Apr 22, 2004

Ambler Letters 1
Correspondance exerts from apt. c rear

      At the gas station, I sell lottery tickets. We don't sell cigarettes (management hates tobacco, I say to the customer, but you can buy them at Genardi’s or the Wawa) but sell a lot of lottery. Ask anyone about the gambling and they've got two responses, two stories they can tell about the thing: 1. bookies, mob ties, debts; 2. poverty, more-likely-to-be-hit-by-lightning. Seriously, every movie has the first stereotype and every newspaper report the second. But I'm watching these people buy everyday (the Power Ball's up to 90 million today but if you want it all at once it’ll be 47.6) and it’s terrible and amazing. It's the discarded shells of the Great American Dream and everything that it means to be an American is here, right here: hope tempered by cynicism, belief that the system can be beat with ingenuity, consistency, hard work and luck. All the black women come in with sheets of numbers they want played 50 - 50 for tonight, and then last minute add the number of their favorite niece's birthday because she's a brat, but a lucky brat. Asian men read me their accented numbers. Young white guys - jocks some of them, or little scrawny-wiry guys - who have their lists memorized. There's a long-haired trucker who tells me he's retired and hates it. A Dustan Hoffman look-alike who's a daily and knows everyone's name. There's a guy who can't talk but does anyway, sounding like Donald Duck saying fuck fuck fuck, and believes he's luck-less. An older black man with freckles who thinks if I mess up his ticket that'll be the one that wins. The great American novel has never been written because it’s about lottery and who wants to write about a giant government run roulette wheel with 7 ways of playing and wasn't that already done?

      I seem to be attracting a certain type of youth - children of my age who want passionately, desperately, to maintain intellectual honesty and religious devotion and finding them trapped in a desert between the two where they see me mumbling prayers that I might be saved from faith, that I might be given blindness. In the last 3 months I’ve been asked a dozen times the same questions, but I don’t get the feeling of being a leader, someone who’s a figure head or a teacher. I get the feeling they’ll all be better at this then I am and I’m just here a little early. I told a friend the other day in my fantasy world I’m in a Graham Greene novel – a sinner morally impoverished who ends up being a saint anyway. I think I’m being cast as a whiskey monk in the desert.

      Blogging is a good form for pushing you to write regularly. Writing’s hard and this hole that demands more material and demands it regularly while pretending to be less serious (and being less pretentious). It’s a good form, too, for allowing one to loosen up and be willing to write poorly. As much as that doesn’t sound like something we want to happen, it’s insanely important. If I’m not willing to splay myself all over paper then I’m not taking the chance that leads to good writing.

      I did get the job at the gas station. It's a classic American affair - combination gas station mechanics shop. Boss is named John and owned his own business for 40 years before retiring but got called out of retirement to manage this gas station. The owners give him total control so long as he makes them money. He's kind of cranky, but then in like the middle of four hours of being in a rush and slightly barkish, he'll hit you sideways with a laugh or a joke. The iconic blue-collar father of the 50s. Though, he reminds me for some reason of Skip, this lawn mower mechanic who helped my dad, fixed some of his stuff for free just because. Skip was 'nam vet and had this long red beard which isn't anything like John. I’m assuming it's only the psycho-recollections of the smell of car oil, or perhaps the counter-intuitive relationship between motorcycles and tow trucks. The guy that trained me is a little white haired guy named Joe who was a hot-rodder in his 20s. All sorts of Waits-esque songs have been written about the places this guys been. Worked as a security guard until he got to old for it, and came to the gas station. He's a lottery expert. When a pretty girl buys gas he mentions the scenery. He volunteers for the fire department and every time a fire truck goes by he and John walk out into the parking lot and wave.
      How's that for an iconic sight? Two white-haired and oil-stained guys who worked their whole lives and did okay but can't retire and wouldn't know what to do if they did and they’re standing out on the pavement patched with asphalt waving a fire trucks rushing sirens-screaming down a pike named Bethlehem.