Archive for the ‘lumic’ Category

Corporate Responsibility

22 November 2011

By the time I get to it we’ve already crested the hill and begun our long descent into the city. I fumble in my pouches for the spare gear, fumbling them onto my belt with shaky hands as he turns to me and asks if I’m ready. Always asking if I’m ready; it’s our little superstitious ritual, like baseball players tapping this shoe then that the exact number of times needed to make this at-bat a successful one.

“No,” I reply, and reflect how it came down to this, how this became the last choice for us. It’s not their fault, I suppose, as we’ve always kept them well-fed and rewarded for doing exactly what they’ve done. But then they got greedy and we were told that there’s a job to do and you just don’t turn down work in this economy, not any more.

He completes the ritual with “Well you’d better BE ready then,” and it snaps into focus for me. Cool-eyed, steely glances, flinty vision knocking sparks off every hard edge I see, every blade of grass waving in peaceful mockery of the violence about to follow.

The protesters, sensing my hesitation, redouble their chants. Too big to fail., they shout. We create the jobs. We run the economy. I spare a glance for their three-piece suits : some modest but most with pricey alterations, nice cuts and textures. Probably Italian, I muse. But they’re too late. Too little too late, I muse, and snap the shield down over my face.

The can comes up. Shake shake shake. The ball rattling is enough to cut through the crowd’s tension and I can feel them angrily anticipating that moment of release. WE ARE THE ESTABLISHMENT they call out defiantly. WE PAY YOUR SALARY.

The movement in the corner of my eye is enough: my partner gives a curt nod and we wade into the crowd, pulling corporations from their mothers, spraying indiscrimiately the ones who stand back passsively and the ones curled into balls alike. This corporation pulled its arm back, and I interpret that to mean they’re winding up for a punch so out come the truncheons and batons with neat little metallic clicks, extending into that formidable length needed and it’s all I can do to keep from laughing. Our manuals have trained us for it; our armor is superior to theirs, our tactics sound and by the jury of my peers, by the world who has granted corporations personhood,we shut down the corporation’s protests mercilessly.

Ever since the rulings in 2012 granted corporate personhood with the caveat that they’d be held personally liable, the CEOs have been encamped outside their homes, sulking in their tents and singing songs of solidarity. And these are orders, after all.

Health and safety reasons. And to show that we can’t be bought at any price: one corporation comes up, bloodied, clutching his policeman’s sponsor card and I bite back a snarl as my arm comes up and down and up and down and up again, red with freedom, red with truth.

— Lumic Lütcher


Dawn Relief

24 November 2009

“Got a minute?”  I shrug and follow him outside; this has something of the flavor of an impromptu performance review.  As we wander out into the sun (is that what it is?) my glasses, like the peril-sensitive sunglasses of Hitchhiker’s Guide, turn dark — who says that the future isn’t now?

“So, you know, rumors have reached me.”  In other words, I’m sure I’ve been shooting my big mouth off again; when you’re at the hub of the wheel you keep turning turning turning until up and down seem the same.  What. Did.  I.  Do.  I have a strange sense of premonition as the familiar refrain ensues.  “You know, there are other jobs here,” delicately pausing, “that sound like fun.”

In an instant, the satori moment hits; I spend so much time plonked down in the chair that it feels like I’m rooted  in place; in another flash, me-as-tree brings up another image:  spreading my branches over the group and showering wisdom down.  That’s jumped the shark — internally I snort derisively and the images are swept away as I interrupt.  “Just so I’m educated about what else is out there — it’s not all good times and young kids; there’s something to be said for regular schedules and no one knowing your home phone number.”

Relief spreads like dawn on his face.  “Exactly!  Because, you know, I’d just heard …” It’s all perfunctory at that moment and we’re just marking time until we go back inside, until the peril dissipates to let me see clearly again.  Despite having taken position having to stare into the sun, if only I could bottle that desperation I’d be rich the next time I’m out of work.  Meter it out in small doses, lest your head swell into mistaking invaluable for valued (there’s the picture of the shade tree again), but keep your heart open — for life, and for life:  take as needed.

— Lumic Lütcher

Professional Help

15 July 2009

He pins me with a hard stare and continues.  “All’s I’m saying is –” jes’ folks, here, friendly-like “– all’s it is is that we’re all professionals here and we work as long as we need to work to get the work done.”  I squirm.  How can I not?  Isn’t it clearly directed at me?  Demons of the past float up to haunt me:  parents telling me to stop hitting younger children, teachers admonishing me for not writing proper farewell greetings, faculty asking me how serious I am about staying here.

His eyes, roving again briefly, catch mine and hold them, flashing.  “What we’re missing, maybe, is respect.  Respect for the work.  Respect for your, uh, elders.”  That last, thrown in for me; any high school graduate knows the tenets of Confucian thought are based on filial piety and respect for elders.  Violating that is tantamount to Christians wearing a pentagram and throwing up devil horns.  At Christmas services. Did I just physically flinch?

I’m not going to fry an egg on my increasingly hot scalp, but I’m getting close, I think.  Memories, having flown by in a hot rush, are soon replaced by rage and shame; shame that I should have known better — didn’t I brag in my interview that if I needed to stay, then stay I would?  Rage, though, displacing it; rage at my silence, rage that I’ve managed to drag the whole group in for my sins.

And then, to my horror, my mind dredges up that overwrought moment in Star Trek II where Spock, having gone in to manually activate the warp drive, explains to captain and friend, “The good of the many outweighs the good of the few … or the one.”  I renounced Spock in grade school and yet here he is, chiming in like my conscience’s own Jiminy Cricket, echoing the words beating down around me — no, us.  It’s conscience, then, dogging your footsteps, slipping into your shadow.  It’s conscience that gives these voices weight, even as my head jerks numbly into a nod as prompted.

— Lumic Lutcher

Hope Abides

24 December 2008

We watch the clouds scud by; no mere idle balls of white fluff these, instead layers of gray on gray on gray.  The ground stays dry for now but every passing moment darkens skies overhead and I can smell the moisture in the air before he turns to me and starts speaking.

“So what do you think about my plan?”

It’s strange, these political games we end up playing.  They tell you that you play by the rules, keep working up that ladder and you’ll get ahead.  It’s like a fraternity:  the longer you’re around, the less you have to share things until you find yourself at the spear’s point.  You call it the top of the pyramid, I see it as Prometheus’s rock, awaiting the eagle to alight again and consume the soul’s repository.

“Well, what choice did you have?”

Ambition is a harsh master.  Ambition demands we give more than we’re capable, that we make the extraordinary ordinary.  And ambition itself isn’t sufficient motivation for me; I can see why, but I can’t see me there too.

“I know!”  Eyes eager now, ready for the next challenge.  I envy the energy but never the burden.  When do we decide that today matches the dreams of yesterday?

Ambition again, ambition always; it’s so easy, as it is, to find fault with everything in the status quo.  Ask me twice who I want to be and I’ll give two answers; freeze time now and ask me if this is better than before and I’ll say yes every time.  It’s not about lacking goals; do you realize how lucky we are here today, together and alone?

“It’s a smart move, getting out of the coming flux.”

And yet the imminent change invigorates me even more.  I study the hands for a moment’s hesitation — the briefest tension, a betraying twitch.  Some people thrive on chaos, some people cut straight through to the point and I take the most meandering path on the best of days.  I am often betrayed by curiosity into learning little about much until it all sounds familiar, but only hints.  The treasure map of my mind I make and remake one page at a time.  Come the flood and wash the ink away.

“I’ll miss your counsel.”

“I’ll be back.”

Soon?  Soon enough?  The vacuum of power means that hungry men will be installed in buffets; will they remember their sore bellies with sympathy or gluttony?  There comes a point in every job I’ve had where my competence shocks me; for the million questions I asked, I remember a constellation of answers.  And I’ll hold down the fort as a loyal soldier must; but could I do it better as a colonel?

Here’s the ladder we’re expected to climb.  What’s at the top?  What if there’s a view we like better here?   It’s all unknown; it’s all formless until we breathe life into our own ambition and shape our lives.  Hope abides.

— Lumic Lutcher

Work Masks

6 May 2008

The clouds: they return. I never thought I’d hear myself think it, but yes, at least we’re not in Hawaii with vog.

He comes to me again and with a carefully timed sigh, I look up. It’s a bad habit — I’ve been coached on it before — but I can’t seem to break myself of the habit. There, standing there with an enquiring look on his moony-round, innocent face. Again. Look, I want to say, look, just try it and see if it works for you; if it doesn’t, then nothing lost; if it does, then you’ve saved me and you both some time. Instead I look up slowly and half-whisper, “What?” It comes out a little harder than I wanted.

“Um. Well. I wanted to know how you got the data for that report. Um. If you’re busy. Y’know. I can, I could, I’ll be back.”

“No, no, no, please — I’m just in the middle of this” — here, an expansive gesture over acres of rolling paper-covered desk real estate — “and didn’t hear you.” And the hint, slyly dropped, rolls away unnoticed. He pulls up a chair! Oh, the patience. Why don’t you get it? Really, is it more polite to be blunt, or to spare feelings?

“Well, I looked at your methodology, and I listed out your assumptions here. This is the one that doesn’t make sense to me.” Yeah, because your little pea brain is — huh. That? From this? We assume our usual work paranoia because we know we’ll be challenged, but this, this might actually help? Y’kidding me here?

Sometimes I wonder if I defend things not because they’re right, but because I made that decision. We spend our lives at cross purposes and refuse to believe I’m less than perfect, or you’re more than a moron. Humbling, this is. “I never looked at it, didn’t think about it.” Mumbled quickly, but loudly enough: he’s smiling that way again, but is it smug or is it in camaraderie? Spend enough time having your every move dissected and yeah, paralysis will ensue.

“Well, you know. It’s just work, after all.” He says it and I know he doesn’t believe it; live to work or work to live? We spend enough time here that our masks wear thin with each other. Or have I assumed again, what have I read into his actions? He walks away, now disappearing over the third hill of calculations. I could have been fed to the wolves over that and he chooses to brush it off; I need to rethink my old strategies.

The window beckons for a second look. I’m afraid of the reflection.

— Lumic Lutcher

Old Man of the Mountain

25 September 2007

This is one of my favorite stories theVet likes to tell — I don’t believe there’s a direct Western equivalent, maybe Hansel and Gretel with its theme of abandonment. I’m not sure, J-, if while you spent that year in Korea you heard the tale either, so I wanted to share.

* * * * *

One day the patriarch of the family returned from hunting. The cruel winter had driven all the game into hiding and worse, left his father with a nagging cough that no amount of boiled cabbage could put right. Snow fell as the days marched to a peak, where even the turnips carefully stashed away became rooty and inedible, yet not quite so desperate as to make the animals come out again in their search.

“Wife,” he declares, “wife, it’s come to this choice. We have four mouths to feed — us, our son, and my father. My father, he’s had a good life, but I don’t think he’ll see the flowers bloom this year. I’m sure he wouldn’t want to take the food out of his grandson’s mouth. It’s time for the mountain.”

She acquiesces; the world spins relentlessly on its axle, and that’s just life. Her father went to the mountain and his father too before him. And her father’s father’s father too, stretching on beyond counting, the mountain has seen them all and eaten the end of their days without hesitation.

The next morning, he sets to work, gathering the materials he needs to make a sling and snowshoes; the old man is never going to make it up the mountain alone, and he’ll have to haul him up this time. He’s cutting strips from the old deer blanket to weave into something supple and strong, supportive and restrictive. It’s a long journey up the mountain, and in the midst of this industry, his son, far removed from diapers and milk but still amidst kites and hoops, comes questioning up.

“Daddy, daddy, whatchoo doin’?”

“I’m making a basket.”

“What’sa basket for?”

“I’m going on a trip tomorrow.”

“How come you’re makin’ it now, can I help?”

“No, you’re too young, and I need to use my strength to make this one extra-strong and sturdy.”

“Okay,” the son says quite seriously. “Okay, okay. I get it. I unnerstan’ now.” He runs off; besides the ache in his stomach there’s duties to be discharged to his friends, snow forts to build, puddle-ice to be broken, and that mystery to unravel, of how the running stream never froze in this winter’s landscape. It’s a busy day for his dad, now finishing the basket and moving on to the snowshoes that night.

Later then; early dawn. The family arises; the grandfather, having seen the sling-pack take shape all day yesterday knows his fate, choosing instead to savor a last morning’s warmth under the covers; the father, knowing the route handed down father-to-son, rouses his sleepy boy and presents him with a cunningly small pair of snowshoes.

“Whuzza, daddy, I get new snowshoes today?”

“That’s right, you’re going with me on the trip.”

“Oh, and mommy too?”

“No, she’s got to stay here, we’ll be back tonight. I’m just going to get grampa and we’ll leave soon. Do you need me to show you how to put the snowshoes on?”

“They’re just like my old ones, right?”

“Yes,” he says, pride swelling to see his lessons remain taught. “Yes, my clever boy, yes.”

They’re all bundled up, the old man, precariously light and secured on the dad’s back making for an odd, lumpy sight greeting the boy as he walks outside into the first wind of the day. He frowns, thinking.

“Daddy, isn’t grampa sick?”

“Yes, we’re taking him up the mountain.”

“But …” pausing, pondering, “but, if the mountain is cold, an’ grampa is sick, he’s not gonna get better. You always tell me to stay near the fire when I cough like grampa does now.”

“My son, you’re old enough to know. This world is not fair, this world is hard and this world demands we have to cut our hearts once in a while.” These words, rehearsed last night and the old man hears his echo ring true. “Grampa … grampa isn’t going to live with us after today, he’s going to live on the mountain.”

“So we can go visit him?”

“No, he’s not going to want us to visit.”

“Oh, so he’s coming back down to see us?”

“No, not that either.”

He frowns again; you can just make out the furrow that’ll grow into a I’m-thinking line ten years from now. And the storm breaks as his brow relaxes. “Oh, grampa is old!”


“And he’s sick!”

“Yes, I think you know it now.”

The son turns and tugs at the straps, nodding approvingly. “Yes. It’s good. Yes, good. Good good good.”

And now it’s the father’s turn to perplexedly ask, “Good? Is what?”

“Oh, daddy, you did a good job with this pack. It’ll last and last and that way I won’t havta make one when you’re old and sick.”

They burned it that night, three generations watching the flames leap higher into the sky, all-consuming silence swallowing talk of the mountain.

Art Traum

8 June 2007

We stopped at a wide spot in the dusty road to stretch our legs and refill both car and bellies. Ahead and behind, ruler-straight, it yawned on and on into the pitch-perfect Western desert-scape. Any more perfect, in fact, and you’d half-expect a vulture would alight with a side-stepping shuffle on that saguaro amidst rocks — oh, one’s a bleached ox skull too.

My father-in-law, the artist who emigrated and took up work at the piano factory to support his family, noticed it first. A green barn across from the gas station (round pumps and all and yes, a rocking chair for the visibly absent attendant, now gently creaking in the breeze) with peeling plywood letters spelling it out: ART MUSEUM. We’ve already made a thousand stops — the air-cooled Volksies run hot and eat oil — so we’ve already seen the meter-sized balls of string, pig-calling contests, rattlesnake eggs, and everything else under this now-burning disc, high overhead.

“I’m going in; I think I saw a diner down the street if you want to wait for me there. Order me a Coke and if they’ve got it, their best slice of pie.”

Oh no you won’t; one of those movies we dragged along was House of Wax and we’re not splitting up this group, nuh-uh, no way. “Sounds like fun, I’ll come and join you.” Like FUN? Like fun it is. Geez, even when I lie I can’t help but sound corny.

We stepped into the cool shade together and it’s more like a crazy-quilt of state fair collections, inside. Next relief, there’s at least one docent, even if he was a nodding mute who only pointed to the neatly hand-lettered signs in lieu of tour. Not abandoned; I stopped fingering the pocketknife keychain that’s undoubtedly more danger to me than potential axe-wielding artists.

Grinning feverishly, he nodded at the first glass case, something that wouldn’t look out of place in a photography store. There, neatly arranged on pegboard an array of Box Brownies with crazy names: Snorkki, Harbina, Zontar and other eastern-bloc Cyrillic proudly marching on the close-but-not-quite clones. And prices, too — there, $89.95 and I’m momentarily confused, is it a store, is it the gift shop, are these the collector’s prices of acquisition (so why is that one labeled “by hand only”?), what? Oh, the signs. I see.

Our next and last stop — was it a bed, was it an egg slicer grown horribly large? “Plastiarc Welding Guitar.” Huh. Well, from what I could tell, it was built up of laminated strips of indeterminate plastic like a hollowed-out picture frame; six strings ran the long direction (maybe two meters? yeah, the size of a string bass and spaced like it too) and the sound board had odd smears — cigarette burns, old finger-painting accidents, I dunno.

The docent, smiling his secret smile, took the guitar down; I didn’t want to tell the poor kid that it would be impossible to play slung under one arm as the name would suggest, but he started plucking each string instead. I was quite taken with the tone, in fact, as he used the nails-as-tuning-pegs to adjust each string. Occasionally he’d tap different sides of the guitar and you’d hear bells and drums starting to come up in tempo with the plucking.

Then he started playing that last, magic string. It sounded like — no, couldn’t be — yes, there it is again — a crying baby?

He shakes his head, turns the peg half a turn and now the string — clearly, a voice spoke “a CHICK-en.”

Another half a turn, “a TURK-ey.”  The tone keeps getting flatter.  Deader.

“a DUCK.”

“a GOOSE.”

He doesn’t quite make it another turn, as the string snaps something crawls out from behind the soundboard, something roasted and delicious smelling and oh it’s talking again, “o my GOD I’m so much OLDER than the others my youngest son is DEAD and there’s a STRING attached to my BUTT.”

We left. In a rush. Did not pass GO, did not collect $200, just pulled the rest of the group away from their pie and coffee (what kind of pie uses almonds, anyway?), got in the microbus and even when the pushrods seized half a mile down the road we didn’t turn around to look, knowing those awful fake teeth and their owner would be grinning just over our shoulders, got out and pushed it down the road to the next town, this one with people and modern todays slightly offended by these dusty vagabonds, now exuding sweat and panicked tears.

— Lumic Lutcher

(Okay, it was a dream. But see what dreams you get those first months with a new child, half-sleepwalking through your day.)

Greetings, Cards

3 March 2007

I hate these things.

Again, I scowl down at the innocent card, hoping that finally jogs loose something creative. Or at least something that’s not so trite. What kind is it again? One time I didn’t check and was about to write ‘Happy Birthday’ on a sympathy card, after all.

Okay. Great. Someone’s graduating. Something happy, then. “Congratulations and good luck” — no, someone’s already used that hoary nugget. Well, it’s a fallback, at any rate. I just don’t get to know these people outside of work; what kind of experience did they have putting themselves through school? Coasting on a scholarship like my lazy ass did? Working nights all night when you weren’t taking care of the kids? Such a spectrum.

I guess I could go all Yoda — Yoda always sounds so wise. No, that’s just in my head. Nobody else grew up on the steady diet of anything-with-explosions-in-space I avidly sought. But on the other hand I don’t want to swing into that Steve-Perry-singing-about-loss Journey-esque sappiness (and I have cranked Faithfully in the car more than once).

Huh. This card sure isn’t writing itself and the next cube over has poked in twice, to make sure I’m keeping the card moving. Well, sure, I like the people I work with, but I want this to be something you keep in a drawer to withdraw at low points, cheered by thoughts and well-wishes. We keep ourselves in little individual pens of cubicles, never making contact and sometimes calling when it’d just be easier to walk the ten feet down the hall. We whirl in our own orbits and intersect with disastrous results. We just don’t know enough about each other — these private cubes are great for silently passing gas or picking my nose but otherwise it doesn’t teach me anything about working together.

Hi. There you are again. Yes, I’m about to finish up. *sigh*

Memorable. Business-like, not too friendly. Not open to misinterpretation. Check.

your dreams your road
the stars next destination

Great, the poet-laureate of the office. What the hell am I doing counting heads anyway? How did I end up here? Aargh. In ink, no less. Well, if I make the signature illegible no one should know.

-Lumic Lutcher

Office Space Watchmen

3 February 2007

Hear them talking again. Sounds innocent and I know they’re talking about me. All bland laughter and generic hellos so I know they’re discussing me again. How much I know when I knew it and what to do about it. Only know that they know I know because I’m one step ahead of them. But only just one step.

Tipped their hand too early. Mentioned a trip to Berlin. Obviously a divided city until 1989. Add those numbers together and you get 27. Three to three, a trio of three, the trio of trios. Clearly that means triad. What do I know that they want to know?

Hurm. Odd that they don’t look Chinese. Triads are recruiting other races. Maybe plastic surgery. Doesn’t matter, useless speculation. Look sharp, here they come again.

Mr. Kovacs, did you have the numbers ready yet?”

Glare at him. Feel his guilt eating his soul.

“Uhh … okay. Listen, Walter, I’m gonna need you to come in on Saturday. And you might as well make it Sunday as well.”

Don’t let up the pressure. Confess tonight after a few broken fingers. Always works. Walking away now, walking away from your guilt.

“I’ve never liked the way Walter looks at me. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a decent worker, but one time I tapped him on the shoulder –”

“Ah, I know — looked like a lion ready to pounce, din’t he?”

Tonight then. Pay them a visit. Saturday not looking so bad after all.

Real Life: Overrated

27 January 2007

“Real life,” says the old man, “is overrated.” Here he pauses, looking up from my resume, to drag on his unfiltered Camel as I let the words sink in, his voice suggesting imminent death by cirrhosis or lung cancer, whichever one catches up first.

“You have to understand, of course, that I was once quite ambitious; role models surrounded me growing up, my cousins were held up as shining examples, and I believed that what I do made a difference. Haw-uhkk!” — this tirade, like so many others, illustrated by a gob of phlegm.

“And then you get out there, and scrap for what they call ‘real work,’ which is defined not by life-changing moments, but your ass getting wider and some CEO getting richer. You know how you grew up, thinking that what you did would change the world?”

I could only nod dumbly; my worst fears are surfacing and I feel the onset of shock … numb lips, moisture rising on my forehead …

“How in grad school, you thought that the worthlessness of your work was an aberration — that it wouldn’t happen to you, the spirit-crushing tedium, facing days on end of low motivation, lower output, and angry supervisors? No, what YOU’D be doing would save the whales, end world hunger, win you everlasting fame, and if fortune happens too, well, that’d be just fine, right?”

I take a closer look at him and note that he’s not so much old as merely worn out by his bitterness; having lived a life of regret ages him – not laugh lines, but the pursed lips of one who’s had to choke back every retort to all the menial requests — all the coffee he’s fetched, all the copies he’s made. If office workers were eligible for Black Lung, he’d be first to tell you it’s a combination of burnt coffee sludge and free-floating toner.

“Instead you end up working for the world’s most hated companies. Telephone companies. Utilities. Why don’t you just choose to work for a telemarketer next? Oh, I forgot — they already whored you out as one in grad school, right? How desperate do you get when you’re unemployed? I even thought you interviewed for a job picking up dead animals. Master’s degree. Pathetic.”

He’s completely mad — and brilliantly psychic. Old man, old man; who chooses your clothes, who minds your meals? Is this the detrius of a life more ordinary? Your choices were your own; to bemoan your fate is to castigate your younger self for not having the benefit of hindsight. Was it truly the secure path, stuck no longer enjoying your life?

“Tell me this then. Tell me that your life turned out the way you planned. Tell me that your goals keep rising; you keep on shooting for the moon while you never seem to get off the ground. Ha.”

And in quiet fury — desperation, really — I lash out with my only words. “You’d never understand.” How can I explain the bliss that is mine? There are things I wished I’d done, but I can’t dwell on those now; life is long and I’m nearsighted enough that I can’t see what I’ll be doing later. Coming home every day and knowing no matter how rotten-ass the day has been, there’s someone else — friend, lover, wife — incredible. Who was the richest man in Bedford Falls, after all?

One last jab, then. “Sour grapes. Sour sour grapes — all your dreams, when you can’t reach them, you choose to call childish and stupid.” He’s misunderstood again. And still misunderstood.

I’m drifting away again — the soundtrack swells — lights flicker — credits roll. The ushers are showing the old man out gently but firmly; he splutters again but even that grows faint. He offers his last comment — I recognize it from Donald Duk:

“Nations come and go. Kingdoms rise and fall.”

I choose to hear it as his benediction. Regret is useless; forward, one step forward every day. My eyes dance again, and I push back, see my hand shaking his and my feet taking me away away away.

— Lumic Lutcher