it's not alllll good | Book Talk | Bend | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

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Culture » Book Talk

it's not alllll good


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They say things are done for the majority.

Don't believe half of what you see and none of what you hear. It's a lot like what my painter friend Donald said to me, "Stick a fork in their ass and turn them over. They're done."

Lou Reed, Last Great American Whale

It's over. I'm not talking about the elections or the high holy day of Halloween. I'm talking about the big It, our big illusion that It's Alllll Good. Say it sappy, say it oblivious, It's Alllll Good.

If you want a mini-me of America, ride the train - not Greyhound, because on the bus you don't get to eat with retirees and hot shots who can afford a sleeper car. CBS paid for me to ride the train from Seattle to New York City. There's a full report on my Psychology Today blog, She Bets Her Life, click on A Spy in the House of Duh...

A few hours out of Seattle, the dining car steward called for first seating. Since my meal was free, I overcame my aversion - make that revulsion - at having to eat with strangers, and let myself be seated. I was alone for a blissful minute, then the host waved a tall young guy into the seat across from me. I put on my shades and stared out the window into the dark. The guy grinned. "You too?" he said.

"You mean... "

"Hate making small talk?" he said.

"Oh yeah, but so far this conversation isn't small talk."

He told me he was headed for Williston, North Dakota, to work the oil fields for 20 days out of the month, the other ten he'd spend back in Seattle with his wife. "She's not going?" I said. He laughed. "As if we could afford that."

He told me he'd be washing trucks and doing basic grunt work. He shrugged. I took the cue. "What's your real work?" I asked.

"I'm a landscape architect. So is my wife. There's no work now. And my wife's brother's wife and their kid have moved in with us while he job hunts."

I told him I was the author of six published books, a writing teacher with 20 years experience in colleges, universities and private circles - and working a part-time minimum wage, albeit fascinating, job. We were joined by a woman who listened to our conversation and chimed in. She had a master's degree in social work, had worked for twenty-five years for a non-profit and was now greeting people at Walmart because of budget cuts. Three stories out of three. Nobody said, "It's alllllll good."

Later in the lounge car, there were more stories from carpenters, teachers, computer programmers, all out of work, overqualified for shit jobs, taking the train to a new town where there might be something, anything. I listened, then went to my sleeper compartment. I was grateful that CBS had paid for it. I had barely been able to pay for the gas to drive to Portland.

As I was drifting off to sleep, the phrase It's alllll good echoed in my memories. I remembered standing on one of the bridges over the Deschutes on a late May evening feeling trapped in the dead-end, debasing job I was then working. A jolly guy walked toward me, patted my shoulder and said, "Cheer up. It's allllll good."

"Who the f---k are you?" I snarled. He missed the subtle reference to The Who. "You don't know me," he said and sauntered on.

We crossed paths on a second bridge. He came beaming toward me. "Hey," he said. "Look at this. It's really a miracle." He held out his hand. A gossamer-winged insect was pinched between his fingers. "It's a salmon fly," he said. "Don't worry. They don't have any feelings. I'm a fly fisherman. We pinch the wings, toss them out on the water and when a fish surfaces, we know where to fish.

"Here," he said, "You toss it."

"No," I said. "You're cruel." He reached out to pat my shoulder again. I stepped back. "Don't touch me," I said.

"Hey," he laughed, "lighten up. It's alllll good."

- Mary Sojourner


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