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tearing the rag off the bush again
Three Stories by Gloria Frym PDF E-mail
Wise tales from this unparalleled chronicler of California's psyche, and ours.                          

The Winer/Whiners

    If you remember The Whiners on “Saturday Night Live,” you just might get this.  Otherwise, you might misread the title as The Winers and imagine you’re going to read something about a bickering family (who emigrated some time ago and dropped the middle e from the last name so as to obfuscate everyone but Jews as to the source of their origins, though in high school I did know a boy named Tommy Weiner, who pronounced his name Winer, not wiener as in hotdog).
    The Winer or Whiner Diet, invented by ex-New Yorkers who gave up rent-controlled apartments to move to California, where much to their surprise, the cost of living nearly rivals what they left behind, though they repress this one aspect of their discontent because they adore the weather and the casual lifestyle and no need for heavy winter coats or gloves and head covering unless they purposefully put themselves in the path of cold by skiing, snowboarding, etc.   The Winer/Whiner Diet, a hybrid offspring diet of diets, contributed to greatly by vintners, agronomists without land, persons who buy by the case, and again, former residents of the Tri-State region who are born with the whine gene and do not like when doctors ask, What is Your Complaint?  Or, Patient Complains of X, due to a natural predisposition in favor of the ideal, or make the world better, or it isn’t good enough (which enables their children, perhaps born on California soil, which is largely cheerful and productive and without complaint, reared among the compliant or non-Semitic or non-African American, or Swedish, or those deemed not Jewish due to stringent Mosaic law and many years of therapeutic conversation).
    So just what is The Winer/Whiner Diet? (Again, let us remember all the spelling variations due to immigration and centuries of willy-nilly orthography, before Ford and standardized parts, when houses were still built with windows of varying sizes which are charming but difficult to curtain or blind, hence, in these climes, one may find many homes without window covering.  The windows love the view.)
    One part Perrier or other fizzy/fuzzy water (Calistoga is considered déclassé and subject to whining about its similarity to seltzer), such as something that comes in a slender blue bottle with low fizz, or some Gerolsteiner ® natural mineral water, the purity and rich mineral content of which comes naturally from deep down in Gerolstein’s volcanic rock since 1888, in the heart of the Eifel—the wooded highland between the Rhine, Moselle and Luxemburg--where lies the health resort of Gerolstein, a hamlet known far and wide as “City of Springs,” which owes its prominence to a gift of nature, one of the leading centers of the world’s mineral springs industry; or some new improved agua mineral con gas, a discovery made decades earlier by young travelers venturing into the southern Americas, due to the desire for agua mineral sin gas, which is just plain bottled water northern Americans prefer when traveling, who have long since seen their counterparts from the southern Americas suffer the dread touristas from northern American water and food.  Each to his own parasite, I say.
   As for the second shaker of The Winer/Whiner Diet, here we cross a Rubicon.  Obviously, if one drank nothing but several tumblers of wine and water daily, washing down a primarily protein and vegetable low carb infusion, one could, in theory, and California is not big on theory, no matter the various theory-based schools that pierced the landscape for several decades, priding itself on the difference between CA and France, which is quite another crate of apples and des oranges, since France educates its women better and with profound ability to argue logically instead of refuse salad dressing, could enable the dieter to maintain a steady weight or even loosen his/her belt.  
   Less obviously, The Winer/Whiner Diet requires a consistently persistent vigilance, one that reads several national newspapers daily and consumes other news media available in an age of truthy reportage, with a dagger eyed-brain.  Hands blackened from the NY Times, outrage at the starting gate of every morning, the clause that breaks the Whiner’s silence (which always hums the ineffable sounds of its origins, elevated trains, turnpikes, doors swishing at 24 hour Haagen-Dazs shops, trucks and planes rushing through the air waves to deliver the next fashion statement) exacts a “What The Fuck!” or “What Shit!” or “Who is the Asshole Who Wrote This?”-- highly displaced projections which if luck has it, evolve into “He’ll Stop At Nothing,”  “That’s Completely Anti-Labor,” “Fucking Anti-Semitic Bastard,”  “Do We Have to Start From de Beauvoir again?” “Why is John Ashbery so beloved by Helen Vendler and former potheads?”  “How did it come to this, being famous for being famous?”  “Where is Lee Harvey Oswald When We Need Him?” “How About Those Nuns and Their ‘Orphanages’?”  “That racist CEO Makes HOW MUCH plus stock options????” “A major architect of the Iran-Contra fiasco and now he’s getting paid WHAT to do it again?  Run for office where?”
    The Winer/Whiner Diet is healthy.  It provides a daily minimum requirement of sugared news and proteinacious critique which tends to energize thinking.  As for action, that is a result of a different regime, or with the addition of some martial art some yogic practice some pilatic machinery some boot camp that forces bodies to crawl under barbed wire into trenches and out, one can, in a short time, create (and California and the West is all about creating what isn’t there, hence whining about what is), something slightly short of perfection, something worthy of a state fair, or better, a global gathering.  State Fair implies hogs and pies and jams; the Winer/Whiner Diet is a whole body experience.  Which doesn’t separate the mind.  And the minds of former Tri-State residents are always churning, always looking for the best of life that is to be found under this sun, where global warming is a true disaster one is compelled to whine about, but where the effects have created a near Ideal Climate in the Bay Area!   Why shouldn’t pioneers who inhabit this demi-paradise keep trying to improve themselves to match the rapidly evolving planet under the over-heating sun?


   A check, it is discovered by the bursar of a large institution that employs hundreds perhaps thousands of persons, issued nearly a year previously, has not been cashed.
The bursar is annoyed, for she cannot balance her books properly.  She makes a number of phone calls to a variety of departments attempting to find out why this check has not been cashed.
    This check, floating in the netherland of all the pieces of paper in the world, of which there are too many to even imagine, for if one tried to, a nausea might overtake one, it would be easier to imagine all the blades of grass in the world, and this particular, single, officially cut piece of paper with specific, numeric quantity, signed by two persons, is lost.
    The paperwork, however that was once necessary to create this check, is extant, resting peacefully in a file in the bursar’s and the accountant’s office.  These are generally anti-fairy tale locales, as they only process numbers and not stories.  
    The person to whom this check is addressed receives a telephone call informing him that there is a check of reimbursement waiting for him in an academic (we forgot to establish that the institution is an academy) office.  He is happy.  He makes a special trip to the campus to retrieve the check, as outside the bounds of this account, he has just spent a great deal of money.  In fact, he is in debt, but that is another story, a story similar to imagining all the pieces of paper in the world, only compressed into objects which he has recently purchased for work and comfort.  The narrator apologizes for any inconvenience this digression may have caused the reader, but digression is the staff of life.
    When the man arrives at the department, he asks for the check, the secretary says there is no check.  “You need to go to the accountant’s office,” she says.  
    “But,” he says, “someone called me from the department.”
    “Oh no, no such call was made from this department, I can assure you.”

    He briskly walks across campus, greeting colleagues, on the way to the accountant’s office which is in Accounts Paid, adjoining the bursar’s office.  There, as in fairy tales, a beautiful woman greets him.  She asks what she may do for him, she is at his disposal.  Behind her, around her, in front of her files are stacked so high that in the event of an earthquake, they would be the first to topple, crash, and potentially due to their height and weight, maim or even kill the accountants, assistant accountants, secretaries, under secretaries.  Plus, later, assembling the contents of the files correctly, restoring the papers to their proper files, would take as long as the building of the Pyramids.  For such a task must be done by hand, paper after paper brought to the correct file, and the file properly organized, alphabetized, numericized, or however such data is kept.
    The beautiful secretary makes a magical phone call to try to help the man, who by now has become fantastically handsome, a true knight in distress, find the check.  She talks on the phone for twenty minutes, all the while staring at the man.  Her eyes speak that particular language of eyes, ocular patois, a mobile language, quite expressive and not limited to yes or no, but filled with ambiguities and equivocations, just like the language of the tongue.
    At last the secretary announces quietly with her mouth:  No, I’m so very sorry, there is no check for you here, dear sir.  However, go back to your department.  I’m certain they will able to help you.
    The man, though enchanted by the secretary, shakes his head as he walks back in the direction from whence he first arrived.  He uncharacteristically feels a pebble stuck to the thick sole of his shoe; he bends down to remove it.  Two or three hours have passed, languishing in themselves as hours do, for what do they care about retrieving the past.  They are only interested in forwarding themselves.  
    The check has clearly expired, it could not be cashed by a stranger or a thief, it is a dead check, and does not have to be stopped, for it never reached its destination or was never sent.  It is a small piece of paper gone to wherever such items go.  Perhaps they disappear into the ground and become trees again.  In any case, the man must locate the chair of his department, get a letter from her, have a form signed by her, then by the Dean, who is rarely in his office for he is out doing whatever it is that deans do, conversing with other deans, drinking tea, conferring with department chairs, or perhaps receiving new budgetary restrictions from his superiors.  The form once doubly signed must be taken to the bursar, who will send this form to the accountant, who will look through the files to reconstruct the entire history of the check, its purpose, the receipts associated with its being.  Only after that, will a new check be issued.  Or as is said in business departments, cut.  The new check will have to be signed by two persons authorized to sign such checks, and this time, for safety’s sake, kept in the bursar’s safe.  Have we forgotten to establish that the bursar works part time during this portion of the year, and none of her accountants or secretaries are allowed to dispense checks from her safe?  They are not even privy to its secret combination.
    The man will wait until these transactions have transpired.  Weeks will pass.  The narrator of this story is yawning as it comes to a close, apologizing for the lack of fairies or angels or flowers or birds upon whose backs one might fly from land to land.  It is only the story of a simple re-issue of an invalid abstraction.

Burning Man

    She prepares her daughter and ten other young women for Burning Man (though it is her idea of hell).  Water:  they’ll have to bring all they’ll use, at least 1.5 gallons per person per day.  How to live in the desert (of late summer).  “She’ll have a lot of (I’ve heard) sex there,” (did you buy condoms and lubricant?), “I’m told.”  “She only wanted me to streak her hair green” (so why think about sex?).  Baby wipes are helpful for sand in the (wrong) creased places.  There be no shoots and leaves, no berries.  What do they do in such a climate (under the tents)?  They slather themselves with creams and oils (she shudders to give up her only child to the gods of who knows what).  The nights get cold, the blankets get warm.  So much music, movement, smoke, and porta-potties.  Wear big skirts like native women who squat anywhere protected.  Take a spade.  Yet the women are travelling in an RV (it can’t fit all ten).  They will stay up all night dancing (and everything else) and sleep all day in the shelter of the vehicle.  Which have fans and a bathroom (though where could it hook up to water in the desert, it can’t convert sand to liquid) (there are generators) (this generation has them) (they are careful) (the birthrate is declining) they are smart (why else did their parents send them to good schools, wait-listed for better ones).  They are even graduate students.  Some have prepared for the LSAT, the GAMSAT, the GRE, the CBSE (why aren’t they studying instead of going off to burn an effigy) (like some cult wacked religious group Kool-Aid drinkers).  They were raised secularly, by hand, tenderly fed bits of croissant before they could speak (English), protected from SIDS, took archery lessons, soccered, ballet, gymnastics, horseback riding, ice skated, yogaed, capoieraed, violined, pianoed, steel drummed, swam, snowboarded, skied, cycled (not bicycled),through their beautiful, unblemished years.  (All that equipment in the closets plus helmets.)  Strolled through parks, disembarked from Snuglies™ on the greenest grasses (free of chemical fertilizers) practiced walking with outstretched hands until the fall.
    And what about Burning Woman?  Not time yet?  (Just why burn anything where the rainfall is less than an inch a year?)
    When daughter returns, the basement is flooded (father and mother know how to sump pump), a hurricane causes two million to evacuate the Louisiana Coast (clearly not the place for burning a man in effigy unless the festival were retitled Drowning Man which would take care of water boarding, failure to respond) (what was GWB doing during Katrina?  So close to nothing we can’t remember) (no desire to rebuild the terrible blown apart mold-ridden parts of the city the levees that hold the waters of the mighty Miss at bay) (the deserted fantastic streets once loved into real the gulf) (the local) (the language) (N’Awlins) (the people).

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