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‘To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage almost, almost all of the time — and in one’s work. And part of the rage is this: It isn’t only what is happening to you. But it’s what’s happening all around you and all of the time in the face of the most extraordinary and criminal indifference, indifference of most white people in this country, and their ignorance’ – James Baldwin.
Robert Locke, a temporarily unemployed travel company representative, woefully disregards government quarantine regulations and takes to the streets in his adopted home of Malaga, only to be arrested almost immediately.
The dance that night was in a converted cinema. We sat in the front row seats and watched the natives giving it, like it was 1919. Country and western was big in the hinterlands back in the day. Sugary sweet songs of the poor emigrant Paddy in his bed-sit in London, pining for his golden haired girlfriend and his silver haired mother while he drank himself into a stupor.
My vacation condo’s washer/dryer combination is tiny and inefficient, so I launder my comforters ten miles away at the decrepit Maple Fuels Wash-a-Ton. The old-school machines don’t take credit cards, only quarters. It takes a lot of quarters to wash a pile of gamey comforters. Since my mortgage and HOA fees are high, I have to rent my place to overnighters through Air Bnb. The guests are often careless, spilling wine and body fluids willy-nilly on the bedclothes.
But the metamorphosis deepened, and I became the most frightening apparition of all: the man who really was a dog. All human perspective was gone now. I was a tall dog standing on its hind legs, teetering close to traffic. This was serious. I could bolt into an oncoming car, or nip a passerby in my confusion. I looked around me at the world of people, orderly for them but incomprehensible to me.
I guess they’re the kind of lyrics most songwriters would use as a place-holder before coming up with something more universal and generic. Apparently the Beatles song ‘Yesterday’ was originally about bacon and eggs, but obviously McCartney decided to change the words to something more commercially viable. Thankfully commercial viability isn’t something I need to worry about. And for me, at least, I still find the lyrics quite meaningful as they are.
I sit up in bed with my hand over my eyes. The shards of sunlight, shining through the open window and the scream of a scooter from the street below make me wince. Through my fingers the black and white poster of the singer Morrissey looks down on me with pity from the bedroom wall. I return the look with remorse and regret.
And so I often find myself wandering through a hollow house alone, as he adventures to the tool sheds in the far corner of a backyard. I sift through the trinkets, the decorated knives, commemorative postcards, and wonder – who held these before me? I find a binder full to bursting with buttons of all types and sizes and colors. What hands carefully sewed each into place?
Lesson learned. When dealing with the Island Greeks, they’re lovely people, but they’ll take you to the cleaners given half a chance. This deflated our egos for a few nanoseconds. We saw a family out back refilling plastic water bottles from a well. If the silly tourists want bottled water, we’ll sell them bottled water. This was the Greek idea of keeping the tourists happy.
Twenty-nine years ago I was an off-off Broadway playwright clerking in a chi-chi toy store for grown ups on the Upper West Side when in walks Robin Williams. I was speechless. He smiled and nodded at me before exploring the various aisles. I knew he was in rehearsal at Lincoln Center for Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting For Godot, so as I sneaked peaks at his inspection of the store, I tried to think of what I would say to him should he approach my register.
My old company were the masters of web hosting hyperbole. One of our most famous internet magazine ads listed everything as free, except the price. Free hosting, Free web space, free domain name, free email address, all of which begged the question; if everything was free, just exactly what was the punters paying for?
In an hour, I will go across the street to Subway for a six-inch vegetarian sandwich. I’ve heard the buns are made from the same chemicals as yoga mats. However, this could be an urban legend. I’m hungry and inclined to take chances with my health. Also, I’m an optimist. There is no way a pessimist could be out on this highway.
Do you remember Fridays? The indescribable feeling of utter joy that signified that thankfully school was over for another two days. The misery of sitting in a classroom against your will was to be alleviated and replaced with the respite of resentment from parents who didn’t know what to do with you. Yes, Friday was a fine time. Friday represented hope a brief, fleeting window in which anything was possible and the misery of school, with its press-gang style education was exposed for what it was, finite.
No one ever plans to end up as a dancer on Bourbon Street. It’s an employment choice born of pure desperation. I worked at a unisex joint called Sweet Mama’s. After only two weeks on the job, I despised every minute of my interminable shifts. I lurched around the club in stilettos like an awkward stork, as songs like “Strokin’” and “My Prerogative” pounded in the background.
Last week David pulled his pants down in the class and farted in another boy’s face. David farts all the time. He loves the smell and sound of his own farts as do the rest of the class, chortling away when he breaks wind for the tenth time in the hour. David is also a racist, making Chinese eyes or calling the Latin-Americans dirty monkeys. David is 13 years old. There’s not much of a positive spin you can put on that ergo the utter bollocks above.
For a moment, I actually consider telling him that it’s bad form to dress up too much for a part. Then I imagine the horror on the faces of the auditioning panel as they stare at this fucked-up embodiment of a child’s nightmare. Goulée takes my hand and pulls me close to him. There’s a reek off him of booze and Tiger Balm. “Hey,” he says. “Do you know where I can find some Asian prostitutes?”
Beyond Work documents humans at work using words and reportage photography, with no judgement or glorification. It’s an attempt at unearthing the social, cultural and functional world of work that’s invisible in everyday life. In this series, Curtis James interviews Norman Macaulay, a man who has been working as a refuse collector for the past 27 years.