Monday, September 26, 2005

Diggin' Up Dirt

I have to admit, some cliches hold true. The life of a professional writer, for example, is indeed as exciting and romantic as the movies in your mind. It's airplanes and caviar. Public recognition. Beautiful strangers who want to know you better. Intrigue in smoky cafes. I've traveled the nation, visited the U.S. Government's marijuana farm, gone undercover in a federal prison, been assaulted by skinheads at a Ku Klux Klan rally, and even been involved in a few police chases. I'm thankful for all these experiences.

But what does an internationally published investigative freelance journalist do when the checks are late and he needs some quick coin in pocket, when paper and ink fail to bring home the tofu? Does he sell out, grab a brick and mortar job at the local corporate news outlet? No. He barters his body as raw meat for the local labor-ready crews.

It was mid-July, 2004. Prescription Pot had been released for months, and I had yet to see my first non-advance check. The Texas heat was locked in a brain-stroke swelter, but the folks at the Cheap-Labor center said there was a church that needed building. Not just any church. The largest temple of worship in Denton, before they built their new and improved church. Arguably, they also have the wealthist congregation. Their lead pastor has been taped claiming he'd have no problem imposing the death penalty for shoplifting, because he has no intention of shoplifting. I wonder if he has no problem with crucifixions, since he isn't Jesus.

That day was my first visit to the labor center, and I was assigned to a group of three workers - a young Latino male, a black-skinned man, and me. We were led (like sheep) to this expansive drain pit filled with three feet of thick mud and gravel that ran off in the last storm, blocking the large drainpipe. In other words, we were human steamshovels, and it was our mission to spend the next four hours clearing the mud away from the pipe, with no drinkable water to be found for a quarter mile. Not to be crass, but it would have been easier to scoop a lard turd from a whale's ass.

I jumped into the pit and immediately sunk in the mud, which rose to the tops of my rubber boots and then spilled over into my socks like a breached levy. I tried to move my legs, and my boots peeled from my feet. I had no choice but to dig barefoot, though I was worried I might get stuck like a mud-caked statue on Golgotha, a tar-baby monument to the have-nots. Wouldn't that make the Pharisees feel pious?

I tried to will myself into a state of Zen, in order to accomplish the brutal task at hand. But this was impossible, since my coworkers spent the next hours discussing the virtuous delights of -pussy. I mean, the ups and downs and ins and outs of pussy. Tight pussy. Loose pussy. Sweet pussy. Tangy pussy. Nappy pussy. Hairy pussy. Shaved pussy. Relationship pussy. One-night-stand pussy. I suspect these two obsessive testosterone reservoirs were envisioning a mirage of pussy, where they could quench their thirst.

Just for the record, I love women as much as any straight male, confirmed lesbian, or bisexual hermaphrodite. I'm also no misogynist, and I had no desire to spend my afternoon groveling in the shadow of a concrete slab etched with a huge cross, hovering above me like a massive monolith, beneath which I worked out my penance with trembling, blistered hands and the sound of pussy...pussy...pussy, drumming in my ears like the incessant, rhythmic clink of iron on a chain gang.

I tried to keep to myself and ignore their banter. A construction worker walked by on the road above the pit. Aside from his filthy "Jesus Is My Homeboy" t-shirt, he looked like the Village People's Macho Man. I looked to the sky and wondered if Jesus had any sympathy for his homeboys down here making a meager $6 an hour to wade in the mud and bake in the Texas heat, while these two men spoke of pussy, each trying to outdo the other, as if engaged in a friendly "cockfight".

Eventually, there was a blessed lull in their gynegological ping-pong. For the next several minutes, I was alone with the relaxing sound of my shovel and the slurping mud.

Just when I thought it was over, the black-skinned laborer paused and drove his shovel blade into the ground, holding the erect handle as if he were going to lean on it. He squinted his eyes at the sun, wiped his brows and turned to me, shaking his head and saying, "Man... I sure can't wait to be done with this so I can get me some pussy."

The young Latino blurted out, "You know that's right, Holmes!" and gave his coworker an enthusiastic high-five.

At that moment, the handle of my shovel cracked and I chunked it to the side of the pit in disgust. I sunk my arms into the dirt and debris, shoveling it out with my hands and chest. I felt like screaming, diving in the cool mud, if only to hide, for a few moments, from the exciting, romantic life of a writer.

It is now more than a year later. JUNK is released, and the church has been built. I sometimes wonder if the congregation comprehends the sweat and blood and sacrifice that went into their temple. I'm far enough down the road to laugh about that miserable experience, and see it as a gift. But just in case you're wondering, I have no plans to ever step foot in a mudpit again.

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