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105 Working for the DWP Every summer between school years while I was in college, I worked as a seasonal meter reader for the Department of Water and Power of the City of Los Angeles. This meant that I spelled regular workers over the summer months so that they could take their vacations, about two weeks long each. As there was an entire pool of meter readers, this meant I worked throughout the summer months. My job was to walk a given route each day, taking me through just about every neighborhood in L.A., from the Van Owen Reservoir in the San Fernando Valley to the loading docks and canneries on Terminal Island in San Pedro, and make readings of the electric and water meters. I walked the Chicano neighborhoods in the hills around Dodger Stadium and read water meters buried in the dirt. I strode briskly through neighborhoods in Watts where I saw children “walking” pet cockroaches on a makeshift leash of thread or string. I’ve had a shotgun trained on me through a peephole, a policeman sweep his sidearm past me tracking a fleeing thief, and Dobermans and German Shepherds and Rotweilers pursuing me, foaming at the mouth. I read meters throughout the Hollywood Hills and saw a beautiful rock star stark naked walking her pet Afghan hounds around her spacious backyard. I read George Harrison’s meters. I read James L. Jones’s meters. I read the meters at the Hollywood Bowl. If you lived in L.A. at that time, I likely read your meters too. While I was always on the move, speed-­ walking from meter to meter—­ jumping fences, leaping over brick walls, cutting through a whole residential street’s worth of backyards—­ I still had a lot of time to think. And what I thought about entailed a kind of rhyming—­ squaring the experience of hard, blue-­ collar work against my liberal arts college courses in Shakespeare, Brit- 106 ish and American Romanticism, Chinese and Japanese literature , and the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein. What I didn’t want to do was isolate one experience from the other. What I wanted was to join my life—­ one of work along the wide and narrow avenues of L.A.—­ to the great voices I was hearing in my head as I traipsed, in 95-­ degree heat, up a long hill full of apartment houses, dodging children and dogshit along the sidewalks. They flee from me that sometime did me seek would echo in my mind as I glanced from behind a lavish bush of jasmine flowers, its redolent scent carried on an ocean breeze, over a magnificent patch of the aquamarine Pacific pitching in cowlicks of waves below me. On a given day, I’d take my lunch in a park I’d spotted on my route, opening up my sack of sandwiches, chips, and cut cucumbers and carrots. I’d have time for gazing deeply from under the mottled shade of a bigleaf maple tree out toward the end of whatever block to a confusion of billboards, street traffic, fast-­ food joints, and the sheen of yellow and brown along the belly of sky above them. I’d see past these to Othello standing under stars, raging in his folly; to Ophelia recumbent in a coffin of pond water; to lunatic Whitman yawping in ecstatic praise for all our peoples under democratic vistas. I had that job over five or six summers. I liked it. It gave me a rhythm for my thoughts. It gave me the acquaintance of all of Los Angeles and its harbor. It gave me the start to all further ramblings and the groundnotes to a barbaric song of knowings to come. ...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780472123292
MARC Record
OCLC
1002575041
Launched on MUSE
2017-09-07
Open Access
No
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