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When Marsupial was born surveying swamps w/ recovering junkies + drag queens (June '97)


[20 Mar 2021> Flashing back to June 1997 in Savannah, Georgia, picking up from post 861.]

June 1,1997 — Savannah
Letting time slip me by. I don't have enough confidence in myself to write. Plus my mindset and mood is completely different from when I was in Tucson. Yesterday I replied to an ad for a deckhand. I drove out to Tybee Island to fill out an application. It was on a yacht that took people three miles out into the ocean so they could gamble. The captain's name was Bill or Bob, seemed kind of uptight at first. I filled out an application and we talked for a bit and he asked me to come back, then after talking a little more, he invited me out on that afternoon trip to see how I liked it (and probably to see if I got seasick). What the hell, I wasn't doing anything that afternoon. He had me wipe down the slot machines and windows. I kissed ass and did it while I was thinking about whether I wanted this job. I was learning more about from Bill and also this other deckhand or engineer named Michael. I was introduced to the whole crew. This woman Patti was the secretary. There was a bartender, a couple dealers and the casino manager whose name was Dave. Everything seemed cool about the job, plenty of experiences to write about— the whole idea of it was wild... a boat that takes people three miles out into the ocean into international waters just so they could gamble.
     We pulled out (we were docked right next to the Bubba Gumbo shrimp house, straight out of Forest Gump). Immediately dozens of dolphins fell in line with the boat. Surfing in the wake and jumping over eachother, chasing the boat. We cruised along the river, out the mouth along the beaches and then straight out into open water. I was a little apprehensive about how my stomach would manage. One of the duties of the deckhand was to go down into the engine room every half an hour to do a check. Down there you have no perspective of the jostling motion of the boat. That combined with the diesel smoke and it seemed like everybody was chain smoking. But the waters weren't too bad so I didn't get sick. But I didn't feel great. I spent most of the time (4-hour trip) talking to the Captain in the wheelhouse. I was asking him what sort of stuff he saw and analyzing the GPS unit he had that would trace our progress. He had had a lot of experience on boats all along the east coast (he was from Maine). 
     Meanwhile Mike would reveal the pitfalls of the job. Most of the time once you're out, you just hang out opening doors for drunk people and help them not to stumble and fall off the boat. Usually people are getting sick and if they don't make it to the edge of the boat, you have to clean up their puke. In the casino on the decks. This trip there was only two ladies that were sick and they managed to find the edge. On top of it people are getting drunk, and they're losing their money, so for good reason people are not generally happy. Why people pay 20 bucks so they can get seasick, drunk and lose all the rest of their money and be stranded at sea is a big mystery to me. Part of my duties (if I was to work on the "Atlantic Star") would be to pacify belligerent drunkards. This was a common occurrence. Bill showed me where the handcuffs were, if people got out of hand, they would just handcuff them to the rail up front and radio the police. One time this guy got drunk, lost all his money, got belligerent and then jumped off the boat. They couldn't find him. They called the Coast Guard and they found him still alive. They took him to shore and threw him jail.
     So yah, the job has its benefits in that I would get some stories out of it. But when it comes down to it it's a dirty job and it doesn't pay well... $6 an hour plus tips ($10-20 a trip). The shifts are about 5 or 6 hours and it's out on Tybee Island so I would have to drive 15 minutes each way. And I'm not sure I'll even get the position. I was honest to the Captain and told him I was prone to seasickness. 
     At this point this could be all I can get... cleaning up peoples puke and keeping drunk assholes from jumping off boats, while I am inhaling diesel smoke and getting seasick myself.
     My sleep cycle is all screwed up.  I feel asleep after dinner and was wide awake in the middle of the night.  It rained in the evening so come midnight I decided to take a walk. Savannah is a great walking town, especially at night and after a rain. Everything was moist and dripping.  Moss draped through all the trees, the diffused lighting—I passed by the cemetery and through most of the parks down to the waterfront and watched the dark, muddy water slowly guide by on its way to the sea.
     I haven't been exercising because my calf hurts. But today I was so desperate for exercise that I ran on it anyway.  For the first 2 miles it felt on the verge of cramping, but then it felt better and better and I ran 5 miles.

[house we lived in on Gaston St (we were on the ground floor)]

[our only furniture was a futon on the floor]

June 5, 1997, 7:02 a.m. — Savannah
Finally found a job... actually a few, when it rain it pours.  Monday morning I went to apply for this job as a boat painter.  This guy Kevin interviewed me that looked like Kevin. He didn't even look at my resume. We just walked down to the water and looked at this Australian Yacht that was waiting for a paint job. It was a beautiful boat. I think some of these boats are by far more beautiful than the most beautiful house. Huge porthole windows right in their living room. Talk about a constantly changing view.  Sleek and dynamic. 
     Kevin asked me when I could start working and I said now. 
     He says— "you mean like right now?"
     "I'd have to move my car but yah, right now."
     I think that's the only reason he hired me. When I started talking to the other workers they were surprised that he hired me with no experience. "When I interviewed, they interrogated me for over an hour, asking me all sorts of detailed questions about painting." These guys were true southern rednecks. This one guy lived out in the sticks, raising fighting cocks. He was telling me all about, how he had to go to South Carolina cuz it was illegal in Georgia, how he was humane because he didn't use "knives" on the roosters feet but razor blades. 
     I was put right to work sanding. They do a lot of it by hand. It was a huge 110 foot yacht, and every inch had to be meticulously sanded. To the point that you run the tips of your fingers over it and can't feel the slightest blemish. These are works of arts, these boats. I was thinking about how much Kevin would have loved this job. Something about the shape of an unfinished boat.  They had a row of 5 yachts in different stages of development. You can walk around inside and imagine what it will be like. So the job was fun in that sense, but I was hearing stories about how nasty the paint and all the dust from the sanding was, like really toxic shit. So I wasn't excited about that. It was good exercise, but redundant. Anyways, it was a job, and it was $9/hr which isn't bad for an entry level job in Savannah. So I was excited to have it. 
     When I got home that night there was 4 messages on the machine, all with different job offers. The Atlantic Star wanted me to start working for them. This renovator wanted me to be his helper. And there was this message from this guy Jeff Devine who was doing the GPS/survey work for EMC. Evidently Charles Tutton wanted me to work for this Jeff Devine guy to learn the ropes of GPS and surveying and then I might switch over to his company.

9:57 p.m. — [our bedder-½] came back from New Hampshire on Monday night.  Her plane was late, all sorts of bad weather including a big thunderstorm in Savannah that rivaled Tucson. So she got in about 1:30 in the morning.  To make things even more complicated she liked the University of New Hampshire and the research program she'd be involved in, so it was starting to look like we were going there.  Which just makes job hunting more interesting, oh well. Could've should've would've, the point is we're in Savannah and we have a place and licenses and all that and we may as well just enjoy our summer and make money so we can move all over again.
     I've been running in Forsyth park but my calves are killing me, I don't know why. Guess I'm getting old. I'm getting a belly, got to watch what I eat. Woke up on Tuesday and decided to blow off the painting job and take the surveying job (though it only pays $8.50/hr.).  Just seemed like it would be more interesting in the long run and I would gain more experience.
     I started working for Jeff Devine on wednesday (the 3rd). Actually, when I got there he was still sleeping. This guy Mitchell was there that was his assisitant. I went out with him in one of their little S-10 pickups. Strange kid (he's only 20). This kind of hipster that's a little freaked out about his upbringing in Birmingham, talking about how it's overrun with religous pyschos. We drove out to Statesboro and then off onto some backroads. Suddenly in the sticks, really backward ass people staring out of their homes. We saw a chain gang of convicts with bush axes giving us the evil eye, this shit still exists in the south. We did this survey on the edge of a cotton field. Set up a tripod on a known point, level it and center it. It has a prism on it. Set up the Sokkia theotolite on another known point (that I guess had been previously GPS'ed), backsight on the point we just set up (control point). Then I would walk around with a rod with another prism on it (that I would have to keep level and at a certain height, while Mitchell guided me about where to go with radios. It's pretty accurate, down to the millimeter. Once I found the spot, I would drive an iron into the ground so just the tip was sticking out. Put a red cap on it and then a stake next to it so you could find it. We did only two points then, but I guess normally, like today, you do 5 points, the corners and a mid—point. At least for these sites. They're for a telephone company that's planning on building cellular towers.
     After that we shot some GPS about half-way between Statesboro and Savannah. We set up the base station on a point right on the highway. He dropped me off there with a bucket and said he would be back in a few hours. I rifled through his car to see if I could find something to read or occupy my time and found a manual to the theotolite and a North American Tree field guide. I saw this pond on the other side of a fence so I jumped the fence and explored around. Went into the woods. All I was suppossed to be doing really was making sure nobody stole the GPS unit. I sat on the bucket and took a nap. Read the theotolite manual. Watched traffic go by. Walked around some more. There's new hazards to reckon with in these parts. You got to be careful where you stop and stand because you could be standing on a fire ant nest. They're these little red buggers that swarm out and give you a sting that's suppossedly as bad as a bee sting. You can get swarmed by them. And there's water mocassins, which I don't even know what they look like yet. And many other creatures I'm sure I'm destined to find out about. I read the tree identification book and started indentifying the trees around me. I guess you have to do that with this job sometimes. Once that job was over we shot some more GPS in Garden City. There I was sitting on the railroad tracks in some suburb. I had a newspaper with crosswords, though. Ended up being a twelve hour day.
     Today I went out with Mitchell again. Jeff pretty much just mans the office (his air-conditioned condo). We went to South Carolina and shot in some corners. It was in this empty lot overgrown with weeds and littered with junked cars, shopping carts and television sets. Had to do some bushwhacking with the axe to get a line of sight. Then we had to locate this corner. We knew it was 30 feet off from this other one (it was some job the utility company did). But where it was suppossed to be was a swamp. Mitchell didn't seem to enthused, but I egged him on. So we started tramping out into the muddy swamp with a metal detector and a shovel. Sure enough there was a signal more or less where it was suppossed to be and we started digging around in the mud til we found it. Then GPS'ed that site.
     We did this other job in back of a fire station in Savannah. By this time it was raining, not just a passing shower but a full-on steady drizzle. We still mananged to get the corners in. Mitchell's a strange one. He's really quiet unless you prod him on. He eats a lot of ice cream. He would allude to episodes in his life where he only ate ice cream and potato chips, said this was his "dark period".  I was looking through his tapes (he's a death metal-head, Slayer, Mega-Death, Metallica, etc.) and there was a tape that was "The Final Fix" and I thought it was the band the Fixx, but ends up this kid is a recovereing junkie. So we talked quite a bit about that. The Birmingham scene sounds like a completely different scene than L.A. or S.F. scene. He reminds me more of a trainspotting type. I guess he had been into it pretty bad, shooting with needles for years, 400 milligrams a day. I told him about Kevin and what he had O.D.'d on and he said—"yah, that's crazy shit. That will make you curl up into a ball on your floor, all paranoid that the cops are coming." I guess his drug of choice was dilaudid. What freaked me out was how casual he was about coming clean. I mean right about the same time the whole Sierra Tucson thing was going down, this guy Mitchell was completely strung out. And now he was back on his feet, clean for six months and holding down a fairly competent job. He didn't really have any trade secrets. Didn't really believe in the 12 step program or anything like that (besides his motivational tapes). He just quit cold turkey, talked about how you have to disassociate yourself from your addiction almost like it's another person. Even the glamor of being a recovering addict has to go away. I don't know, he was so damn casual about it that it made me kind of upset, but at the same time happy for Mitchell, as long as he keeps it up. He's a pretty smart kid, he's pretty good at surveying (though he's not very good at explaining it), and he knows a lot about computers and engineering, even stuff like nuclear physics or something he will know a lot of the technical details. I asked him why he never went to college and he said he tried but it was too hard when you're on heroin.  Nevertheless, he's a pretty interesting field companion.

June 10,1997 — Savannah
Friday some unseasonable spring weather set in. I was working down in Port Royal and luckily I brought the Trooper because it rained the whole time and I would have been sitting out in it. As it was, I sat in the Trooper for eight hours, reading The Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison) and I started working on this other story that takes place in Paris, about me being a stand-in for Kevin who's an actor [this ended up being Marsupial]. I tried to work on Navigating the Senses, but I couldn't get into that frame of mind. Hope this is a temporary problem. But this short story is, as usual, turning out to be quite long. Anyways, the rain was wild. Made everything seem like a rain forest. Beautiful drive out by Hilton Head Island. Lots of marsh-lined rivers and inlets, it's hard to tell where you are in relation to things. 
     The rain continued into the weekend. All day Saturday. I worked on the stand-in story while Bedder-½ baked cookies and watched movies. Sunday we went out to Hilton Head Island. They make beach access particularly hard for people who don't have condos or are staying at the Holdiay Inn. But we eventually found our way to the beach and laid out. We both got burnt because it was cloudy and kind of cold so we didn't think we would (and we were only out for an hour and a half). Stopped at the outlet stores and bought some woolly sweaters and invested in some good running shoes so I don't ruin my knees.
     I spent monday Morning sitting at a GPS site at the airport. Fire ants devoured my lunch and I found these bright green frogs. In the afternoon we staked the job from hell. It was on these rednecks property out around Statesboro who had a bunch of goats and rambunctious dogs. It was thick with trees and vines, half of them with stickers and thorns on them. I was having to cut lines of sight so we could see a hundred feet to survey. Even still there was usually a big tree in the way so we had to come up with all sorts of convoluted ways to get in the points. And then the points would land in muddy swamps or in very soft sand covered with decaying stuff. Meanwhile we're getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. I would have to hold still holding the rod while dozens of mosquitoes would land on my arms and neck and even all over my face. At one point Mitchell started thrashing around at the brush. A water moccasin had nipped at his leg, it bit his jeans but didn't get thru to his skin. Needless to say it freaked him out! He lit a cigarette and his hand was shaking. And we were there until it was getting dark, like 9 o'clock because we also had to locate any tress that we're over 8 inches in diameter.
     Today we were out at a sight that was near a baseball field and while we were working these other guys were "building" a baseball field— measuring out the bases and building the pitchers mound. In the context of surveying and in light of all my dreams about baseball fields, it struck me as a strange occupation. Then again, so is mine. Getting paid to sit on random roadsides to read and write.

June 15, 1997 — Savannah
The air is thick and muggy and weighs down upon me. I am at a low point in my physical health. I've been trying to run buy calves have been giving me problems. I take endless trudges around Downtown Savannah. I've walked down every street, through every park, down to the river to watch the slow moving brown soupy water. All along smelling the grossly sweet pulpy smell of the paper plant when the wind blows from the west. Or the acrid smell of horse piss from the tourist buggies. 
     I've finished Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. It coincided with the wrap of the film about the book which for the last couple of days they've been filming a few doors down at the Armstrong house. I can hear the people who loiter outside who cheer every time they get a glimpse of the back of Clint Eastwood. I guess some people have nothing better to do. Not that I do. I've been watching too much T.V. lately. Lots of basketball and pulp filler to just bide the time. I can blame it on the muggy weather which makes you just want to take naps in the afternoon. I can blame it on my health. Or I can blame it on the lack of mountains or places to hike or climb. Not that Savannah isn't the perfect place for urban hiking, because it's one of the best. 
     On my walks I'll stop at Joe Beans where Bedder-½ is now working. It is more or less a focal point for the gay community. A small cluster of regulars hang out there, strange scene, very gossipy and they're into the Internet and scoring dates with closeted married men, etc..
     Didn't work much on Friday. Jeff is freaking out. Not sure why, first he'll complain about how we're swamped with work, but then he'll send us home early because he's not sure what to have us do. I think he's just really unorganized, I don't know, or maybe he has a drug problem. We've spent a lot of time at random sites, searching around for old survey markers to go off. Digging around trying to locate concrete monuments or irons that never seem to be where they should be. Friday Mitchell and I just went to the courthouse where we were trying to find out information about properties. That was a trip. All sorts of people who have set up camp there and do research for whatever reason. Basically all the legal papers and maps for every property in Chatam county.
     For a while I thought I was seriously on the decline, I was feeling like an old man with arthritis and diarrhea. But then Bedder-½ was sick and word around town is that some virus is going around, so at least I can blame it on a virus. Midnight in the Garden is a pretty incredible story if it is true. It's weird when you walk the streets after reading the book and see all these places and people. It could have been written in half as many pages and been a better book though.  There's definitely a market for creative non-fiction. I should jump the bandwagon. Mitchell says he stays out late and gets drunk every night. If it wasn't for the fact that will be leaving here in another two months I'd be looking for another job. A lot of time is spent just piddling. 

[after getting Masters degrees our bedder-½ worked in a coffeeshop + we worked as a swamp surveyor]

June 20, 1997—Savannah
Each day at work is unpredictable. Don't know when I'll get off or what we are doing. Both Jeff and Mitchell have serious communication problems... and I thought I was bad. Especially Mitchell, he mumbles very quietly and is never decisive about what we are doing. I've grown sick of saying "what?" so I try to guess what he wants or what's going on and I've gotten quite good at it. Hacking around through heavy brush in back lots of east Georgia and South Carolina. Mosquitoes swarming and biting, fire ants stinging— swat them into the thick film of sweat, the continuous stream pouring off my chin. Sludging through swampy ground, tripping over vines, using the bush axe to cut a way through the thicket, trying to keep the rod steady while Mitchell shoots it. Finding exact points then driving iron rods in that places. And in between driving around with Slayer or Metallica or Cannibal Corpse blaring, Mitchell chain-smoking cigarettes... it's a trip. We've worked all around Savannah. Today we worked in Tatumville, crack dealers on the corner, me and Mitchell were the minority, tromping through peoples yards looking for property corners, hearing gun shots and thinking somebody is going to shoot us, people drive by slowly staring, some bold enough to ask us— "whatchy'all doing around here, mmm?" The guy next door to where we were surveying was friendly. Cadillac with gold pin stripes and mags, gold chains around his neck, etc... He was bidding to have the cellular tower behind his convenience store (crab legs and chicken wings,...) asking us how much weight we pull with whoever is making the decision as he gives us free Gatorades. "I'll take care of you" —he says assuringly, matter-of-factly atter-of-factly.  "You get them to put the tower on my lot and I'll take care matter-of-factly." Another job we did was behind a smelly animal hospital where some white trash was squatting in the woods. Another was near a baseball park where I could watch softball games while I was waiting. Another at the Alee temple, another at the Y.M.C.A., fire stations tend to be a reoccurring theme, at a recycling center in Hilton Head,... who knows what the prerequisite is, the cell company is trying to get coverage I guess.  I'm tired now.  Tomorrow is Saturday and I'm working.

June 21
Worked a 13 hour day (Hilton Head and Port Royal). Read the Sound and the Fury in a day. It's the only book I've read three times. It took that many times to figure out what was going on. Rushed home so we could go out. Met Tim, Jeff and co, at the Stogies. Tim was chipper as ever. Jeff was wearing a tie. David was there, this Joe beans groupy that wanted to play tennis with me. His fiancee Meredith was also there. There was others, some funny guy who joined the Marines to play in their band but he hated it. His wife who was a film major. Hung out at Stogies then went to the Velvet Elvis for Salsa night. That was the plan anyway but it was lame. The chick from Married with Children was there. So we left for the infamous Club One, the gay bar of Savannah. Seemed like there was more heterosexual people there to observe gay people than gay people, maybe because it was referenced in Midnight in the Garden... Bedder-½ and I went upstairs to see the drag queen show. The rest had seen it, it was quite the scene. Tons of flaming gays, mostly black, some dressed in drag, others if you saw on the street you would never suspect would be into such things. There were about six drag queens, some were incredible. If you saw them on the beach you might not know the difference. We danced some and played pool and by then it was like two in the morning and we went to get something to eat. Savannah's definitely a party town. Lots of people drinking on the street, music, bars, etc. But Bedder-½ and I aren't used to going out so we were tired by 3 in the morning and went home.
     Today we woke up and went to Tybee Island. Dolphins swam by why we were swimming in the water. Saw a huge horseshoe crab that looked like a dinosaur. Stopped by the Bonaventura cemetery and walked around in the heat with the bugs. Beautiful cemetery right on the river.  Saw Johnny Mercer and Conrad Aiken's grave (just like the book). Went for a run and my legs didn't hurt. And that was our one day off. Reading the Cement Garden, by Ian McEwan, another book about incest, coincidentally.  
     [as we transcribe these files there is a lot of jibberish text we have to weed out + occassionaly roms random tidbits thrown in like after the above paragraph it said this:] his Joe beans groupy that wants      sexy thing, then why would you  Very gothic, the spanish moss hanging off the trees like flesh hanging off a decomposing carcass. s his neck, etc... He was hoping()  in ana abandoned trailer

[Bonaventura cemetery]

June 25, 1997 — Savannah
Surveyed corners in a junkyard, more water towers. Sat in the Trooper on the divider out by Statesboro. Today, the whole day in the road divider out on Hilton Head. Gothic was the theme. Finished The Cement Garden (mediocre) and started on "Gothic" short stories. Working on the Savannah-Paris story [Marsupial]. Not motivated to work on Navigating the Senses. In the heat all day, no escape. Sweating like crazy, smelling up the car, even the seat wet with sweat. Come home and every night Bedder-½ is the most beautiful thing I've ever laid eyes on. Sometimes I just look at her skin or her hair and it is so alive, like looking at an angel. She exudes a divine radiance. Yesterday was our 6-month anniversary. We had a special meal at the Pink House.
     Our stay here feels temporary. I think about making money and writing, but I think about our move to New Hampshire already. Everything is with that in mind. Don't want to buy things (bike, furniture, hiking boots, backpack, etc. until then). Will be nice to settle into a routine, watch a cycle of seasons. Finances will be easier to manage when you have a good idea of exactly how much you're making and what you can manage to pay off. Now, my schedule is completely unpredictable, some days I work 13 hours, others I am sent home early.  Use the credit card whenever possible and only pay minimum balances so we have cash saved up. 

[... July 1997]

862 <(current)> 864> Chasing rivers in the reel-whirled round-up of cheats + departures to finish last
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