Magazine article New Internationalist

"Tao of the Computer"

Magazine article New Internationalist

"Tao of the Computer"

Article excerpt

Tao of the dumpster

A short story by Dirk Jamison

JUST before sunrise, in a Dumpster behind Ralph's in Fontana, California, Dad perks up over a jar of whitefish caviar. 'Whoa, baby, baby! Now we're cookin'! I've never eaten caviar in my life!' He spoons out a purple glob on his finger and sniffs it, then smiles and makes a reverent toast to me and the empty lot. 'My first caviar.'

He eats. 'Mmmmmm. Not that bad. A little salty. Wooooo!

He grimaces and works his tongue around the right angle, but his face gets more and more twisted, and he finally clears his mouth in every direction. 'Son of a gun!'

Rotten?' I ask.

No, no! Just salty!' he keeps laughing, purple all over his teeth, and drops the jar. 'It'd be okay if you washed it off a little!' He bends down and immediately finds another jar. 'Hey, mint jam!'

Dad wasn't always into trash. But by 1976 he had gone into an ugly holding pattern; nothing was adding up. He was counting weeks like he used to count days. To Dad, Mother was a pining walrus wrapped in polyester who couldn't take a single sentence at face value. If he said two words, she heard five or six, and they scalded her guts. He gave her a soap - on - a - rope in the shape of an aspirin because she swallowed handfuls at night in order to sleep. But she considered this oversize pill a vicious hint that Dad wanted her to 'go sleep for good'. One February, she cried over a hand - made Valentine card because he had drawn the heart upside down. (He only wanted to juice up a tired ritual, but she was certain it alluded to her great big rear.) In a crowded mall, Dad let go of a door and it nailed her in the forehead. She stunned cheery Christmas shoppers with a high - decibel accusation: her husband was trying to kill her with doors.

We kids - me, my older sister and my younger brother - made him happy, gorging on hot dogs and pancakes paid for by his hammer and nailing, but that didn't make a life, so he made a decision: he'd move us to Mammoth Mountain and teach us to ski. Screw all that empty labor and alienation. We would hike and have a serious blast. Catch rainbow trout and go sledding and have snowball fights. All he had to do was get fired - unemployment and food stamps would carry us through the winter.

So he began a campaign to lose his construction job. He ignored his pouch of nails. He lounged next to his best friend, Bob Kindred, and made idle chat: the supermarket across the street couldn't be said to 'actually exist' he'd say, because it was a different Thing to every Being that experienced it.

Bob: Look, I see a market and you see a market.

Dad: Nope.

Bob: Bullshit. What do you see then?

Dad: ...not quite sure.

Dad sent a rumour down the elevator shaft with the equipment boy: 'Someone's slacking on the 15th floor. Hasn't lifted a finger in two hours!' Then he perched himself on a ladder and waited for sweet doom, chewing an entire bag of sunflower seeds, spitting every shell on the floor and demanding that other men work harder.

Most of them laughed, but some thought he'd surrendered to carpenter madness, and they whispered advice: 'Listen, man, take a day off or something. You're losing it.'

Shut up! I'm in charge now. Get back to work, and somebody sweep up these god - awful seeds!'

After being 'laid off Dad went straight to the market (the one that didn't exist) for moving boxes, but instead he found an old man grinning from inside the Dumpster like a euphoric half - wit, eating cold spaghetti from a can. His face was covered with grime and his teeth had rotted down to brown spikes, but according to Dad he was 'the happiest person I'd seen in years' and wanted to share his score - some nice chicken, broccoli, mangoes, a mystery novel, a bag of hard candy - most of which was going to his 60 - year old girlfriend in a nearby trailer park. He offered Dad the chicken. Plenty to go around, and just thrown out that morning. …

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