TALES OF CALIFORNIA LONG AGO

by Blaise Moritz blaisemoritz.com (Originally published as a chapbook by Lemming House, Toronto, 1990)

Contents
1. The Lumberjack’s Decline ..................................................................................................................................... 1 2. Outside the Confines of “Official” Science............................................................................................................. 3 3. Secret Origins ........................................................................................................................................................ 6 4. The Precarious Tenure of Fame............................................................................................................................. 7 5. Unknown Migrations .............................................................................................................................................. 9 6. A Common Error Among Ignorant People ............................................................................................................ 11 7. The Consequences of Filial Impiety ..................................................................................................................... 12 8. Extravagances on the Road ................................................................................................................................. 13 9. The Pleasure of Grand Designs ........................................................................................................................... 16 10. The Dilemna Reptiles So Often Engender ......................................................................................................... 19 11. The Current Play of Light Gossip ....................................................................................................................... 20 12. Death in the Palace of Language ...................................................................................................................... 21

1. The Lumberjack’s Decline
The lumberjack had once been a great writer. He often dreamt of those happy days as an expatriate in Paris, delighting in the sub-aquatic light of the city's back alleys, all gone now, where he walked with comrades discovering the forgotten cafes that became their strongholds. His legend was just beginning to form then. At the wild, bohemian parties, where all the now famous authors used to get together, he would put on his safari gear and get out his elephant gun and talk about the thrill of big game hunting and what it was like out on the savannah and how he hoped to go to Africa someday. On one such occasion the lumberjack made a bad impression on Dalgerson, a wellestablished colleague, by shooting the head off Dalgerson's chicken, which he claimed was a

valuable writing aid. This was the beginning of the lumberjack's decline. Minus the chicken, Dalgerson was worthless and his publisher, not about to take this loss kindly, made it impossible for the lumberjack's work to get into print in Europe. Desperate, he came home and took a job writing for the movies. There in the luxury of the studio's writing den, with one boy to take the pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, another to open the pack, another to remove a cigarette, one to hold his lips apart while another put the cigarette in his mouth, and finally one to light it with a solid gold lighter, his inspiration deserted him. The final blow came when after many unproductive months he found that he could no longer meet the payments and a man came from the agency and repossessed his boswell. Without a boswell he was afraid to think or say anything--he felt sure that he would suddenly have a flurry of brilliant insights and they would, tragically, go unrecorded. Therefore he retired to the woods and became a lumberjack in an attempt to keep his mind blank until such time as he had enough money to employ a boswell once again.

He was able to extract from his own memory the names of everyone who had ever fed him and traces of the meals themselves. to have a normal childhood. was determined. They then tried to interest him in other. drawing diagrams of the arrangement of the food on the plate. But his first memory was of having this idea. however.2. but the pictures were vague. consistency--in what he considered his mature literary style. Pollo. They wanted him to slow down. A way to tap the hidden recesses of the human brain was needed and to this end he studied mesmerism. Pollo's project had shaped the course of his education. expressing those intangibles--taste. Once he started he threw all his energies into the project. He had not been able to start until he was six for it was not until then that he had achieved the necessary degree of literacy. He always treasured the moment when . smell. He felt sure that deep in his mind or in the minds of those who had fed him lay all those lost meals. activities. in their opinion more worthwhile. He was plagued by the thought of those missing years and almost two thousand unrecorded meals and snacks. His discipline and enthusiasm at such an age made his parents uneasy. recording calories and temperature upon ingestion. Dissatisfied he spent ten years gathering together all those people and cross-referencing their memories to build at last a comprehensive record of his diet in his first six years. Outside the Confines of “Official” Science Pollo kept a diary of everything he had ever eaten. He still enjoyed his entries from those early days and only occasionally regretted the lack of detail compared to the level on which he was working now. He majored in the ideas of Puysegur--hypnotism and somnambulism. In his teens. They had never understood him. pasting in the recipes and noting any changes that had had to be made due to the discovery of an unexpected shortage of some ingredient.

representative sample of people. He has travelled the world. brought it out of the realm of eccentric hobby. He has developed machines to probe the mind. but his wife. and make small talk. He choked to death. Pollo decided that his children would never have this difficulty. however. He endeavoured to instruct them also so that they would never have any regrets as he had. That the world never took any interest in his project did not disturb him. unable to record his last meal. And it was he who has taken the idea and fashioned it into something of true importance. he was happy to live on in anonymity. He kept their diaries for them until such time as they would be able to take over and do it for themselves. his other children had left him. he would tell them how proud he was to turn the work over to them. He still had his youngest son. their lack of understanding. receive these calls. Unlike more high profile. after being kept in a deep trance for a potentially harmful period of time. Pollo's job was to drive around all day. But the attitude of his family. At last he . The son. more high powered jobs it demanded no time outside of business hours. leaving his evenings free for his real work. He had hoped to found a family tradition but each child in turn rejected him. at the time just an infant. At the end of his life he was a broken man. He held no hope for this last child. In the store there was a demonstration model so that people could try talking on one and see the quality for themselves. It had its advantages though. Pollo died a young man. learned of his father's diaries. eschewing his father's unscientific methods.the nurse had finally. Convinced of its importance. From this data he has pieced together the contents of the race memory. was hard on him. Pollo had to eke out a living working for a company that sold car phones. come up with the brand and flavor of the baby food that was the first meal he had ever eaten. recording the memories of a large. As they came of age.

.has been able to start work on his long-dreamt of project. a catalogue of everything the human race has ever eaten. a project he does not expect to live to see completed.

some dental work. "Why don't you go into water filtration? With your double-pass. "That's what everybody says. you can draw on your personal experience. when he and the salesman have finished their rounds." said the clerk. . Listen." At the end of the day.3." But the operations failed and the water filter returned a man. That should suit you. ultra-violet cleansing unit. you're a natural. a hair transplant. "We only have the one job for men: water filter salesman's assistant. Secret Origins A water filter walked into an employment agency looking for a job. these days just the fact that a guy looks like a particular appliance doesn't have to determine his whole life! A face lift. I could be a knife sharpener or a food processor. they stop at the bar. And when the salesman has gotten very drunk he confesses that he never wanted to be a salesman but he was born with plaid skin and patent leather feet.

and trigonometric ratios. No one recognized him for he had changed much since his youth. He had caught the turtle and befriended it and then had discovered its remarkable talent--not only for the four basic operations but also exponents. With him he brought the largest shark that had ever been caught and he claimed he had done it the honest way--with rod and reel. the National Museum of Wales says. it had little appetite. He was the toast of the talk show circuit where he would show off the jaw minus thirty of its teeth which he wore around his neck on a necklace. Five years later it admitted its career was dead and returned to the gulf and hunting jellyfish. on which he and a giant leatherback turtle taught the principles of higher mathematics. the charter company long since having hired another in his place to captain his head boat. A fisherman went out after dinner one night when the sky was red. It hunted little when it returned. It was thought to have come from the Caribbean in search of jellyfish. But it soon became so popular that it let itself be convinced that it could strike out on its own. it was weary and the adoration and scrutiny of its fellows was . Three months later he returned. He had had a TV show of his own. But much earlier he had been famous. It was the largest of all the leatherbacks and had been a great hunter. During its absence it had become a dominant figure in its species' mythology. Over the next few months it did some commercials while waiting for just the right job. logarithms. It measured nearly ten feet from flipper to flipper and eight and a half long. The Precarious Tenure of Fame A one tonne leatherback turtle which washed up on a Welsh beach last week could be the largest of the species ever recorded. he provided the equations. The turtle performed the arithmetic.4.

Word was it was bad everywhere. It still longed for the bright lights though it knew this could never be. The fisherman relates how a trail of jellyfish had led him to a dead whale and there he had found and caught the magnificent shark. desperately hungry. Sometimes it swam up into the swamp to a spot where the reeds grow such that it could it swim to the boardwalk trail and unseen watch the people. it hoped in vain to be delivered to a place not so full of memories and where the fishing was easy. It loved their shirts which it felt helped it keep up to date onthe topsy-turvy goings-on in that celebrity fast-lane it had once been a part of. Hunting was bad in the gulf the next year. The jellyfish were scarce and the younger turtles could no longer afford to show their idol any respect or deference--they had to look out for their own interests. . Now he gets to dress up in stupid caps and high rubber boots and go to parties where everyone else is wearing a tuxedo or gown.not altogether appreciated. Its dreams of stardom shattered.

He awoke in the spring and continued till he happened upon a railway line. he had lived on the landing of a staircase in an empty building with a family of rats and a cabbage. and a flag. An empty coal car took him to the coast. a wife. to an old wire fence and stepping over this obstacle. but well enough to talk in the early days about his exciting escape and his political opinions. He would pass the rainy days teaching them water sports. I ran into them at the bus stop. the soldiers inside. Unknown Migrations As a boy Zucha had escaped from the East. inside of which. received his citizenship at a sports bar and years later I met him. Transylvanian door was a warning in his language. This would draw Zucha out of himself. He never learned our language well. snowy night. He had a dog. After a time. The rats would find discarded shingles and use them as rafts. were hundreds of pleasure boats and also the arcing ramps that carry crates of grain and ore to the cranes that lower it into the giant ships. out of the city and onto a plain. There he saw sheds four stories tall. His yard was enclosed by crab apple trees. he was free. where the snow was ever deeper. Alone on the streets after curfew on a bright. stacked one on top of the other. I could hear him playing the trumpet.5. he came to the New World on a cattle boat. When it rained the water would come in through the broken windows and the holes in the roof and he would sit there as the water flowed down the steps around him. close to their stoves and their radios. two children. On his heavy. I was very young when he and his family disappeared. For a time. But winter came and he left. Occasionally. without knowing it. A fancy car passed by and Zucha said that it belonged to a famous local radio . Just before I moved out of that part of the city they returned.

He knew because. Zucha had gone home to show the rats what he had accomplished and to plot a revolution with them. in anticipation of his leaving the city. But the rats did not recognize him because he now smelled of white carpets and plastic chairs. watching as he. on all fours. talked to the rats in broken English.personality. His wife and children had stood behind him ankle deep in water. he had sold it to the fellow. . He hadn't thought he would be back.

. He was about to apologize to the lumberjack when he noticed his customer had fallen asleep. Lumberjacks will settle only for topquality foot-wear. But what was his new shoe size? The whole thing had to be done over again. Examining his handiwork Dr. He left her to her work. Dr. A Common Error Among Ignorant People When the lumberjack came to buy his new shoes he found that he had forgotten his shoe size. Gorgeous saw that they were too big for even the biggest shoes in his stock. He put two boards of appropriate size under the lumberjack's feet and then plastered over them. Then he called an employment agency for a nurse. some wood.6. Dr. Then he picked out a nice pair of slip-ons with fake bows on them for the lumberjack. Gorgeous became dissatisfied. Soon the lumberjack's feet were quite unusually large. Gorgeous to himself. some plaster and some nails. He paused on the steps at the point just before the lumberjack would be out of view. Dr. and painted everything black. She arrived shortly and he instructed her to keep the lumberjack under sedation. He wrapped the two shoes all in silk which he nailed to the boards along the edges. Thus he got some silk. Gorgeous the Shoe God had to put the lumberjack's feet into the foot measuring machine. only to find that the radiation had expanded the poor fellow's feet and the shoes were much too small. Better that he spend the time until I have gorgeous shoes for his giant feet in blissful sleep. This made things most difficult. thought Dr. Gorgeous took him down to the cellar and laid him on a table. Seizing his opportunity.

But there was nothing for the long-forgotten mother who. nagging and complaining all the while. they just played the penny slot machines. and who'd died long before the twins had been born anyway. The Consequences of Filial Impiety Gambling Siamese twins sold their mother to finance a trip to Las Vegas. rowed the imperial barge and kept Assurbanipal's zigurats and friezes dusted. "Now we will win twice as much!" They became big time gamblers and a cut of their winnings always found its way to the slug and the gipsy wherever their wanderings had taken them. following the directions in a book he'd bought up north. They sat inside in the air conditioning and complained to a boxing manager from their home town they had happened to meet. On an empty lot was a gipsy woman selling paintings of unicorns. For his part. a giant slug. "Excellent!" they exclaimed. After they had spent their meager winnings.7. . who hadn't been any good. There. divided them. she invited them into her mobile home. One day they did venture out to the suburbs. They weren't bold gamblers. he just talked about fighters whose names he couldn't remember.

however. they are quite content to do this even once night has fallen. He was their chauffeur. It hadn't made it any easier that he was the first person to work for them after a terrible accident had made it impossible for Paffo. It is highly unlikely that anyone you may encounter is actually from Seattle. but I could tell they were lying. he had developed not only voices but also gestures for each which he feels reflect the individual personalties of the artichokes. They had been very dissatisfied. The chauffeur speaks for them. They were from Seattle. leaving me alone in the dark. longtime chauffeur to continue in their service. He had just mechanically repeated everything they wanted him to say.8. all of it no doubt more useful and sensible. I have no car. By morning I have tired of my game. They speak constantly of the celebrities they hope to meet in Sacramento. he claimed. no more than there are rooms in houses seen from the outside. Having no eyes. Now. their talented. So much of what I was taught. . Extravagances on the Road I got a lift from a guy who said he was driving a bunch of artichokes to Sacramento. no more than the earth is round. I say. has faded but this has stayed with me. changing his voice to distinguish between them. claiming to see celebrities standing on the paved shoulder of the highway. It greatly impedes our progress. They mock me. People had been quite confused before he had gotten to know the artichokes. Every time they insist on stopping and having their man take them outside. The artichokes have an exceptional car for members of the vegetable kingdom. I tease them. No people live in Seattle. Talk shows are all there is on the radio. They are only satisfied that I was lying when they have searched the road carefully and thrashed about for hours in the ironweed in the ditch by the roadside.

found years ago by fishermen. This street is supposed to end soon.Now we discuss the fur-bearing fish of Urtig Bay. I forget now which." . charged us fifty cents. I wish I had been the fisherman who had caught it. asked where we were from. Besides does it matter? It is such a lovely story. the purpose of our visit." "If there are photographs." "Yes. We turned at one with a school and a police station. Wait. Which State the man would not tell us." "I did not hear that. There are mailboxes by the roadside. What a magnificent creature it was. I see one through the trees. if we were bringing anything in. one says. Let us ask him." "I heard that the light we were supposed to turn at had a food terminal and an empty lot on the corners. the kind of lie history is made of. It was a scenic State with great canyons or perhaps it was great mountains." We have crossed the State Line. they too only exist in photographs. one artichoke claims." However we have been driving this way for many days now. and another. He will know. how unfortunate no other has been found. as there are no houses to be seen. I remember that no fisherman caught it and there never was such a fish." The Artichokes are in disarray. "Here is the postman. decorative I suppose. but it was a hoax. There was a sign that read State Line and a man in a toll booth who looked at our passports. in what sense was it not real? It was as real as the bay where they pretended to find it. as real as the men who pretended to find it. "We are planning to stay with a friend and our directions to the house say that we drive on this road till it dead ends and then take a right. "I think perhaps we turned at the wrong light back in Bath. The fish was a fake. the artichokes run on. "There are photographs.

.

Here I have built a casino where for twenty years now I have been honing my skills. as I had not before. Paffo is barking." . smiling. dahling." I return to Paffo and notice. aperitifs the way only Rudolfo can mix them. Paffo just insisted on tagging along. like a swarm of fireflies tangled in a silver braid. everything glitters. A private party at my house. southern laughter. "Do we all come from outer space. But I must be patient. I am wanting to use this turnip in the salad. hooked to him by a wire. professor. or only some of us?" Genteel. She approaches in her rental gown. One must be prepared for such things. Wired to him are a speaker and an omni-directional microphone. attracting everyone's attention. like crystals of snow. bright as a fallen piece of sky. and he brought along some turnip that was with him. Butch is trying to get the turnip. "Oh Monsieur. One day I will break the bank. nailed to a board which rests on one those carts one drives slide projectors around on. The chandeliers. surveying my guests and brooding in my pink suit. socializing before dinner. give me your sympathy and counsel. her teeth her jewelry. He is only a head. The room is an empire of light. a turnip lying on the cart beside him. Later I stand by the grand staircase. The Pleasure of Grand Designs Unbeknownst to the city I have extended my cellar out beneath my front yard and that of my neighbors on either side and even right out underneath the street. "I am so sorry. Professor Paffo's glass eyes. Say you don't mind." says Paffo. the new age small talk I love so much. I will wear tuxedos and never get drunk and introduce myself last name-first name-last again and be murdered in my bed in Europe by an elegant woman. "The latter is the prevailing idea.9. Oh.

the distortion of its shape. I explain and he exclaims. I ponder the turnip. Everyone else must have slipped out at some point. Paffo rolls up to me. I'm sure--Butch is the best--but of little interest to me. and asks me what I am doing. I had forgotten about him. Guests of unwanted guests of guests never bring anything but trouble and embarrassment. There was something ominous in the way the turnip lay there--the angle of it against the cart. But then she smiles. After dinner. rendered inoperative temporarily by this assault on decorum. It is four o'clock in the morning the next time I notice the clock. I must learn to live on finger sandwiches and appetizers. I try moving it around. The gong sounds. arranging it in different positions to see if there is something particularly expressive of impending tragedy in its original position. The turnip reeks of gin and the air is thick with the smoke from its cigar. I want to stay and talk with Paffo. Paffo asks it repeatedly to put it out. I open my casino and let the guests amuse themselves. Dinner. The turnip wants to play blackjack and not just for fun. excellent. "How droll you are!" and leads me off to table. "I like vegetables in general but happily there are exceptions to every rule. part of it being in Paffo's shadow. he can't stand . Paffo starts up suddenly. says. Only my aversion to this variety of root saved the turnip from the salad. "How intensely interesting!" For once his attention pleases me. A fanciful thought."Can you imagine anything so horrible!" cries Paffo." Then Butch leaves and people gradually settle back into their conversations. I try to dissuade him from this foolhardy challenge but Paffo tells me the turnip gets these notions occasionally and is well enough off to cover any damage he does himself. playing at being gamblers. I call Rudolfo away from the bar to deal. Looking around I see there is only Rudolfo and I and Butch sweeping up and Paffo with the turnip. as I customarily do at such events. She looks blankly at me for a second.

When Butch whispered in my ear that the sun was rising. Jarred's emergency hotline number. as he does every morning. I had beaten it soundly for two hours straight. I run to the corner where there is a payphone. . by chance I assumed.the smoke. I hail a taxi and leave the country. the world's leading expert on the science of blackjack. Paffo appears to be arguing with himself. It had apologized and said it didn't know how it was fluking it off when it pulled ahead. I had staked almost my entire fortune. The turnip at Monte Carlo. But the turnip is gradually revealing itself to be a domineering. self-important type. pushing past the bouncers. I am lost. I am daydreaming. I dial Dr. whose program of audio cassettes lies behind the success of all the great modern gamblers. living off the sandwich tray. the turnip's shock upon recognizing me! Then I fall asleep. I realize now that I have fallen prey to a hustler. but I complimented it on its play and it wanted to continue. Twenty-one again. If anyone can save me it is my mentor. I excuse myself for a moment and go up through the manhole on the street for some air. The turnip's last card is turned over. it's just that he must speak for the turnip. unbeatable. The line is busy again. while teaching the cows Spanish and preparing them for the shock of a strange culture. Then it had won a game. The dawn found me heavily in debt to a turnip. working my way across the ocean on a cattle boat. no. he explains. it not having the capability to speak for itself. the sorrow of casino managers and I. there with the cows which are sadly free of the pleasure of grand designs. All the way over. there beneath the fancy chandeliers in the rags of a Catalonian peasant challenging the turnip.

explains that dead the iguana would make a great loafer but plastic it would be the kind of family heirloom Dr. The only one undecided is Dr. Gorgeous the Shoe God. others say he is dead. The water filter salesman's assistant. Some say he is plastic. .10. Gorgeous has always wanted. The Dilemna Reptiles So Often Engender The iguana has not said anything for days. he has not come down from the ledge above the window. he has not moved. usually reticent. There are basically two camps of thought among those present.

the bones of the deceased are returned home by airmail. scientists walk out into the desert blindfolded and scatter the bones so that they and their successors will have something to discover. taking contemplative draws on their cigars. There will be an ocean there and everyone knows about the moderating effect of large bodies of water. A million years from now it will split apart and the sea will rush in. however.11. For the benefit of the fossil record. sitting around the elegant card table. The current play of light gossip is around the idea of going back to the desert. . sipping their whisky and sodas. adjusting their monocles. Yes. yes concur the rhinoceroi. much more comfortable now that the buttons of their waistcoats have come off. There. The Current Play of Light Gossip The climate of the desert is such that its inhabitants have to live elsewhere.

But seriously speaking of what use is it?" shouts the chicken. aphorisms. When times were good or when I still hoped that one day they might be good. make it think it's made a mistake.12. I stand there on the threshold facing the chicken. trying to engage the chicken's self-doubt. Through all this the chicken is . I have succeeded in teaching it a rudimentary form of the language by having it memorize fifteen thousand useful phrases. but down-to-earth." I suspect I was welcomed first with skeptical contempt because it thought I was the man who delivers junk mail. We trust you will not consider us unduly strict. watch TV and plan to buy everything that is advertised and argue loudly about sports. I would carve and drill the chicken and later read to it. Death in the Palace of Language "Don't think I am unappreciative of your kindness. I didn't used to be. I am denied my museum and my knife business and the worship of my bad manners and meaningless. But recently all I've wanted to do is lie around in the big chair and drink beer. When I was young and full of hope. But now it is only understandable. I have sunk to this--bluffing. we would spend pleasant evenings together. But my exquisite narwhal tusk carvings of the evolution of life on earth have yet to be appreciated. I shall be glad if you will join me. I say nothing. So many requests of a similar nature come to us. "I stand corrected. Once I would have considered this a grievous blunder and in despair might have resolved not to continue my work. come to answer the door. I am the man who delivers junk mail. The chicken looks me up and down and I see a smile of deep enlightenment spread across its beak. I taught the chicken to despise junk mail carriers. I was a top student and I graduated a master craftsman. Now I cannot bear to tell it that I myself am reduced to holding this most menial and disreputable of jobs.

It trots up and pecks again--more vigorously. wakes with its sobs. I confessed." . No. it is too horrible! "If you think I really meant it when I said I'm a junk mail carrier you're dumber than you should be!" I stammer. A faintly quizzical look comes into its incisive stare. "Please continue to be frank. I can think of nothing more disagreeable. I can see in its eyes that it thinks me pathetic. wouldn't that make me happy? Don't give me that stuff about being disillusioned. only to find the chicken standing there by my side in the half-light. Staring at the ceiling. sympathetic soul. my reason temporarily off line. I have a foreboding of some destined change.always silent. it comes to me dimly that last night was particularly bad. die!" it says." "Excuse my bluntness. It comes back to me. As I get drunker I shout. I told the chicken last night. The anemone that weeps at day-break. "I do deliver junk mail now but do not circumstances justify it? Tell me you think it's all right. That phrase! I never taught it such vulgarities! "Oh chicken. we are no longer master and disciple. one cannot always live in the palaces and state apartments of language but we can refuse to spend our days in searching out its vilest slums. I draw my foot away. like a silly girl before her lover. I can't go on like this. "So what if I was to get married three times and sell insurance. Yes." said the chicken. monster. As you were at the crimson close of day." It pecks at my foot. I seem to remember delivering a lengthy harangue to the chicken and am glad I can't remember what I said. But the time for denial is passed. it cannot continue. I start to get out of bed. "Die. my defenses down." I think even its mean intelligence perceives the tragedy of my life and this weighs heavy on its simple.

It does not answer. I am helpless as it pecks me to death. and caprice..which like a childless mother. generosity.. "Goodbye. It seems intolerably tragic. Now I drift out into the eternal sea. still must croon her ancient sorrows to the cold white moon. chicken.. ." ". a failure despite my admirable mastery of technique in narwhal tusk carving.." it finishes for me. My life--a strange mixture of carelessness.

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