Off the keyboard of William Hunter Duncan
Published on Off the Grid in Minneapolis on November 20, 2012
Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord inside the Diner
Last winter, living without a working furnace or income, I was ready to fix up this house and sell it. I was going to sell it, and go to dance in the wheat fields of England, to call down a sign, or call out the ones who do it. From there, to the Big Island of Hawaii, to walk around it, up to Dec 21. From there, wherever, perhaps deep in the amazon, in search of Ayahuasca and Strophoria cubensis.
Spring came, and I fell in love with the garden again, and I planted fruit trees. I started the work on the house, which went well up to a point, when I lost any energy for it, after a series of arguments with my father, who shares the mortgage on the house, and has been paying on it the last four years. I walked away from the house, longtime readers, and readers of my books, will recall, during the fall of 2008. I was hardly aware of the financial collapse, as I was in love, and recovering from Lyme disease. I lived with that woman and her kids, in Northern California and Wisconsin, the following two years, when we broke off the relationship and I returned to this house, which had been unoccupied all that time. That is when I started this blog, and expanded the garden. By mid-summer this year, it was clear to me that the house was not saleable to anyone but a speculator at a house-flipper price in a depressed market; and the garden had become like an enchanted place.
I couldn’t go another winter without taking on the mortgage payment, and the Halloween store I managed in the fall of 2010 and 2011, had been sold to a buyer out-of-state, so I had to go looking for a job, which I haven’t had, a nine-to-five or simulacrum, in four years, other than the Halloween store. I applied for about thirty jobs, went to one interview that didn’t go well, skipped a dead-end one. The third interview, I almost skipped; which turned out to be serendipitous, and I am not one to ignore serendipity. They were vague, and somewhat cagey about the job, it being a high-class temp agency, but I would be working for a big bank, which I knew would make my father happy, and I could get there by bus after a one mile bike ride, in about 50 minutes after leaving my house. Not owning a car, and not wanting one, that was a positive (some people at big bank bus two hours each way.) It occurred to me though, the evening after the interview, restless in bed, that I might have been hired to foreclose on houses.
There was a three week gap between the time I was hired, and the start date. During that time, every single person I talked to about my concern, to a one, said, “it’s a job.” Not one person shared my concern, and while some of the people I spoke with are conventional, the majority are not. I was surprised. But then I am dubious about the vast majority of jobs. No one seemed very perturbed by the fact that I would be making less than I had been by the hour, working for my friend Organic Bob moving dirt around and landscaping, less than half I was making at that corporate job I had at the Behemoth in 2008, and only 25% what I was making during the housing boom, remodeling houses.
The DREAM JOB I had been angling for, I failed to be interviewed for, despite that I had a friend advocating for me inside. This, I chalk up to the fact that I failed to pursue the Masters and Doctorate I was being pushed to pursue by my Teachers, back in 2000, but I saw that I would be a fifth-tier Doctor with $150,000 in debt at 40, and besides, I felt the call of the wild. Too wild now, for a scholastic job writing and editing articles about solutions to environmental problems, evidently. So I took the one job I was offered, at big bank.
My concern was confirmed as accurate, day one, within ninety minutes. The trainer said the loans we would be working on were in default, that no one was living in those houses, that we would not be foreclosing on people. I liked him, and still do, but I suspected then and suspect now there is no reason to believe at all, that there aren’t people in the houses on the loans we are foreclosing on. For myself, since then, every weekday but Veteran’s Day, I awoke at five am to foreclose on houses for eight hours, to return home just under twelve hours later. The work has since proven to be more like prison work, than any job I’ve had, and I’ve worked in a foundry, and on 0-180 degree Fahrenheit flat roofs, roofing. My work now is to audit hundreds of on-line mortgage documents each day, most for loans that should never have been issued.
Still, the job has been a blessing in some ways. I’m paying the mortgage again, and I’m able to put money into the house, and the various projects around the garden I’ve long imagined, but had no resources or means to bring into being. The job may be set up like prison work, but there are no petty tyrants, none I have to deal with anyway. In fact, the people I work for directly are very reasonable, and the people I work with are like most people, mostly good. I’ve been able to listen to about 200 hours of old Terence Mckenna recordings. The job has also been a strong lesson in how wrong the housing bubble was for America, and how much fault does rest in average Americans, taking out loans that could only be paid off if the economy were to grow by 5%+ every year for the next several decades, and maybe not even then, with the systematic downward thrust of average wages, and decreasing good-paying jobs, climate change, resource constraints, et al. That, and a clear picture of how un-enlightened big bank is, as if the work I do is fit for humans. We are called “butts in seats, in the meat locker, or the morgue,” I hear, trickling down from above. That may not sound like a blessing, those last two lines, but ever have I tried to pull back the veil of the ruling paradigm. 🙂
Not everyone is enamored of my work there. This is what one reader had to say, on the thread dedicated to this blog, in the Doomstead Diner, for members of the forum:
“Sorry, but IMHO working for one of the four big wall street banks is one of the most morally degrading things you can do at this time. Helping them instead of working to put them out of business? Being complicit with them is being complicit with what is wrong at the core. Anything but that. What is this called, ” cognitive dissonance”? What is the use of saying or doing anything if you are going to do that?”
Another had this to say:
“you’re a dime-a-dozen sellout but you’re a first-rate poser. you’re a stain on this place.”
My role at big bank is one rung on a ladder as long as a DNA strand, though unlike DNA, those at each rung are largely ignorant of every other. It is a perfectly bureaucratic structure, big bank, though it ostensibly be a “private” business. It should also be said, big bank isn’t “private”, as it is sustained by free money from the Federal Reserve, which is socializing loses and privatizing the gains, at least until they destroy the dollar. The structure exists as it does, to provide plausible deny-ability for it’s employees, giving them only the most scant responsibility for what is going on – just like every hierarchical Institution everywhere. Were we ever in contact with the actual “borrowers” whose loans we audit, the system wouldn’t work, because that would be humanizing the work. As is, it is almost devoid, the process, of anything even resembling “humanity.” And as you might imagine, most people working there show a singular lack of awareness about any of the deeper realities I try to elucidate in this blog.
Which, speaking of a lack of humanity, would the commenter’s quoted above, feel free to walk into my department and declare such things before the throng? Of the 70+ people working in my department, about 20% are white. Predominant are people of African and Asian origin, first or second generation, and African-Americans. I am struck by the number of pictures of young children on computer screen-savers and backgrounds. Is it merely my knowledge that makes me a hypocrite, a sell-out and first rate poser? If so, what are these others, in their work-a-day ignorance in service to their families, in their culpability to the American dream made possible by vile imperialism?
When I was working as a manager of a Halloween store, I commented at length in this blog, and in my second book, on cheap Chinese crap, and the un-sustainability of crass American consumerism. When I was asked if I wanted to work in a Halloween store, by an old college friend, I said without hesitation, “fuck no!” At the time, I had just returned to Minneapolis, after Wisconsin, I had $80 and no job prospects of any kind. Immediately after that, I thought, he just offered me a job, I haven’t seen him in five years, and I’ve been waiting for a sign. Working there, aside from being fun, and exhausting, made me not one whit more enamored of consumerism, not one whit less honest about what I think about it’s prospects. Indeed, I have come to think of consumerism as a death-cult.
I am not a “moral” man. “Morality”, such as it’s practitioners hold forth righteously upon, is generally a construct over-laid reality, per-suppossing humans are inherently evil otherwise, or mere animals who would immediately proceed to consume each other, without said righteous tight asses lording over us. Whereas, I believe humans to a one, are profound, divine, innately good beings, inherently corrupted by degrees, by the cultural paradigms, morals, ideologies, dogmas, pollutants, programs and pogroms, designed to control life, for the benefit of the few at the expense of ALL. Not being a “moral” man, I am not restrained by absolutist rigidity, which both commenters above show in spades, IMHO, even though theirs is a minority opinion culturally, about things generally. Nuance, being a thing of truer understanding.
As for me having a “truer” understanding, I have also come to believe, that not a one of us on earth has anything like a “true” understanding, of what this life is really all about, though there are no shortage of people who claim to, be they hiding behind a gun, or bizness or gov or Religion or ideology or money or plain ol’ vitriol. Here is some of my response, on the Diner.
I guestimate that of all the loans I’ve seen, about 80% of them were loans in excess of $300,000. I wade through the wreckage of greed mostly. How do I justify it? I am trying to do right by my house, which I like to say I bought twelve minutes before the market collapsed, and I’m still around really only because my niece and nephew live only a mile away. My entire life top to bottom is paradox, and you are free to make of me any kind of villain you like.
IMHO, I am exactly where I need to be, to accomplish the things I imagine. Think of it as an alchemical transmutation, wading through the economic wreckage as I am, reporting on my experience, to bring beauty and love into being? You might have some faith in me. I’m not asking much.
I would be a hypocrite if I did not document publicly, the things I do, and what I think about that, for free. I have two books available for free on my website, www.WilliamHunterDuncan.com. Also a novel I was working on until I was offered my current employment. I’ve written in my blog and one of my books, about planting marijuana on Federal, State and County land, here in the Twin Cities. I aim to live and write with integrity. I am the peace pirate Sir Vis, in service to the Goddess, former manager of the coolest Halloween store in the Midwest, who now finds himself under a mortgage ostensibly owned by the same big bank he now astoundingly finds himself working for, wading through the wreckage of the housing market. Meanwhile, learning skills that will be useful when big bank and the others like them fall. Which they will, as inevitably as the sun will rise tomorrow. Probably not tonight, but soon, very likely.
What possesses you to play the role [the commenter of the second comment listed] you do here, I don’t know. We share a great deal, in our view of the world. You are on the right track about something though. Now is not a time for fearfulness. Terence Mckenna said, when asked what to do in the face of teotwawki, “flood the world with ART.” Which is what I think about my writing, my garden, the things I build, and my life generally. And why I keep telling myself to follow through with the plan I see, to put together a band. Because what could be more important at the end of the world, than a joyful sound?
Thus I make no claims about the “morality” of what I do. Indeed, as to the actual work at big bank, there is nothing particularly honorable, interesting, or empowering about it. It is merely where I find myself, at this time, making the best of it, not to waste the opportunity.
And you, dear readers, are free to trust me, or make whatever judgement you like, however harsh. Though I don’t recommend harsh moral rigidity as a way of being. Rather, I would have you embrace the mystery, of this very curious life, joyously, wherever you find yourself.