why, you ask, is Mr. Stik Mann – cheerleader of all things Spookaloo and Eastern Washington too – half-snookered on a choo-choo, pathetically hitting on a tiny Chinese girl less than half his age as the world outside the tinted windows dissolves into a passing blur of night and fog?

To answer that overdeveloped question, some background flashbacks, fast forwards, and even an hallucination or two will be useful:

Ready?

It is the day after Christmas, a scheduled day off from my beloved, low-paying job at The Big Buffet Sign Buffet on Third Street. I have no plans for today and am glad of it, having just successfully survived SantaDaze.

I check my phone messages, and I am surprised to find a message from Jason, the owner of the buffet, telling me to call him back -- at work -- as soon as possible.

This, I say to myself, cannot be a good thing.

Please watch your step here.

It is very cold. The train is creaking and jolting about, creeping slowly ahead at a noticeable upward angle with questionable I-know-I-c-can, I-know-I-c-can resolve. I am wearing a heavy sweater and covered with my leather coat but I am still very cold.

I hear talk that we are within sight of Mt. Shasta, but it is very dark outside and all I can see are dreamy wisps of mal-colored snow, zipping by like little ghost puppets in a wind tunnel, all hauntingly illuminated by the sulfurous glow from the windows of the teetering bar car.

I look down and see the tiny Chinese girl, lying on the bench next to me. She is dressed only in white Capri pants and sandals and a light sweatshirt. She has laid a hand towel over the bare parts of her legs. She is shivering violently.

I reach over and touch her shoulder. She opens her eyes. I pull away my coat and pat my chest, then motion for her to come nearer. She smiles, confusedly, then realizes what I am saying. Her face contorts strangely as it staggers through a gauntlet of emotion. Finally, she scoots over slowly, looking at me directly, as if about to pet a dog that might bite.

Then, she suddenly looks away from me, and does not look at me again, and it as if her apprehensions and inhibitions lift from her like sweaty steam from a large animal. She lays her head on my chest and exhales deeply as she feels my warmth. She snuggles up to me as if we were familiar lovers. I cover us both with my coat and put my arm around her.

And then, just before – or possibly soon after – she falls asleep, she says, “Your trouble…lift.”

As I step from the train, I trip and fall face first toward the ground. But just before I hit, I snap my head up and look around and realize I am still in my seat and that I was dreaming. The little Chinese girl is gone.

“Are you mad, Stik?” Jasons asks.

“This place has been good to me,” I say. “How can I be mad?”

But this is a lie, and Jason knows it. He can see memories flashing behind my eyes. He can see that I feel betrayed. Still, uncharacteristically, he says nothing.

Of the long parade of enigmatic characters that have passed through the employee-and-delivery-only back doors of the buffet, the restaurant’s owner, Jason, is most assuredly (not counting me, that is) the most enigmatic of all. A retired Navy commander, biblical scholar and by-the-Book Christian, Jason runs a tight ship, demanding perfection, though he confesses that perfection is impossible to achieve.

I’ve worked for him for seven years, and in that time I’ve seen him so angry he nearly smacked me (or I him). I’ve seen him reduce a grown man to tears, and then turn around and praise the same man for some small example of good he may have done. I’ve heard him confess things that most men would rarely admit to themselves, simply to shed some light on a similar problem I was having. I’ve seen him lie, cry, curse and pray.

As of this writing, I still can’t say if I love him or hate him.

Jason is the first of three factors that made The Big Buffet Sign Buffet a very unusual place to work.

As it turns out, it is cheaper for me to take the train to Seattle (with an overnight layover), than a more direct route. I arrive in the morning and check into the Moore Hotel. I spend the day walking around the city, exploring shops, observing the behavior of Seattleites from the outdoor tables of espresso joints.

I soon notice that the numeral three has strangely become very significant: Three nuns ask me for a donation; three different black guys say “Wazzup?” to me in the space of about fifteen minutes; three stunningly beautiful teenage girls – triplets – all say “Oh,” and simultaneously put their hands to their mouths, then smile identical smiles, as I stroll around a corner in the Seattle Art Museum and almost run into them.

Later that night, in a bar near Pioneer Square, I meet Lloyd and Nan. Lloyd is a low level administrator for Boeing, and Nan is the same but at a school. We have a great time, but I decline their invitation to go back to their place for a drink.

Suddenly it is warm. I look around and come to realize that there are three prevailing factors that rule over my current situation: the sun, which has reached its zenith in the desert sky; and the breeze, which is cool, to remind us that it is still winter, and whose gusts are the erratic conductor of the third factor – the music – the chimes, the wind chimes, issuing discordant tinkles and dings that strangely unifies the swirling bombardment of sensory input.

Though I haven’t slept in many hours, I cannot leave the comfort of the lawn chair, cannot pull my feet away from the dying but still comforting fire. Perhaps tomorrow I will venture from the bricked patio that dominates the center of the family compound. Perhaps I’ll drive the buggy south down the Gila Mountains toward the Mexican border. Perhaps I’ll hike up a secluded valley and discover the bleached skull of a coyote, or the twisted remains of an army practice missile, or a gold nugget protruding from the side of a dark cliff like a full moon in a clear night sky.

I find myself trapped in an underground mine. I am digging with a stick. Finally I break through the rock wall and gasp. Revealed before me is a vast, golden city. I am amazed and enthralled by this discover; but, as I look closer, I see that it is not a city – it is in fact an amazingly detailed painting of a city on a rock wall.

Jason is going on about why he couldn’t say anything about selling the restaurant, but his words are a distant buzzing in my ears, as he is already fading into my past. Jason answers the phone and explains to a customer that the restaurant is closed for good. The customer seems to be having trouble accepting it.

Sharon, the buffet’s general manager, is sitting next to me. She isn’t saying much. There is something in her eyes that I’ve never seen before – I’m almost certain that it is fear. I ask her what she is going to do now. She smiles sadly and shakes her head.

Sharon is the second reason why the buffet was a very unusual place to work.

Without Sharon, the buffet would have been a boot camp. Sharon was the cooling water to Jason’s nearly out-of-control fire. Sharon was peacemaker, diplomat. Sharon was the compassionate, maternal yin to Jason’s aggressive, hypercharged yang.

There is only one way to describe the effect of Jason and Sharon’s combined pathos: It was a family.

“Come see your home,” says Mom. It is a new addition to the compound: A 24-foot, self-contained trailer. The refrigerator, freezer and cupboards are packed with one of every kind of microwave-able, ultra-convenient foodstuff that mankind has ever produced. The tiny bathroom is stocked with every imaginable toiletry, some of which I didn’t know existed. “And here’s your bar,” Mom says, swinging open a door and revealing two bottles of tequila, a gallon of cheap burgundy, a bottle of Kahlua shaped like a Mayan statue, and half-gallon jugs each of whiskey and vodka. “I want you to be comfortable,” she says.

Buzzzzzzzz…

You are experiencing The Buzz -- it’s what happens when an unexpected bus or two or three pulls into the parking lot and you are the only cook in the kitchen of The Big Buffet Sign Buffet.

See this button? Push it. In exactly five minutes a buzzer will sound. In that time you will pull a tray of chicken out of the oven, toss veggies in the steamer, put a tray of chicken in the oven, flirt with Jen, start a batch of instant mashed potatoes in the mixer, drop fish in the deep fryer (or was it corn dogs?), catch the punch line of Sharon’s latest joke, send out a new soup, eat an entire chicken thigh in 4.7 seconds, spin a pan on your finger to check your hand/eye coordination, cuss the new dishwasher, send out the other soup, call Rob a little commie, stir the meat sauce simmering in the back, tater tots? – you said fish, throw a tater tot at Christa, improvise an explanation for Jason as to why the fettuccini looks like donkey snot, bum a smoke for later, taste a handful of Kelly’s coleslaw, whip up a gallon of country gravy, holler back at Virginia to see if the new, sweet goody is finally done, misinterpret Roberto’s order, burn the garlic-cheese bread, and you will find that you still have six seconds left to make an abstruse, quasi-sexual comment to the new, cute, teenage lineserver.

Buzzzzzzzz…

Now clean up your mess.

It is windy today, out in the open desert, but not windy enough to kick up the sand. It is quite cool as well. I park the buggy next to one of the many washes or “arroyos,” dry creek beds that meander from the valleys of the Gila Mountains and out into the plain of the Yuma Desert.

I had marked the site on the Global Positioning Satellite unit, though it was fairly easy to find again. A few days ago, I discovered here an enormous ant hill – 10 or 12 inches high, and about two feet in diameter. There were millions of the tiny, black creatures about, but the noteworthy phenomenon I found was an arrow-straight, single-file line of worker ants that ventured out from the hill to a distance of 60 or 70 feet, then returned on the same line, carrying burdens of twigs and cut leafs, staggering and bumping into their load-less comrades like drunken soldiers.

I turn up the collar of my shirt and tie a bandana around my neck. I smear sun block on the back of my hands and on my nose. (I dab a bit on the tops of my ears, but the sun had won that battle, having burnt and left them covered with red, gritty scabs.) I wrap elastic bands around the bottoms of my pant legs to discourage any adventurous creepy-crawlies. I grab my camera and pack.

I easily locate the spot. And I am surprised to find no ants – none, not even a straggler. The hill is motionless, except for an occasional grain of sand set loose by the breeze.

I smoke a cigarette and ponder this find when I hear a distant roar. Now, hearing distant roars are not uncommon, as this portion of the desert is within the Barry M. Goldwater Military Reservation, and is often populated with helicopters and jets – and sometimes troops – from the nearby Marine base. There are tales of unsuspecting campers who have awakened to find themselves “prisoners” of heavily armed soldiers who take their reconnaissance play very, very seriously.

And the roar grows louder still, which is also common, but the decibels continues to rise until it is like a sustained explosion, which is not common at all. I turn and cover my head and find the bottom of a jet fighter taking up a good chunk of the sky, looking as if it’s about to slide into home base, which is me. I am knocked to the ground by thunder and fear and when I look up the jet is shooting straight up like a rocket, directly above me, straight up, growing smaller and smaller until it disappears, along with the horrible rumble, directly above me.

I flip him off.

And suddenly it all comes together, the whole kaleidoscopic jumble of images and memories.

I am laying on my back in the luggage rack on the roof of the buggy. I am as far out in the desert as I have ever been. The sun had set hours ago.

Where two weeks ago the sky would have been ablaze with stars, few can be seen now because of the full moon and the amount of moisture in the air, which is unusually high. Surrounding the moon is an enormous halo that appears to be composed of clouds, but is, I know to be, an optical illusion.

I attempt to separate fact from illusion. I neatly tuck the dreams in the bottom drawer and the reality in a neatly folded pile on top of the cabinet. For the most part, the task is fairly simple, until I am forced to deal with those images associated with the last seven years as cook at The Big Buffet Sign Buffet on Third Street.

What do I do about that third most important reason that made The Big Buffet Sign Buffet such an unusual place to work? How do I file them all away? Where do I put Jason, gathering us all together to explain the fragility of life following his father’s death? Where do I put Sharon’s calm resolve? Or Roberto perplexed at my Spanish? Or Todd’s detailed philosophy of sex? Or the Christmas bowling parties, the late night beers, the off-colored jokes? Where goes those who entered with their lives a mess, and left with it in order? Or visa-versa? Where do I put Lindsey’s laugh? Keith’s red eyes? Dan’s Rainbow tales? Paloma’s “We got chicken” routine? Where goes Virginia’s personalized birthday cakes?

I realize that in order to succeed at the task, I must yield to failure. It is only when I give up, when I stop trying to figure it all out, only when I take the neat bundles and strew them about the desert does it all comes together.

Or should I say, rather, when it will all come together.

And that, my dear faithful readers, is why your humble narrator is hunkered down in the lounge car of the Coast Starlight, somewhere in central (or is it southern?) California, working on his sixth (or is it his seventh?) whiskey on the rocks, and pathetically hitting on a tiny Chinese girl less than half his age.

 

Next Issue: Dunno. Next month, maybe sooner...


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Stik Mann's Other Spokane and all content within
Copyright © 2001, Steven J. St.George
(unless otherwise noted, or as glaring as a turban at a Grange meeting)