Thursday, June 24, 2021

GOING POOR - Chapter 11


   He had made the shameful decision years swallow his pride and apply for State Unemployment benefits.             

    Ever since that distressing day he had rued the distasteful, yet undeniable need to be on the 'dole.'

    And now there he was again, reluctantly preparing to seek a different form of public assistance. Would the State Employment Office be able to help him land the job he so desperately needed?


                                  Chapter 11

To think it had come to that. There he was....about to ask, perhaps even beg the State to help him find work. Lane Tipton was shaking his head at the thought of it as he left the Mission House. Starting toward the State Employment Office he was processing distasteful recollections of the last time he had faced that sort of defeat.

Three years before, in the early months of what would be called the Great Recession, he had agonized for days before finally giving in. To be sure, it had gone against everything he believed in ....about himself, who he was, and what he ought to do. Yet on that occasion he had finally set his pride aside and applied for State Unemployment benefits at the Medford office. 

He had felt the shame of that decision on that first morning, and for every one of the fifty-two weeks until his benefits expired. Yet, though he had been thoroughly disappointed in himself, there was no denying the sad reality....for all those months it was what he called ‘the dole,’ a government handout, that had kept him afloat.

For one who had always earned his own way, and assumed he always would, it had been a painful shock...the realization that in the face of an economy gone wrong, he needed ‘their’ help. More to the point, he was certain he knew exactly why he was in that sad situation. 

The root cause of his distress was so simple. No one would give him a chance to show what he could do. For all practical purposes the system that was intended to offer opportunity was broken. 

In those dark and trying times it felt as though the rules had if he had spent a lifetime learning the right answers, only to find they were asking new and different questions. The lessons he had learned as a young man seemed to no longer apply.

Now, walking through the still-quiet business district, Lane recognized recurring hints of that earlier disappointment. True, some things were different this time. In particular, Sally was on hand to provide the backstopping support that had not been part of his Medford experience. Yet the same need to prove himself remained. He had something to offer. If the Employment Office staffers were as professional as they claimed to be, they would surely see that.

He remembered recent televised news reports of how, in spite of the dreadful job situation, some employers were eager to hire those with critical, hard-to-find skills. He recalled taking comfort in that possibility, accepting it as something that ought to work in his favor.

The logic of it was so obvious. Who needed sales help more than a company that was laying off employees because its sales were falling? Wasn’t that the perfect opportunity for someone like him, who had always been able to sell most anything to anyone? 

He had made that his life’s work. His resume offered proof of that. Now the task at hand was to convince the Employment Office people that he deserved a chance to show what he could do.

Turning into the bulky granite-gray office building, Lane stopped in the lobby to study the roster of agencies and room numbers. In a matter of seconds he located the Employment Room 314. He decided against taking the elevator and climbed the stairs to the third floor. At Room 314 he entered through the heavy hardwood door to find himself in the slightly surreal world of the Tanner branch of the State Employment Department.

There, as in every State agency, budget-induced personnel reductions had taken their predictable toll. The downsized staff was struggling mightily to serve an ever-growing tide of job seekers competing for the increasingly-scarce job openings. At first glance the mathematics of it were not encouraging. Yet like Lane, the eager candidates continued to arrive, hoping to be the exception that proved the rule.

The Employment Office itself was a sparse ‘take a number’ enterprise. By nine-fifteen, when Lane arrived, a dozen or more clients were waiting in the crowded, yet eerily-quiet reception area. At the front desk a lone receptionist repeated over and over, “Please take a number.”

Lane took a number....number twenty-three to be exact....along with the four-page application form the lady handed him. A few minutes spent scanning the job postings displayed on the side wall produced nothing of interest. As near as he could tell no one was looking for sales or marketing help. By the time he retreated to a seat to fill out the wordy form, he was wondering what to make of his chances.

Forty-five minutes later he would learn the bitter truth. The modern-day State Employment Office had become little more than a data-collection site. The short-handed, overworked staff spent its time gathering information, entering that detail in their computers, and offering their non-too-encouraging apologies.

Lane’s number was called and he was directed to a cubicle on the far wall. The name plate on the modest desk identified Mr. Tim McDowell - Employment Counselor, though for a couple minutes Mr. McDowell was nowhere to be seen.

When the Counselor finally arrived he offered an unsmiling “Good Morning” and reached for Lane’s application and resume. He spent all of thirty seconds reviewing the lengthy forms, then set them aside and began poking at his computer keyboard.

“Nope,” the Counselor muttered under his breath. From all appearances he was talking to the computer screen. A moment later he turned back to Lane. 

“I’m afraid there are no orders for sales help, unless you’re interested in selling hamburgers.” For the first time, to Lane’s chagrin, the fellow was actually grinning at his own lame joke.

“What do you mean ‘no orders’? Everyone needs salesmen.”

“That may be, but no one is looking to hire them right now,” Mr. McDowell explained. “You see, that’s what we do here. We fill orders from businesses who are looking for particular skills. We maintain files of qualified applicants, like yourself, for employers to review when they need to hire. 

"If someone in the Tanner area is looking for the kind of marketing you do, they go to our website and call up the files of people looking for that kind of work.”

“But there’s no one looking now?” Lane asked, unwilling to let Mr. McDowell steer them away from his particular application. “Not a single company is looking for sales help?”

“Not the kind of sales you do?”

“But I can do any kind of sales. Anything they want.”

“If you’d like to revise your application, to add other marketing skills, that’s allowable. But the process remains the same. As you can imagine, at times like this there are a lot of people looking for work....and very few employers who are hiring.” 

For an instant Lane thought he saw the counselor set aside his practiced indifference as he explained, “It’s a very hard time. People are worried. More than a few have just stopped trying.”

He stopped short and for a moment looked away. Then, with a deep breath he recovered his professional expression and prepared to move on to the next client. 

“Your work history and contact information will be entered in our data base," he explained. It will be available to any employer looking for those qualifications. You’re always welcome to check out the employment listings on our website. For now, that’s the best we can do.”

By then Lane’s dour resignation was showing. “That’s it?” he asked without enthusiasm.

Mr. McDowell nodded as he got to his feet. Without a parting word he walked from the cubicle to the front counter, ready to summon his next client. Following the counselor’s lead, Lane retreated to the reception area and beyond to the outer hall.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

GOING HOME - Chapter 10

    He was off to the State Employment office, looking for a real job. Would his freshly-ironed 'thrift-store' outfit do the trick?

    Even with his approaching Social Security windfall, Robert realized that life in his penthouse tent would probably remain his lifestyle.

                            Chapter 10

“What do you mean, ‘Where’s my iron’?” Sally repeated in eye-rolling surprise. “What are you talking about? Have farm labor and tree planting gone formal?”

Lane pulled a pair of trousers from the plastic thrift-shop bag and draped them over the dining table chair. “I’m hoping for a more civilized look. So I’ve decided to upgrade my wardrobe. I think these will do....if they’re ironed that is.”

“Suntans?” Sally said, fingering the brown denim-like material. “Are they really that practical?”

“I’m told they’re called ‘chinos’ these days. Calling them ‘suntans’ is a sure way to show your age. At least that’s what the young punk at the thrift shop told me.”

“I don’t have to ‘show’ my age,” she reminded him. “It’s right there for everyone to see. But why suntans, or chinos, or whatever they’re called? Will they stand up to the kind of work you’re doing?”

“I hope so. Because I’ll be looking for a different line of work. My body’s just not up to this manual labor stuff. So I’m going job hunting. That means I need to get spruced up a bit. And that’s why I got these, along with a new shirt. Hopefully they will help me make the right impression.”

By then Sally had retrieved the steam iron from the hall closet and plugged it in next to the toaster. “I don’t have an ironing board," she said. "Haven’t had much use for one lately. So you’ll have to use the counter top. Just spread a towel over it. It works pretty well.” 

She drew his new, recycled shirt from the sack and held it up for inspection as she asked, “So what kind of job hunting do you have in mind?”

“I’m not sure. I plan to start by checking out the State Employment Office, to see if anyone’s looking for a broken-down building materials peddler. Actually, I’ll try to convince them I can sell most anything.”

With a moistened fingertip Sally tested the iron, then smoothed a pants leg over the towel Lane had brought from the bathroom. When he objected that she was doing his job, she brushed him away. A moment later she gave voice to a very different question.

“Speaking of your ‘broken down’ body, the one that’s not up to the manual labor, how are you feeling today? Marla was asking if her latest doctoring had done its job. All I could tell her was that you were off to town before I got up.”

“It must have worked,” he said. “I’m moving pretty well this morning. Her lineament and a couple cups of Mission House coffee has me feeling fine. I plan to rest up this weekend and start job hunting on Monday. Hopefully I can find something that pays better....something to help keep the piggy bank full.”

Sally held up the pair of freshly pressed chinos for his approval, then slipped them over a clothes hanger. “Don’t be worrying about the piggy bank. Okay?” she offered. “Let’s just concentrate on having a quiet weekend.”


It was seven-thirty on that cold, but dry Monday morning and Lane was running later than usual, as he knew he would be. 

Instead of plunging into the early morning darkness to make his way to the Job Market, he had taken time to shower and shave before donning his freshly-ironed trousers and shirt, and a light, but presentable jacket Sally had resurrected from a box of her late husband's clothes. With that he was off on a leisurely stroll through the growing daylight to the ‘Market.’

Though he might find Robert there, he was hoping that his friend had found work by then. In any case, he had time to kill before making the short walk to the downtown State Employment Office.

From across the parking lot Lane saw Robert leaning against the concrete Job Market wall a few feet to the left of the fitness center window. Apparently he had struck out again. Hopefully a cup of Mission House coffee would help take the edge off that disappointment. 

Walking toward his friend Lane stepped around the corner of a parked SUV, directly into the path of a woman coming from the fitness center. The lady dodged his unexpected presence as he jumped aside to avoid an embarrassing collision. 

Nodding his startled apology he continued on until, from the corner of his eye, he noticed the unexpected motion of a long white envelope fluttering from the lady’s purse. It had scarcely touched the ground before he reached down to capture it.

“Pardon me, Ma’am,” he called to her. Holding up the envelope for her to see, he noted the address .... Erin Brock, General Counsel, Tanner City Council. “Is this yours? I think you dropped it.”

The woman’s frown was signaling her wariness ....wondering what to make of the stranger’s approach. She slipped her purse strap off her shoulder and glanced into the open bag. “I suppose it is. Could I see it?”

“Is this you?” Lane asked. “General Counsel to the City Council?”

“That’s me,” she nodded. “It must have fallen out of my purse. Thank you for noticing that.” 

A moment later the car door closed behind Ms. Brock and she drove off, while Lane continued on toward Robert. “No work today, eh?” he offered as he stepped up on the sidewalk.

“Nah,” Robert answered, sounding as though he was not too surprised. “The Harris girls are finished for the season. Other than the Christmas tree farms there’s not much going on.

Taking in Lane’s unexpectedly formal attire, Robert was ready with his own question. “Looks like you’re all fancied up. Are you off job hunting this morning?”

“Yeah. I have to give it a try. I can’t make it on what I’m earning here. Especially if no one’s hiring. Besides, the old body is just not up to that. So I figure I’ll start with the State Employment Office.”  

“Look," he continued. "I’ve got half an hour to kill before the Employment Office opens. Why don’t we go over and do a cup of Mission House coffee....get warmed up a bit?”

Minutes later, coffee in hand, they were walking toward a back table when Robert was intercepted by a grizzled old fellow wearing a tattered blanket as an overcoat. 

“Hey, we’re in luck, old buddy,” the man exclaimed. “I’ve snagged a ride as far south as Sacramento. It’s time to head south, where its warm. The guy’s leaving in the morning, and he has room for one more. I told him you’d probably want to sign on.”

Grasping his warm cup with both hands, Robert let the pleasing warmth sink in. “I don’t think so, Max. I believe I’m going to pass on that this year. I need to rest up a bit. Besides, in a few months I’ll be signing up for Social Security. Once I get that, things will get a little easier. But thanks for thinking of me. I really appreciate that.”

By the time the two of them sat down at a table next to the front window Lane was asking, “So you’re going on the dole, eh? God, that’ll make you one of those pensioned plutocrats, living a Social Security life of leisure.”

“Not likely. No matter how it turns out, it won’t look like a life of leisure.” Tilting his cup from side to side, Robert let the warm coffee swirl round and round as he revisited a better time.

 “In the old days, back when I had a paycheck every two weeks, I always figured I’d wait ‘til I was sixty-five to collect Social Security, so I could draw the full amount. Turns out I don’t have that luxury anymore. I’ll be damn glad to get my hands on a two-thirds payment every month.”

“How does that work?” Lane asked. “Will they know where to find you? Can they send your check here to the Mission House? I’m guessing you don’t get mail at the Penthouse.”

“No need for that,” Robert explained, feeling rather proud that he had an appropriate answer. “I talked to a guy down at the Tanner Trust Bank. I can set up a checking account there and have the Social Security payment automatically deposited into it.”

After a quick sip of coffee, his unexpected laughter signaled an additional surprise. “And once I have that account and there’s money in it, they’ll give me a debit card. Can you believe that? Who ever thought I’d be paying with plastic again, or using an ATM? On second thought, you may be right. That might be enough to make me a plutocrat after all.”

“If I was you,” Lane offered. “I’d be hoping it was enough to move me out of the Penthouse, into something a bit more substantial. It was cold this morning. It’s going to be even colder tonight.” 

Lane was grinning a bit as he added his smug disclaimer. “Don’t forget, I know all about weather reports these days. I watch TV every night, sitting there in my sister’s toasty living room.” 

Sweeping his arm around the Mission House’s large multipurpose room, where a couple dozen cold and weary souls were gathered for a bit of early morning warmth, Robert had his own read on Lane’s ‘weather report’ claims. 

“Take my word for it, friend,” he said. “These fellows don’t need some pretty face on the tube telling them it’s cold. They live out there in it, some of them twenty-four hours a day. The city cops won’t let us have camp fires on the Bluffs. With all the trees and underbrush they’re afraid of them getting out of hand. A place like the Penthouse may be dry, but it’s still cold as hell. 

“Chances are they’ll have two or three fire barrels going all night on the paved sections under the bridges. Some of the guys like to hang around there, especially if the shelters are full.”

“The fellow you talked to when we came in....the one who’s heading south? I’ll bet what he was trying to sell sounds a lot better during these cold spells. Eh?”

“Maybe so. If it would help shake this damn chest cold, it might be worth it. But these old bones just aren’t up to it this time around.” 

Robert was on his feet, ready to circulate a bit among the small groups scattered around the room. Truth be told, he was tired of Lane’s incessant probing, the constant talk of things he would rather forget. With a last sad observation he was on his way.

“What gets me down the most is the possibility ....hell, the probability....that the rest of my life is going to be more of the same. Even with a bank account and a debit card, this is probably my new ‘normal.’ I expect it will be from now ‘til the end.”

Sunday, June 20, 2021

GOING POOR - Chapter 9


       What did it mean....that her welcome healing came with a dose of her unwelcome company? Was that too a high price to pay?

    This time, to his surprise, her soothing massage was accompanied by a blunt disclaimer....enough to have him wondering.

                             Chapter 9

“Didn’t they feed you up there in the mountains?,” Sally asked as she handed her brother a second sandwich. By then he was sunk deep in the sagging sofa with his feet resting on the faux-leather hassock. 

“Of course they did. There was always enough to eat....if you’re into refried beans, tortillas, and enchiladas. But this was our last day. Nobody wanted to take time for dinner. We’d just got paid and everyone was ready to head back to town. We just grabbed a handful of chips and hit the road.”

Sally settled into her armchair across from Lane. “I can tell you’re really tired,” she said. “You’re not moving too good. But I must say, you sound rather upbeat about your week in the woods. Like it might be something you’re ready to do again.”

His eyes were closed as he tried for an explanation. There had been times during their tree-planting week when he wondered if he had the strength to go on. In the depth of those doubting moments he could not have imagined the grudging satisfaction he felt in knowing they had completed their task....having made it to the end.

“Why shouldn’t I be upbeat? Robert and I worked our butts off, keeping up with those young bucks.” He paused, knowing he owed her a disclaimer. “Well, almost keeping up with them. It was a hard go, but at least we didn’t quit. 

“Anyway, as far as going back, I don’t think so. Our foreman was a real nice old guy, but he’s not ready to hire any more ‘old gringos.’ And we’re sure as heck not up to another week of that kind of torture. Still, it worked out pretty well. That’s why you’ve got an extra two hundred bucks in the food kitty.”

“That will definitely help,” she nodded. “But I’m still wondering how you’ll get by on just twenty dollars for yourself. Seems like you earned more spending money than that.”

Setting his plate on the sofa beside him, Lane was prepared to defend his fiscal priorities. 

“I’m going shopping tomorrow at the Mission House thrift store. I need to be upgrading my wardrobe if I’m going to get serious about looking for a real job. Other than that there’s nothing for me to spend it on.”

 Sally was in the kitchen when she looked back to see him nodding off. “Okay. But if you change your mind, you know where to get more. For now though, why don’t you grab a quick shower and get yourself in bed?”

“Yeah. I should probably do that, before I conk out right here. I haven’t been this warm in days. Makes it hard to keep my eyes open.”

Seconds later Sally was laughing to herself at the sight of him pushing himself off the sofa. “You look like you’re in pain,” she said. “Is it really as bad as that?”

“I’m just kind of cramped up. That’s all. Planting trees is something of a workout. Kind of hard on the old body.”

Lane’s stiff-legged, half-bent walk toward the bathroom had Sally wondering. Was he really that bad off? It took about two seconds for her to settle on a way to learn more. 

“Lane,” she said as he shuffled through the kitchen. “Could you get that white bowl down from the top shelf? I can’t reach the darn thing.”

It was not an unusual request. His natural impulse was to help. He had retrieved items from the high shelves before. This time, however, he came up short. His hand reached head height and no further. At that point the stabbing pain in his shoulder had him wincing. 

“I thought so,” Sally nodded.” You’re hurting a lot more than you’re letting on.”

“It’s nothing. A hot shower, a good night’s sleep. I’ll be fine.”

“That’s a crock. What you need is another rubdown....some more of Marla’s lineament.”

“That’s not necessary.”

“Why not” It worked last time, didn’t it?”

“Yeah, it did. But I don’t need that now. “

Sally was backing off, trying to see beyond his words....reading more than ‘sore shoulders and horse lineament’ into his cool reply. “Come on, brother?” she said. “What has you talking like that?”

Leaning again the counter, Lane was looking for a way to put his vague intuition into words, and coming up short. “Let's just drop it. I’ll be fine. Besides, it’s nearly ten o’clock. She doesn’t want to be bothered at this time of night. So forget it. Okay?”

That was enough to send Sally off on a new tack. “You really don’t like her, do you? That’s what I’m hearing. I don’t know why, but it sounds like you don’t want to be around her.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” Again Lane started for the hallway. “Near as I can tell she’s the kind who prefers her own company. That suits me just fine.”

“How could you know that?”

“Come on, Sis. It’s plain to see that your friend Marla doesn’t like guys. I don’t know what it is. Sounds like maybe she’s been used and abused. Whatever it is, she wants no more of it. So why don’t we just let her be. All I really need is a shower.”

Sally had hold of his arm, pulling him to a stop. “Lane, what you need right now is something to help you feel better. Why don’t you have your shower, then get in bed. I’ll see if Marla will come over with her lineament. 

His sister was in her sales mode, wanting to get Marla and him together again. There was no sense fighting that. More to the point, he did want the relief Marla’s massage had produced the first time. Shrugging his shoulders once more to test the sharp-edged discomfort, Lane offered his reluctant agreement. 

“Okay. But there’s no need to make it sound like a friendly visit. She needs to know that it’s not meant to be a social call. I just want her to do her thing and leave. If it works out like before, I’ll feel better in the morning. That’s all I want.”

Starting off to the bathroom he offered his final disclaimer. “If she’s willing to come over, let her know I won’t bother her at all. Just give me fifteen minutes to get in bed.”


“Are you decent?” Sally called from the hallway. “Marla’s here with her lineament.”

Stretched out on his belly, Lane replied over his shoulder, “Come in, Marla. Let’s see if your stuff still works.”

Though he knew what to expect this time, he realized it was bound to be a different experience. The Marla he had met the first time had been a stranger. Her arrival in his bedroom had been totally unexpected, a bit of a shock. Now, however, he knew the lady well enough to realize that she was more than a little uncomfortable in his company.

Pausing for a second or two, he was dwelling on that bit of reality. Then, returning to the present, he took a moment to consider the soothing relief he hoped her lineament would provide....the magic she had worked once before. If she could manage that trick one more time, what did her standoffish detachment matter?

Without a word Marla set out her materials....the bottle of lineament and a towel. By the time she filled a small cup half full of her lotion Lane was aware of the odiferous, yet vaguely-pleasant smell. 

“Sally said it’s your shoulders that hurt the most,” she said. “Is that right?”

Without waiting for his answer she spread the stinging liquid across his shoulders and began kneading the tight, sore muscles at the base of his neck....gently at first, then hard enough to have him wincing. His eyes were closed. Except for her vigorous massage he might have dozed off, at least until she offered her quiet question.

With no preliminaries, no context, she simply asked, “Can you tell me where you got that silly idea?”

“What idea?” Lane asked without bothering to open his eyes.

“Your sister tells me you’re absolutely certain that I want nothing to do with what she calls ‘the male of the species.’ Is that right?”

“Is that the same as saying you don’t like guys? I do remember telling her something like that.”

“In that case, my question is still the same. Where’d you come up with that notion?”

He tensed again as Marla poured another dose of cold liquid across his upper back. “I think I heard it first from Sally," he answered. "She was probably the one who planted that seed. Then I heard you talking about what you’ve gone through....during lunch last Sunday.

"I guess I've learned to sense those things. After all, I’ve been there myself. I’ve been walked on and run over....the kind of stuff that’s happened to you. Along the way I just kind of learned keep people at arm’s length.”

“You mean ladies, don’t you?” she interrupted. “Not ‘people,’ but ‘ladies.’ Those are the ones you push away, aren’t they?”

“Maybe so. Anyway, when you’ve hit that wall a time or two you can sort of sniff those things out. I guess that’s what I picked up about you.”

“Wow.” That had Marla wondering. “You could tell all that from a few minutes of conversation over lunch and a couple games of pinochle? I had no idea I was so transparent.”

“Hey, I didn’t say that was all bad. It just seemed like that’s who you are. You’re protecting yourself. I know something about that, because I’m that way myself.”

Sitting there behind Lane, once again looking at the back of his head as she massaged his shoulders, Marla was searching for words to sum up his unexpected revelation. 

“So as far as you know, I don’t like you,” she said. “Right? And you know for sure that you don’t like me.” She paused to create a conclusion. “No wonder Sally told me to play it cool.”

“What does that it cool?”

“I suppose she was trying to warn me. Though she didn’t say what I ought to look out for. Anyway,” she added, drying his back and her hands with a towel. “I hope that has you feeling better by morning.”

Flexing his neck and shoulders, Lane sensed that something was not right. Though he could not put his finger on it, he was not prepared to let her dour summation be the last word. 

“Hey look, I do appreciate you helping out like this. Especially so late at night. I’m pretty sure I’ll feel better in the morning. As for the other stuff, don’t get hung up on Sally’s grumbling.”

Lineament bottle and towel in hand Marla stood and walked to the doorway. There, she paused, turning back to him. 

“Just so you know,” she said softly. “I never once said I don’t like men. But I did say that I don’t trust them....not even a little bit. And nothing has happened to change that.” Closing the door behind her, she was gone.

Friday, June 18, 2021

GOING POOR - Chapter 8


    It took only hours to realize their mistake. They were in over their heads.....with no easy way out.

    Fortunately, Senor Chico was a realist.....willing to accept their trying as a worthy effort. Looking ahead, however, to a future in tree planting.....that might be another matter.

                                                       Chapter 8

Lane stepped off the crowded bus Sunday evening gripped by a thoroughly-unfamiliar anxiety. Under normal circumstances the prospect of a new job, even one so unlike anything he had ever done before, would not be a reason for worry. But this was different. They had signed on for a week. If the work was too much, more than they could do, they would have five long days to regret it.

The contractor’s tree-planting camp, deep in the Coast Range mountains, was a sparse, purely-functional affair....a cluster of four run-down trailers set in a shallow swale at the end of a twisting, ill-maintained logging road some eighteen miles from the nearest pavement. 

One of the trailers....dubbed the Dining Room....was larger than the other three, each of which slept six men in a space designed for two or three. On the far side of the graveled clearing a pair of blue portable toilets provided the only sanitation facilities. Running water and hot showers were nowhere to be seen. Those niceties would be a week away.

For the next five days that no-nonsense enclave would be their home. If the absence of off-hours recreational possibilities bothered Lane and Robert, they were about to learn that after a day on the steep hillsides they would be looking forward to just two diversions....a warm meal and a soft place to sleep.

In truth, Lane was less concerned about the camp’s spartan layout than the cadre of young Hispanics who would be their workmates. Not only were he and Robert the only Caucasians in camp, except for the crew’s foreman they were the most senior by a factor of perhaps forty years. 

At that point they were wondering why anyone would have taken a chance on them. By mid-week Lane would put that question to the man himself....Chico, the grizzled and gruff ‘coyote’ who ran his crew with something of an iron hand.

“To tell you the truth,” the old fellow explained. “I’ve never brought anyone your age out here before. You’d signed on over the phone, so until you showed up at the bus I had no idea. By then I was kind of curious myself....wondering if these old guys could do the job. So I decided to find out.”

“And?” Lane asked, hesitating a bit, not sure he wanted to hear Chico’s answer.

“And I’ll let you know Friday night. By then we’ll all have a better idea if it’s something we want to try for another week.”

For Lane and Robert that decision, whether to sign for a second week, had been made long before Friday. For five days, from sunup to sundown, they slogged up and down rugged, recently-logged hillsides....climbing over and around stumps, rocks, limbs, and other assorted logging debris. Through early morning frost and mid-day storms they trudged on, dancing the same demanding dance step over and over.

On the first morning they learned that replanting the logged-over timberland would be a team effort, choreographed in a way they had never expected. The planting team was spread out in a single line, up to fifteen abreast, eight to ten feet apart. From that innocent appearing beginning their efforts would be a tiring, repetitive process. 

The heavy hoe-dad was deployed in what looked like an axe stroke, slamming it into the moist, sometimes rocky soil. Once it was buried to it’s full eight-inch depth, an upward tug on the handle produced the wedge-shaped hole that would receive the Douglas Fir seedling. 

With the tiny tree in place, a couple of well-aimed boot steps were enough to compact the loose soil around the tiny plant, and the planting process was complete. Seconds later, after a predetermined number of steps up or down the hillside, the cycle was repeated.

Each planter carried a bag of seedlings slung over his shoulder. They would be paid by the number of plants they put in the ground. Speed was important....the rate at which they scrambled up and down the hillside, leaving planted trees in their wake. 

That morning, having started their trek in a more or less straight line, it was soon evident who was setting the pace and who was falling behind.

“Damn, that was a serious work out,” Lane offered at the end of their first day on the mountain. He was directing his observation at Robert, who had slumped to a sitting position on the front steps of their trailer. “Those kids didn’t have to go out of their way to make us look bad, did they? We managed to do that on our own.”

“That’s a fact.” Robert was rubbing his shoulders. “On that last hill they were so far ahead of us I could hardly see them. I’m just glad Chico had them double back to meet up with us. Otherwise we might have been out there all night.”

Their first day of tree planting was behind them and they were ready for a long night’s rest. Then, before they could make it inside the trailer, Robert was alerting Lane of approaching trouble. Chico was walking toward them.

“You ready to hear what he thinks of our work?” Lane asked. “I don’t suppose there’s any way to avoid that.”

“Probably not. If I understood what those youngsters were saying, old Chico doesn’t mince words. Even the tough young bucks are half afraid of him. So I guess we’ll just have to buckle up and hear what he’s got to say.” Robert pushed himself to his feet and together they prepared to take their medicine.

Chico was approaching in his determined ‘all business’ stride. His jaw was set and there was nothing to suggest he was coming for a casual social call. He stopped in front of them and for a few long seconds said nothing. While Lane and Robert braced themselves, ready to hear him out, Chico had moved on to a different page.

“To begin with,” he said. “I don’t want to see anything that looks like a grin or a smile. You understand? I’ve got a crew of young caballeros back there, waiting to see how Senor Chico deals with tired old gringos....the ones who can’t keep up. I want them to know that old Chico don’t play favorites. You got that?”

Lane and Robert were nodding, straight faced and somber. In truth, their blank stares were all about trying to decipher the foreman’s vague intent.

“The thing is,” Chico continued, keeping his back to the curious onlookers who had gathered across the clearing in front of the dining trailer. “Fact is, I’ve never brought any of you older guys out here before. I should have known better. This stuff can be a killer. That’s why I gave up planting years ago, and why you see me cruising around in my rig all day.

“Anyway, we need to decide what we’re going to do. I don’t see how you two can last the whole week. Not if one day has you dragging like this. But there’s no way I can take the time to haul you back to town.”

“We can do this, Chico.” Lane was prepared to take issue with the foreman’s “Should have known better” assessment. “We can’t keep up with the kids. That’s true. And by the end of the day we’ll be bushed. But we can plant your damn trees, all day, every day. Don’t you doubt that.”

Hearing Lane’s strident claim, Chico’s wry grin seemed to be breaking his own rule. He took a moment to study each of them, trying to gauge their commitment.

“The kids and their wisecracks don’t bother us,” Robert assured him. “Let them have their fun. For us it’s about putting some dollars in our pocket. The only way to do that is to put your trees in the ground.” 

He was looking into Chico’s noncommittal frown. “All we’re asking is a chance to keep doing that. We’ll give you the best we’ve got. If for some reason you don’t think you’re getting that, you let us know. Okay?”

After dinner, back in the trailer they shared with three energetic young planters, Lane sat on the edge of ratty mattress that served as a bed for he and Robert. After a dinner of refried beans and spicy enchiladas he was comfortably full and tired to the bone. Would he be able to lift his hoe-dad in the morning? If only Marla and her lineament were on hand to help him heal.

By then, based on a single day’s experience, they realized that their impulsive tree-planting escapade bordered on a foolishness they ought to have outgrown years before. With four hard days ahead of them there was a real chance it would prove to be more than they could do. 

Yet, though Chico scarcely endorsed their results, he had shown a willingness to accept their efforts. For that they owed him the best they could do. Besides, according to Lane’s mental math, their first day ‘on the hill’ had yielded each of them something like forty dollars. Not quite average, but an acceptable degree of non-average.

Their trials would continue for another four days....out in the hills by first light....clambering over stumps and limbs....swinging their hoe-dads. By the second day Lane and Robert had stopped paying attention to the tireless young planters who raced ahead of them....deciding instead to set their own pace, one they could maintain all day long.

At mid-week came two days of steady rain....two days spent working in Chico’s bulky rain gear, another few pounds to carry up the hillside. It was enough to keep them dry, though by the time they returned to the dining hall Wednesday night they were chilled to the bone.

Finally, as the Friday night darkness settled over the remote camp and the crew gathered for pay call, Lane and Robert took their places in line with the others. 

Though they looked like the wounded warriors they were....tired and sore....they had survived their ordeal. The eleven twenty dollar bills each of them slipped into his pocket....wages earned less room and board...was the only confirmation they required. Who cared if the best of the crew had earned more than three hundred dollars during that same five days? 

And apparently Senor Chico was pleased with their work, in a somewhat conditional way. “You fellows did okay,” he said as he steered the two of them away from the others. “You could have bagged it....just checked out. But you didn’t. You said you’d give me your best shot. I believe you did that. The kids could tell that too. A few of them told me so.

“But all the same.” As advertised, Chico was not the kind to dodge an issue. “I’m thinking you fellows probably ought to consider another line of work.” He was not at all surprised to see Lane and Robert nodding their agreement.

Their late-night walk from the Job Market, where Chico dropped them off, down River Street towards Robert’s penthouse and Sally’s trailer, was a slow and deliberate trek. 

While Robert was nursing a cold that had settled in his chest, Lane was simply tired and sore.... aching in most every way a body could ache. After five days spent swinging a hoe-dad it hurt to move his arms or turn his head. Still, like his friend, two hundred and twenty dollars in his jeans was enough to offset a great many pains.

Thursday, June 17, 2021




     Perhaps like you, we have seen the Mona Lisa hanging there in its place of honor in the Louvre. Our modest world travels have included a pilgrimage to what some accept as the world’s most perfect painting. We have been there and done that. So what do we have to show for it?

Truth to tell, our personal rendezvous with Leonardo’s masterpiece was a rather hurried moment, played out in a shoulder to shoulder crowd….all of whom were straining to capture a glimpse of the prize.

As I recall, in my artistically-illiterate eyes Mona was a bit smaller than  I expected. True, she did seem to be smiling at me….though Roma was just as certain she was the target of her attention.

I suppose there were a few visitors in that tourist-laden crowd who had come to seriously study the subtle, yet apparently powerful elements of that masterpiece. Would they be able to accomplish that in those circumstances? I don’t know.

I am, however, quite certain that most of us Mona Lisa gawkers were there because we had been told we ought to be. After all, it was famous…. something we would probably never see again. Then, having seen it, we could check that box and move on to the next “big thing.”


Bear with me for a moment as I revisit that time, that highlight of our continental travels…..or more accurately, my memories of that brief moment in a long life.

It was a sunny September morning. Everyone around us was upbeat and eager to begin their great art adventure….the world-renown Louvre. I remember standing in line waiting for the doors to open. (They were late opening that morning.) We had studied our Rick Steve’s map of the sprawling building….planning our route through the dozens of galleries to see what we had been told were the best sights.

And then, in a matter hours, it was over. Having seen what we wanted to see, our investment of time, anticipation, and attention had produced our own very personal return…..a collage of memories we hoped would last a lifetime.

That, it seems to me, is the reality of the wanderlust and travel urges I have never outgrown. Truth is, the places, people, and things we see along the way are invariably fleeting experiences. Rather than the sights and sounds themselves, lasting travel success depends on the memories, photos, souvenirs, and friendships we create along the way….the reminders we bring home with us, the ones we can revisit anytime in the future. Bottom line…..the most successful travel is a mental exercise….as good and lasting as our memory.

Be it the Mona Lisa, the Eiffel Tower, a dreamy Rue Cler dinner, or Yorkshire vistas that take your breath away….in every case the moment itself is transitory. Yet though we may never return there again in person, its impact can last a lifetime.


So why do we travel? What do we hope to gain or achieve? What is it we bring home from those travels? And what do they mean…..the memories and mementos of our time abroad?

More to the point, at our age why would the two of us even consider another round of extended travel…..the ten or twelve week adventures that worked so well for the younger “us”? What would we hope to gain this time? Is there something new to be learned, a reason to go again?

I still have those moments, you know….when I can visualize the two of us doing that again, driving the backroads, doing our age-appropriate “wild and crazy” things. Yet, that hazy vision is quickly coupled with so many reasons why those once-appealing possibilities would not be such a good idea at this stage of the game.

Some of the possible deterrents are practical matters…..sitting quietly through a ten-hour transcontinental flight is probably beyond me. The notion of a new and different bed every few nights has lost its appeal. Extended walking tours are out of the question. 

Beyond those physical limitations are the more subtle reasons. Anymore there are not that many things we want to DO. Instead, we have grown more interested in observing what goes on around us, soaking up the feel and mood of a place and its people. Those mental souvenirs, along with reminding photos, are what we would hope to bring home with us.

Is that enough to fan even the most modest dreams of traveling again? A review of the pros and cons seems to weigh against that.

Instead, why not return to our own earlier travels….the albums, notebooks, photos, and mementos we have of those times. Why not take the time to milk the feelings and memories of remembered times, as seen through our now-older eyes, and filtered through our now-older minds

Seems to me that approach would allow us to side-step the limitations of the “we” we have become, while allowing us to view our old travels on a new screen, complete with new, more mature insights


Here’s the deal… is lived in our minds. That was true at twenty-five or thirty. It is even more true at eighty-four. The travel we love and look forward to, no matter what the destination, is a mind game….to be lived and relived in our consciousness… thoughts, memories, and daydreams.

If that is so…..why should we subject our aging bodies, so ill-fitted for the rigors of modern-day travel, to demanding flights, strenuous excursions, constantly changing accommodations, etc.

Why not simply send our mind, our consciousness, on the “trip of our dreams”? With generous assists from our photo library, notebooks, YouTube, Google, and other internet resources we can capture the good things we hope to experience, while saving the wear and tear on our aging bodies.

Why not return to our own fruitful past….even flesh it out if necessary ….to create the mind-dwelling future we dream of.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

GOING POOR - Chapter 7

    A 'party'? Really? They were four friends, gathered to send the would-be tree planters on their way. It had been a long time since their last purely social event.

    Yet, in no time at all social correctness had given way to fiscal reality. Everyone gathered around that 'party' table understood the harsh obstacles to be found on the Road to Going Poor.

                             Chapter 7 

“Lane, that is absolutely stupid. Planting trees? Up in the mountains? You can’t be serious.” Sister Sally was stating her complaint in the loudest possible terms. “Don’t you remember what one day of pruning shrubs did to you? You couldn’t even move.”

“But today was fine. That lineament stuff of Marla’s really worked. Besides, the fellow I called about the tree planting told me there wouldn't be near as much bending and stooping. He said the hardest part is going up and down the hills. 

"We'll be climbing over stumps and limbs and stuff, while we’re swinging our hoe-dad....that’s what he called the hoe they use to dig a hole for the tree seedling to go in. I guarantee you, I can do that for five days. Which means, if I turn out to be average, I could make fifty bucks a day.”

There was no mistaking Sally’s dubious doubt. “Sounds like another one of those jobs that works best for the kids. Does your contractor guy realize how old you are?”

“Well, not exactly," Lane admitted. "But I did tell him that neither Robert or I had ever done that kind of work. So he understands we’ve got some learning to do.”

“What do you suppose he’ll say when he finally sees the two of you. I don’t know your friend Robert, but if he’s as old as you the boss man may not let either of you get on his bus.”

“I guess we’ll see, won’t we?” 

By then Lane was not about to get pulled away from the most important consideration of all. Forty- five or fifty dollars a day, for five days. He could do most anything for that. 

“Sis. I need the work. You know that. And Robert’s in the same boat. We have to give it a try.”

“And you’re willing to get soaked, maybe catch pneumonia, just for a few dollars.” Sally was doing her best to make him face the unfriendly truth.

“The contractor supplies the rain gear. As long as it’s in good shape when we turn it in, that won’t cost us a thing.”

“It’s still crazy. Nothing’s going to change that. 

"You said that you leave Monday morning," she said wearily. "So if you’re still determined to go, then let me at least come up with an extra-special dinner for Sunday. I need to send you off with a decent meal.”

“That would be great.” Lane paused to consider the possibilities. “Would it be okay if I invited Robert? I’m sure he could use the same kind of send off.”


From the beginning Sally had realized that her send-off dinner for Lane and Robert was missing something. How could she even consider what amounted to a social event, a party, without including Marla? After all, such affairs were few and far between in their decidedly downsized world.

Besides, not only would her friend round out a foursome, she also happened to have the salad fixings that would compliment the ready-to-bake pizza Sally was planning for the main course.

So it was that at three-thirty Sunday afternoon Lane and Sally were in the back bedroom, repairing Sally’s dresser. Marla was alone in the kitchen, preparing her salad, when the timid rapping on the front door interrupted her task. Apparently she would have to act as greeter.

In the course of her months living on the Bluffs, Marla had seen the homeless inhabitants coming and going on a regular basis. In that time she had created her own stereotypical image of how they were apt to look and act. Occasionally she went so far as to compare a particular example of the breed to the altogether unimpressive image of her ex-husband....a test that seldom produced a winner. 

Yet, standing there in the open doorway, face to face with the slender, nearly clean-shaven fellow who must be Lane’s friend, Robert, Marla’s hesitant frown was giving way to a soft, understated smile.

His gray-speckled hair hinted at his age, though his easy grin offered no sign of intimidation. For a moment it seemed her stereotype had let her down.

Without waiting for Marla’s greeting, Robert took the conversational lead. “You must be Sally. I’m Robert.” 

Then, over her shoulder he saw Lane coming down the hall into the kitchen. “I see that Lane’s here. That means I must have found the right house. Eh?”

“This is the place,” Marla answered. “But I’m not Sally. I’m Marla. Sally will be out in a minute.” 

With a nod she motioned him inside. Seconds later Sally had joined the three of them in the living room and Lane was making the appropriate introductions.

“This is really nice,” Robert allowed, surveying the cramped single-wide room. “Complete with TV. Except for a few football games at the Mission House I haven’t seen much of that for a while. Especially the news. We haven’t gone to war, have we? If we do, I’ll probably be the last to know.”

The next step was to relocate the formica-topped kitchen table to the middle of the living room, the only space large enough to accommodate it and four chairs. The armchair was pushed aside and the table pulled up in front of the sofa, making room for the fourth chair Sally brought from the back bedroom. 

The men were seated when Marla set her salad on the table and joined them, waiting for Sally to bring the pizza from the kitchen. While they waited, Marla was off on her personal fact-finding expedition.

“It’s good to see your face this time.” She was talking to Lane, referring to their earlier massage session. 

Looking up, Lane was surprised to see what struck him as something new. There was a mischievous glint in her eye as she grinned at Robert’s obvious puzzlement. “The last time I saw this fellow,” she explained. “I was massaging his back, looking at the back of his head. 

“Anyway Lane,” Marla continued. “Sally tells me you used to be a traveling salesman. Is that right? I remember hearing jokes about those guys. Maybe you set things straight for me. Were traveling salesmen really the rascals they were made out to be?”

Taking an extra second or two to chew his pepperoni, Lane rolled his eyes in Robert’s direction, wondering where Sally’s friend was leading him. She was joking. Wasn’t she? Truth be told, her unsmiling boldness was enough to put him off. She must be one of ‘them’....the kind who speak their mind without regard for the consequences. 

Finally he managed, “Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to believe everything you heard?”

“So that’s not how they are, those traveling salesmen?”

“I didn’t say that. Maybe some of them were. But I’m guessing that most of those stories you heard were made up by guys on the road, sitting in some cut-rate motel, trying to beat the boredom.”

“Boredom? Now that’s a letdown. You’re ruining my whole image of traveling salesmen.”

“I’m sorry. But those nights stuck in a motel room were definitely not a fun part of the job. It’s what made the local bar look so good.” He reached over to poke at Robert’s shoulder

“Now if you take plumbers, like my friend here ....that would be a different matter. People don’t make a lot of jokes about them. That’s because there’s hardly anything more glamorous than plumbing. Right, old buddy?”

“You bet,” Robert replied, picking up on Lane’s lead. “It’s hard to beat crawling around under a house, maybe repairing a sewer connection or dealing with a plugged toilet. Who wouldn’t get turned on by that classy kind of stuff?”

“Seriously though.” Lane, nodding in Robert's direction, sensed the need to rein in his imaginative new friend. “Those were good days for both of us, weren’t they? We’ve talked about that before. 

"I know I was a lot happier than I would have been cooped up in some office, tied to a desk. All things considered, life on the road treated me pretty well for a long time. 

"I just wish I’d have been smart enough to keep more of what it gave me. If I’d done that I wouldn’t be sitting here getting ready to go tromping off to the mountains for a week, doing God knows what.”

There was no need to explain the destructive role of alimony and child support in his financial misfortunes. Besides, no matter what the reasons, the result was undeniable. He had little to show for his years of hard work. “Anyway,” he concluded. “I never was much of a saver.”

“I know the feeling,” Marla nodded, moving quietly from light-hearted traveling-salesman jokes to what she was accepting as a shared reality. “In fact, that seems to be a rather common story these days. I just never thought about building a nest egg. I suppose I never realized I needed to. I had a husband who was supposed to be taking care of those things. 

“Turns out he took good care of himself. What savings we had left town with him and his lady friend.” She paused long enough for a wave of anxious tension to pass. Even after all those years there was no avoiding those emotions. 

“It seems like everyone I know wishes they’d saved more,” she continued. “In fact, I’m guessing there are four of those folks right here at this table. Like a lot of the unfortunate ones, we’ve been long on broken promises and short on resources.”

“Broken promises?” Lane asked warily. “That makes it sound like it was someone else’s fault. Is that a cop out?”

“I don’t think so,” Marla said, glancing over at Sally, perhaps seeking her confirmation. “Take your sister’s cannery pension, for instance. That must have looked pretty good on paper. I can remember when she was getting by on unemployment checks, waiting for those pension benefits to kick in. 

"Then, before that ever happened, the cannery went bust and her pension had gone down the drain with everything else. It was a good thing that she turned sixty-two when she did, so she could file for Social Security.”

That had Lane recalling the times Marla spoke of. During those years he and Sally had been out of touch for months at a time, leaving him unaware of her harshest trials. Since his return, her reluctance to discuss those hard times had left him with little more than subtle hints of that sad episode. 

His initial impulse had been a blunt, but practical critique of Sally’s impractical actions....a scolding for having taken her Social Security benefits at sixty-two, instead of waiting for the larger payout she would have earned at sixty-five. Now, for the first time, Marla’s explanation was shedding light on how little choice his sister had in the matter.

“In my case,” Marla continued. “The broken promises came in the name of ‘downsizing.’ About twelve years ago I left the cannery, where I’d first met Sally, and went to work at Riverview Elementary as a classroom aide. 

"It was the best job I’d ever had. The most secure too. They said you had to screw up pretty bad to get fired from a school job. That security was especially important after Eric ran off and the kids had left home. I was on my own and pretty much out of options.”

“My God,” Lane interrupted. “This feels like old home week. Did you know that both Sally and I went to Riverview Elementary....first through sixth grades? Hell, that’s the place that made me what I am today....or not.”

“Sally had told me that. Though she didn’t sound quite that sentimental about it. Anyway, I put in nine years as an aide, and loved every minute of it. The pay was decent and I was on my way to a nice little pension. At least until I got hit with a double whammy. 

“There’d been talk of closing Riverview for years. The folks who are supposed to know about such things said it was ‘obsolete.’  And they finally shut it down three years ago. A week later, as the second part of their downsizing, they cut nearly half the classroom aides from the district budget.”

Marla’s grim, pursed-lipped frown was signaling what came next. “I was one of those. By June I was out of work, filing for unemployment. I started looking for work, but no one was hiring. They weren’t looking for anyone....especially an old broad like me with no special skills. It felt like I’d run into a brick wall.

“By then the only thing I had going for me was my Public Employee’s pension. It takes eight years service to be vested in that. I had nine. I was fifty-six, just old enough to qualify. I hadn’t planned it that way. But that’s how it worked out. 

"It’s not much, nothing like it would have been in another six or seven years. But  it includes health insurance and a small check each month. Until I turn sixty-two that, along with food stamps and what I make cleaning a couple offices on the weekends, is all I have to keep the wolf from the door.”

Lane stood to gather their plates and take them to the sink, returning with a plastic pitcher to refill their glasses. In truth he was momentarily escaping Marla’s sad account of her own fiscal dilemma. 

It was an uncomfortable thing, listening from the sidelines as their casual conversation morphed from feel-good jokes into a dour litany of their shared reality....of how their now-tarnished golden years had retreated beyond reach. 

It seemed like everyone in their narrow universe was struggling to stay afloat. Why else would he and Robert be packing for a week of hard labor in the Coast Range mountains?

A moment later Marla was offering a different way to frame their depressing new world. “A couple months ago my friend Rebecca was telling me how hard it had been for her, at least until she went to live with her daughter in Lawrence. I’ll never forget the way she explained it....when she first realized that she’d be poor for the rest of her life. 

“One by one the things she had counted on, or dreamed about, had slipped away. Looking ahead she could tell that when all that was gone, the only thing left was ‘poor.’ That’s what she called it....‘going poor’ it was a destination. In fact, by then it was the only place she could afford to go.”

“I expect there are lots of us on the road to ’going poor’,” Lane replied. 

He turned silent, lost in thought....processing fleeting imagines of Robert in his penthouse, a clutch of derelicts gathered around late-night campfires in a Medford ‘jungle’, and hoe-dad swinging tree planters trudging up a mountain hillside. 

None of them....Sally, Marla, Robert, or him.... had set out to live the life they were living. At one time or another each of them had created worthwhile dreams to work toward, and visions of a future that looked nothing at all like their present reality. 

While the fortunate ‘others’ hurried on in their daily pursuits, striving to get ahead, more and more of the unlucky ones were being left behind, facing their own form of ‘going poor.’

 “But you know,” Lane said, wanting to nudge them beyond their sad melancholy. “We can’t let ourselves get bogged down in all that bad stuff. There are things we can be doing, better ways to use what we have.”

For reasons Lane did not immediately understand Marla was shaking her head in Sally’s direction as she offered her response. “Your sister had told me about that. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.”

“She told you about what?”

“The first time she ever mentioned her brother, she told me he was a dreamer. That he’d been that way all his life, always looking for something good, even in the worst situation.”

“I think we’re about to test that theory,” Robert interjected. “Our bus leaves in a couple hour. We'll be off to the hills. After a week of planting trees, when Lane’s worn to a frazzle, we’ll see if he can still be a dreamer.”