Saturday, June 30, 2012

Conversations May: In League With the Gainful

I should have seen the pattern coming, I guess.

What I remember is hearing, perhaps approaching summer in my junior year, that a friend of a friend was leaving his job at the independent market in Fair Oaks Village. (The store has long since become an antiquery, which somehow seemed inevitable, along with the rest of this.) He worked in the meat department, cleaning up at the end of the day. A couple of days after I heard this, I was talking to him, and we arranged to meet at the meat that Friday. I felt a slight sense of dread amid the excitement, but it wasn't the one I should have been feeling.

We both arrived on time, the butcher gone, and he began showing me what he did, at a lightning pace: here are the knives, put them in this sink right here, then take this towel and wipe down the block; you need to remove the band from the saw and clean it (screw, screw, flip, twist, somehow the band comes out); take these trays and put them here (into the walk-in refrigerator, perch several trays with some sort of meat unsteadily on some upended produce boxes); these trays go on the floor (back and forth from the refrigerator, trays now cluttering the floor and requiring a kind of terpsichore to bypass); sweep here, put some fresh sawdust here and sweep it around - and before you know it, about ninety minutes are gone and he's saying "so you're doing this Monday, right?" And I'm looking at him like an oncoming freight train, frozen in incomprehension. And he's out the door.

So Monday arrives, after school and an improbable span of time both fretting and celebrating, and I find myself again at the meat counter, the butcher again gone, completely, utterly alone despite stocking activity elsewhere in the store, perhaps someone counting money in an office, little care I. Let's see, there was the saw, that's right, now what did he do again?

I somehow managed to coerce the band out after twenty minutes or so, and moved some knives from point A to point B. Let's see, sawdust now? the hamburger trays? those boxes or these?

When all was said and done, I managed to find a home in the fridge for all specimens of meat, and got some proportion of the tools of the trade fairly clean. Sawdust was scattered everywhere, on the edges of trays, up the sides of the produce boxes, all over me. I remember going home around 9, exhausted and befuddled, expecting really nothing at all but bedtime.

Next day at school felt like a busy day, and I don't remember anyone asking about what happened on my first day, and so I lacked the appropriate trepidation when I arrived Tuesday afternoon to find the butcher beside himself, pressing money into my hand, and ensuring me my services were no longer needed. He began a litany of what was wrong, then gave up in disgust as I fixed him with the oncoming-train look.

Amazingly, I actually landed a job that sort of worked the next summer, at the still-extant Capital Nursery on Sunrise, watering, cutting cans and loading plants for customers, moving things around, finding approved hiding places if there was insufficient work. The highlight was driving the electric flatbed carts around, surely a pastime all boys would love, even with the occasional collision with a bed border. I already had taken my mother's suggestion to apply to take the federal and state civil service tests, and in the fullness of several years they would both bear fruit. But apart from the slings and arrows of a stint making Christmas decorations at Cal Expo (regards here to the dauntless Paul H.), I would be carefully protected from areas out of my depth, and really all other things save boredom, as I made my way into the employment realms of my twenties.

Friday, June 22, 2012


“…Who are we?
Are we fictional? We don’t look
like our pictures, don’t look like
anyone I know…
Time is the treasure, you tell me,
and the past is its hiding place.
I instruct our fictional children,
The past is the treasure, time
is its hiding place…”   
Forbidden City, poem by Gail Mazur

“When I’m calling you-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo
Will you answer too-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo…
Then I will know our love will come true
You’ll belong to me; I’ll belong to you”
Indian Love Call, popularized by Jeannette McDonald and Nelson 

“I'm the urban spaceman, I'm intelligent and clean
Know what I mean?
I'm the urban spaceman, as a lover second to none
It's a lot of fun
I never let my friends down
I've never made a boob
I'm a glossy magazine, an advert in the tube
I'm the urban spaceman, baby; here comes the twist:
I don't exist”
Urban Spaceman by The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band

At about the one year mark, Bongo resigned.  This was the guy who, from the very beginning, was our unofficial “leader”, keeping the place humming with his wacky zen/surrealist take on things, inventing most of the lexicon we used and encouraging everybody there to push their particular creative boundaries, no matter what musical style they presented.  Shortly before he left, he announced that he and his wife were relocating to Canada.  For reasons that are still unclear to me, we found out after he left that he was lying, and in reality, they had purchased a geodesic dome in the desert near Flagstaff.  Of course, when we figured out that he really wasn’t that far away, a group of us felt compelled to embark on a surprise pilgrimage to see him; we had to make one last connection.  (And perhaps that is an explanation for his original story?)

At the time, none of us really had a reliable vehicle that would without doubt transport a half dozen people from Sacramento to Flagstaff.  The closest thing to it was an old, green, sluggish ‘63 Chevy station wagon that Donna and I owned.  There was no choice but to make this journey, so we agreed to drive our car.  We somehow managed to all get time off together: along for the journey was Bongo’s closest friend at the Northern, Ichabod, his partner, the incredible singer Egg, Bo Richards, Happy Jack, and a non-Northern friend who we picked up in Los Angeles called Flaphoot.  How we actually made it to Flagstaff and then the dome is at this point unclear to me, but needless to say it involved a nearly non-stop 15 hour drive to get there, at least several frayed nerves, and a couple of road challenges that had us literally pushing the vehicle over semi-steep “hills” along the way.  

We finally arrived somewhere on the Colorado Plateau and could see his dome in the distance.  It was the only visible structure; everywhere else was desert and some distant hills.  We stopped our vehicle about a half mile away.  Deciding to make our arrival as dramatic as possible, we quietly approached and surrounded the dome.  When we were all in place, we broke the calm silence with a chant of “Bongalo-o-o!” over and over, seven wasted, exhausted travelers calling out to their friend.  A half-naked Bongo eventually came running out of the dome with a baseball bat, a crazed semi-maniacal look on his face.  You could see the anxiety slowly turn to disbelief and then to joy when he realized it was us.

Bo Richards and Happy Jack
We only spent a couple of days there, but it was an amazing 48 hours.  I hadn’t ever been interested in the desert (the ocean’s more my thing), but the calm, the glorious evening beauty, the sunrise, the stillness, exploring and finding beautiful pieces of indian pottery scattered about, it all was intoxicating and inspiring in many ways.  We sang and talked about future plans and of course agreed to stay in touch and see each other in the near future.  (I have not seen or heard from Bongo since.)     

A few months later, about eighteen months after it opened, I left the Great Northern.  I can’t exactly remember why.  As I recall, there were several things in my life at the time that were pushing me in some other directions.  But there were also some “issues” at the restaurant, I believe concerning the working conditions, that Antoinette (who I think was managing at the time) was trying to solve, and it was affecting the workplace “vibe”.  I believe she quit over it and I quit too.  I think she was re-hired a few weeks later, but I stayed gone.  For me, it was time. 

Ich and Egg
My last night there was somewhat typical (with one major deviation).  I played Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 and Urban Spaceman early on, when there were only a half dozen C’s in attendance.  The place started filling up and Kevin really got things rolling: most of the night he always wore a short hair wig, but when it came time to perform, he would tear off his wig, spilling beyond-shoulder-length hair down his back, grab a guitar, and start pounding out Johnny B Goode, running and leaping around the room like a man possessed, belting out the lyrics and driving the C’s wild.  Dennis Broadway played his absolutely gorgeous version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.  And the rest of the crew exploded with their most high energy songs.  After a particularly poignant a capella Indian Love Call duet with Antoinette, I started my introduction to Hank Williams’ I Saw the Light, which consisted of a nightly stream-of-consciousness “rant” before the song itself, usually delivered with the outraged intensity of a particularly volatile preacher, or a carnival barker off his meds.  Gray started playing the piano, Ozone joined him on guitar, and then, one by one, the entire waiter/bus/twinkie staff left their posts and came over, the musicians joining Gray and ‘Zone and the singers waiting to join in on the chorus. 

My final rant was about the evils of materialism and the almighty buck, so of course I had to prove my sincerity by giving away my tips that night.  I went from table to table, staring each C head on, bellering and fuming and leaving a couple dollars or more at each table, relinquishing my hard earned tips until my pockets were empty.  My fellow performers were aghast, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.  When the money was gone, we launched into a splendid version of Hank's song, one of the best, I think.  It was a great way to end my Northern career.

It has been my pleasure to reminisce these past few weeks (and I didn’t even get to some things, like The Lost Great Northern Album!) and hopefully I have not mangled too many facts.  In any case, it was the spirit I was hoping to somewhat capture, because at least most of my time there, the spirit was joyous and inspiring.  Not that there also wasn’t emotional danger and tears because there was, but in the end, the camaraderie and creativity were without equal.

“I was a fool to wander and stray
For straight is the gate and narrow the way
Now I have traded the wrong for the right
Praise the lord, I saw the light
I saw the light, I saw the light
No more darkness, no more night
Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight
Praise the lord, I saw the light!”

(Note: All photos taken by Donna Copeland-Fuller on the Colorado Plateau.)

Saturday, June 16, 2012


“Sitting on a park bench
Eyeing little girls with bad intent.
Snot running down his nose
Greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes.”

Aqualung by Jethro Tull

“One of these mornings
You're going to rise up singing
Then you'll spread your wings
And you'll take to the sky
But till that morning
There's a'nothing can harm you
With daddy and mamma standing by”
Summertime by George Gershwin

“See the sun on his space suit
See the death in his eyes
He’s a starship trooper, an interstellar mover
Better get out of his way and run run run for your life”
Starship Trooper by Happy Jack

(picture: Lanny on piano with Linda S, Cathy, and Antoinette)

Mid-June, 2012: In my attempt to recreate the Great Northern days, I have communicated mainly by email with several of the former staff, most of whom no longer live in Sacramento.  For one incident, I wanted a more detailed account, and luckily the person involved is currently living here.  So on a sweltering, triple-digit summer day, I took a little hike to the home of Happy Jack Hastings, where we talked about his brief three night stint as a busser.  Happy Jack is a very tall fellow, about six and a half feet, a striking figure with a stocky build who back in the day had a shockingly wiry and long head of hair.  He greeted me at the door and we sat at a small table in his front room.  On the table were several books, a stack of cd’s, and a bottle of Jameson with two glasses.  We spoke briefly about our families, he poured a couple of drinks neat, and the discussion began.

Wild Bill: Can you remind everyone how you ended up at the Great Northern?

Happy Jack: I needed a job after quitting as Campus Pizza’s least aggressive and only pacifist bouncer.  Of course you were working the Northern at the time and I had met several of the amazingly gracious and talented folk who comprised its “cast” of singing hosts, hostesses, waiters and busboys, including the lovely and talented Antoinette, who was in charge of scouting talent for the restaurant.  You convinced me to audition so I wrote some kind of comedy blues piece, got my crappy guitar, and did that and the Ozzie hit single, “Android Love”, and Antoinette gave me a gig as a singing busboy.

WB: Remember that crazy uniform they made us wear?

HJ: Yeah, there was a dress code for the wait and bus staff that included knickers and headwear.  Maybe suspenders or a vest and a bow tie too.  I’m not sure.  Anyway, all I had was an old pair of blue jeans that I cut off, rolled up and pinned to approximate knickers.  I think I wore a beat-up “pimp” hat and ill-fitting gold satin vest and whatever else I could throw together to approximate the appropriate apparel.  I only hope to God that there are no photos of me as this shabby travesty of a 6-foot, 5-inch London street urchin.

(Jack pours us another drink.)

WB: So how’d it go?

HJ: The first night is a total blur.  I don’t think my song went over very well and it was crazy busy all night.  I felt totally outclassed by the talent and professionalism of the “real” waiters and such but I do remember enjoying the free employee meal and getting a share of the tips, having cash in pocket at the end of the shift and washing it all down with beer and Cuervo Gold at the bar.  That last part may have been later - I spent much more time at the Great Northern after I got fired than I ever did on the job.

WB: I seem to recall some outstanding performances!  You did a great version of that song you wrote, “Starship Trooper”.  People couldn’t believe what they were hearing.

HJ: I remember one kick-ass version of “Android Love” where a bunch of the staff joined in and either Gray or you played the piano.  I also remember pouring ice water down the back of a lady’s dress because I wasn’t paying attention and also a rather stern critique of my “uniform” from one of the Beach brothers, or possibly Redwood. 

(Jack pours us another drink.)

WB: You were only employed three or four nights, right?  What happened?

HJ: You mean what was my crime?  Other than being generally and obviously unfit for the role? 

WB: Yes, exactly.  Let’s go back to your last night.  As I recall, shortly before “the incident”, we pulled Walter out of the swamp to debut his version of “Aqualung”.  I think Ichabod was playing the piano.  Remember how Walter looked?  He was covered in rib sauce; it almost seemed like he was splattered with blood.  This must have been a horrifying sight to some of the customers!  Here’s this rib-sauce-soaked ogre-like figure in a white chef’s uniform emerging from the swinging doors, literally lumbering over to the piano.  Ichabod starts playing and then Walter starts “singing”, which is being charitable to Walter.  I thought he was tremendous!  But I remember Redwood glaring at him the whole time, looking from him to some of the tables, where the typical reaction seemed to border on terror.  When he was done, I think Redwood rounded up Lanny, Antoinette and a couple twinkies for a “refreshing” take on “Summertime” to kinda cleanse the place.  And then something happened to you in the swamp?

HJ: Yeah, no doubt, Walter was awesome.  As was that “Summertime” version!  I think it was right after that some of us were returning one of the “planks” used to serve mounds of comestibles to our worthy customers, or stinking C’s as we tended to refer to them.  I noticed an almost-full and frosty bottle of beer still on the plank, so as we were passing the plank back to the kitchen staff to get hosed down or whatever, I grabbed the bottle and drained it in one long pull.  Apparently in full view of Redwood.

WB: Oh, man, he was already having fits that night!

HJ: As my shift was drawing to a close, I was approached by the head waiter - I don’t recall who it was, only that it wasn’t Tennessee – who informed me, sympathetically, that my services were no longer required.  I was kind of annoyed as others had committed similar offenses and had not been punished.  It was an embarrassing thing to be fired, so I took to telling others the reason for my dismissal was simply that I was taller than Redwood.

(Jack pours us another drink.  As he puts down the bottle, he accidentally knocks over the stack of cd’s on the table in front of him, spilling discs of various prog rock, English folk singers, ABBA and Melanie’s Greatest Hits around the room.  I start to pick them up but he tells me not to, that he’ll take care of it later.)

WB: But you’re right; a lot of people “scavenged” the leftovers, so to speak, especially the drinks!  I don’t know, Jack, I can’t believe Redwood was so petty, I think it did have something to do with “tall man envy”.

HJ: They were right to fire me even if the offense didn’t merit it.  The only thing I added to The Northern was maybe a bit of comedy relief and Wild Man Fisher surrealism.  Not the kind of thing that brings in the stinking C’s or complements the other staff members whose talent far outshone mine.  It was fun while it lasted and even more fun afterward.

(So ended our conversation.  I feel Jack was way too humble in his final assessment.  During his brief but legendary Northern stint, he amazed and thrilled not only the C’s, but the other performers as well.  It’s a shame he couldn’t have worked there longer.  As I left his front room table, I think I accidentally stepped on and cracked his Dancin’ Queen cd, but I can’t be sure.  He did not say a word.)


Wednesday, June 13, 2012


“You can see me tonight with an illegal smile.
It don’t cost very much but it lasts a long while.
Will you please tell the man I didn’t kill anyone?
No, I’m just trying to have me some fun”
Illegal Smile, John Prine

About nine months into the Great Northern’s life, business was still booming and the staff had its routine down pat.  There was a bit of a revolving door regarding the staff, but a strong “core” of regulars insured a very enjoyable and eclectic night’s worth of entertainment.  And even with a full load of tables and a song every 10 or 15 minutes, somehow time was allotted for various traditions.  One of these was a “doob in the stein”.  For many years prior to The Great Northern, before it was a singing waiter mecca, this had been the site of Scheidel’s German Restaurant.  Herr Scheidel had a giant beer stein (see picture) that he would take to parades and other events to publicize his place.  After the restaurant changed, the stein, which was on wheels, stayed behind the building, awaiting an eventual permanent move. 

On one particular night, the atmosphere seemed odd, even by Northern standards.  The C’s were restless and full of more liquor than usual.  Marty had performed a particularly spirited “Ribbon of Fat”, and whether or not that had anything to do with it, a couple at one of his tables was extra surly, taking great delight in letting him know how awful the food was.  Marty didn’t suffer fools lightly, grew tired of trying to calm them, and finally let them know that if they didn’t like it, they were most welcome to get up and leave – which they promptly did, amid a flurry of further recriminations.  Redwood got wind of this and pulled Marty aside, but to his credit, only gave him a light warning and sent him on his way with a parting, "Could you please not make a habit of that?"

Meanwhile, most of the rest of the staff were accompanying Jesse in his almost operatic version of Sinatra’s “My Way”.  Jesse was about five feet tall with an odd but somehow endearing demeanor.  His voice was bigger than the room and on this song, he was accompanied by several musicians playing piano, guitar, kazoo (that would be me), fiddle (that would be Nancy, an accomplished and striking player who always dazzled) and flute (that would be Alice, our token flute player; for a small fee, she could also make you a vest sewn entirely out of men’s ties, a vest [and knickers] being a requirement of the waiter’s “uniform”), and anyone else who could spare some time and join in the chorus and Big Ending.  As usual, the song was a huge hit, everyone dispersed, the C’s would be happy for at least a short while, and some of the waiters needed a break.

A doob in the stein was so-called because as you can see from the picture (the actual stein, by the way, is now located in Rancho Cordova at Rudy’s Hideaway), the beer stein out in the parking lot was big enough for a couple of people to stand in unobserved while taking a “smoke” break (Antoinette would liken it, usually right after being out there, to “little gnomes out in the forest”).  I wasn’t generally into that routine, but on this particular night I allowed Gray and Linderoo to lure me out back.  By the time the three of us got there, Nancy and Bors (her partner and a great guitar player), were already in the stein; we convinced them to join us in a Volkswagen so we five waiters could all partake in a more communal fashion.  The car doors were shut, windows rolled up, doobs set in motion, chattering commencing, when all of a sudden, there was a loud knocking on a side window.  This was not good: thru the smoke we could see a police officer.  Where had HE come from?  How could we have missed him?  (How indeed?)  Gray rolled down the window with a “Yes, officer?” and we were commanded to all exit the car and line up in front of him.         

So there we stood in our vests and knickers, reeking of doob, befuddled and busted.  The officer stared at each one of us and told us to extend our arms.  At that point, the only person holding anything was me: I still had my kazoo from the song we had just finished.  When he saw what I was holding, he said, “What is that, a pipe?”  Without thinking, I said, “Of course not, it’s a kazoo!”, and started blowing on it, strangled, screeching sounds from a desperate, frightened mouth.  “Stop that right now!”  I complied and incredibly, miraculously, at that moment around the corner came General Manager John R.  Exactly how he knew what was happening is unknown to me.  The officer informed him that we were caught in the act and consequences would follow.  In what must be some of the most eloquent words I’ve ever heard, John pleaded our case, explaining in very stern terms how he would make sure this never happened again, and more importantly, if the officer took the five of us away, the restaurant’s ability to function that night would be severely crippled, possibly necessitating a closure and the loss of much money and good will.  Not finding a bit of it amusing, the officer turned his back on us and spoke briefly and privately with John.

A few tense minutes later, the officer drove away, John R paraded us back into the building, and the Great Northern stayed open deep into another Saturday night.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012


(photo: some GN staff off-site at a fund-raiser)


“Well we all entertain you while the chef and food are found
We got clowns, jugglers, musicians, singers to help that food go down
And we’re running around the tables at a frantic pace
Trying to keep that smile on our haggard face”

Ribbon of Fat written and performed at the GN by Marty Cohen
The Grand Opening was a huge success and the restaurant immediately flourished.  As long as the C’s showed up and the money kept flowing, the staff was allowed tremendous leeway in its behavior.  General Manager Scarne was brilliant at card magic, and considered himself quite the bon vivant, an LA “playa” who evidently had been allowed to get away with just about anything down south.  Scarne theoretically ran things, but when he was around, he was either amazing C’s with his card tricks or chatting up the female performers.  Within the first week or so, it was rumored that on one memorable night, he had given everyone in the swamp (our affectionate name for the kitchen) a hit of acid.  Things turned out okay, but this group did NOT “need” any mind altering drugs.

Like the performers, the swamp staff was a colorful bunch, and perhaps the most memorable one was its lead line cook.  Walter was the one we communicated with the most, the one who directly dealt with the front house staff.  He was a smallish, goatee’d, gruff reprobate who didn’t take any crap from the bunch of egomaniacs who waited or bussed tables, and if you were one of the fancy-pants twinkies (that would be a “host/ess”), you were almost beneath his contempt (and a pretty ingenue was no exception).  Heaven help the poor fool who tried to hurry the swamp, or who thought about giving anybody in it some lip.  With an alligator look that could decimate a politician and a tongue that could tear your heart out, you only made a mistake like that once.  And yet - some of us loved Walter.  As a matter of fact, we loved him so much that several months down the line we actually convinced him to perform a couple of songs – but that’s a story for next week.

Scarne was getting more and more out of control.  This was probably fueled by a reckless abandon when it came to certain recreational substances.  For better or worse, this stuff was not hard to come by at the Great Nothing (as it was eventually referred to by its workers).  So you had a packed restaurant, alcohol flowing to C’s and staff, various “recreational” drugs around every corner, and a young group of talented, preening musicians.  What could go wrong?  For Scarne, it was probably the night he ran out of money in the middle of what was rumored to be a savage cocaine binge. 

Early on, the waiters had to pool tips and Scarne would dole them out at the end of the night in envelopes.  This was NOT an insignificant amount of money.  The tab for a night at the Great Northern did not have to be extravagant, but it wasn’t “cheap”.  It was a medium priced place, so the tips were okay to begin with – and when you added the “extra value” of the songs, you were looking at a VERY good night’s pay.  As a matter of fact, if you happened to be waiting a table whose patrons loved whatever you were singing, the tips could be unbelievable.  After the restaurant closed on this particular night, Scarne told everyone that because they had done such a lousy job the previous night, he was confiscating all the tips.  That’s right: that night, NO tips.  This was unforgiveable and probably the last straw.  Within a couple of weeks there was a major change.

The Great American (in LA) and the Great Northern were both owned by Redwood and the Beach “boys”.  Shortly after the confiscated tip incident, the owners (who had rarely been seen) came to town and Scarne disappeared.  The Beach brothers were Dave (a commercial airline pilot) and Rick (a doctor).  (There was a third brother, Tennessee, who was not an owner, but who would later join the staff as a singing waiter.)  Redwood wasn’t a brother, but he was pretty much the managing partner.  He got his nickname because he was about six and a half feet tall, slim, trim and imposing, the owners’ “enforcer”, a man who enjoyed his “height” and literally “looked down” on most people.  He was usually a reasonable man, but if you crossed him or got on his “bad side”, he was ruthless.  Scarne was out, replaced by new general manager John Reynolds.  Dr. Rick was not often there, but it seemed like Redwood and/or Dave (when he wasn’t flying) usually were.

Shortly after the grand opening, I decided that being a twinkie was not for me.  When I began to grasp just how much the waiters were making, I switched to a busser and before long was waiting tables.  For a few hours a night, the work was grueling and almost non-stop, but the money and camaraderie were worth it.  I found out that different groups of waiters had their unique non-musical “rituals”, and one of them was the “Doob in the Stein”.  I didn’t usually partake in this particular “back of the restaurant” gathering, but one of the times I did, events went terribly wrong and almost shut the place down in the middle of its busiest night.


Conversations - May: In League With the Gainful

In the days before singing waiters, I was a sixth-grader in Sonora, California, with a weekly root-beer-and-comic-book habit to support, especially with the advent of summer. Memory doesn't serve on how I arrived at my first run at the world of employment, but it's likely to have been my mother's suggestion. Money was tight then; my father had moved to a yet smaller town, and wasn't going to be providing much, and the income from my mother's secretarial job put us in the dry milk and beef kidneys set, and allowed little elective spending on clothes or auto repair.

In any case, the predictable idea of a paper route came up. In the sixties, it was very common for boys to mow lawns or have paper routes, and girls to babysit, for pocket money to buy magazines or treats or clothes. And our neighborhood was "downtown", gold country style, and didn't really have cars parked in driveways, so car washing or lawn mowing was somewhat less obvious. (My brother had fared pretty well there as a gas station assistant, for his grease monkey cred was unassailable.) So I made my way a few doors down to the offices of the Union Democrat, Sonora's evening daily, where as it happened, a seventh grader was itching to get out from under his route. We were to meet on a given Friday after school to review the route.

I met him right after the stack of papers was delivered, and we began folding and banding them, adding them to one of the double sacks used both as panniers and for street sales around the country. Then he had me follow his bike on mine as he traversed his side of the hills of Sonora. It took about forty minutes, as I recall, partly because there were some uncollected payments, but I can't remember whether he was successful in getting them.

When we were done, he took off before I quite realized that we may, in fact, have completed my apprenticeship. I was horrified to realize that I would have to deliver Monday, and he would not be available to clarify the twists and turns, subscribers and nonsubscribers, particularly of the neighborhoods I had seen for the first time that day.

I don't remember what kind of documentation was associated with the route, but I retain the impression that all that was available was what he told me, and you were notified on the fly of those who had begun subscribing or dropped. I remember that I tried on Monday to talk to him, then someone at the paper, about a map, or a list, in the scant fifteen minutes or so that preceded the necessary start time after school, but no help was available. I folded, stuffed, rode, and delivered, with no assurance whatever that there was even 50% accuracy in the direction of my tosses.

And, of course, it was on Tuesday that I learned of the exception mechanism, yellow tags which were put in a mail slot in the office for each delivery boy. My slot was an infestation of yellow, an embarassment of non-vindication, an indictment of my lack of readiness and memory. And, inevitably, the harbinger of the end of my first job. I can't remember if I rode the route alone more than once before the end, and in fact I don't even remember what the terms on the way there were - were errors deducted from your take somehow? I sort of don't think so, because it seems like you were getting back front money you paid to get the papers to deliver when you went to collect. And did they get rid of me, or did I realize that it was a hopelessly losing proposition? All of those details are a blur - but not the sense of humiliation, which would turn out to be a repeating theme.

(to be continued)